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A Quest for Kitchen Completion


Horn & Hardart
  • Horn & Hardart

I only wanted one thing for my 10th birthday. It wasn’t a doll, a video game or a book. I wanted — nay, needed — a tandoor.

By that time, I was the one doing the cooking when my parents entertained, and my specialty was marinating chicken in yogurt, spices and red food coloring, just like the Indian restaurants I frequented. Charcoal grilling the meat, however, left something to be desired. I knew the only way I could get a perfect juicy char on my poultry pieces was by skewering them and placing them in cylindrical clay oven pumping out 900-degree heat.

I didn’t get a tandoor, and a trip to see a dinner-theater production of A Chorus Line hardly compensated.

As an adult, with a birthday coming up next month, I wondered if my kitchen yen might be easier to satisfy in the Internet age. So, I set about seeking a clay oven on the web.

Many websites, including one simply called Tandoors.com, made realizing my goal seem daunting. Even getting a price quote required filling out long forms.

NishiEnterprise.com was more promising. Its stainless steel Catering Tandoor Oven is even outfitted with extra equipment for making naan or paratha. The description trumpets: “Tandoor is having 4 wheels for mobility and transportation.”

How could I resist? The $900 price tag. Perhaps my tandoor wishes must remain on hold at least until I own a home.

But there are other nagging wants. Wouldn’t it be cool to lie down under a creemee machine nozzle and fill my mouth until I choked? There was a Rival Soft Serve machine on Amazon for less than $50, but it looked wimpy. Turns out eBay is the place for professional-grade soft ice cream. A new machine will run you about $20,000, but I found a small setup for $1000. After further reading, though, I learned that it requires frequent, painstaking cleaning. My dust bunnies signal this is not for me.

Finally, I turned to an even more unconventional fixation: the automat. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to own a restaurant like Horn & Hardart. Go in, feed some coins, and out pops a hot-and-ready meal of meatloaf or liver and onions. The last Horn & Hardart closed in 1993, but I still remember the thrill of easy-access eating.

Surprisingly, there are still traces of the lost restaurant chain on eBay. A single door, which the seller conjectures is made of nickel or brass, has a starting bid of $250. It brings back memories, but what the hell am I going to do with a portal that leads to no food? Further searching turned up a more enticing specimen: a faded pink, 80-by-35-inch wall of meal-vending windows.

Apparently, it’s the only prototype for a larger-scale, full-meal vending system that the restaurant once planned. And I could own it for $10,000. (Donations can be sent to me courtesy of Seven Days). Just seeing images of the behemoth, with markings still visible for slots intended for corned beef and cabbage, made my heart flutter.

Sans cold hard cash, the Internet seems full of false promise: Everything I want is there, but I am no more able to get it than I was as a 10-year-old.

Happily, my quest wasn’t entirely fruitless. I’m about to place a $10 bid on a set of silver-plated spoons with the Horn & Hardart Co. logo. A reminder of the lost days of 10-cent Jell-O cups.