Searching for Normalcy

"And finally, above all else, it is about leaving a mark that I existed: I was here. I was hungry. I was defeated. I was happy. I was sad. I was in love. I was afraid. I was hopeful. I had an idea and I had a good purpose and that’s why I made works of art…" – Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Goodbye, you old rascal April 1, 2008

Filed under: Food,Life — Lulu @ 6:59 pm

Sunday morning, and MKH and I were on a mission: visit landmark Miami restaurant, Rascal House, on its last day in business. Admittedly, it had not been our exact mission to visit ON the last day. In fact, we didn’t even know that Sunday was the last day until Tere confirmed it over dinner the previous night. Nor had we known that the Miami Herald had run a story about the historic restaurant’s closing. But boy did we know it that morning!

We arrived at 10:30AM and were welcomed with a line. A l-o-o-o-ng line that went right out the door. But we were determined to have their Corned Beef Hash one last time. Okay, well, one last time for him; first time for me. Yes, I admit, although I knew of the Rascal House my entire life, I had never visited prior to Sunday morning. Come on, I’m a Cuban girl, Miami-born and bred. We don’t drive to North Miami Beach to have lox and bagels, or corned beef and cabbage. We go to La Carreta or Versailles for café con leche and pastelitos, or croquetas and papas rellena. But I wanted to visit the Rascal House yesterday because I didn’t want it to be like what happened to my friend, Su, when she was 16.

Su had lived in New Jersey, across the bridge from New York, her entire life. She had never visited the Statue of Liberty because she figured she had the rest of her life to see it. In the summer before her junior year of high school, her parents announced they were moving to Miami in a few weeks. She never got to visit the Statue. I didn’t want Rascal House to become my Statue of Liberty (which I haven’t seen either, but that’s neither here nor there).

The stanchions at the restaurant’s entrance reminded me of the Space Mountain line at Disney world. There were separate lines for singles, parties of 2, 4 or more, etc. We decided to stand in the line for Counter Seating for two, as it was shorter. It was a good 20 minutes before we were able to sit down, and another ten to place our order. MKH joked that had the place been this busy all the time, they probably wouldn’t have needed to close.
Rascal House was established in 1954, and was perfectly situated between all the tiny, 24-hour beach motels along the north end of Collins Avenue. Unfortunately, the corporate greed and view-blocking high-rise condos that dominate the beach now, managed to drive away the restaurant’s colorful, storied clientele. The same clientele that had probably been going there for the past fifty or so years.
We were finally able to score two seats at the counter alongside an older Jewish couple. The woman reminded me of Magda in “There’s Something About Mary,” albeit more statuesque and not AS leathery. The gentleman, in all his Guayabera-ed salt and pepper glory, asked where we were from and when I said Miami, we entered into a brief conversation about his daughter, who had lived in Kendall at one time (holla!) and is now residing in Pinecrest (my former ‘hood). They were pure Long Island, the accent held strongly despite a retirement thus far spent in the sun and surf of Miami. They received their breakfast and I couldn’t help giggling at their exchange (they WERE right next to me, after all). It was a Neil Simon play come to life.

Her: “Oh my God (gawd), this is a lot of food.” (She had ordered the french toast.)

Him: “Have my egg.” (Places it on her plate.)

Her: “You don’t want your egg?”

Him: “No, I’m giving it to you.”

Her: “You should eat your egg.”
Him: “I don’t want you to be hungry; that’s why I’m giving you my egg.”

Then he turned to me, winked and flashed his 1,000-kilowatt Dentugrip smile. Ahh-dorable! (Have I ever mentioned that I love old people? I do. I love them. And country folk.)

When the waitress (these are not new-fangled, corporate food, Chili’s sizzling fajitas, servers. These were true-blue bonafide waitresses. Think Flo from Mel’s Diner, with less Aqua Net and more Coppertone) finally came to take our order we were disheartened to find out that they were out of Corned Beef Hash. Horrors! In a panic I ordered the same French Toast as Magda, and a side of breakfast potatoes. MKH ordered a stack of pancakes and a side of ham. Add to that two coffees and we were good to go. The service was painfully slow as they were short-staffed. They had begun laying people off a few weeks prior, in anticipation of the restaurant’s closing.

We sat and chatted and took it all in. The red vinyl booths and wood-paneled walls; the smell of the fresh baked rugalach and brewing coffee; the sight of the Golden Girls brigade coming in the door, all tightly curled coifs and over-the-top jewelry. It was pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself!

Our food came and I gasped at the size of my serving of french toast (as if I hadn’t already caught a glimpse of Magda’s). It was thick and sweet, still hot from the grill and melted in my mouth. The potatoes were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. A sprinkle of salt made them perfect. I literally ate one triangle of my toast (huge, people; HUGE!), a spoonful of potatoes, and packed up the rest to go. Guess what MKH had for dinner??

We finished eating, paid for our food and exited the glass door. Yes, it was my one and only time at the Rascal House. Truthfully? I kind of wish I had discovered it sooner.

(NYTimes wrote about it, too: Check it out.)

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