It wasn’t a particularly long ride, barely eighteen miles but the excited chatter in the car about what each of us would eat first, lightened my dad’s foot pressing on the accelerator. One of us would always pipe up, “Step on it, Dad, we are starving!”
Our destination was north to Waterville, where a small Lebanese bakery run, or as they would say in that era, ‘operated’ by two brothers and their wives. The oversized, hand-painted sign on the front of a converted neighborhood store read ‘Sitto George,’ a loving reference to the brother’s grandmother who taught them to bake.
As soon as our car stopped, my sister Tanya and I ran for the front door like we were in a pre-Olympic tryout. That first burst of fragrant moist air filled our child-size lungs like a tease of what we knew was to come.
The Ladies always greeted us so warmly in their oil stained, ruffled aprons and we hoped the brothers would turn around so we could wave to them, too. We went to our separate seats, 100-pound cloth bags of flour. Once in position they handed us small bowls of alfonso olives for me and Kalamata olives for my sister and then we’d wait for the line to start moving…
The brothers had rigged up a conveyor belt using khaki colored tent canvas, surplus from a military supply store. When the spinach or meat triangular pies were fresh from the backroom oven, the belt would start moving, sending the pies out for the wives to package up in their domain. Men in the back, women in the front, that’s how it was back then.
We had front row center seats. Our agreement with the wives was that we could grab and eat as many as we wanted but we had to keep count, like we did for penny candy at our neighborhood store.
I hoped for spinach fatayer to roll out first. That is what the pies are called, fatayer—filled with either spinach or meat and formed into a triangular shaped hand pie. The smell of the brown spotted triangles brushed with olive oil seconds before pre-announced their arrival on the moving belt. Filling the warm air with a lemony burst as the smell of spinach chimed in close behind. When the pies are that hot all the smells are separated until they are a bit cooler. Those were my favorite; I can still taste them as I write.
Tanya, strongly preferred the meat pies—not a spinach lover by birth. The brothers used a blend of lamb and beef, toasted pine nuts and those unctuous pieces of slow cooked onions … so good they could be a separate filling by themselves. I’m sure you could smell the cooking lamb/beef escaping through the bakery fan from a mile away. One was plenty for me, I had to save room for my favorite, the spinach ones.
The wives made the salads, dips, kibbeh (the Lebanese national dish) and all the food made on a four-burner, electric home stove and a tiny counter. They worked together so seamlessly just like the brothers did … one would shave cabbage while the other was juicing lemons, chopping fresh garlic, or carefully washing parsley for tabouli.
The little ethnic store and bakery smelled like another world to us as little kids back then when our hometown of Augusta, just eighteen miles away used garlic powder rarely, bottled lemon juice on occasion and steered clear of fresh parsley always.