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The Way They Were

A Berlin eatery throws itself a blast from the past

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The year 1918 was eventful: Color movies were invented, the armistice ending World War I was signed, the Red Sox won the World Series and, notably for Vermonters, the Berlin-based Wayside Restaurant & Bakery opened its doors for the first time. Last Friday was the restaurant's 90th birthday, and to celebrate nearly a century of hardy, stick-to-your-ribs chow, the Wayside turned back the clock to the good ol' days of 20-cent hotdogs, 10-cent sodas and 15-cent ice cream. Needless to say, there wasn't an empty seat - or belly - in the house.

After waiting in line under the Wayside's vintage 1960s neon sign, my friend and I found a suitable two-person booth and started poring over the generously priced menu. Even though hotdogs, ice cream and soda were the only items offered at the old-timey rates, a $3.50 steakburger with cheese seemed like it would complement our meal nicely without burning a hole in our wallets. And how about some fries?

The smell of the fryer must have drifted all the way to the Statehouse, because as we waited for our grease, Governor Douglas stopped by to wish the Wayside a happy birthday and re-light the neon sign. I couldn't tell what he ordered after flipping the switch, but by that time our smorgasbord had arrived and I wasn't thinking about anything else.

My friend and I took a conversational hiatus to devote ourselves to the food. We maybe gave each other a nod as we sipped our Cokes, but otherwise the fare kept us quiet and content. Each bite of the hotdog was better than the last, and the steakburger, which came in a sliced butter roll, melted in my mouth. Later, we finished up with some 15-cent pistachio ice cream. Without including the items at 2008 prices, our bill was a whopping 90 cents. Not only did I feel full, I felt rich.

It was a little hard to stand up afterward, but I managed. I licked the meal's final taste from my lips and finagled my way through the line still extending out the door. With good food and loyal customers like that, I'm not expecting this place to fall by the "wayside" anytime soon.

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