Visits to Wyandotte, MI, to spend time with Mom are bittersweet. It is a joy to see her laugh or to recall some glimmer of days gone by. Sometimes, she puts her face very close to mine, just so she can touch it to reaffirm that one of her babies really is there.
But I am no longer a baby at 53, and Mom is 84 and a stroke survivor of 13 years. Age and that disability have taken their toll. She is often quiet and confused, and her memories are uncertain. She is slipping away from me gradually. Like she grasps at my face, I grasp at the memories.
Restaurant meals on these trips are less about adhering to a low-fat diet. Instead, they’re chosen as a link to the past. Sibley Gardens in Trenton, MI, was one of those choices. In my youth, it was a restaurant for special occasions, such as dinner out with my confirmation sponsor.
On a recent fall evening, with the sun already set, the glowing neon sign seemed a chimera. It stood out, almost ghostly in the darkness of the surrounding area. Across the street was the hulking ruins of McClouth Steel, a long closed victim of Detroit’s decline. In its heyday, at this hour the second shift would have been setting in for a long night ahead, earning the factory paycheck that would allow them the occasional dinner at the restaurant across the street. Instead, there was a sad quiet.
Broiled Lake Superior Whitefish
Although a reputation for fine dining at reasonable prices has sustained the restaurant since 1935, it is perhaps telling that the website for “Downriver’s Favorite Italian Steakhouse” touts its availability for funeral luncheons. A way of life certainly has died. Decades of global competition and economic and political policies have all but wiped out the working class.
At dinner, we grasped lustily at what remained of that time. Mom enjoyed Chicken Marsala for $16.95, which included soup or salad and a choice of potato, pasta or vegetable. All the finer restaurants of my youth arranged their menus so — a la carte was something one learned about after college.
The menu is heavy on tradition. Chicken and veal can be had picante, marsala or parmesan. There’s surf and turf, frog legs and a fried seafood platter. A pasta section includes a bolognese, an Alfredo, and, of course, meatballs or Italian sausage.
Fortunately, in a seafood menu updated to reflect today’s tastes — scallops in a citrus beurre blanc or coconut shrimp — there was one standby that was perfect for The Restaurant Dieter: a broiled Lake Superior Whitefish. It arrived as requested, broiled with very little fat. But it tasted of fish — fresh fish — not something papered over with today’s food trends.
With a salad and broccoli, it provided the perfect meal for Mother’s little boy who isn’t so little anymore. More important, though, it provided a connection to a past that seems to slip away every day.