And sometimes a book finds you.
The morning before the writers conference in Kansas City, I’d not planned to visit the book section of a thrift store. But the gray skies and drizzle made me jettison plans for the outdoor aircraft museum.
The oddly named paperback called to me. The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin was a 1994 omnibus edition of three previous titles, each a compilation of essays from The New Yorker magazine about the state of American food.
I scanned the opening line: “The best restaurants in the world are, of course, in Kansas City.”
I was hooked. The evening before, I’d dined at BB’s Lawnside Bar-B-Que, a dive that garnishes its gourmet barbecue with live blues music. I’d polished off a serving of “Memphis Minnie’s catfish” and batter-coated potato wedges, followed by an astounding bread pudding. That noon I’d have lunch at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the original location in the gas station. And soon I’d return to Gates Bar-B-Q.
If author Calvin Trillin believed Kansas City held the world’s top four or five restaurants, he’d get no argument from me.
His second paragraph sealed the deal. As I was growing up in a family that really enjoyed eating, my father would sometimes speak of a hypothetical, pretentious restaurant: La Maison de la Casa House, Continental Cuisine. I never imagined the phrase came from Calvin Trillin. But there it was:
Its name will be something like La Maison de la Casa House, Continental Cuisine; its food will sound European but taste as if the continent they had in mind was Australia.
Most of my life, I’d been shaped by this book. But now, on that Thursday morning in Kansas City, I finally found the book. Or maybe it found me.