Our small town has its pluses and minuses. On the upside, there are no major traffic jams. We have one traffic light in the middle of town, near the common. Drivers are polite, stopping to allow folks to cross the street rather than play big city car kamikaze where pedestrians are targets. People are generally friendly. Yes, it’s a place where almost everyone knows your name. Blink and you think you’re living in the 50’s, looking for “I like Ike” signs. It’s easy living for a former big city couple.
On the downside, our local eateries leave a little to be desired. A big night out is Mickey Dees and the main menu. We miss the world-class restaurants of Boston. We became spoiled after 30 years of sitting down to dinners prepared by chefs we knew on a first name basis. A few days ago, Marilyn and I were commiserating about frozen pizza or hot dog dinner choices as we read a note from friends about one of our favorite former eating places.
Karoun Restaurant occupies a special place in our hearts. It goes back more than 30 years in our lives. So many magical evenings and wonderful memories. If I remember correctly, an old friend — a decorated World War II veteran — introduced me to Karoun. Berge Avedanian was a wonderful man, truly part of the Greatest Generation.
Berge was as proud of his Armenian heritage as his participation in the D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. Berge and I shared many liquid lunches at a pub that catered to veterans, politicians, and TV news reporters. He frequently bragged about his favorite Armenian dishes. So it was that he introduced me to Karoun Restaurant, in Newton.
I was smitten the moment I walked through the front door and into an atmosphere that might have been Casablanca, circa 1942. Although Sam was not at the piano or Rick at the corner table — suspiciously eyeing customers — there was, instead, a smiling man. With hand extended, he was saying, “Welcome to Karoun, I’m John.”
I started to introduce myself, but John made it clear it wasn’t necessary. I was in my prime as a Boston TV news reporter. My face was familiar, but my celebrity didn’t matter to John Eurdolian. I was a new friend. Thanks to Berge Avedanian, I quickly became part of the Karoun extended family. John would introduce me to other family members including his sisters Mary, Nora and Roushi. I even got a tour of the kitchen and met John’s Mom who still supervises cuisine before it leaves the kitchen.
Dinner at Karoun was a weekly ritual. I would invite colleagues and friends to join me. John was discreet, with a wink and nodded approval of my special dinner companions during the years before Marilyn came back into my life.
The belly dancers were always a fun part of our Karoun experience. They were friendly, gracious and radiated a terrific sense of humor. Initially, I was a little shy about sliding dollar bills into the dancer’s slim waist band. A big smile as the dancer leaned over me and my shyness evaporated.
Karoun was one of the first few places I brought Marilyn when she moved to Massachusetts. John acknowledged I was a very lucky guy and it became a regular spot for both of us and any friends or family who came to visit.
Fast forward. Life changed. I retired. In 2000, Marilyn and I left Boston for small town life in central Massachusetts — suddenly living in the kind of town that people respond to by saying “Where are you? Oxbridge? Uxbridge? Where is that?” We adapted well to country life in other way, but we always missed the good food and fun at Karoun.
After our old friends, Ross and Mary (who dined frequently with us at Karoun) told us it was closing on the 24th of June, we knew had to go one last time. Even though our retirement budget doesn’t allow much fine dining, this was important. A big part of our treasured past was shuttering its doors. Despite torrential rain and rush hour traffic, we drove into Newton to meet up with Ross and Mary. After some pre-dinner chatting and laughing, we made our way to Karoun.
Sometimes your expectations for an evening like this aren’t met. Not to worry. We were back in Karoun/Casablanca, 1942. The food was marvelous. Everyone was laughing. The conversations were sparkling. And, the entertainment was spectacular — even by Karoun standards. The belly dancer was brilliant. She could have been top-billed on the old Ed Sullivan show. The variety and stamina of her performance was something we won’t forget.
Our old friend, John Eurdolian stopped at our table. Smiles, hugs and laughter all around as John told us it was a bittersweet time for him. Sad for him to say goodbye to all his friends and decades of great memories. However, it was time for him to slow down and enjoy his family. And, in any case, the town was leveling all the shops in the area to build a mall, so he would have had to find another place regardless. It was time to let it go.
It was an auld lang syne as John led us in champagne farewells. On the floor, everyone was dancing.
Waves and shouts of “goodbye” followed us as we left Karoun for the last time. Outside, We could hear the music and laughter as we dashed for the car through the heavy rain.