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Matchbook Memories and Offbeat Places


Matchbook Memories and Offbeat Places

BY PAT BURNS

Many years after I retired from my professional speaking career, I sometimes like to rummage through the countless matches I have sitting on a shelf in an oversized glass mason jar jam-packed with all the restaurant matchbooks I collected while traveling. Going through them is like a delightful road trip in my mind.

Remember restaurant matchbooks? During the decades when restaurants had smoking and nonsmoking sections, restaurants provided complimentary matchbooks that contained several rows of paper matches stapled or glued at the base. Rising in popularity as a marketing tool in the 1940s, advertising space sold wildly in the food and beverage industry.  It was customary to see names and addresses of restaurants nationwide on matchbooks, and consumers enjoyed collecting them. Each time a match was fired up, it was a reminder of the restaurant experience. The 20 matches were the number of strikes in a standard matchbook. Hence, the title of “20 little salesmen” by the marketing industry.

“I drove to Kennebunkport to see George H. W. Bush’s summer home and shopped in the quaint local stores and galleries lined on Congress Street.”

Often, as I crisscrossed the United States during my career, I had the matchless opportunity of discovering regional restaurants. And, from Maine to Hawaii, I would collect matchbooks so I would be able to recall where I dined.

In the 90s, discovering these memorable restaurants was often complicated because this was well before GPS, Yelp, or other online recommendation apps. Bumbling around and talking to locals made finding a great restaurant part of the adventure. Having the extraordinary opportunity of briefly working in each state and discovering the local restaurants and other popular venues filled my life with fun and treasured memories.

Like the time I was in Dayton, Ohio…

I just finished speaking to a full-capacity audience of real estate agents about the power of networking and overcoming fear. I wanted to find a special place for dinner to celebrate my success. It seemed logical to ask the front desk’s receptionist for the hotel’s recommendation for a special place for dinner.

With her big, bright smiley face, she enthusiastically told me, “You’re in luck! There happens to be a great restaurant very close to the hotel.” Hearing her comment surprised me, so I asked her what it was called, and she told me “Olive Garden.”  I agreed with her that the Oliver Garden was a great restaurant, but then I clarified my dining experience expectations further. Looking at her name badge, I said, “Tiffany, let’s say it’s your parents’ 25 wedding anniversary, and your mom wants to be taken to a fancy restaurant to celebrate this special anniversary. Where would your dad take her?”

matchbook“Oh, he would take her to The Pine Club.” With wide eyes, she warned me that it was “downtown and it’s not close.”

Entering the cab at the front of the hotel, I asked the driver to take me to The Pine Club, and he knew exactly where to go. Pulling up to the restaurant, I saw a green front door covered with a scalloped green awning bearing the restaurant’s name. I was a little surprised to see such a simple, unremarkable entrance and began to think about the reliability of Tiffany’s recommendation.

That all changed once I entered the dimly lit restaurant.

First, there was the scrumptious smell of steaks being served, and then, as my eyes adjusted, I noticed the many framed photos of notable and famous people, least of all presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. I knew I was at the right place for my dining adventure in Dayton, Ohio.

The Pine Club has been considered an iconic institution of the Dayton community since 1947 and is regarded as one of the great steakhouses in the United States.

When my server brought my incredibly tender, perfectly cooked steak, she also served a dish of stewed tomatoes. I mentioned to her that I hadn’t ordered the tomatoes, and she said they came with the steak. I don’t like stewed tomatoes, so I asked that she take them back. She refused and said I should try them first before sending them back. One bite and BOOM! These stewed tomatoes were so incredibly delicious. It was like a party in my mouth. I would be hard-pressed to think of another meal that tasted so good. When I could return to Dayton again, you don’t have to guess where I had my dinner.

“Whether it’s the bright light from a lighthouse or a small fire from a stricken match, each light has its own purpose.”

Even though I was too full to order dessert, I was curious about what they offered.  Because dessert wasn’t listed on their menu, I asked my server for a dessert menu, and she told me it was next door. What? Your dessert menu is next door?

“Yes,” she said. “Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is on the corner.” Wanting to ensure I understood her correctly, I asked her to clarify. She told me they don’t serve dessert at the restaurant, but I could get some at Ben & Jerry’s if I wanted dessert. Well, okay then…

I handed my American Express card to my server; she told me straightaway that they don’t accept credit cards. Assuming she meant they didn’t accept American Express, I presented my Visa card. She firmly stated they don’t take any credit cards. They only accept cash or a personal check.

I told my server that I was traveling and was from out of state and only had credit cards. She told me I could open a house account for my payment, and they would mail me a bill for my dinner. And so I’m one of 22,000 people with a Pine Clubhouse account, and when I returned to Dayton, it was such fun to pull out my own personal account card for dinner.

If you ever happen to be going to Dayton, be sure to add to your list the long-time Dayton establishment to your trip, but remember: The Pine Club doesn’t take reservations, credit cards, or serve desserts. However, fortunately, they still do give away matchbooks with their name on them.

From legendary steaks to famous seafood, my restaurant journey continued.

After a speaking engagement in Baltimore, it was a 45-minute drive to Annapolis, Maryland, for crabs at a local favorite – Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn. My former husband, who graduated from the Naval Academy, introduced this restaurant to me. He and his fellow cadets would order mile-high pile of crabs and pitchers of cold beer. I couldn’t wait to experience it again.

Cantler’s Riverside Inn is one of those nice but slightly funky places you imagine for a local seafood joint sitting on the water where boats are able to dock up and dine.

Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn has been serving the area’s freshest seafood to customers for fifty years. Secluded in the quiet waters of Mill Creek, Maryland, Cantler’s prepares steamed Maryland blue crabs, clams, oysters, shrimp, and fish… all in an atmosphere reminiscent of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

MATCHBOOKTables are lined up in rows with a condiment caddie on each table of ketchup, Old Bay seasoning, TABASCO® sauce, and salt and pepper.

With my order of Maryland soft shell crabs pulled straight from their dock-shedding tanks came corn on the cob, coleslaw, and French fries, all served on brown butcher block paper and a wooden mallet. A great meal fit for anyone hungry for the freshest seafood and cold beer.

Feeling completely content after dining, sitting on the patio deck of Cantler’s Riverside Inn was necessary and relaxing, enjoying the view of lovely homes along Mill Creek.

Reflecting on how lucky I felt with my meal and life, I was briefly interrupted by the diners at the table next to me when they asked where I was from. When I said I was from California, I didn’t expect their abrupt reaction of “Oh no!” I wondered why they said that, and they told me that Cantler’s is a local spot and they don’t want it to be a tourist spot. I assured them their place would be kept a secret. That is until now…

When visiting Annapolis, Maryland, I recommend taking the country roads to Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn (be sure to say you’re from around there), then grab a mallet and be prepared to get messy!

“The many memories of my adventurous travels brightly shine from each matchbook while the stories from places I visited are brought back to life.”

With the countless restaurants I visited, it wasn’t easy to select which experience to write about for this feature, but hands down, I knew I wanted to end with one specific restaurant that was a magical adventure that captured my heart.

While on a business trip to Maine, I had a couple of free days, so I rented a car and, with a map in hand, I toured some of Maine’s famous places. I drove to Kennebunkport to see George H. W. Bush’s summer home and shopped in the quaint local stores and galleries lined on Congress Street.

Wanting to see the homes of local folks of Maine, I wandered through some residential areas and enjoyed the cottage-like homes and their lush gardens. After about an hour, I decided I needed to leave neighborhoods and find someplace to eat. That’s when it happened.

I turned the wrong way to leave and followed the road until it ended at the rocky shore. That is where I found The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights is an award-winning restaurant that has been a local landmark since the 1920s and is like no other place.

No one had ever told me about The Lobster Shack. I just stumbled upon it as I was randomly driving down side roads sightseeing. Just exploring where roads would lead. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there it was. Located at the end of Two Lights Road on the rocky shores of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, I discovered the award-winning restaurant that’s been a local landmark since the 1920s. Not only did I have a breathtaking ocean view – I also had the very best lobster roll of my life.

Sitting at one of the restaurant’s outdoor picnic tables waiting for my order, the Two Lights historic lighthouse (also known as Cape Elizabeth Light) stood strong and captured my heart. I thought about this treacherous coast and its ever-present potential to destroy ships, even those captained by the most experienced hands. I imagined the lives saved by this single lighthouse built in 1828 by keeping watch over sailors and travelers. I was hooked, and my love of lighthouses and local lobster rolls originated right there.

Whether it’s the bright light from a lighthouse or a small fire from a stricken match, each light has its own purpose. The many memories of my adventurous travels brightly shine from each matchbook while the stories from places I visited are brought back to life.

Pat Burns

About the author

Pat Burns is the co-founder of the Orange County Children's Book Festival, a celebrity journalist, film reviewer and a consultant for nonprofits

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