When I was a kid, there was a restaurant in my neighborhood called "Cook's." Cook's was a big barn of a place that had a peaked room, the highest point of which was an old Dutch windmill that was nailed stationary. I guess, somewhere in the Cook's family, perhaps they were Dutch. Or, they just wanted a tower people could see from the highway, and leaning towers were already taken.
Cook's was about a block long and had a food counter (you served yourself) running the whole length of the place. They started with steam tables, where they served turkey, roast beef and a really delicious fatty corned beef, either as platters or sandwiches. From the steam tables, moving left, they had cold sandwiches, like tuna etc. And then fryers for fries and a grill for burgers and franks.
There was a break in the sea-foam green counter at this point, a hallway into the back room, and then it continued after about seven open feet with an ice-cream fountain, where you could get cones, shakes, sundaes or whatever.
In the back of Cook's there was a small game-room. I suppose if you were a parent of little kids, you and your wife could eat and you could get rid of your kids for 20 minutes for only a dollar or two. That was enough to play pinball, skeeball, get your fortune told by Zoltan or pick a prize with a miniature claw.
Cook's was open all night and it was one of the places we would go late after we were done drinking. We'd get a couple of franks, fries or an ice cream and pick up, on Saturday night, Sunday's Times. Often times, there were girls there to boot, and we'd try to pick them up too. I can't remember ever having had any success.
One of the funny things about being 56 is that the first 40 years of your life, at least according to the internet, didn't exist. Since Cook's salad days were pre-world wide web, you can't find any images or even memories like this one online. Cook's closed a couple of decades ago and like the old song goes, "You don't know what you got till it's gone."
I miss the place. There was no pretense. No hand-picked fair-trade coffee. No artisanal gourmet ice creams. It was a vanilla, chocolate and strawberry type place and that was enough.
In fact, as I get older, I can't help but feeling that friends who shoot photos of candied pheasant breast on their Facebook feeds are like Roman plutocrats. We have fetishized almost everything, and made a place you'd hang at 2 in the morning with a bunch of fellow teenagers somehow precious.
Like I said, there was something nice about having a clean, well-lighted place you could snack off a drunk, play a little Skee Ball and read the Arts and Leisure section until it was time that you had to go home.
Maybe all this is a bit too American Graffiti for your tastes. But I'll tell you. A few times a year, I Google Cook's. Just to see if someone, just maybe, decided to open a new one.