A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away Mark and I were newlyweds. Part of the “new” in newlywed was our new life in Washington, DC. Mark had gotten his economist dream job and we had moved to an area that he had always loved, but where I had never been before. The time was ripe for High Adventure!
Mark is a huge Civil War buff, which is part of the reason he was so excited about living in DC. We made a deal that once a month we would truck on out to some battle field and hike around while he played professor and schooled me on American history.
We saw The Wilderness, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg to name a few. It was great hiking and the Park Service has done a fantastic job of making the fields assessable and describing the army movements during the battles.
Then we went to Sharpsburg. Better known as Antietam.
Sharpsburg is a very small town.
We drove in from the east, right to the Antietam battle field and basically missed the town. We hiked around the actually very beautiful fields all morning and then at 1pm we finally admitted we were starving. The snacks I had tucked into my purse were long gone and we needed some real food. One cannot live by Clif Bars alone.
We tucked ourselves into the car and drove towards the town looking for food. We drove along Main Street and before we could even blink we were back into corn fields.
“Uh….,” Mark said.
Now, this was before smart phones and GPS and all that. We had a printed out Google map, a general map of Virginia, and a general map of Maryland. We had no idea where we were going, but in a town that small who really needed a map??
So we turned around and drove back down Main Street.
Main Street was sparse, people. We didn’t see a diner or small restaurant. We didn’t even see a McDonald’s or a Subway. My stomach was rumbling and I was searching in desperation for even a gas station that would promise chips and soda. I mean, people live here! Surely they have places that provide food to their population.
And then we saw it. Cap’n Bender’s. Frosted over windows and a dark wood paneled door definitely signaled it as a long-established local bar. At best I would describe it as having “character” at worse I would describe it as “seedy.” But the Cap’n promised food and a cold beverage and I was way beyond being choosy.
We swung open the surprisingly heavy door and walked in. After our eyes adjusted to the dimness and stopped watering from the smoke we made our way to the least dirty empty table.
The place was full of regulars drinking their lunches and smoking their desserts. The menu was scrawled onto a chalkboard and continued onto a piece of white paper taped to the bottom.
We could choose between grilled cheese, hamburgers, and chicken or egg salad sandwiches. For sides we could pick jalapeno poppers, French fries, potato salad, or coleslaw. Not bad, I thought.
We gave our orders to the woman with a look that Mark describes as “typical Southern bar matron.” Mark chose the hamburger and fries and I got a chicken salad sandwich and potato salad. I got lemonade and Mark sprung for a beer.
She wrote out our order very carefully. We watched her, expecting her to go through a grey door at the end of the bar and into the kitchen. Instead she walked to the end of the bar and bellied up to a Fry Daddy, a George Foreman grill, and a picnic cooler.
That was the kitchen.
Mark looked at me with a mixture of disbelief, apology, and horror. I can only assume that I had a similar expression on my face.
I had never before seen a kitchen that could be cleared away into the trunk of a car in less time than it would take a health and safety inspector to walk inside from the parking lot.
She opened the cooler and pulled out several Tupperware containers and a Ziploc baggie with something green in it. She opened one of the containers and scooped out a mayonnaise-y substance onto a slice of Wonder Bread. She smooshed on a second slice and put it on a plastic plate. A second ice cream scooper came out of the cooler with a chunkier mayonnaise-y substance I guessed was potato salad and plopped that next to the sandwich.
And she wasn’t done. Another Tupperware was opened and a pre-made beef patty was plunked onto the George Foreman grill. She leaned into the cooler, took out a hand-full of fries and dropped them into the Fry Daddy. Mark’s lunch was on its way.
She waved her rag at us when it was ready and slid his beer and my lemonade into place on the bar.
Again, we exchanged looks and an unspoken promise to help each other when we inevitably got food poisoning.
It didn’t help that as we sat down with our food the other patrons looked at us as if they had never seen food served here before. Then they proceeded to watch us eat as they sipped their beers as if we were the entertainment for their lunches.
The food was thankfully non-descript and non-deadly. We left with our stomachs marginally full and, as he started up the car, Mark promised he would take me out to one of our favorite restaurants that night.
Cap’n Bender’s became the low bar in dining experiences that we now use to measure all other dining experiences.
Now, to be fair this was years ago. Consider that E is almost 10 year old and this was a few years before we had kids. I Googled the Cap’n while writing this and it seems to have been upgraded a lot. The owners have decided to actually spell out Captain indicating they have turned over a classy new leaf. They even seem to have a legit kitchen. I actually may go back one day if Mark decides to drag me and the kids back to Antietam.