I was privileged to accompany my grandmother and her canasta-playing pals on many Saturday nights. Sophie Lane was my grandmother’s best friend and the designated driver because she had the largest car. My seat was the least desirable, wedged between two women with silver-blue hairdos teased to epic heights, their nails polished in shades of peach or tangerine with lipstick to match. The air was perfumed with the conflicting scents of Jean Nate, Joy, and Arpege. I smelled of Noxzema. My hair was held in place with a headache inducing hairband or a Goody barrette. As the car breezed along palm-tree lined roads towards the Intercoastal Waterway, the conversation predictably turned from the weather to popovers.
Patricia Murphy’s was known for their infinite offering of freshly baked popovers, served steaming hot from a gingham-lined basket. The simple combination of milk, eggs, salt, and butter followed by an uninterrupted stay in a hot oven, yielded towering domes with wispy centers. Curls of sweet butter melted into every crevice of the ethereal dinner roll before dripping down my fingers and dotting the linen napkin sprawled across my lap. Strawberry jam accompanied the popovers, sticky sweet and as crimson as my sunburn.
The dinner menu boasted everything you could dream of baking, broiling, breading, or frying. Compound butter was a popular accessory to steaks, chops, and fish, a generous disc of cholesterol dotted with herbs, melting slowly, dramatically, across and over and down, pooling alongside the edge of the plate. I was keen on their jumbo butterfly shrimp, sometimes served as scampi, sometimes fried and dressed with tartar sauce and lemon. During the dinner portion of the meal, I always kept an extra popover on my bread and butter plate in the hopes of smuggling it home in a doggie bag.
Dessert seemed anti-climactic following those popovers, but I always managed to struggle through a parfait of vanilla ice cream swirled with emerald crème de menthe. Sophie Lane was a fan of the fresh peach pie crowned with peach ice cream, while Mama Min leaned towards the baked ice cream meringue pie. The ladies concluded their meal with Sanka, or Postum while I played with a Lipton teabag and a spoonful of honey. Drunk on popovers, shrimp, and ice cream, I was half asleep before the ladies divvied up the bill and gathered up their crocheted wraps. Leaning against my seat mates, I could spot a blur of the orange sun as it disappeared into the Florida sky. With easy listening pouring out of the radio, and my dinner companions humming along, I hoped one of those popovers had found its way into my doggie bag.