We knew it couldn’t last. Warm days begat cool nights and finally, inevitably, one morning you walk out to find your thumping-hard pumpkin collapsed on the deck: first frost. So comes the end of late-fall lettuce and tomatoes, tender beans. It’s over. Not that there won't be some brocolli, or a few root vegetables. But the thrill is gone.
I’ve been traveling this past week, and have been nowhere near a kitchen. I’ve eaten quite well, though: fat pancakes, the kind I don’t usually care for, fluffy, tender, and good. A mess o’ pork barbecue with greens, slaw, spicy beans, corn cakes, potato salad; we happened by when the owner was there, and because I was from out of town, I got a free sampler plate of every smoked meat the house made: large pork ribs, pulled pork, short ribs, chicken, kielbasa, and pigs feet. It was dandy. On from Nashville to Louisville, I had, hands down, the best steak I have ever had, with the best classic sides I’ve ever had (including a pristine iceberg wedge with Maytag blue cheese dressing and flavorful little red and yellow tomatoes), at the amazing Jeff Ruby’s. The place bears no physical resemblance to traditional New York houses Peter Luger, Keen's, or the original Smith & Wollensky. It’s glitzy, even shiny. But the steaks, house-aged like Luger’s, are better. They come to table looking charred and black; sitting at the bar, I could see them arriving all around me, wondering if people had ordered them well done, perhaps "burnt." My strip arrived looking the same. Under that blackened crust—an edge, really—was the most perfectly, evenly cooked steak of my long steak-eating experience. It had been placed on a generous amount of absolutely fresh and sweet Worcestershire butter, which had melted across the plate and offered the ideal sauce to every rich and flavorful bite. The meat was so well seasoned it didn’t need a speck of salt. Truly, you could live anywhere as long as they had steak like this, and a good bakery.And it makes the passing of summer sweet sorrow; we know there are other, soul-warming pleasures ahead. Nevertheless, in tribute to the gifts of summer, here is a final salute, a visual if not veritable feast, of the Rhode Island growing season. Each photo was taken the day of harvest, and each item was eaten at peak flavor, a taste memory that will tide me over through a winter that, carried on the shoulders of a great steak, need not be one of discontent.