Sunday, September 09, 2007

Food for the Soul, Sept. 9, 2007

It was like a death in the family.

My Ohio State fraternity brother, Rob Grinch, sent me a clipping from the Sept. 4 Columbus Dispatch announcing the closing of Talita's Mexican Restaurant.

Talita's has been an institution for nearly 40 years. When I went to Columbus in the mid 1970s, there were two locations, both delightfully cramped and tacky. The closest one was just east of campus in a seedy strip mall, situated between a coin laundromat and the Salvation Army Thrift Shop. It was where I learned to eat, and love, Mexican food.

I started with chalupas and advanced through the menu, ultimately crowning the bean and rice burrito as my favorite. Each meal was usually appetized by a flour nacho with jalapenos and chips and guacamole, and chased with a few Dos Equis to put out the fire from their house-recipe hot sauces.

It was the sauces as much as anything that distinguished Talita's. The red was savory with just the right amount of zing to open your sinuses. But the green was true three-alarm, steam-out-of-the-ears hot! I'm breaking into a sweat just thinking about it!

After Marcy and I married, our apartment was within a short walk of Talita's other location, just north of campus. The convenience was dangerous. It seemed that we were there every weekend and sometimes during the week.

The wait staff was as loyal to the restaurant - and its fare - as the patrons were. Over the years, we'd watch with amusement as new staff would come and grow fatter and fatter the longer they worked there. And I'm sure they watched with equal amusement as we did the same.

Eventually, things changed. The east location closed and the north location moved into a slightly larger space that had once been a Pizza Hut. A few years later, it moved again and experimented with a few Italian dishes on the menu.

We moved, too. First to Chicago, then to Texas and ultimately to Baltimore. In all those places - even in Texas - we measured all Mexican food by Talita's. We found other restaurants we liked, but none we liked better.

We'd return to Columbus a few times each year to visit family. And each time we did, it was understood that we would make at least one trek to Talita's.

The item in the Dispatch said the doors close Sept. 15. The current owner, daughter of the restaurant's founders, is now 61 and says she's ready to retire. She's turning over the family recipes to her brother, who owns a restaurant in Grove City, outside Columbus. He's also changing the name of his place to Talita's Mexican Kitchen. But it's just not the same as being near campus. I guess in some ways, what's happening to Talita's is the same as what happened to many of her customers. She's simply moving away.

Adios, Talita's.

1 comment:

SilberBook-Blog said...

I remember the chips were salty and crisp - and the cheese burned my mouth as much as the sauces - I never could wait until my nachos cooled.

Here's to the passing of another culinary memory - and to the friends who took us there!