One of the simple pleasures of my life is dining alone. I absolutely adore having a good meal in a cozy seat for breakfast, lunch or dinner all by my lonesome.
I discovered this pleasure when I was 20. I’d dropped out of school, left Boston, and was back home in St. Louis, working. With one of my first paychecks, I walked home from the public television station (Channel 9) on Big Bend and Forest Park Parkway, near Wash U (Washington University) where I’d landed a job. It was a good 20 minute walk up into the Loop in University City which had a just few restaurants in those days. (It is now totally hopping and overflowing with dining places.)
I tried something I didn’t usually have at home – some sort of salad that the hippies who ran the place recommended and some really good, freshly-baked bread. Heavier than the light, yeast rolls my Mom made. (I miss those rolls. Mom stopped making them many moons ago and she didn’t keep the recipe. Sigh.) The restaurant bread was a new experience for me, maybe sourdough.
I’d bought a book from Left Bank Bookstore and so I perused it while I waited for my salad to be prepared. It felt like a little bit of heaven on earth. I was young, felt free, had my own money and was mistress of my domain for about an hour or so until I continued on my walk home. I didn’t know what to tip (or even really what tipping was) although I figured it out.
Having at least one meal alone whenever I got a paycheck became something I did. In my twenties and thirties restaurants, casual dining places and fast food wasn’t as ubiquitous as they are now. I had to seek places out that I’d read about or whose appearance beckoned me.
I went into an Italian restaurant off of Central Square once just because the checkered tablecloths and bottles of wine as centerpieces beckoned me as I was walking by on my way to someplace else. I remember feeling quite brave going into Ken’s at Copley on Boylston Street while still in college where I had smoked salmon with red onions, capers and something else. This dish was exotic to me and delicious. It was also one of the least expensive things and all I could really afford at the time.
Two other favorites were in Harvard Square – Hong Kong Restaurant – the Chinese food there was very different from what I’d had in my home town of St. Louis – and Wursthaus, a German restaurant. I can’t remember what I ate there but I remember it was delicious and I was thrilled with the feeling of seclusion I had while there. I also remember the location of a restaurant, but not the name, located on Westland Ave. across from what is now Whole Foods. I never went there during the short time I was at Northeastern, sure that I couldn’t afford it.
Dining alone, I can be anyone – mainly myself. I don’t have to share my food or the decisions about where to eat and what to eat with anyone else. I don’t have to edit my choices. Only my money and my appetite determine my dining experiences.
I love to have a late lunch/early dinner when restaurants aren’t packed. I remember reading a couple of articles about many women who don’t like to dine alone. They worried they were seen as lonely, unattached or sad. How could anyone feel that way? To me, it was a badge of independence and elegance to treat myself to a solo meal.
Dining alone, I can take my time and savor the flavors. I can watch other people and appreciate the unending variety of my human compadres. I can catch up to myself. If the restaurant is new, I will anticipate the new flavors I will experience. If the restaurant is one of my stalwarts, I will salivate as I reorder a favorite dish, knowing the deliciousness that will be coming my way. (I do hate when they take my favorites off the menu).
Dining alone, I have my salad/appetizer, and my entrée. I have my cake and I eat it, – every last morsel – – too.
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I learned the exquisite value of “Dining Alone” about 20 years ago.
My favorite spot in the whole wide world was Jae’s Cafe in the South End of Boston.
My favorite time to dine at the Jae spot was during the day between 2-4 PM.
My visits were so often that the staff got to know me and over the years became dear friends.
They learned by dining habits, my cuisine choices and my favorite sitting spot in the restaurant.
My spot while “Dining Alone” at Jae’s was sitting next to an extraordinary fish tank filled with colorful exotic fish that swam to and fro in melodic fashion.
Watching the fish and sipping warm Saki was akin to meditation.
Walking into Jae’s was walking into a space of prayer.
I learned the magic of being alone and not lonely…..Helen Credle
Thank you so much for sharing the solace you got at Jae’s. It’s wonderful to find a spot you can revisit where you are made welcome.
I agree whole heartedly. My most recent memories are from my short stay (1 year and a part) in Chicago. I dinned alone quite often. I struck up conversations with bartenders, or people at bar who ate alone. It was fun meeting new people and learning what the best dished were at each of the places I tried. It does feel freeing when you are alone. I have traveled alone to far away places and I loved the whole feeling that I didn’t have to negotiate where to go or what time or what kind of restaurant. I was on my own and content.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment that echoes my feelings and experiences. Chicago has wonderful food and dining spots so I know it must have been a great to dine alone.