“Shrimp Lafayette” catches my eye. I ask the waitress about it.
Janice, Dad, and I had hiked Ocean Path Trail in Acadia National Park. We settle in for a late lunch at Galyn’s Restaurant, on Main Street in Bar Harbor. Being mid-afternoon, on a Thursday, except for the retired couple in the corner performing orthopedic insults to mammoth lobsters, we have the place to ourselves. The bay window overlooks the harbor, clipper ships gracefully skimming waves amongst the sight-seeing cruisers. Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, just audible in the background, add prestige to the place.
The menu has lobster bisque, oysters Rockefeller, and crab stuffed mushrooms. Further down the menu is lobster linguini, lobster enchiladas, and “whole lobster: a 1 ¼ pound lobster, boiled and served with drawn butter, rice, and vegetable.” But what interests me comes after “Seafood linguini.” There it is: “Shrimp Lafayette.”
Our waitress is experienced, but unprepared for inquiry.
“How do these shrimp manage to merit the lofty name Lafayette?” I ask.
She is taken aback, as though a pithy petit mal had interrupted her routine, and her face shows a touch of embarrassment.
Janice is elegant as always, and does her best to soften the blow of these interrogatories; Dad, robust at ninety-one, often as not joins in with questions of his own.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I have never been asked before.” And like the professional she is, adds, “But I’ll find out.”
She returns, her fluster evident in her halting attempt to answer. “We think,” she begins, and this opening tells me neither the chef nor the manager whom she consulted can provide her with credible reply. “We think,” she repeats, “that Lafayette was an explorer.” She says this with upturned inflection and stops cold, aware that her ground is unconvincing.
I sit bolt upright. “Here is the story,” I say and repeat what I told Rotary. “The Marquis de Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757, and died May 20, 1834. Were it not for Lafayette America would not have won the Revolutionary War. On August 8, 1775, he heard for the first time ever about the rabble in America, those farmers and merchants, fighting for liberty against the most powerful army in the world. Then and there Lafayette decides he’s in; he will fight with America.”
I have her attention and out of the corner of my eye I notice the retired couple have stopped cracking claws and are listening.
“But King Louis XVI, his sovereign, forbids his going to America; worse, his father-in-law the Duc d’Ayen tells him that he cannot go and, by the way, ‘you’ll never amount to anything.’ What does Lafayette do? He buys his own ship—19 years old and he buys his own ship, the La Victoire for 112,000 livres.”
“What was the name of the ship?” The question comes from behind me where another waitress has joined us, and now she angles closer.
“La Victoire,” I repeat. “And at City Tavern, Second Street, in Philadelphia, Lafayette sees for the first time his commander-in-chief. Even across the room there is no mistaking the formidable George Washington. Lafayette becomes the son Washington never had, Washington the father Lafayette never had. They are best friends and confidants. Lafayette fights at the Battle of Brandywine, where he is wounded, and later commands the honored right wing at Yorktown, the battle that turned the world upside down.” Our waitress has no customers waiting; her eyes do not dart side-to-side as eyes often do when the mind finds itself in idle.
The couple in the corner have adjusted their seating so as to hear better. I am aware of this and take full advantage. This is my lone chance to convince this audience that Lafayette is all about working toward a better version of ourselves, that he is about a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world.
“Lafayette is the champion of liberty. The fact is, your ‘Shrimp Lafayette’ gives you occasion to tell the story. This story inspires. It illuminates. Pair the story to your culinary offering. It will elevate your prestige. Patrons will find in you something a cut above. They will bring children and grandchildren to the place that dares to bring adventure, sacrifice, and purpose to table. ”
The couple in the corner applauds.
“Shrimp Lafayette” at Galyn’s Restaurant, Bar Harbor, Maine, is wonderful. We leave a good tip; it is for the privilege of telling a story worth telling.
Richard L. Ingram