If you go to what qualifies as the “downtown” of Seabrook, New Hampshire, you will find a small restaurant by the name of Jasmine’s. Maybe restaurant is an overstatement. A restaurant implies an experience, and a hopefully pleasant one, at that. The building in questions is many things, but is not, per se, a restaurant as much as it is a place to make a transaction in order to obtain food. In any case, this distributor of food is sandwiched between one shop boasting “Smoking Accessories” and another claiming to be a “Tobacco Depot”. The humor here was certainly not lost on me. As you may have guessed at this point, this part of Seabrook was not what one would call a “high profile” spot.
Under closer observation, this assumption holds up rather well; at thirteen years of age, I am the only person in the place without visible tattoos. A scent of cigarette smoke firmly resides in the establishment, likely supplied by the neighboring places of business. The building is small, poorly lit, and small televisions provide grainy depictions of the latest news. Plastic, uncushioned booths occupy the barren, tiled linoleum floors, few of which are in use; few choose to occupy them, largely due to the aforementioned surroundings.
I was not particularly troubled by the apparent sketchiness of the place; I was simply rather surprised that this was somewhere my father would willingly pay a visit to. My father was not exactly in his element amongst the bearded, heavily inked bikers and smokers that dominated the adult male demographic of the joint. He was not of the traditional redneck stock present here; a mild-mannered veterinary radiologist, his culinary interests presently featured a fascination with traditional Southeast Asian cuisine, which I thought precluded any kind of food offered by a place such as this.
And apparently I was wrong. He sat back in the hard, unforgiving embrace of the seat, arms casually crossed, looking as though he belonged nowhere else but here. I was more than a little incredulous, but did not comment. I had a vague memory of coming here a few years ago, and being similarly unimpressed with the atmosphere (or lack thereof), so the quality (or lack thereof) of the place did not entirely surprise me.
We had ordered two Superbeefs. I was unsure what I was getting myself into, but I copied my father and hoped he had made a good decision. The word Superbeef inspired in me images of a caped and suited cow, gazing watchfully over Cowtropolis in search of super villains to bring to justice. However, I rather doubted this was the case. The only thing I had been told of the restaurant was that it served “New England style” roast beef, and that was good enough for me.
We had also ordered one small fry to share amongst the two of us. Of this, I was also dubious, but once again, I trusted my father's judgement. So I waited there, sipping at my Coke from a glass bottle (a surprisingly classy touch, in my opinion), and not knowing who or even what to expect. I glanced at the news displayed by the computer monitor-sized TV adorning the wall facing me, the sound of which was largely drowned out by the seemingly neverending flow of obscenities provided by a pair of skaters occupying a nearby table. I did not know if table service would be provided to us. It seemed unlikely in a place such as this, and the counter had that kind of “serve yourself” vibe projected by counters that occupied such a significant bit of the already limited floor space as this one did. My assumption proved to be correct, as soon “two Superbeefs and a small fry” were heralded from the kitchen.
My father went to claim the food, and soon returned bearing a tray. This tray, once set upon our table, was seen to contain two paper wrapped, sandwich shaped objects leaking through with a dark orange sauce of some kind, resting upon a virtual mountain of fries. I was truly awestruck. I had never seen that many fries in one place in my life, let alone served to me. “Small fry?”, I inquired to my father, who responded with a nod and a grin, relishing in my amazement.
Still dumbstruck, I turned my attention to the small, wrapped parcel in front of me. I unwrapped it quickly, curious of it's contents, and was soon gazing down on a sandwich. Thick orange sauce leaked out from between toasted bulky rolls, between which was sheet upon sheet of thinly sliced roast beef, cooked near rare. It was so immediately different from any sandwich I had ever been exposed to, I was instantly intrigued. I grasped reverently in my fingers, and the thing darn near fell apart. Seeing my struggle for purchase, my father advised me that this was the kind of sandwich that one “committed to”, meaning that you couldn't really put it down and pick up the carefully contained sandwich you had just set aside.
I cautiously sunk in my teeth… and it all melted away. The profanity laden, dank edifice in which I resided faded into my peripheral as my taste buds exploded and my mind opened to this newfound treasure. The softness of the bun, combined with equally soft yet slightly chewy meat merged beautifully with the sweet, barbeque-y, and spicy tang of the sauce. My teeth felt suddenly unnecessary as the sandwich practically dissolve in my earnestly waiting mouth.
My God, I thought as I wasted no time in going in for another bite. Where have you been all my life? Who has been keeping you from me? This was something new. Something new and special. You may have had “roast beef” before; the pink, slimy cold cuts that ruin subs. I’ll tell you a secret; that's not roast beef. It’s just a pretender masquerading as the real thing. No no, my friends, oh no. True roast beef can be found exclusively in New England, particularly in the Eastern Mass and New Hampshire region. Anything else is fraud. Anyone who sells that falseness is a criminal and deserves jail.
And all too soon, the sandwich was over. I looked down in disappointment at my sauce stained hands, and immediately started devouring the spare beef that had fallen out of the sandwich and onto the paper wrapping. My father, still wisely savoring his sandwich, gave me a knowing look, and he understood. The only words I felt capable of formulating were “Wow..”. He laughed, and with nothing better to do, I immediately took to picking away the the small hill of fries awaiting us.
After we had consumed as many fries as humanly possible on a stomach of roast beef (which wasn’t many), just I sat there. I was still appreciating my newfound revelation, my initial prejudices of the restaurant faded away. I rode a kind of roast beef drunkenness; these people were my friends! All of them! The profane skaters? The obese guy reeking of smoke by the window? The tired counter lady? All my friends. And we were, in a way. We were siblings in the great enlightenment of the roast beef. I could see it as less of a food now, and more like a way of life. So, in a way, Jasmine’s was a sort of restaurant; it provided an experience, one totally unlike anyone I had ever had. The unassuming interior, though initially unpleasant, sort of added to the experience. Can you really imagine sitting yourself down at a fancy five-star restaurant in France, gazing fondly up at the crystal chandelier, beckoning the mustachioed waiter, and gettin’ some beef. No, of course not. That’s absurd. In the world of roast beef, the danker, the grungier, the trashier, the better.
I entered that restaurant I skeptical man, and left it a happy one. I was grinning broadly as I stepped out into the restaurant, blinking in the renewed sunlight. Dried sauce stained my face and fingers. My belly was full with a mountain of fries, and the greatest sandwich known to humankind. And I was the happiest person alive.