When David Letterman hosted The Late Show he used to have a segment called "Brush With Greatness" where people would tell him about famous people that they had passed by or interacted with in some fashion. In our travels we have had quite a few such brushes with "greatness". One was while we were in Venice, Italy. We had just arrived off the boat and were attempting to find our hotel. We wandered around the city trying to decipher the numbering system and finding walkways that didn't seem to be labeled on the map. Entering a small courtyard we found ourselves walking into a fairly large group of people that were in a huddled mass coming straight at us. We gently maneuvered through the crowd, like salmon swimming upstream, when all of a sudden there was a break in the crowd and in the center (literarily like the eye of the storm) was Ricardo Montalban! He confidently strolled in the center of this mass of people as if he were the king of the jungle, in each arm he had a tall beautiful woman. He himself, stood very tall, almost as if he was in a back brace, he didn't look left or right, his gaze was straight forward and very regal. He moved without effort, almost gliding over the stones rather than stepping on them, and he had this ever so slight grin that made me think he was imagining what it would be like to again sit in his Chrysler LeBaron with the fine Corinthian leather. It was very quiet when he passed, as if the crowd around him was absorbing all sound. As the people who were following him enveloped us again and we pushed our way through, it was as if we were being returned to the real world. When we emerged out of the group David and I looked at each other and both said "that was Ricardo Montalban" then just went back to trying to find our hotel.
On a warm day in late summer some years back, we were with our dog at the local off-leash park and an elderly man, walking a very large dog, was heading towards us. At this particular park everyone you meet is generally very friendly and it is not uncommon to stop and greet both the animal and the owner. In most cases people will remember the dogs name but draw a blank as to the name of the owner. As we got closer and the dogs did their obligatory greeting, David and I were actually pretty quiet, and didn't greet the owner except to give a brief nod in his direction. After we walked on and were out of earshot David turned to me and said "that was George Gaines" (or as we refer to him as... Dr. John Van Horn). We instantly started quoting lines from the movie Tootsie and coming up with “I wish I would have said” lines. I remember telling David that if I ever saw George again, I would somehow casually mention how much I enjoyed his role in Tootsie, and all the other shows he's been in as well. As it happened a few days later we found ourselves in the exact same situation as before. as soon as we spotted him I started rehearsing what I would say in my head. As we passed, the dogs did their obligatory "hello" and just as the moment was about to disappear, I (cleverly) asked him how old was his dog. Not at all what I rehearsed. So much for best-laid plans, right? Over the next two or three weeks we saw George walking his dog in the park and each time we would pass we would nod, say a cheerful hello or good afternoon or something and though we would chat for a bit, the conversation was always about our dogs. I can only guess that he was visiting his daughter, who is a resident in our town, as suddenly we didn't see him at the park anymore, and I never got to tell him how much I enjoyed his work. Oh well, he probably heard that from everybody, right?
In New York we stood behind Ric Ocasek and his lovely wife Paulina Porizkova at a local Duane Reed drug store. On the subway going to work one morning, Didi Caan jumped on the train I was on and asked if it was going uptown or downtown. Julia Louise Dreyfus stopped to comment and ask questions on a cabinet David and I were installing into the home of her college friend she was visiting. While looking down into my grocery basket while shopping at our local Whole Foods, David suddenly grabbed my arm and yanked me to the side preventing me from walking smack into versatile character actor Tommy Lee Jones. We have spotted Christopher Lloyd while he was roller blading along the beach and even stopped and chatted with him when we saw him in a local kitchen supply store. David brushed past the artist Keith Herring while climbing the stairs at Tower Records in NYC and while working in the box office of a local theater I have sold tickets to Eve Maria Saint, Walter Koenig, and Alex Rocco. Also worth mentioning is David’s encounter with one of the composers of the song My Heart Will Go On, Will Jennings; and the time we parked our car right next to David Crosby, who was sitting in his Tesla, listening to the radio, (probably the latest from Justin Bieber) while his wife was grocery shopping inside.
Ok... so what, right? Why am I telling you about these people? Because I wanted to tell you about maybe our most favorite brush with greatness and wanted to give you something to compare to.
David grew up in the desert; just a stone’s throw away from Barstow, California, in a small town called Hinkley. You may know about Hinkley if you ever watched the movie "Erin Brockovich". Barstow is where all the action is however, it is where the schools are, it is where the military bases are, and it even has the best "fast food" restaurant at which I have ever eaten. Many of you on the west coast and some folks on the east coast will probably know the name Del Taco and may have even had the opportunity to visit one in or near your town. The Del Taco built in Barstow on First Avenue is still operated by the same family that founded Del Taco back in 1964. This same family also operates two other locations in Barstow, but our favorite is still the First Avenue location, which is known as “Number 1”. Most people might say that all fast food locations are pretty much the same but if you ever have a chance to eat at a Barstow Del Taco (especially #1) you will notice a difference right away. The staff is always super friendly, almost like you are part of their family, there are unique items on the menu that you can't get anywhere else, and it never feels like you’re eating fast food at all. David remembers in the early seventies when they had Taco Tuesday where you could get 5 tacos for a dollar. The cars would be lined up at the drive through all the way down First Avenue. He also remembers walking over from the high school during lunch nearly everyday and that after school everyone would gather at Del Taco #2 to hang out before cruising up and down Main Street. Ah! Nothing like growing up in a small town!
Our brush with greatness here is that at some point in college David got to know the daughter of the founder of the Del Taco restaurants. In my blogs (and other places I post) I change the names of the people I talk about, so let's just call her Julie. Julie is one of the nicest people you could ever meet, and you could tell that she got that from her family. This is the kind of person Julie is: She invited us to her wedding and reception but when we said we couldn't come because we didn't have anybody to watch our dog and didn't want to board him to make the 4 hour trip to Barstow, she said "bring him". So we showed up to Barstow's social event of the season with a ninety-five pound German shepherd who we put under our table at the reception while everyone enjoyed dinner. It was at this event that I first met Julie's parents, who never once batted an eye that we had our dog in tow at their daughters wedding. Hey, there was a couple that brought a baby at the table next to us, so at least we weren't that bad! So there I was at the home of the founder of Del Taco: I was standing in a room with the person who created the Bun Taco (and his family)! And I was simply beside myself. One of the best things about food can be the serendipity of it all. Who knew that David would grow up to be friends with the daughter of the man who created the food that was a part of so many of his memories, across a decade and more of his early years, and that somewhere along the way I would be able to share in those memories and friendships as well?
Now I can't actually give you the recipe for the bun taco, or any of the food they serve at Del Taco for that matter, but I can give you an alternative, which is one of my favorite comfort foods, Sloppy Joes. I implore you, do not, under any circumstance, purchase canned Sloppy Joe mix, it's gross. Trust me, I ate it for many, many, many, many, many years. Instead get yourself a few extra ingredients while your getting your ground beef and make it yourself. You'll be so happy you did. There will be nothing complicated about this recipe so you don't need a step by step walkthrough. The recipe is at the bottom of the post as well as a link so you can download or print. Sloppy Joes are the perfect weeknight meal when you want to just make something quick and easy and sit in front of the TV bingeing on your favorite Netflix shows. Truth be told I usually make Tater Tots on Sloppy Joes night too, hey when your going comfort food, go all the way, right?
So leave me a comment letting me know what your favorite fast food place is, or maybe what your favorite comfort food is, or perhaps who your brush with greatness was with, that would be fun too.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion, (about 1 medium sized onion)
- ½ cup finely diced carrot, (about 1 small to medium sized carrot)
- ½ cup finely diced bell pepper, (about ½ medium sized pepper)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ pounds lean ground beef
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup ketchup
- 16 ounces tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
In a 12-inch skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat until hot, and then add the onion, bell pepper, and carrot.
Sauté vegetables until soft about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then using a slotted spoon remove the vegetable mixture from the pan into a large bowl and set aside.
Set the pan back over a medium heat and add in the ground beef.
Sprinkle the salt over the beef and allow the beef to brown. Stirring occasionally to break up large clumps.
When the beef has browned, use the slotted spoon to remove it from the pan into the bowl with the vegetables.
Drain excess fat from the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon only.
Place the pan back over medium heat and return the beef and vegetables to the pan.
Add the ketchup, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, thyme, and black pepper, stirring everything well.
When the mixture starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve over your favorite bread or hamburger buns.
There are plenty of ways to make this recipe your own. As always feel free to adjust (or change) the seasonings to your taste (sometimes I add a pinch of dried oregano to mine). Add in ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes, or a few pinches of cayenne pepper if you want a little heat (or you could add in a dash or three of your favorite hot sauce). I always top mine with cheddar cheese that has been grated on the small side of a box grater (the way they grate it at Del Taco). And you don’t have to stop there, top your Sloppy Joes with diced scallions, some shredded lettuce or a dollop of sour cream. Not in the mood for bread? Try serving this over pasta instead (ziti works exceptionally well), and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese for a twist on the standard marinara.