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Gourmet Goat

January 31, 2010

The Professor and I stopped for lunch at the Gourmet Goat and GG's Restaurant on Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown. Stepping through the door, a line on my left ran past a refrigerated case holding bowls of bountiful salads. The black board above listed soups and sandwiches. Homemade desserts rested near the cash register.

I chose a hot pastrami sandwich with Muenster cheese on rye toast with mustard, onion, potato chips and a pickle. I carried my tray to a table by the window and there, perched high on a stool, I watched the noon-time world go by outside. Inside, this downtown neighborhood deli bustled with activity. The patrons ate and laughed. The waitresses were saucy, bantering among themselves and with their customers. Friends came in and asked for advice on recipes.

My sandwich sat on a colorful plate, red, yellow, blue and green forming a bullseye. The sandwich was very good. The Professor liked the sandwich, too, but declared, "It's not New York deli style, which is four to five inches thick with sliced pastrami." To which I said, "This is not New York." The Green Mountain coffee could have been hotter and stronger for me.

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But what, I wondered, was GG's Restaurant? I stopped by late one afternoon with my question. The owner led me to the back of the deli and he switched on the lights. There, unexpectedly, was a full-scale restaurant with seating for about 40 people.

When I wanted to return, no one was available to go with me. I decided to go alone to a fine restaurant. A friend passed by as I entered. I invited her to join me. "Sorry. You'll have to eat alone. They are nice guys, though," she said reassuringly. So I went in alone.

"Table for one, sweetheart," said the host. The owners' reputation was well founded. They treated me well, a woman dining alone in the early evening of a winter's day.

I dream often of hidden rooms. I felt like I had entered my dream landscape. That dreamy feeling was reinforced by gauzy curtains which separated the restaurant from the bar. These curtains had imprinted within them Venetian gondolas. I felt a drifting sensation that comes on the edge of sleep. These curtains, however, did not protect me from the images on the television at the bar or the music from a radio somewhere.

When it was time to order, my inner imp spoke up. "Shrimp cocktail and shrimp Creole," I said. The waiter warned me, "That's a lot of shrimp." That was OK with me. I love shrimp.

The waiter brought bread hot from the oven along with a dipping sauce. He told me the sauce consisted of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, salt and parsley. The olive oil was a very fine olive oil and the taste of the dipping sauce was intense. And bitter. Bitter is not a taste we cherish in our culture, but this bitter was good. It seemed to prepare me for the meal to come. The soft dinner roll was not worthy of the sauce; I would have preferred a slice of a chewy Italian semolina bread.

Six shrimp with their tails were balanced over the side of a martini glass. The cocktail sauce was classic ketchup with generous amount of strong horseradish. Garnished with a celery stalk and an olive with a pimento stuffed inside, I felt like a child at an adult party. The glass sat on a doily and the whole sat on a white plate. Very pretty. To the side were two water crackers. Again, the taste of bitter in the celery stalk worked.

The Caesar salad consisted, classically, of romaine lettuce coated with dressing and lots of grated cheese. The homemade croutons were squares cut from crusts of whole wheat bread, oiled, toasted and seasoned with salt. The waiter turned the pepper grinder again and again and again because I forgot to tell him to stop.

Everything was in slow motion. The dream quality returned. The bartender left the bar and ascended a little stage. He picked out tunes with one finger, carefully, slowly and whether he was playing "A Summer Place" or "Amazing Grace" or his own melody, I could not tell. Here I was, alone in a secret room with real music, good food, soft candle light and kind people who welcomed solitary strangers on cold nights.

The entree was served with superb elegance as the waiter placed the square white plate before me as if it were a diamond. The shrimp creole filled the plate, except for one corner, sprinkled with green parsley. The design was pleasing.

But what was even more pleasing was the shrimp Creole with garlic mashed potatoes. Once again, there were six shrimp, this time in a tomato-based sauce with firm chunks of green pepper, onion and celery. Underneath all were the garlic mashed potatoes, just like chefs make in the dreamy Crescent City of New Orleans. Mellow with garlic, smooth with butter and milk, these red-skinned potatoes melted like a dream. I closed my eyes. Bliss.

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