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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summer days gone by

As I mentioned in an earlier post, summers in my childhood felt exactly like what they should be for any kid in America. Nothing beats summer in New England – nothing. Looking back it almost seemed perfect in every kind of way. While I miss my family dearly, one of the things I always look forward to going back home for is the food. Moreover, it seems that when summer rolls around I start to get a craving for certain things that only you can get there. The particular two I’m even thinking of you can only get in summer as well. And now that summer in many parts of the country is coming to a close, I’m starting to regret not taking a trip up there.

My little home town is a summer beach town. In the winter there are only 6-7 thousand people, but it would nearly double in the summer when the families from NY, MA or upstate CT would come to down for summer vacation. My father hated this because it meant more traffic for him. I loved it because it meant more kids my age and lots of fun things to do.

Every time I go home I have a list of things I MUST have. Most of which I can’t get here in Tampa, or I can, but it pales in comparison. The list includes: New Haven Pizza, hot lobster rolls (no mayo – just hot butter), Rhode Island Clam Chowder (yes there is such a thing and it’s heavenly), steamers, the best donuts and Italian ices. There are also a few specific restaurants in the area I always try to get to as well. While a majority of my must have lists are available in winter; Beach Donuts and Vecchitto’s Italian Ices are the two items that are only available in the summer months. In general, you can get them from Memorial to Labor Day, and sometimes not even during the week – only on the weekends. Maybe it’s the fact that over the last few years I’ve only been home in the winter months that is making me yearn for these things even more.

Beach Donuts: Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts have nothing on this little place. Never in my life have I had a donut as perfect as these. Freshly made every morning, I can still smell the hot sugar that would seep out of this little shop. In my childhood, it was only a walk-up store with all the donuts lined up in front of you in a glass case. All kinds too: glazed, jelly, chocolate covered, soft-raised cinnamon, lemon filled, powdered sugar…. I could go on and on and on. Once you got there you had to wait in line, which would be about 3-4 people deep and there was usually several lines. Then you gave your order to the clerk and they would grab the donuts that were right in front of you from under the glass. If you were smart you called the day before and pre-ordered what you wanted because this little shop would sell out fast. Many donuts would be sold out by 9am and the whole shop by 11am or noon. And it always sucked when the very last donut of the kind you wanted was nabbed by a clerk waiting on a different customer. At that point, you just simply have to wait for tomorrow.

My favorites were the soft-raised cinnamon and the lemon filled. But as my dad always says: There really isn’t a bad one. We would get the crullers because they were twice the size of a regular round donut for the same price. The inside would be light, fluffy, and still slightly warm. The outside had a very thin crusty layer… just perfect. I really got spoiled as a kid eating those.
Vecchitto’s Italian Ice: I’ve had other Italian Ices but these are truly in a class all their own. An “Ice” should not be rock hard as you’ll sometime find. No, it should be as soft and as smooth as ice cream.

My father enjoyed these when he was a kid and if I’m lucky I can share them with my kids some day – if I ever have any. My father’s favorite is the almond, but mine is either lemon or lemon-lime as I have a soft spot for sour things. They have other flavors such as chocolate, root beer, cherry, watermelon, and so on. They also have grape which I believe to be my first Ice. If it wasn’t really my first, it’s at least the first I can remember. I recall my father and me down at the beach, and it was a hot summer day with a lot of the summer kids running around. I can clearly remember waiting in line (it’s a walk-up only location) and then my dad asking me what kind I wanted. I was about 4 or 5 and I saw a boy a few years older than me eating a purple ice. So I told my dad I wanted a purple one and the boy said (rather snotty I might add): “its called grape”. Well, excuse me!

It’s so hard to describe how these taste, but they are pretty damn tasty: cold, smooth like ice cream, refreshing, and just sweet enough. They serve them in little paper mini cups that are soft so that as you eat the ice you can squeeze the paper together to push the ice up and suck out every last drop that is left. I would take one of those over any flavor of ice cream any day.

For a really great article on Vecchitto’s and some history of this family owned and operated business here is a great article from the New York Times circa 2002.

Now that I’m done being nostalgic about food, I find that I really miss home. While I have lived in Tampa for 19 years now, CT is still my home.

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