I’ve proclaimed it before, and will continue to do so: People bond over food. And last week, for me, that food was barbecue.
Two weeks ago, I was one of the judges at the 31st annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off. I met a very nice couple, Terry and Georgia Lenahan, who were Toledo natives in town for her high school reunion. They’re Kansas City barbecue certified judges. So, naturally, we chatted about barbecue as well as regional dishes found in cities where they’ve judged competitions. They issued an invitation to me that, should I ever find myself in Atlanta, I should look them up and we‘d all go out to enjoy a nice meal.
The very next day, I was in Chicago on the first part of an excursion to Wisconsin to learn about making cheese.
I’d been wanting to eat at Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed since first learning about it from a very dear friend two years ago. The restaurant is named both for The Guide for the Perplexed, written by philosopher and Torah scholar Maimonides in the 12th century, and also for the owner’s uncle. Milt, according to his nephew, Jeff Aeder, has been a bit perplexed himself at times.
Milt’s is a kosher restaurant. Meat and dairy aren’t permitted to coexist there, in accordance with the Jewish dietary laws: Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother‘s milk. The meats served are beef and chicken, not pork. Oh, never, ever pork.
The Rib-Off’s mascot, on the other hand, is a fat, happy pig. His name should be Treyf, which is Yiddish for “not kosher.” Within 24 hours, I enjoyed barbecue from two widely different traditions. And both brought me new friendships.
At Milt’s, as my boyfriend, Craig, and I started with house-made bread and butter pickles, Mr. Aeder stood up and asked if he could have everyone’s attention. He announced that Sam Ron, a longtime family friend, was there that night celebrating his 90th birthday. Mr. Aeder also told those assembled that Mr. Ron is a Holocaust survivor, a war hero, and a good man — a mensch.
Intrepid reporter that I’m not, but girl who loves to hear stories that I am, I apologized to Craig for abandoning him in the middle of dinner and headed over to Mr. Ron‘s table. I introduced myself, and then asked just a few questions as the family waited for their meals.
Where had Mr. Ron been born in Poland? He told me Krakow, but a young woman at his table looked up the actual town‘s name on her phone: Kazimierza Wielka, northeast of the larger city. Which camps were you in? Mr. Ron asked if I‘d seen Schindler’s List, which I have; he had worked in one of Schindler‘s factories.
In 1946, Mr. Ron emigrated to Israel, where he matter-of-factly but proudly said, “I fought in the war, I was wounded in the war.” He lived in Israel for 10 years.
In the midst of the noisy restaurant and all the kibbitzing with the family gathered at the table, Mr. Ron’s wife, Bilha, wanted to confirm that I‘m from Ohio. “Yes. I’m from Toledo.”
It turns out that the Rons had lived in Canton for many years though now they live in Florida. They have friends in many disparate places. Mr. Ron‘s actual birthday had been July 28, and his daughter said that more than 30 people from all over the world had come to celebrate with him.
We exchanged business cards and smiles, as I didn’t want to intrude any further, and I returned to Craig to finish our meal. (Tender chicken, vinegar cole slaw, roasted green beans, a summer vegetable medley, a slider assortment served with three sauces, and chili. I know you were wondering.)
When traveling, why not take the scenic route and see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the aromas, and taste the temptations along the way?
There are so many dishes to enjoy, so many stories to hear, and so many friends to make if you’re not up in the air looking down upon them all.