A Long Ride North For a Sumptuous Meal
A lady I do not know but whose gentility and perspicacity I cannot enough admire has just made me a proposition.
She suggests that for get-acquainted purposes we-two take dinner with them-two at my favorite restaurant. "Please say yes," she writes.
I have said yes, and since then have been sitting here in a brown-gravy ponder trying to decide about my favorite restaurant.
Some years ago, we had a weekly giveaway advertising paper here, and to entice restaurants to advertise they had a woman who did a dining-out column that, because of her grammar and syntax, was more humorous than nourishing. One of her better efforts began: "All restaurants are unique, but some are more unique than others."
If uniquity may be compared, I suppose as good a place to start as any would be the little red dining car on a first-class train of the German National Railway.
Positioned midway of the consist, the dining car puts passengers in the posture of the Etruscan Army when Horatius kept the bridge at Rome: Those behind cried "Forward," and those before cried "Back!"
One of the great pleasures of the world is to hear a German eat, and the German dining car resounds accordingly. It has been years since I listened thus, on a train that came, as I remember, from the Hook of Holland and was bound for Munich.
I think I might use the word favorite with the red Speisewagen and get away with it, but there is more to consider.
Some 30 years ago, now, I satisfied a long desire by riding the Canadian National Railway from Winnipeg to Churchill on Hudson Bay, a three-day, two-sleeps ride. I just wanted to see Hudson Bay. At that time, Churchill was Canada's big grain port, and by the Great Circle route is closer to Liverpool that are St. John and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The problem was the Arctic summer, which allowed maybe a month of ice-free water - mostly in July - from Hudson Bay to the open ocean.
All winter, the railroad brought grain to be stored in a whopping great elevator, and the at ice-out the vessels made haste and emptied the elevator in a few days. Next week, things froze again.
At that time, there was also a distant-early-warning camp there (joint United States and Canadian), a factory that processed whales, a Hudson's Bay post, a movie house called The Igloo, two hotels that served folks bound into the very far north, the railway terminal, and not much else.
The polar bears on the town dump hadn't been thought up as an attraction. Including Indians and Eskimos, the population was about 200. Besides taking the railroad, one could fly into Churchill, but always "weather-permitting." Hudson Bay is the nursery for North America weather.
The first evening out of Winnipeg (wife and daughter were with me) we had an excellent supper in the CNR dining car, which did indeed remind me of German gusto, and on the way from the diner to our compartment I stuck my head into the kitchen and spoke my thanks to the chef.
He turned toward me, smiling heartily, and an accent betrayed him! He was a Swabian from Stuttgart and had been a cook in a red Speisewagen on the Bundesbahn.
A soldier in World War II, he had been captured early and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Alabama. His name was Richard Horn. At the end of the war, he had hoped to remain in the US, but immigration restrictions didn't allow that and he went to Canada. He became a dining-car cook for Canadian National.
This brief encounter ended when I asked him if he could make us a Kaiserschmarren. He certainly could! And did.
While we were eating supper, our waiter told us the cook had pots and pans all over the stove! The "Emperor's Pancakes" are traditional dessert in a German dining car. A crepe, it is torn to shreds by two forks and drenched with a vanilla sauce.
That evening, the Kaiserschmarren was introduced to Canadian railroading, and I believe Herr Horn is still remembered.
At Churchill, we found the two hotels had lackadaisical attitudes toward guests, and spaghetti ruled the dining rooms. We inquired, and found the Canadian National maintained a small trackside restaurant for its help, and the public was welcome. It was painted the same unappetizing brown - all CNR property seemed to be painted from the same can - but it had a flavor that enticed.
We went in. Before we got through the door, a cheerful female voice greeted us. "Hi! How d'ye want your eggs?"
She was Cree, beautiful and lithe, affable and lovely. She had our breakfasts on the way before we sat down. So we didn't eat at the hotels again, and considering everything this way and that, if they want to feed me at my favorite restaurant - how about this unique little place up on Hudson Bay?
Oh, that train from Winnipeg "laid over" for two days before returning from Churchill. So while we were eating breakfast, I looked about, and there was cook Richard Horn at a corner table whacking away at some castle potatoes and, I would judge, tender Black Forest ham, beiden seiden angebraten, yet.