My hatred of peas has had a significant effect on my life and friendships. That she hated peas was one of the things that first endeared my best childhood friend to me. That he hated peas (and flan, but that’s a story for another day) was likewise one of the things that first endeared Mr. HungryPelican to me.
The pea-hatred started early for me. When I was a kid, my mother made the bagged, frozen kind. I still gag at the memory of the sulfurous, sour smell that those little torture devices emitted when heated. They even looked unappetizing: grayish green, dimpled like factory-reject golf balls, steeped in cloudy greenish water. I can’t count how many times my parents denied me dessert because I couldn’t force myself to eat one – just one – of those villainous spheroids of victual vileness. So yeah: I hate peas.
Or rather, I hated them – until Mr. HungryPelican and I visited the Queen’s Head on Central Avenue in St. Pete. Imagine my surprise last weekend when I found myself devouring a pile of peas and gazing sadly at my plate when they were gone.
I knew before I even looked at the menu that I’d order the fish and chips – I am the Hungry Pelican, after all, and no pelican worth her salt can turn down a gullet full of fish — but my one misgiving was that the dish contained fish, chips, and peas.
Peas are a fairly traditional side with fish and chips, and traditionally, I leave the peas on the plate, feel wasteful, and sense my mother somehow disapproving from afar.
But these peas were special. They were bright green and dressed with mint. The minty smell evoked memories of playing in the back yard, where some mint plants grew at the edge of the rock garden; it was a far cry from the sour smell of my pea-related memories. We’re talking Paradiso versus The Inferno, for you literary types. The Queen’s Head’s peas looked and smelled so different from the frozen peas of my childhood that I decided that I had to try one, just one.
Can peas be revelatory? If revelatory peas exist, they’re at the Queen’s Head. No kidding. They were firm, with a little snap when I bit into them, and they tasted, you know, green in that lovely fresh way that green things should taste. The mint complemented the green taste brightly, cleanly, without overpowering the peas themselves, and without tasting like herbal soap. No brackish pea-water sullied the plate.
Each mouthful felt like a rite, like a baptism into the church of the holy pea.
I don’t want to suggest that the rest of my dish was forgettable, because it wasn’t. It was as flaky and crunchy and malt vinegar-y a plate of fish and chips as a hungry bird could ever hope for — but those peas! I ate them all and wished for more. I savored each sassy little snap between my molars. The minute I finished them, I told Mr. HungryPelican that we had to go to the market to get fresh peas and mint so that I could try to copy them at home.
Thank you, Queen’s Head, for making a pea convert out of me. At my advanced age, I thought it unlikely that I could ever find a likeable pea. You proved me wrong. Deliciously, greenly wrong.
On a related note:
Mr. HungryPelican had the Steak and Ale Pie. Our server warned us that this dish takes 25 minutes to cook, which caused us some initial trepidation, but it’s worth the wait. Bonus: there’s something oddly, pleasurably illict-feeling in the act of breaking the flaky pastry top to reach the meat, mushrooms, onions, and savory Smithwick’s-based gravy inside.
The dish is a winner; just be sure to bring along a talkative friend, or a pen and paper, to make the wait seem shorter. Mr. HungryPelican and I passed the time drawing on a scrap of paper (below). We had seen a TV show the night before about a species of giant jellyfish that’s experiencing a population explosion off the coast of Japan, and it was evidently still on our minds. In our version, the jellyfish polyps metamorphose into the ghosts from Pac-Man. If you look closely, you can also see the TARDIS and a punk Pac-Man. It was a fun way to pass the time waiting for what turned out to be a spectacular – revelatory! – meal.