“We got in.” My voice rang through the thin wall between my roommate’s bedroom and mine.
“We got in-to that thing in the paper.”
“Oh…” There’s a pause in the explosions ringing from Andy’s computer, “The what?”
“Remember? The thing in the paper, you said it sounded cool. So I signed us up. And we got in.”
“What does it say?”
“It says give us $300 and we’ll send you a map on how to get there. Want to do it?”
“Yeah, ok.” The explosions resume.
I click the link on the email and log into paypal. Two minutes later $300 bills to my credit card. Five minutes later I think, What the hell have I done? I just sent $300 to an organization, and I’m not even sure really exists.
The next day I check my email again. I’m greeted by “Congratulations. We will see you at this mysterious location on Saturday night. Dress appropriately.”
Event day arrives. I spent the night before throwing up with some sort of food poisoning issue. I managed to make it through work, but the only appealing thought crossing my mind at five o’clock involves my bed and never leaving my house again. I get home, “We’re supposed to be there at 6.” I mumble at Andy as I pass his bedroom door. An exhausted face stares at me from my mirror, It will get dark eventually-I will look better then.
We spend twenty minutes or so trying to figure out what to wear. We don’t really know where we are going, we don’t know anyone who is going to be there, they said it is outside, but it’s September so it could get a little chilly. I settle on lots of layers, Andy ends up with a button up shirt-and a jacket just in case it gets cold. I volunteer to drive because the map looks like we are headed down some country roads-my MINI Cooper prefers country roads.
Andy navigates and heads us down K-10, towards Desoto. The sky screams blue, while wind pours through the moon roof. We head north from K-10, ending up on the windy country roads that make driving a MINI truly enjoyable. Every car we pass forces us to speculate they may be going too. Then in my rearview mirror I see them turn off; and we’re alone on the road again. An S-curve takes us to a gravel road, forcing me to slow from the sixty-five miles per hour we have been traveling for the last twenty-five minutes. We pull up a slight hill, and head up a long gravel drive. Both forks of the drive are crowded with parked cars. MINI finds a spot at the end, and I cut the engine. Smells of smoked wood and beef slow roasting are captured in the car as I close the moon roof & roll up the windows.
We have arrived.
It is our first introduction to an underground supper club.
The map has led us to an address in Bonner Springs. A large farmhouse sets squarely on a plot of sloping land. A main “garden” sets behind the house, the garden takes twenty minutes to walk half way to the back. To my city-raised mind this is a farm. In front of the house, is a softly slanted yard leading to a fire pit with a sensuous smell of roasting meat and… pears?
The sun sets bright on the grass as a pleasant blonde-haired woman with a clipboard greets us. Our names prompt the greeting of “It’s your first time! Welcome, I hope you enjoy yourselves. The chef is over at the fire pit, and if you find your way to the back of the house you will find our hosts, The Crums, serving red beer with canapés.” The thought of putting something in my mouth turns my stomach; but I smile, and thank her for her hospitality before we wander across the drive.
Andy and I look at one another, curious and nervous amongst strangers. I raise an eyebrow and smile, “At least now we know they didn’t just steal our $300.”
A short walk leads us to the back yard and a make shift bar. We order two red beers, one made from yellow tomato juice-the other from red. I do not drink beer—it’s a commonly known fact amongst my friends. Nevertheless, tonight is about new experiences so I hold my glass to Andy and we cheers.
Dinner will not start for another hour, so we take the hosts up on their offer to walk about the property—we start towards the south end of the garden in a listless stroll.
I look at my glass and turn to Andy in astonishment “I kind of like this—and I actually think it’s helping with that whole I want to throw up thing.” We walk through row after row of plants, many of them foreign to me. I never was one for my vegetables, you can ask my Grandma. Soon we tag along with another couple that has talked Mrs. Crum into giving a guided tour. She answers questions about the endless varieties of tomatoes on the property, identifies the colorful roots at our feet, encourages us to smell the flowering plants, and points to the bee hives at the crest of the hill.
It’s an education and an escape simultaneously. I’ve forgotten the food poisoning of last night, and work is a faint memory of someone I pretend to be.
We head back towards the house, settling ourselves onto a vibrant handmade quilt spread in the shade. Leaves wave at us from fifty feet above, they have seen many happy picnics—ours just one of a string of adventures lived beneath the ancient tree’s limbs.
Canapés are served. We do not know what most of it is, but each bite is delicious. Later we’re told it was fresh blueberries with prosciutto; squash, brown butter, gioia ricotta, eggplant, pepper agrodulce on a gentleman’s toast.
We shovel the last bites into our mouth as the crowd finalizes, about thirty people total. Mostly middle age professionals I guess. Some are familiar with the process, but a few set apart like us—confirming it is their first event as well. The beer helps with the awkwardness, but no one is over indulgent.
Beneath two enormous trees set two plain wood-topped tables surrounded by hay bales covered in more colorful quilts—our makeshift chairs for the evening. Wine glasses frame the plates. Candles and fresh vegetables adorn the center of the rustic tables. The blonde calls us to our seats and we settle ourselves before a plate as our servers pour the first glass of wine.
The sun fades.
Six complimentary wines.
Six educational snippets provided by the chef, or sommelier, or orchestrator of the event.
The first course focuses on the fine heirloom tomatoes found in Mrs. Crum’s garden. Dave Crum, ( her son and the chef of the evening) stuffs them with estratto, herbs, juniper grove fromage blanc, topping them with olio verde. It is the creamy goodness of a soft cheese, with the earthy tang of a fresh tomato. The tomatoes are striped, some green, some orange, some red, and some yellow. They have names like zebra. I try not to eat too much. I don’t want to spoil my dinner.
Act two- the sun falters on the horizon. We see the beauty of grilled porcini with heirloom garlic & onion soffrito, topped with Kennebec potato croquette. The croquette is crisp and fluffy—a testament to the brilliance and versatility of the potato.
Act three- my favorite part. Normally I do not care for salmon-but a smoked Sitka Coho salmon is set in front of us with heirloom peppers, radish, and pickled beets. The fish is firm and citrus smoked-it lets me know everything fish is supposed to be. I am disappointed when my plate is empty.
Act four- the sun is now gone. We sit in the starlight, our fellow dinner guests illuminated by candlelight. A dry aged piedmontese ribeye with a roasted vegetable “chimichurri” finds it way from our forks to our mouths. This is the smell we arrived to-the one captured in the MINI. The chef roasted it over the fire with the bone in since early this morning.
Act five- there is a good possibility half of our dinner mates are drunk by now. Additional baskets of bread appear on the table with cheese. Cato corner hooligan, thistle hill tarentaise, Vermont creamy, sexy blue. We sample every one. Of course, they are delicious, but everything is better by moonlight.
Act six- our final plate arrives to the chorus of half defeated moans. It is a delicate blend of gluttonous pleasure and fear if one more thing goes in our mouth we will die. A small wind catches the smell of roasted fieldstone Asian pear with cinnamon crema montada, and shortbread. We all give in. Spoon full by fork full the pears make our way into our mouths.
This is how food should be. Smoky, sweet, the gritty flesh of the pear combined with the sweet creaminess of the cinnamon whip. It is complex, intelligent, comforting. With each bite makes you understand what passion means.
I hand Andy the last of my wine; I am driving after all. Safe in the car Andy immediately falls asleep. I open the moon roof. The gravel road falls away as I find the black top. I shift into fourth gear-the wind rushes in. Smiling, I pause half a second before I shift into fifth and head us into the night.