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Fine Dopish Dining

Two elusive figures mystified me during my youth — one in childhood, the other in adolescence.

The first was the Tooth Fairy.

I knew he was real, and how could I not? I put a tooth under my pillow and the next morning the tooth was gone and a dime was in its place. There was solid (and spendable) proof he existed.

But beyond his existence itself, I had no idea who or what he, or she, or it, was. He was the opposite of Santa Claus, about whom everyone knew everything. The whos, whats, wheres, and whys of Santa were written, drawn, filmed and sung about so much, I knew him better than I did my next-door neighbors. Then again, I wanted to, since he was a lot more interesting than them.

While I never got a clue about the Tooth Fairy, it didn’t matter. By the time I’d turned my last baby tooth into cold hard cash, I realized the Tooth Fairy was just a fantasy costruct.

The second Mystery Man (and he was a man) was Duncan Hines.

On the list … or off the list

My family traveled a lot and Duncan Hines was with us every time. Or at least his name was, since we saw it on signs in front of restaurants. And if the Duncan Hines sign of approval was in front of a restaurant, it meant the place was A-OK.

So how did that come about? Was Duncan Hines a chef, a connoisseur, a man formally schooled in culinary arts?

Actually, he was none of those things.

By profession he was a traveling salesman. And after decades of crisscrossing This Great Land of Ours, he knew which restaurants were the best. Or maybe more exactly, which ones he liked the best. He then wrote a book with his recommendations. It became an instant best seller, and by proxy he became an instant and widely accepted “expert.”

So DH’s list was gospel, eh? For many folks, yes. For others — me, for instance — perhaps not.

I’m not saying his recommendations were wrong. It’s just that lots of great beaneries never made it on the list. So for someone like me, who’s in love with funky diners, his list would be a wash. For example, Bokie’s Drive-in, up the road from us in Malone, wouldn’t have even been considered by ole DH, hisself. And more’s the pity.

If you don’t know Bokie’s, it’s a classic ’50’s-’60s diner — a pink and white one, no less. And while almost all today’s “classic” diners are retrofitted diners or brand-new ones, Bokie’s is the real deal, having made its initial appearance when Elvis made his, back in ’56.

The decorations are a hoot. Each table represents a year, and under a thick layer of polyurethane are newspaper clippings from that year. The walls are jam-packed with memorabilia, including framed pics of various graduating classes from Salmon River and Malone. Plus there are other lovely licks, like they sell fuzzy dice for for a mere $2.50, they occasionally have beef-flavored cones for your best friend, and expectant mothers get a free pickle.

The place is constantly busy and always clean; the staff is friendly, helpful and efficient.

Bokie’s prices – as opposed to those at the too-precious-for-words retro diners  are eminently reasonable, if not a downright steal.

And now I’m sure you wanna know the real diner issue: How does the food taste?

The acid test

Keep in mind, I go to diners for my spiritual health, not my physical well-being. In a diner I’m not worrying about calories, sugar, salt, grease, or any other such sillinesses. I’m there to shovel food down my gaping maw, and my only issue is how it tastes.

On my last outing I put the joint to the acid test: I ordered the quintessential northern New York gourmet classic — poutine. And I decided to wash it down with the quintessential diner drink — a chocolate milk shake.

Their poutine comes in two sizes, small and large. The small one is large, and the large one is mind-boggling. Wisely (though uncharacteristically) I ordered the small. Then I ordered my milk shake. The shakes come in only one size, but can be either regular or thick. I went for thick.

I gave the counter girl my order.

“Do you want whipped cream and a cherry on your milkshake?” she asked.

I was taken aback.

Whipped cream and a cherry atop a thick shake? Who ever heard of such a thing? Not me…at least not till then.

I thought a moment.

On the one hand, the shake, of and by itself, was asking for a myocardial infarction. But adding whipped cream to it seemed like begging for one.

I thought some more.

Finally, I decided.

“Yeah,” I said, “lay on the whipped cream.”

I figured, what the hell. Taking care of my sensual desires is my business — taking care of my coronary arteries is Dr. Tramontano’s.

So how was it?

I may have had better poutine, but I can’t recall it. There are all sorts of things that can be wrong with poutine. The gravy can be watery. The cheese can be low-quality. The fries can be processed, not hand-cut. Bokie’s scored A+ on all counts.

As for the milkshake? Over the years I’ve had more than my share of milkshakes, and sadly, most of them have been only so-so. Essentially, either the flavor is crappy, they’re not ice-cold, and too many of the “thick” shakes aren’t thick at all. Worst of all, the serving size is pffff-t.

Again, Bokie’s was at the head of the class. The shake was everything I want, but rarely find.

And now a key question: Was the whipped cream too much? Actually not. Since it took up space that would’ve been filled by the shake, it didn’t make the shake any sweeter or richer. In fact, it made it just right.

By the way, I said no to the cherry. That would’ve been excessive.

Besides, I hate maraschino cherries.