Last week, we Valley-ites learned about the closing of one of the area's mainstay eateries, Alberini's in Niles.
Cooking that comes from the old family recipe is always better than mass-produced tomato-and-cheese foodstuffs. A smiling owner gives a better greeting when you come to dine than the cold, steel arms of the PizzaTron5000, who gets easily confused during its long day of shoving frozen things into ovens and may just rip your head off.
Local establishments are supported by the community, and Alberini's is no different. In its 50 years of serving local families, the restaurant has created many memories.
When I read the comments on the story that ran in the Tribune about the restaurant closing, it made me flash back to a Strip of the past; where Brown Derby and A&W still crowned the hill. When you're a kid, getting to go out to eat is a major treat. Not that you ever tire of your mom's cooking - or microwaving - but going to a sit-down restaurant to eat allows for some temporary adulthood. You can order your own dinner. You get to see people that aren't related to you or aren't in your class. And there's that magical moment when you graduate from the kiddie menu to the adult menu.
My first trip to Alberini's was in celebration of me and my brother both getting straight A's on our report cards, and our dad really pulled out all the stops (dads are great at that). He said we could order whatever we wanted, and I readily abused that privilege by ordering the filet mignon.
As a middle-schooler, I felt so tre chic. My brother, being a boy and also too young to know to take your parents for everything they got, ordered fries. I remember that meal to this day; the fancy folding napkins, the colors and patterns of the rugs and dcor of the restaurant, the real wood grown-up chairs. And the steak made me into a lifelong carnivore. Sorry, cows. That was our first real grown-up dinner.
We sometimes had Thanksgiving dinner at the aforementioned Brown Derby, which I also recall in detail. They would bring this giant heaping platter of sliced turkey out, and dinner was served family-style. I remember the entry way, where the gumball machines were, where the coat rack was, but I can't remember what I did three days ago. Thanks, brain.
Another meal we were treated to was the semi-annual trip to the McDonald's in Champion. Our school would award us coupons in return for good grades. The McDonald's in Champion had a goldfish fountain, and the fish lived on a diet of watery fries. I used to stare into that fountain while our mom was in line ordering our food. They must not have trusted children not to feed fries to fish, so the fountain is no more.
We would go to Mary M's on Parkman Road for breakfast, lunch, and that oh-so-delightful brunch. A trip to Red Barn was for friend's birthdays and whenever someone got the burger hungries (I could write a whole column about Red Barn, and I will someday). Golden Gate was for weddings. Sunrise Inn was for after the football game.
When you are able to go out to eat on your own accord, the pomp and circumstance is lost. You go overboard, but then the novelty wears off, and your first car is swimming in fast-food wrappers.
I can thank Alberini's and some of the other local businesses for helping me form my first mealtime memories. Too bad they couldn't help my brother learn some variety - he is still the french fry king.