“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz
For Mother, it was an icy cold Coke.
For Dad, it is chocolate, any and all sort.
Yesterday, late morning, I ran into one of my family’s favorite places in Atlanta.
Henri’s is one of the oldest existing bakeries in the city, that and Rhodes Bakery. And granted there are better tasting bakeries within the city, Henri’s has long been woven into the fabric of my life starting when my mother was a little girl. I’ve never really thought much about it but I suppose having a very french sounding bakery in the middle of “old Atlanta” is a bit odd, especially to those transplant yankees and / or visitors to the city.
Henri’s is in the exact same location it’s been in since I was a little girl. Tucked away on a small unassuming little side street and now prime real-estate corner lot, lacking adequate parking, almost cowering in the shadows of high-rise office buildings, uber chic condos and the elegant St Regis Hotel. . .in an area that is at the center of what one considers to be the heart of true Atlanta or more commonly known as Buckhead.
Today’s Buckhead area is known for its posh and ultra chic shopping, Michelin Star dinning, eclectic watering holes, and 5 star hotels—a playground and shopping mecca of the famous and not so famous.
I simply just know it as the place where I spent my childhood and my growing up as both my grandmothers lived in Buckhead. It’s where my mom and dad grew up. . . walking to attend school, riding bikes to the movies, eventually meeting on a blind date and lucky for me, marrying.
Buckhead’s humble beginning was a far cry from today’s scene of upscale prestige. There once was an old general store at the crossroads of what is today’s Roswell Rd and Peachtree Rd. A single dirt road diverged into two separate dirt roads exactly at the site of the general store, with the store being the stopping point on one’s journey up either of the two roads. On the front of the old general store, up above the door, was a mounted head of a buck—hence Buckhead. This was a time long before Sherman had even set his sites on Atlanta, burning it to the ground.
Henri’s opened up in Atlanta in 1929, owned and operated by Henri Fiscus–a man who immigrated to Atlanta from France where he had been trained as a classic Chef. The original location was actually in downtown Atlanta–the location where my aunt remembers visiting every Sunday evening, along with my mom and grandmother, as they would go pick up Sunday’s quick and easy, but oh so fresh and good, supper. To this day, when she comes back to Georgia for a visit, I have to take her over to Atlanta to Henri’s for one of their famous Po Boys on the savory house made French Baguettes. I happen to be partial to the shortbread cookies. . .
I had driven over to Atlanta yesterday to run a few errands before going over to see Dad.
I had told Dad that I would pick up lunch.
“Oh no you don’t have to do that, I think we have something here”
“Dad, just ask Gloria if she’d like for me to pick up lunch.”
“Dad, if she’s not close by just ask her later and call me back”
I think he was afraid he’d forget to ask her as he continued hollering her name.
I suppose getting up and going to see where she was would have been too much to ask.
“IT’S JULIE ON THE WIRE”
Long story of yelling short, Gloria said yes, she’d like for me to pick up lunch.
After running a few errands in town, I headed over to Henri’s.
The last place my grandmother had lived was across the street from Henri’s.
Her condominiums having long since been torn down, now making room for a sprawling modern upscale living and shopping development. As I fight off the sweeping cloak of melancholy and longing that always finds me when I drive past my memories, I fretted about finding a parking spot.
Henri’s gets very very crowded at lunchtime–so much so that they have an off duty Atlanta policeman directing traffic.
Today I was lucky, a spot at the front door! Woohoo!!
Walking in the door, I immediately grab a shopping basket and head over to the shelf containing the sandwiches. There is only a limited number of the “famous” sandwiches that are made up for the day–if you’re not early, you miss out but there is now a counter where you can have your sandwiches custom made if you prefer. I grab two of the Po boys and a regular turkey on white for dad, a couple of sacks of chips as I make for the most important counter in the store. . . the beautifully displayed pastries, cakes and cookies.
As I ogle the decadent goodies through the glass, a woman behind the counter asks if she can help me.
I ask for 2 dozen of the shortbread cookies, the ones with the little colorful sugar dot in the center, with each dozen going in a separate box. One box to stay with dad, one box to go home with me.
Next I ask for the most important item of all on my list—two chocolate bombs.
A most decadent conglomeration of chocolate cake, cream, chocolate ganache, a chocolate shell covered in chocolate shavings—for I know my father’s weakness. . .Chocolate.
Dad let’s me in the house as I carry in our lunch.
Like a little kid, he can’t wait for me to pull out the magic little white boxes.
“What’s in there?”
“What’s in that box?”
“Oooo, I love cookies”
“What’s in that thing?”
“That Dad is your chocolate bomb–2 of them” I proudly proclaim knowing that I have just made his day.
Dad eats only half his sandwich before he asks for a cookie.
He chooses the cookie with the chocolate dot on top, opting the eat the chocolate center while leaving the shortbread cookie part behind. At 87 I’m thinking he’s acting more like 7 but I don’t say anything.
“Can I have my bomb now” as glee filled expectancy fills the room.
“You’ve got two of them Dad, you can eat them whenever you’d like!”
“I want one now” which is more of a demand than a polite statement.
In less then 10 minutes, the only thing remaining on his plate are a few chocolate crumbs.
Happy, chatty, friendly and the most attentive and focused he’s really been in a long time, Dad has had a good day, which in turn equates to my having had a good day with Dad.
There is often no substitute for the familiar, the tried and the true.
In this case a humble little outdated bakery which is still owned and operated by the founding family, throw in a couple of sandwiches, a box of shortbread cookies, a chocolate bomb or two, and you’ve got the making of a magical moment.
May we never under estimate the power of chocolate.