The great American philosopher Julius H. Marx said it best.
“Hello,” he said, “I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going. I’m glad I came, but just the same I must be going.”
Of course, he was wearing a giant greasepaint mustache and eyebrows and smoking a cigar when he said it. And technically, he was singing, though there could be a difference of opinion about that.
Groucho sang this memorable song in Animal Crackers as he was attempting to leave a party. And that brings me to my point.
I, too, am leaving this party we call Toledo.
I’m packing my stove and heading southwest, 468 miles (or so) to St. Louis. Part of me, of course, is excited to go to the land of the giant arch and also, as I have learned, of a fun museum that has a city bus dangling off the roof. The roof also features a Ferris wheel and a giant metallic sculpture of a praying mantis. Believe me, I know the first place I’m taking visitors when they come to St. Louis.
But an equally large part of me is reluctant to leave. You, the good folks of Toledo, have welcomed me with the openest of arms and made me feel at the homiest of home.
I have learned so much here, not the least of which is that Spell Check thinks “openest” is a word (apparently it means accessible to all, with no protection or shield, open for business, and any number of other meanings).
It is here in Toledo that I have had the single best ear of corn in my life, the best Middle Eastern food, the best Brussels sprouts, the best pierogi, one of the best steaks, the best molecular gastronomy, and even, I’m pretty sure, the best several chili dogs of my life.
Oh, and doughnuts, too. Lots of astonishingly amazing doughnuts.
I have also had the best conversations here about food, among many other topics. This is a seriously great food town. That is something you can be proud of, but it is also something you cannot help. You are wonderful cooks and wonderful eaters. It’s just the way it is.
I know I am going to miss the food culture here, but that is not all. I am going to miss you, the readers, most of all.
OK, that’s not true. I’m going to miss my friends and colleagues most of all. But you, the readers, are a close second.
You have been unfailingly welcoming and friendly. You have called, you have e-mailed, and you have laughed at some of my jokes — which is the kindest thing, and not at all a sign of desperation on my part.
The town itself and the surrounding environs are also hard to leave. The art museum is a jewel, one of the best in the country. The zoo is terrific. The farmers’ markets are extraordinary (a colleague once told me the agriculture here is “freakishly good,” and he was right). And don’t overlook one of our finest treasures, the Libbey Glass Outlet. That place is awesome.
The whole town is like a giant praying mantis sculpture on a roof, and I mean that in the coolest and best possible way.
I leave, I am afraid, with work left unfinished. There is so much more I wanted to write about here. I wanted to explore how firefighters cook and eat. I wanted to write about a great ice sculptor in Napoleon and a man in Sylvania who makes his own maple syrup. Just last week I heard about a local woman who makes Polish Christmas cookies just the way her grandmother did — a painstakingly slow method that requires ingredients that can be hard to find, but she takes the trouble as a way of preserving the old ways.
As I said: A seriously great food town.
Damn you, Toledo. You’re making it hard to leave.
Contact Daniel Neman in St. Louis beginning in two weeks. So long, and thanks for all the fish.