William Safire on Krebs

“Irving drove her in his rental car for forty minutes to a restaurant called Krebs, in the town of Skaneateles. The eating place was like none she had ever seen. In a great, rambling house, people were seated at a blizzard of white tablecloths, with ruddy-cheeked waitresses running around the tables ladling out soups and gravies, offering platters of roast beef and roast chicken, buckets of fresh peas, and candied carrots tasting unlike any vegetables she had tried in America. Whenever an empty spot appeared on a customer’s plate, busboys would cover it immediately with sections of a crumbly golden cake or dark rolls with raisins embedded.

“This was ‘family style,’ Irving explained while eating prodigiously, with no menus or apparent plan, in an atmosphere of hearty appetites, plentiful servings, and happy diners. Liana did not know if she could say no to the healthy-looking waitresses and kept eating as fast as she could to clear a spot for the next helping. When she reached for the crumbly golden cake, Irving told her not to fill up on the corn bread, to leave room for the great pudding desserts.

“‘The whole meal is thirty-six bucks for the two of us,’ Irving announced when the check came. ‘That’s value. In New York City or in Paris, that sort of money won’t buy two people a goddam appetizer.’

“‘I am so grateful to you for taking me here. This is another America,’ she said, happily stuffed, ruffling the stubble of her hair. ‘Not Ace’s elegant America, or the dormitory luncheonette America, but Irving Fein’s America.’

“‘The white Protestant sauce at Krebs is not exactly my dish of tea. And the earliest seating here lets you out at–‘ he checked his watch–‘not even seven o’clock, which is not yet time for dinner in a real city. But I wanted you to see this, Liana Krumins from Riga, Latvia, because they do good work here, they’re proud of their reputation, they make a profit, nobody gets slammed against the wall, people laugh a lot and don’t learn to lie to stay in the game.’ He dropped the white napkin on a clean plate that had held the heaping of creme caramel atop the nutted brownie. ‘Now let’s go back and scheme and plot and connive and otherwise commit journalism.'”

— From Sleeper Spy (1995) by William Safire, in which Irving Fein, “the world’s greatest reporter,” takes a break from pursuing a spy who has absconded with the financial assets of the old KGB


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