Lamb and Limas | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Lamb and Limas 

What does the Frugal Gourmet order after a long day in the prop kitchen?

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A Monday night at the Parthenon in Greektown:

In walks...could it be? It's Jeff Smith, public television's Frugal Gourmet!

Making an entrance with his usual aplomb, he strides in briskly, followed by one young man in a white nehru with black buttons and another in a preppy sweater and red bow tie.

Smith stands rubbing his cupped hands with his on-camera nervous enthusiasm. The maitre d' approaches from across the room, his hand already extended. Smith gives him a hearty shake and a slap on the back. "You lost weight," Smith says. The maitre d' seats Smith and his friends at the table next to mine. What a break! This is so exciting! Eavesdropping on the Frugal Gourmet eating dinner. I feel just like Hedda Hopper.

"We've been working hard all day," Smith says to the maitre d'. "We've been at it since five in the morning."

And he's ready to chow down too! This is a phenomenon few get to witness! It'll be just like being a fly on the wall in Picasso's studio or DiMaggio's private batting cage! So what does the Frugal Gourmet eat after a long day of slaving in the prop kitchen? I will not, I cannot, leave until I know!

They order a round of Heinekens. Smith crosses his legs, settles back in his chair, opens his menu with loving care, and peruses it studiously, as if it was a great novel. They order saganaki and an appetizer assortment.

"Hello Jeff!" comes the booming voice of the quickly approaching owner. Jeff remains seated as they embrace and kiss each other on both cheeks. He introduces his companions as his business manager and chef. Chef? Why does the Frugal Gourmet have a chef? Was DiMaggio ever lifted for a pinch hitter?

"Have you lost weight?" Smith says to the owner.

"Seven pounds so far."

Smith says, "We've been working hard all day long. We did two shows. We did a show on Jewish cooking. The other one was on..." He can't remember. "Oh well," Smith says, putting on a thick Greek accent. "In Greek, what does it matter?"

Here come the appetizers. "Bravo!" Smith says. "Bravo!" he says again as the waiter prepares to ignite the cheese. The cheese is extinguished and now comes the moment I've been waiting for! The Frugal Gourmet builds the suspense by ordering last! He'll have lamb and lima beans! So that's it! Lamb and lima beans!

"Do I get a vegetable?" he asks the exiting waiter. "Oh wait! Lima beans! Of course!"

"You want something on the side?" the dour waiter says.

"Oh no! Bravo!"

Smith spreads his napkin neatly across his lap and digs into the appetizers. The men eat and drink with grunts of delight. Smith reaches over periodically and gives his companions slaps on the back as he achieves gastric orgasm.

Another round of Heinekens arrives. "I've got to introduce myself to someone." Smith methodically wipes his mouth and walks over to the next table. He shakes hands with the father of the Hispanic family sitting there and drops to one knee so he can speak to the man frankly, face-to-face. "Hello. My name is Jeff Smith. I do a cooking show, The Frugal Gourmet, on public television. This is my chef and my business manager." The young men wave hurriedly as they chew. "We're sitting down to dinner. A good dinner. Would you put your cigarette out?"

"I already put it out," the man says.

"The smoke goes right in my face."

"I own a restaurant, too," the man says. "Fat Freddie's."

The Frugal Gourmet meets the Fry Cook!

"Ever been there?" the man says.

"No. Ever been to Fat Freddie's?" Smith asks his friends. They shake their heads as they chew.

"Come on over sometime," the man says.

"I will," Smith says, "if you promise not to smoke."

It's a deal. So Smith goes back to his place and says, "Well, I think we worked our butts off today."

The young men nod in agreement as they chew. Following the Frugal Gourmet's lead, they raise their glasses of beer and clink.

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