“Please, sir, I want some more.”
Sure, that line might be from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, but it’s also what I say when I am at one of those fancy restaurants with tiny portion sizes. I mean, you don’t have to call me Ishmael and offer me a Moby Dick-sized portion, but how about leaving off the two drops of expensive white truffle oil and adding a few more spears of asparagus?
If you can’t tell by the literary references, I like books. And if there’s one thing I like to do more than read, it’s to eat and read. I know, I know — this is nothing new. Nerds like me do this all the time at restaurants. What I’m talking about, however, is eating certain foods because of those books. I’m talking about waking up on Christmas morning and yelling to my neighbors, “Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize turkey that was hanging up there?” Or eating Turkish delight in the privacy of my own closet like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but pretending I like it.
I love literary food, and here are some reasons why. Read it, eat it, and let’s discuss it. You bring the gruel.
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter
and the Prisoner of Azkaban
With the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter/Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort this summer, my mouth is already watering at the thought of dining on bangers and mash at the Leaky Cauldron and visiting Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour for dessert. Having been to Hogsmeade on numerous occasions over the years, I am proud to be a butterbeer-aholic, two-fisting both cold and frozen butterbeers at the same time. Brain freeze or not, I know it is my one and only chance to consume as many beers as I possibly can before the park closes (or having to visit Moaning Myrtle in the loo). “Wish we could have brought you some butterbeer,” Ron tells Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban, knowing full well that even with all of their wands and potions, nobody — not even Harry Potter — can make a butterbeer appear outside of Hogsmeade.
CHEESE SANDWICH & BURGUNDY
James Joyce's Ulysses
With Bloomsday around the corner on June 16th, I’ve been doing my best to read all 768 pages of James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses. I don’t actually have a clue as to what is going on with the plot, but I have enjoyed how Joyce describes the eating habits of men. “Fellow sharpening knife and fork, to eat all before him, old chap picking his tootles.” It’s also the reason I’m still single. And what I wouldn’t give to visit Davy Byrne’s pub in Dublin to order up a glass of burgundy and the very same gorgonzola cheese sandwich as Leopold Bloom. “Mr. Bloom ate his stripes of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate.” If only reading the book were that simple.
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
Some people might think of cake when reading Alice, but it was Chapter 7's “Mad Tea-Party" that hooked me for life on the joy of wearing crazy hats and the way time stands still when enjoying tea and scones with family and friends. Whether at The Plaza in New York City, The Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C., or the delightful Royal Tea Room in Tampa, the feelings of this Mad Hatter are never in doubt, as “it’s always tea-time” in my book.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
“I ate apple pie and ice cream — it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer,” writes Jack Kerouac in beatnik bible On the Road. Thanks to a citywide reading of the book last year led by Margaret Murray, Keep St. Pete Lit, and The Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, I got the chance to fall in love with apple pie again — and Kerouac, of course, who spent the last years of his life here. There are still plenty of ways to remember him: visit his house; drink at his favorite bar, The Flamingo; or my personal favorite, just have a big slice of apple pie. (Murray recommends the pie at the Kopper Kitchen.)
Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford novels
I don’t fish, but after reading any of White’s novels featuring marine biologist/ex-NSA agent Doc Ford, I sure want to. I grew up going down to Sanibel Island, and not once did I ever want to get up early in the morning to sit on a boat and wait for some dumb fish to bite my hook. Yet right now, I’m ready to move to Dinkins Bay and start a charter fishing business, all because I love Doc Ford’s Yucatan Shrimp. See, the Doc also has a restaurant called Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. “Steamed shrimp in a dressing of real butter, mild Colombian chilies, fresh cilantro and key lime juice.” That’s not the book; I’m reading the menu. It’s that good.