In the 1970s, Calvin Trillin informed America that its most glorious food was not to be found at the pretentious restaurants he referred to generically as La Maison de la Casa House, Continental Cuisine. With three hilarious books over the next two decades—American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings—he established himself as, in Craig Claiborne’s phrase, “the Walt Whitman of American eats.” Trillin’s three comic masterpieces are now available in what Trillin calls The Tummy Trilogy.
Throughout the 1970s, as he wrote the "American Journal" feature for the New Yorker
, Calvin Trillin crossed and recrossed the continent. Braver than most transients, he dined in every manner of restaurant, sampling all kinds of native cuisine. He tirelessly sniffed out plain but great joints where the local people loved to eat. "[Don't take me to the] place you took your parents on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, [but] the place you went the night you came home after fourteen months in Korea." As a result of such hard-nosed pursuit of good food, this "Walt Whitman of American eats" produced three delightful books chronicling his gastronomic journey, and they have now been collected into The Tummy Trilogy
. Trillin is a marvelous writer, affable and witty under any circumstances. He's also an extremely enthusiastic eater, so the books are filled with gourmet brio. Here's a sample from the first book, American Fried
ME: Anybody who served a milkshake like this in Kansas City would be put in jail.
ALICE: You promised not to indulge in any of that hometown nostalgia while I'm eating. You know it gives me indigestion.
ME: What nostalgia? Facts are facts. The kind of milkshake that I personally consumed six hundred gallons of at the Country Club Daily is an historical fact in three flavors. Your indigestion is not from listening to my fair-minded remarks on the food of a particular American city. It's from drinking that gray skim milk this bandit is trying to pass off as a milkshake.
This book is almost as fun as tucking into a big, delicious meal (but no substitute, of course). Trillin's family, long-suffering in the face of a father's obsessions, is as winning as always. If you're a dedicated fan--or just dipping into the writing of this good-natured maestro--The Tummy Trilogy is a wonderful book. --Michael Gerber