It was the stuff of legends. It was a staple. It was always the go to place when we were looking for a night out with friends away from the tedium of our every day lives. It was, The Dixie Kitchen.
I don’t remember who found it. I suspect it was Chris and Mike. They were (and I’m sure still are) brothers, and their house was usually the rally point of our gatherings. This was usually because they always seem to know where the good food was, and also because they had a car. In the early days, this made them indispensable. I have a very dim memory of my first visit with them to The Dixie, and Chris trying to convince me to try the alligator tail. I was understandably skeptical at first, but soon learned the magnificent feast alligator turned out to be.
The menu was traditional, yet exceptional Cajun cuisine. It was never easy to choose between the alligator tail, fried crawfish, gumbo, red beans and rice, étouffée, po’ boys or jambalaya. They were all fantastic. I thought I had sampled the whole menu until, as if by Divine Providence, I discovered the blackened delta catfish. Holy crap. So hot that it brought a tear to the eye, the catfish quickly established itself at the top of my list of favorites. The truth was, there simply wasnt a bad dish on the menu. Of course, no meal at The Dixie was complete without pie. Chocolate. Peanutbutter. Pie. I’m pretty sure that speaks for itself.
As good as the food was, I think it was the comradeship and promise of adventure that drew us there. As a result, The Dixie soon became a constant amongst our circle of friends and the center of many of our Boston based misadventures. Since we were scattered through several different towns, it was easy to either meet up at a central location, usually Alewife, or directly in the city. As a kid from the suburbs just over driving age, I found the Back Bay exhilarating. The Dixie was just a few blocks down from the Berklee School of Music, directly across the street from Daddy’s Junky Music, a stones throw from Harvard Square and of course, Fenway. For a bunch of kids into music, movies and food, it was holy ground. Even when the group inevitably split up and moved on to college, no holiday break, or vacation reunion was complete without a trip to the corner of Mass Ave and St. Germaine. It was always a warm familiar place we could go to share stories of our exploits, discuss the latest movie we wanted to see, or just catch up.
And then, without warning, The Dixie Kitchen closed. Wait, what? Closed? The Dixie can’t….. Close. I felt a little like Luke at the end of Episode V learning that Darth Vader really was my father.
No… It’s not true… That’s impossible!!
I remember that night well. I was home for a few days between trips at my new job, and was taking a couple friends who had never been before. I didn’t even bother to check. Why would I? The Dixie couldn’t close. But close it did. I stood there on Mass Ave, staring in the windows at what was once hallowed ground, but had now become a dark, empty storefront. I was shocked. My companions, not quite understanding my distress, didn’t seem all that concerned. “Uh dude, we can just go someplace else.” “Sure,” I said, “Lets go.” The Dixie was closed. What was the world coming to?
I was surprisingly saddened by the closing of this one small restaurant in a city of hundreds, if not thousands. It wasnt just the food (although I haven’t had alligator since, and even though Zatarans is good, it’s just not the same). It was the end of an era. It was turning the page on a chapter of my life I looked on quite fondly. I won’t say it was the glue that held our little group together, because as it turns out, even through moving, marriages, children and life, our friendships have mostly all transcended the life of The Dixie. While it wasnt the glue, it was certainly an important part of those years.
A few months ago (nearly a decade later), a good friend of mine was in town on a layover. I met him at his hotel for dinner and as we were walking down Mass Ave I stopped in front of where The Dixie used to be and told him about a once great Cajun restaurant that used to be there. “Sounds like a great place,” he said. “One of the best,” I replied. One of the best.