My favorite Thai restaurant is stashed away in a nondescript strip mall. It’s busy — I admit to feeling a little smug watching the line snake out the door and down the sidewalk just after I’ve snagged the last table. The aromas, the spice, the fact that the chef takes my request for heat seriously …. it’s enough to make me show up as often as possible. There’s only one teensy problem:
Bangkok Kitchen is in Maumee, Ohio, roughly 476 miles from my house.
That’s a little far for carry-out.
I got hooked on Bangkok Kitchen during a road trip to Chicago over ten years ago. Maumee is a southwestern suburb of Toledo, an easy exit off the interstate. The stop was supposed to be a quick overnight in a place I’d never see again, but after a hit of Bangkok Kitchen, I knew I’d be back. It was easy enough. My daughter lived in Chicago, so there were real reasons to drop in. But after said daughter moved to D.C., I had to face the depth of my addiction. (We won’t talk about that trip to Denver where I purposely ignored straight-shot I-70 to drift up to I-90 for a Bangkok Kitchen fix. What’s an extra thirty miles or so when excellent drunken noodles are at stake?)
Thing is, I can get perfectly decent Thai food about five minutes from my house. It’s really good. If I’m being honest, the menu and execution isn’t that different from what I get in Maumee. Why, then, doesn’t my local place rise to the same mythic proportions as Bangkok Kitchen which, considering the way I talk about it, may as well sit serenaded by heavenly choirs on a sun-drenched hilltop instead of planted amid chain restaurants and hotels?
I suspect it has more to do with me than with the restaurant itself. Whenever I’m in Maumee, I’m just passing through. I never stay for more than one night. There are no obligations or responsibilities waiting for me there, no pre-conceived identity to inhabit. Anything is possible in Maumee, Ohio. Filling my car’s gas tank at a station I can’t drive to in my sleep, wandering down grocery aisles lined with brands my home store doesn’t stock, listening to accents slightly different from the ones I usually hear…it’s all interesting simply because it’s unfamiliar. Maumee is usually my first stop heading westward, a gateway to potential. Those drunken noodles carry a punch that comes from more than holy basil and Thai dragon peppers: they symbolize adventure.
I know. That’s a lot to ask of food.
The past 2+ years have grounded most of us, and the familiar can feel even more deadening than usual. I last visited Bangkok Kitchen in September 2019. (I was heading to Vancouver, so Maumee was legit ON THE WAY.) Every now and then I google Bangkok Kitchen, just to see if they’re still around. They’ve changed, too, and currently offer only take-out and delivery. I hope we will both snap back soon.
In the meantime, in one of the hotels near my house sits a person who pulled off the highway for the night, eager to head elsewhere in the morning. For them, the everyday scenery that makes my eyes glaze over represents a launchpad to something different.
One person’s blah is another person’s fresh start.