Accent on Living

IT WAS Alfred Lunt who once disclosed, in a TV panel discussion, the sure way to tell a first-rate eating place from a dump. The touchstone, said he, would be its sandwich, and the quality of the sandwich would depend on whether or not its butter was, as he put it so economically, “spread to the edge.”The St. Regis, I believe, was where Mr. Lunt felt that the spread-to-theedge standard still endures most dependably; this is a view with which I heartily agree, not only as to the sandwiches but also several other homely items whose excellence comes largely from the skill and high conscience underlying their preparation.

A breakfast listing on the St. Regis menu kept catching my eye, although from unhappy experience in other places it never occurred to me to order anything of such a specification: “Sliced Fresh Oranges.” The words mean, on most menus, a disk, a cross section of an orange, peeled perhaps, but with plenty of skin separating the sections and all in all not a very rewarding dish. Sliced oranges? Thanks, but I think not.

It occurred to me one morning at the St. Regis, after an especially fine dinner there the night before, that it would be quite out of character for the hotel to serve the kind of sliced oranges that I recalled so unfavorably from other kitchens. I began to wonder what the St. Regis version might be, and I ordered some.

What I received was a large bowl, sunk in a bed of crushed ice and containing the edible part of several oranges, in a cupful or more of their juice. There was no hint that an orange ever included such material as skin, or seeds, or the pithy white layer inside the rind. I do not know the method by which an orange is prepared for such a result, but I should suppose it to be a hand job and a fairly slow one, not unlike peeling grapes. Assuming the dish to be as popular, in a large hotel, as it deserves to be, one wonders how many man-hours it requires every morning.

Another St. Regis breakfast offering of great quality is Creamed Finnan Haddie. As properly hot in its handsome chafing dish as the oranges are cold, the finnan haddie is served in a light, non-floury cream sauce, and never need the breakfaster expect to find the least trace of skin or a stray fishbone among its bite-sized pieces.

Maintaining the highest standard for all comers, year in and year out, seems to me a great achievement. It is not only the well-known or favored guest, but every guest, who fares well; who can have set before him at almost any hour of day or night a superlative version of whatever strikes his fancy.

At the opposite pole in point of expense, yet with a fine old-fashioned sense of how things ought to be done, is the Milford House at South Milford, Nova Scotia, a backwoods hotel with some thirty-five cabins, located on the edge of the peninsula’s interior wilderness. There are several reasons why this place seemed to me just as attractive last summer as it did a decade ago, when I wrote a short account of it for these pages: from about July 10 to late September, a faultless summer climate and relief from ragweed pollen; a beautiful, wild scene of lake and forest; country cooking (homemade bread, many local vegetables) in good variety and abundance; the congenial company of other guests who like the place for the same reasons that I do; extraordinarily low rates, even lower for children. Travel on the lakes is still by canoe only; no outboards or motorboats. To say that the Milford House is a simple sort of place is an understatement: it is really quite primitive. Yet people of considerable means enjoy it year after year. The nearest I can come to describing the facilities or life there is to liken it to camping, only with sheets and screens and without having to do a stroke of work. A whiff of wood smoke in the air does seem to nudge the appetite, and our consumption of the homemade bread - white or whole wheat, a choice which one usually settled by ordering both — as breakfast toast was prodigious. The breakfasts were distinguished, also, for their lean, fullflavored bacon and for the six kinds of griddlecakes in the chef’s repertoire. The griddlecakes were served every other day, one kind at a time, of course, and here they are as the menu identified them: plain griddlecakes (these used to be listed as ordinary griddlecakes), corn meal griddlecakes, buckwheat cakes, buttermilk griddlecakes, blueberry griddlecakes, and bread griddlecakes, these last mentioned being quite the finest I have ever tasted. A guest, finishing his breakfast and at the point of departure for home, made a comment with which we all agreed. “It’s a shame,” he said, “that I can’t take this toast with me back to New York.”