We only realized it was Valentine’s Day at noon that day. I’ll confess that we’ve always been too savvy (cheap) to celebrate on the day. We always preferred to use it as an excuse to have a nicer meal than we should that weekend. But, to be so totally unaware of the holiday would have struck at our romance. We invited company for this dinner date on what we thought was an unremarkable Thursday night. They hadn’t remembered the controversial holiday of love either. Undeterred by our apathy about the day, we brought our toddlers and babies along to Bristol and dined at Pannoni’s.
Pannoni’s is a new restaurant, but moved into a location that has been a restaurant for some time. With no major overhaul needed, Pannoni’s looks like what it is – the classic American lunch counter, in a classic American town. There are black and white tiles behind a flat-top grill, swivel counter seats, condiment baskets, and keno in a long and thin room. It wouldn’t be Bristol without constant reminders of the parade, so we’ve got the red, white, and blue stripes running down the center of the room. My kid couldn’t resist taking his fire truck on a parade of its own down the length of it, not without some waving onlookers.
At least one of us still was in the Valentine’s Day spirit as our friend’s daughter began decorating everything with pink heart stickers. First, my toddler’s butt and my forehead were appropriately decorated, then the menus. Under the stickers were burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups, and a few entrees, delivering about what you’d expect with the odd deviation and special to gain a following. Someone out there is coming here for peanut butter on their burger, for instance. This Jiffy burger-eater is a braver man than I.
Speaking of unexpected combinations, our one concession to Valentine’s Day was a slightly out-of-place bottle of Beaujolais. Our waitress kindly took care of uncorking what ended up being a surprisingly good compliment to lobster and corn fritters ($13), even with the jalapeño ranch dressing. The kids ate a mix of chicken tenders and apple slices ($6). The adults had heaping eggplant parm ($13), a burger ($13), and short rib shepherd’s pie ($18). I’d say the winner was our friend Tim, who ordered the Billy B burger, with goat cheese, mushroom, onion, and bacon. Luckily, I did fine with a shepherd’s pie, which used richer braised short ribs instead of ground lamb or beef, and smashed potatoes instead of a fine mash. I’d be happy to spend any Valentine’s Day with one my oldest loves – gravy.
As I stuffed myself over the din of toddlers, it was cute to look around at the young couples coming in, utterly innocent to the cautionary tale before them: kids playing tug-of-war with a to-go box, chugging blue cheese dressing, and throwing trucks. Out of respect for moment, we gave the rest of the night to those fresh faces, and took our classic coffee cabinets ($5) to go. As we smiled and sipped them in the car, singing “I don’t hug because I’m happy, I’m happy because I hug,” I realized that despite our best efforts, love was in the air.