It’s been going on like this for a long time now. Since I was young I’ve had this thing for chocolate. Anything with chocolate. It’s my kryptonite. It brings me down every single time. To my knees. And it started way back…with a pudding.
I couldn’t have been more than eight or so. I grew up on a major street in Toronto merely blocks from anything of significance. At that age, that meant just a couple of things. Hardly significant. There was school, my friends, the corner store and the local diner. That diner.
Memories from those days still walk alongside me. Certain moments left a deeper footprint in my mind, and those are the ones I cherish and recall vividly. Childhood friends that I haven’t seen since those early years, my teachers from grades three through six and the couple who owned the diner.
Mike and Alice owned Homeway. Fitting name. She was the face that greeted you when you walked in the door, he was the smile you saw when you left. Together they were an incredible team, living their dream. She was the hostess, bus girl and server. He was prep, short order cook and cashier. I remember them because they made an impact on my life.
My dad used to take me there once or twice a week. Sometimes more. After my parents split we would be there for dinner and on weekends for breakfast. He didn’t cook much. At all, really. The two of us would grab a seat in the same booth each time, and if that booth was taken we’d sit at one of the stools up front. Nearest Mike.
To a passerby, this diner wasn’t much. It was small, seating maybe 25, and it had no real distinguishing features. The food wasn’t fancy and the decor was weathered and worn. But when you sat down and ordered something, you felt the difference. You were treated like family and they served you food made with love. Real food.
On top of the visits with my dad, I would stop by the diner in the mornings before school. I would grab the stool next to the open kitchen and watch Mike work. He would chat me up the entire time and let me sit there watching him until I had to rush off to school. He’d throw a homemade danish on the grill and warm it up, just enough to melt the icing. “This is for you Mikey,” he said. I was little Mikey, he was big Mikey.
Every time I walked through the door Alice would yell out, “Mikey’s here, Mike.” And he would smile. He looked like a character from the Sopranos but had a huge heart. I think he liked it that I came there before school to watch him work. He would talk to me like family as he worked on order after order. Day after day.
One morning after sending me off with a warm danish in my hand, he told me to come back right after school. He had something new he wanted to show me. I sat in class that day distracted, with my eyes glued to the large clock by the teacher’s desk. When the final bell rang, I shot out of the doors and ran three blocks back to the diner.
Mike told me to sit in my usual spot. He pulled out a chocolate pudding from the fridge. It wasn’t anything like the puddings that found their way into my lunch box back then. I took one bite and was hooked. It was velvety and sweet and rich. It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. And I had it again and again as the years unfolded.
That pudding has stayed with me all these years. Every pudding I make gets compared to that one. And more often than not, it fails. Miserably. So instead of trying to duplicate that pudding and compete with a memory of perfection, I decided to adapt a recipe that’s completely different. A boozy chocolate pudding. It’s not better, it’s just different. An adult version.
This boozy pudding is also velvety and rich. The sea salt brings out the sweetness and the salty pistachios add a lovely texture. The combination is delicious. I know Mike would be proud. I hope he would be.
Years ago I was driving past the diner and decided to drop in. It had been forever. I assumed new ownership or children had taken over after all those years. I walked through the door and sat on the stool. My stool. I looked around the diner but didn’t recognize a single face. And then out she came.
Alice walked in behind the griddle and started cooking. She leaned over and asked what she could get me. “You probably don’t remember me, do you?” I asked. After a moment of silence and looking over my face she said, ”Oh my goodness, you’re little Mikey!” I felt like that little boy all over again.
Unfortunately, Mike had passed on by then. She told me he always remembered me, which tore straight through to my heart. I never forgot him either. She took over cooking duties and her daughter ran the floor. Yet it felt the same as it did all those years before. Perfect.
That little diner, in a way, became a second home to me during my formative years. And so much more. It was in that tattered leather booth and that one revolving stool that I witnessed life, lived life. I like to think it was there that I grew up, just as Alice and Mike grew old.
From my kitchen to yours, happy eating!
Chocolate and Bourbon Pudding
(adapted from BBC Good Food)
- 300 grams dark chocolate
- 100ml coffee
- 2 tbsp. Bourbon
- 250ml heavy cream
- 1 tbsp. sea salt
- 1/4 cup pistachios, shells removed and finely chopped
- Chop or grate chocolate and add to a medium bowl. Add in the hot coffee and Bourbon and mash up the chocolate until smooth.
- Bring heavy cream to a boil and remove. Pour straight into chocolate mixture. Stir until dissovled and smooth. Add in half the sea salt.
- Pour into four coffee cups and place in the refrigerate for a few hours to set.
- Once set, remove and sprinkle remaining sea salt over top and then pistachios. Serve.