From an interview. Among the most important jazz composers of all time, Ellington was born in 1899 and grew up in a middle-class family in Washington, DC. He began to play music professionally at the age of seventeen, moving in 1923 to New York City, where he honed his distinctive “jungle” and big-band style. During his career he made recordings with, among others, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus.
I have special places marked for special dishes. In Taunton, Massachusetts, you can get the best chicken stew in the United States. For chow mein with pigeon’s blood, I go to Johnny Cann’s Cathay House in San Francisco. I get my crab cakes at Bolton’s—that’s in San Francisco, too. I know a place in Chicago where you get the best barbecued ribs west of Cleveland and the best shrimp Creole outside New Orleans. There’s a wonderful place in Memphis, too, for barbecued ribs. I get my Chinook salmon in Portland, Oregon. In Toronto I get duck orange, and the best fried chicken in the world is in Louisville, Kentucky. I get myself a half-dozen chickens and a gallon jar of potato salad, so I can feed the “seagulls.” You know, the guys who reach over your shoulder.
There’s a place in Chicago, the Southway Hotel, that’s got the best cinnamon rolls and the best filet mignon in the world. Then there’s Ivy Anderson’s chicken shack in Los Angeles, where they have hot biscuits with honey and very fine chicken-liver omelets. In New Orleans there’s gumbo filé. I like it so well that I always take a pail of it out with me when I leave. In New York I send over to the Turf Restaurant at Forty-ninth and Broadway a couple of times a week to get their broiled lamb chops. I guess I’m a little freakish with lamb chops. I prefer to eat them in the dressing room, where I have plenty of room and can really let myself go. In Washington, at Harrison’s, they have deviled crab and Virginia ham. They’re terrific things. On the Île-de-France, when we went to Europe, they had the best crêpes Suzette in the world, and it took a dozen at a time to satisfy me. The Café Royal, in the Hague, has the best hors d’oeuvres in the world—eighty-five different kinds, and it takes a long time to eat some of each. There’s a place in Paris that has the best octopus soup. And oh, my, the smorgasbord in Sweden! At Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I got the reputation of eating more hot dogs than any man in America. A Mrs. Wagner there makes a toasted bun that’s the best of its kind in America. She has a toasted bun, then a slice of onion, then a hamburger, then a tomato, then melted cheese, then another hamburger, then a slice of onion, more cheese, more tomato, and then the other side of the bun. Her hot dogs have two dogs to a bun. I ate thirty-two one night. She has very fine baked beans. When I eat with Mrs. Wagner, I begin with ham and eggs for an appetizer, then the baked beans, then fried chicken, then a steak—her steaks are two inches thick—and then a dessert of applesauce, ice cream, chocolate cake, and custard, mixed with rich, yellow country cream. I like veal with an egg on it. Monseigneur’s, in London, has very fine mutton. Durgin-Park’s, in Boston, has very fine roast beef. I get the best baked ham, cabbage, and cornbread at a little place near Biloxi. St. Petersburg, Florida, has the best fried fish. It’s just a little shack, but they can sure fry fish. I really hurt myself when I go there.
© 1993 by Mark Tucker. Used with permission of Oxford University Press.