Michael and Geraldine outside Sonny's with Melissa, their waitress (Adam Kenwright)
I was in Homestead, Florida, looking for somewhere to eat lunch. Homestead branch library on my right, Mavericks High, whatever that is, not many buildings, lots of fields. I was hoping to find a lovely little place run by mom and pop with a mesh door to keep out the mosquitoes, a counter, a few tables. Mom in the kitchen baking apple pie. Pop behind the counter pouring milkshakes. As it was in Ossining, New York, when I first visited the USA in 1953.
With Geraldine and me was the theatrical biggie Adam Kenwright. He spotted Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q on South Dixie Highway, Florida City. A town we'd entered without realising. Its sign read, "All you can eat chicken $7.99."
I hear you mutter, "The same sign says, 'Happy new year'. Are you reviewing a restaurant you went to more than six months ago?"
"Why not?" I respond vigorously. "I have copious notes on what occurred. Last week I phoned our waitress, Melissa, who told me Sonny's is still there, serving the same food, not redecorated or mucked about. What else do you want, elephants?"
So here's my incisive report on this important chain offering American cuisine throughout the southern states. It's quite a big space, booths, piped music. Four people were getting the most enormous plates of food. A woman said it was one of her favourite places. Her husband added, "It's not so far from Key Largo. We go shopping at Wal-Mart, then we come here for lunch."
Next to our booth were Phil and Sue Metzoler. Phil suggested the pulled pork: "They pull the pork apart so it's shredded."
Up came the waitress, beaming. "I'm Melissa. I'll be your server today." She speedily brought an enormous glass of Coca-Cola, another of ice and a big bowl of lemon slices. Very efficient.
"I'm going to have the barbecue pulled pork . . ." I announced. "Wait a minute, darling - I want the lunch favourite barbecue pulled pork, I'm going to have some barbecue beans and macaroni cheese with it . . . I haven't finished, Melissa. I'm going to have signature baby back ribs and also corn bread and garlic bread. I'm having both so I can taste them." It was to Melissa's considerable credit that she didn't fall asleep or die of boredom as I droned on.
I can't tell you that any of this was marvellous. I'm not booking for New Year's Eve. But it was all pleasant. Geraldine went to the salad bar and described the result as "fantastic". Then I had Sonny's signature dessert: double chocolate brownie bliss topped with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. Melissa said the dessert of the day was key lime pie. I ordered that too. The brownie was okay, the key lime pie rather good. Adam didn't like it. Geraldine said, "It's got gelatine in it." The bill for three people with drinks was $52 (£34). It was a jolly place and exceptional value. Go there. What do you mean it's a bit far? Not if you live in Florida City, it isn't.
For my 75th birthday I'd planned to fly friends by private jet to the Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda. The next day I'd take them by boat for lunch at Locanda San Vigilio, then to Verona for the flight home. All that is cancelled. Just back from the still-superb Villa Feltrinelli, I realised if rain came it would be a fiasco. I'm considering the Epping YMCA and other locations. On Lake Garda I met Massimo Callestrini, whose restored 1926 sailing boat I was to hire. Massimo owns a crocodile farm. From their skins he makes handbags that sell for $5,000 to $20,000 and jackets up to $100,000 (£84,000).
At the Villa Feltrinelli, the best hotel in Europe, there were wobbles. I hate waiters who, faced with still and fizzy mineral water, don't check but just pour. Twice I got fizzy instead of still. I pointed this out to the restaurant manager, Peter Eisendle. He assured me it wouldn't happen again. An hour later, at lunch, the waiter didn't ask; just poured fizzy water. A guest's laptop was blaring dreadful disco music, shattering the peaceful lakeside atmosphere. I told Eisendle, who'd totally ignored the din, that this was not appreciated. If he wanted guests to provide music I'd bring my tape recorder and blast back. I think, paying £1,200 a night for my room, I deserved trouble-free meals. The excellent general manager of the Feltrinelli, Markus Odermatt, should discreetly dump Eisendle in the lake.
You may remember Julius Schmulius, the creepy-crawly theatrical agent whom I find quite appalling. Julius waddled over at a function to apologise for upsetting me. I should have let bygones be bygones. But Schmulius was wearing a white suit. Grossly overweight people should not wear white. Had he been wearing a dark grey suit, I'd have accepted and made up. As it is, I'm thinking about it.
Ashley Fox of Maidenhead wrote last week that I was an extra in the movie Burke & Hare. How dare you, sir. I played an important cameo role. Spoke at least 10 words. Brilliantly. Stardom awaits me.
Last week's photo showed that you were finally accepted into the old ladies' home. God help them when you have to disrobe and they find you are not who you appear to be!
Dennis Pallis, Kent
Loved the picture of you with the four old ladies. Which one was you? Chris Phillips, Buckinghamshire
The four ladies shown in the photo were dressed elegantly and appropriately for their years, which sadly cannot be said for the old git with them.
Stuart Ross, Willeman, France
It was good to see the Beverley Sisters treating their old dad to a meal.
Andrew Hayes, Newport
At Le Gavroche the other evening there wasn't a fluttering handkerchief to be seen, nobody objected to the seating arrangements, nor was anyone asked to leave. Much too boring. I won't be going there again.
Peter Kurton, Essex
At the Cipriani hotel, Venice, our room was too small for the price, bathroom not properly cleaned; at the bar the Campari soda was served in a small, stupid glass; at the Fortuny restaurant the floor and windows were dirty but the food simple and good. Cip's had a nice atmosphere but food and service were not a top combination. Quite honestly, I was expecting more.
David Tomasson, Long Island, USA
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