Friday, July 8, 2011

Diasporic Dining XXV: This Side of Paradise

Go to the end of the Long Island Expressway (Exit 73), meaning you haven’t gotten off the highway at Route 105 Manorville leading to Route 27, which is the road to the East End of Long Island and the Hamptons. Instead you will end up in Riverhead, with its long line of retail chains and car dealerships leading to a traffic circle that shoots down Route 58 to BJ’s Club. The relief from the crowded Hamptons is belied by a road that seems like one long shopping mall. But keep going. You will come upon a big neon sign with the words Modern Snack Bar. Right away you will be able to tell that Snack Bar is a misnomer, since the gray shingled building houses a rather large restaurant that serves things like crispy roast duck, clam chowder, lemon chiffon pie and soft-shell crabs (and the avuncular looking owner will tell you just when they came in if you ask). The uniformed staff is cheerful in an almost therapeutic way, and when you see the prices and the unhurried atmosphere you might think you are reliving the famous “A Stop at Willoughby” episode of The Twilight Zone. Of course the utopia that the show’s protagonist ends up in turns out to be death, while the Modern Snack Bar is very much alive, standing on an old country road alongside farms stands and modest white cottages. It’s a matter of faith. You have to keep going. Just when you thought you’d ended up in the depersonalized hell of consumerism, you come to a little piece of yesterday that, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words, is “this side of paradise.”

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