Food, glorious food. We love it. We need it. More than half the country is overweight because of it. And we all have our favorites. Family recipes and local restaurant dishes that we turn to again and again, to celebrate special occasions, comfort us when we're upset, or simply to save us the trouble of cleaning our kitchen. Don't even get us started on the new temptations foisted upon the masses almost daily (damn you 7-eleven and your new western omelet breakfast croissant!).
But what if you could have only one last meal? And we're not talking a Christ-type last meal — pretty much goes without saying that's a bread-and-wine kind of occasion. What if, say, you committed a heinous crime and were sentenced to die tomorrow? Plenty of people have been there. And plenty of other people are fascinated by what death row denizens choose for their final menu. Hell, until last December, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — well-known leaders in American executions — had a page on its website dedicated to death row inmates' final repast requests. Books have been written about criminals' last meals, the website deadmaneating.com is devoted to the subject. And with very few exceptions, these condemned souls take full advantage of the opportunity to eat whatever they want on their respective states' dimes. Who wouldn't? John Wayne Gacy (executed in Illinois, 1994), for instance, enjoyed Kentucky Fried Chicken, fried shrimp, french fries, strawberries and Diet Coke. Walter LaGrand (Arizona, 1999) supped upon six fried eggs, 16 strips of bacon, hash browns, pineapple sherbet, a breakfast steak, a cup of ice, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Coke, hot sauce, coffee and — of course — four Rolaids. And Aileen Wuornos (Florida, 2002), so popular these days as portrayed by an uglified Charlize Theron in Monster, ate only a burger and other snack foods from the prison's canteen. Then you have Ted Bundy (Florida, 1989), who waived his right to a last meal, dining instead on whatever happened to be on the prison's menu of the evening (in his case, burritos and Mexican rice). And let's not forget Robert Buell (Ohio, 2002), who hoped his final meal of a single black, unpitted olive would one day sprout from his body an olive tree (as far as we know, it didn't).
To get you in a last-meal sort of mind, your intrepid Planet staffers have offered their idea of fine day-before-death dining. So if, like so many others, you're interested in execution cuisine, grab a fork, strap on a bib and prepare for some comestible punishment.
WP Food Critic
When I began to think about a Last Supper, what immediately came to mind was the most infamous meal ever ordered by the late New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne. In 1973, he successfully bid $300 at a charity auction for the chance to dine at the restaurant of his choice, anywhere in the world, with no cost limit. Claiborne and Chef Pierre Franey picked Chez Denis in Paris, ordering 31 courses and nine bottles of the finest wine. The final tab was an estimated $4,000. The Vatican sniffed that it was "scandalous."
But Claiborne's audacity wins points with me. After all, it's only money. So, taking a cue from the master, I did not concern myself with expense. However, to keep it relevant, I limited myself to items available in the Bay area.
1. Orange Cosmopolitan, $8.25, Armani's Restaurant, Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, 6200 Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa, 813-874-1234.
2. Appetizer: roti canai, Indian pancake, $4.95 for two, Satay House, 5731 Seminole Blvd., Seminole, 727-399-8395.
3. Soup: Chinese beef and pepper soup, $2.99/cup, $3.99/bowl, Michael's Grill, 11720 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-964-8334.
4. Salad: Sally's endive salad with citrus and warm bacon dressing, $7.95, Crazy Conch Café, Tierra Verde, 1110 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, 727-865-0633.
5. Crusty handmade bread: $1.25/loaf, Domenic's Capri Italian Restaurant, 411 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach, 727-441-1111.
6. Pasta pockets, stuffed with six kinds of cheese and topped with a lusty red sauce, $16.50, Spartaco Trattoria Italiana, 3215 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-832-9327.
7. Wine: Bottle of Cake Bread Cellars Chardonnay, 2000, $80.
8. Mixed grill of shrimp, scallops, and fresh Hawaiian fish served with chipotle grits and three sauces — smoked tomato beurre-blanc, lobster fondue and kaffir lime, $25, Pacific Wave, 211 Second St. S., St Petersburg, 727-822-5235.
9. Wine: Bottle of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillon, 1999, $122.10.
10. Chateaubriand, 13-ounce, with Dijon bordelaise sauce, $42.20, Bern's Steak House, 1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-254-2421.
11. Side dish: Fleming's potatoes, $5.95, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 4322 Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa, 813-874-9463.
12. Vegetable side: Fried green tomatoes with homemade ranch dressing, $3.16, The Whistle Stop Grill, 915 Main St., Safety Harbor, 727-726-1956.