Saturday, August 20, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Dear Food Dude


Honestly, I started out blaming you. Who wouldn’t? We were lost. Deep in the vineyards outside of St. Emilion, France. And vineyards are like cornfields — one row of grape vines is indistinguishable from the next row of grape vines. Row after row after row. And those ancient sections of stone fences that spring up in the vineyards? Well, they’re no different from old volunteer pumpkins you discover in the long grass next to the garden in late fall. They’re a pleasant surprise, and great to stomp on, but of absolutely no use for directions. Sure, it’s all very French and very idyllic and very “salle de bain,” or some other French nonsense. But we were lost. And hungry. And thirsty. And it’s your fault. Why? My wife blamed me. I blamed you. You are the “Food Dude.” You’re supposed to tell us where to go for food. You didn’t. Simple as pumpkin pie.

joes1Well, when I saw a gas station and some tumbled-down buildings in the distance, I assured my wife we would find water at the gas station. Of course when we got closer, the gas station had closed its doors, removed the pumps and had nearly sunk back into the ground. Not a good sign.

Then we noticed all these working men walking into the past-its-prime building across the street.  Naturally we followed.

And manna fell from heaven.

An unmarked open bottle of red wine was placed on our table. And over the next two hours, soup, bread, liver pate, rabbit, beef, chicken, pork, cheese, scalloped potatoes, barley and tuna salad, shredded carrot salad, dessert, and coffee appeared. No English was spoken. No questions were asked. Not a bit of hesitation in setting down bowl after bowl, family style. The guys in work clothes ate, and we ate. Until we couldn’t eat or drink anything more. The place was called La Puce — “The flea.”

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But guess what? I just checked. There is still no review for La Puce by the “Food Dude.” Really? What will happen to other folks lost in vineyards? Get a grip and get writing.

Signed — Lost in the vineyards.

Dear Food Dude:

Honestly, I started out blaming you. Who wouldn’t? We had walked in the rain long enough. Our sodden clothes matched our sodden mood. No restaurant had room for us in the mid-sized coastal town of San Sebastian in Spanish Basque country. Sure, it’s hard to beat walking along quaint Spanish cobblestone streets and hearing loud joyful Spanish shouted from doorsteps and alleyways. But we were hungry and we were wet. And we were not in the mood. If they would have run the bulls through the streets like they do a couple of miles away in Pomplona, instead of danger we would have seen dinner. We were in dire straights and it was your fault. Why? You’re supposed to tell us where to eat. You didn’t. My wife blamed me, and, yes, you get it, I blamed you. Duh.

Then we saw it. A small bar/restaurant — Hidalgo 56. Run by the smiling Juan Mari Humada and his wife, Nubia Regalado. Tapas was the game. And the dishes lined the bar from front to back. Grab a plate. Load it full. Juan takes away the food that needs to be heated — and you stand or sit while you eat delicacy after delicacy. Roasted sardines, fish soups, goat cheese delights, small breads with chorizo or ham, rice and tomatoes, beans, eggs, oiled green peppers, olives, filleted oysters, and every combination of the above with potatoes. All for you. And wine. And dessert. And espresso, por favor.

joes2Don’t worry.  Juan and I had a long chat about tapas. Since I understood pretty much nothing he said, he placed the family cookbook in my hands to take home, poured more wine and smiled with patience at my lack of Spanish.

And today, where’s your review of Hidalgo 56? I need you to take care of this. Pronto.

Signed — Wet in Spain.

Dear Food Dude:

Honestly, I started out blaming you. Who wouldn’t? We had searched Europe for the perfect crepe. From Amsterdam through Belgium and Germany and all the way to Paris. No perfect crepe. It was obviously your fault for failing to direct us to a great crepe place. Why? My wife blamed me. And guess who I blamed? I hope you are getting the drift of this.

joes3But then we were in St. Jean-de-Luz — the French side of Basque country — at an outside market. And there was Nicolas Jamet. A young man from Brittany making crepes. I have to tell you, his sparkly eyes and pirate smile tricked us into trying crepes once more. And try them we did.

OK, this guy is a certified pastry chef who travels from market to market selling wonderful French specialties. And his dream? His own shop. Not a bad idea, because his pastries and crepes cause death by swooning. It happened to us. We ate his crepes, we swooned, and we died. Simple as that.

And, yes, Food Dude, still no review. Meanwhile, people are going crepeless. A horror. I’m counting on you to take care of this problem. Lickety-split.

JoeWeegBWSigned — Looking for crepes in Europe. CV       

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at Joe can be reached by email at

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