I can’t tell you that I’m a regular at Harpoon Willies. When I walk in, no one winks at me a knowing wink. No one gives me a head nod, the sort you’d give a friend when you saw him. No one really, particularly, especially cares. But alas, Harpoons is down the road from my office, and it’s in my home town, and I am nothing if not someone who likes to eat. And so it has gone, a visit to the restaurant now and then, never consistent, never particularly rejoicing in anything in particular.
I have a friend who likes to go there, and on Fridays he goes to order the fish sandwich. It’s a delightful fish sandwich, he says. It’s fried, like all good fish things, and it’s on a nice bun, with some nice tartar sauce. When I went with him last fall, I didn’t order the fish sandwich. I have never ordered the fish sandwich. I’ve ordered the burger, it’s okay. I’ve ordered the chicken sandwich, it’s not horrible. I ordered pizza there once, and that was pretty good. But never the fish sandwich and never the brisket, until then.
There’s a sign outside of Harpoons. It’s on the West side of the building, sort of accidental. It says SMOKEHOUSE. Or something like that, I can’t really remember. The idea is that there’s a smoker in that side shed, and they smoke meat. And so on that day I ordered the brisket sandwich. I slathered it with their barbecue sauce, sloppy and drippy and sweet. The sandwiches come with a side of chips, but I haven’t like eating lunch with chips since my mom packed my high school lunch, and so I upgrade and order the waffle fries. In case you forgot, I have previously anointed their waffle fries the finest in all the land.
The brisket sandwich was a shocking delight. It was smokey, sweet, remarkable. It was, dare I say, the finest bit of barbecue on a bun that I’ve ever had. I’m not a connoisseur of smoked meats in the way that some of the mouth breathing guys on the food channels might be, but I’ve had more than a few. This sandwich was better than those, better than all of them, the best. I delighted in my new find, and a few weeks later, I went back to order it again.
During that visit, the brisket came out as before, but one bite told me it wasn’t the same. It was tough, rough, difficult. It wasn’t the tender sandwich of earlier that fall, it was the aged version, tough and weathered, ornery. I ate it anyway, but didn’t go back for another sandwich for a more or close to two.
The third visit, the sandwich was as the first. It was divine. It was as good as before, better even. It was perfection. I was now two for three, and the four visit came a few weeks later. That sandwich, too, was delightful. Three for four. Another visit in early January- perfect. Four for five. After that successful run, I saw fit to share my findings with friends and family. The brisket sandwich had proven worthy.
Three weeks ago I went back, and I brought a client. I told him the sandwich was the best in all of the land. In that competition, there wasn’t even a second place. We ordered. We ate. The sandwich was a bit tough, not perfect, somewhere between great and okay, maybe just mediocre. I pleaded with him, this was an anomaly I said. It wasn’t the way it was before. I asked for forgiveness.
Last night, after the Town of Walworth unceremoniously and wonderfully turned away Shodeen (he’ll be back, and we’ll be ready and waiting), a celebration. The war is far from over, but this battle was ours. Brisket sandwiches all around. The sandwich mixed well with the lingering taste of sweet victory. Spicy, tender, perfect. Lake Geneva has a lot of places to buy food. Most places have one thing they do really well. Harpoon Willies has the brisket sandwich and those waffle fries, and that’s enough for me. And yes, I’m getting fat again.