Do you often use vacation to go “back home” to visit family? Now I live a stone’s throw away from the town where I grew up, but for many years vacation was the time to return to Geneva, Ohio, to see my parents and catch up with old friends.
And a few miles down the road from Geneva was – and is – the village of Geneva-on-the-Lake, a kind of honky-tonk throwback to another era with bingo parlors and miniature golf, ice cream and pizza stands, t-shirt shops and biker bars. When I finally drove through Myrtle Beach for the first time a few years ago, I quickly surmised that it was pretty much just Geneva-on-the-Lake on steroids.
But while Geneva-on-the-Lake (let’s call it GOTL going forward because I’m tired of typing those hyphens, okay?) may be small potatoes compared to Myrtle Beach, Atlantic City, Coney Island or any of those other carnival-esque seaside destinations, this little spot offers two things I challenge any other resort to top:
The incomparably delectable Madsen Donuts and juicy foot-long hot dogs at Eddie’s Grill.
That’s right. Ask anyone going home to Geneva or the general vicinity and they will assure you that a trip home in the summer would be incomplete without eating at these two places. If you run into an old friend in the grocery store, he’ll say, hey, have you been to Eddie’s yet? Or call your sister in Utah and she’ll want to know how many times you got down to the lake for donuts.
Eddie’s is always packed, but if you’re lucky, you might be able to eat your hot dog and fries at one of the booths that has a little tabletop juke box. Does anyone know if they actually work anymore? I’m not sure, but it used to be fun to drop in a quarter and wait for the songs YOU chose to play loudly for the whole crowd to hear.
Opposite the counter where they call your number to pick up your hot dog there’s a Dairy Queen window where you’ll find all the usual DQ treats along with my favorite, those tart, gorgeous icy lemonades with half a lemon in the cup. You know the kind that gives you a brain freeze because they taste so good, you can’t stop yourself from sucking the ice down the straw too quickly?
After lunch or dinner at Eddies, it’s time to cross the street and walk the block or so to Madsen Donuts, an institution on the GOTL Strip since 1938. You may think of donuts as a breakfast food, but here, the donuts are so good people like to indulge any time they’re within shouting distance of the tiny store.
Remember 20 years ago or so when Krispy Kreme became so popular around the country? You’d hear stories of people lining up outside the shops in places like Los Angeles, anxiously awaiting the latest batch of hot, fresh donuts newly introduced from their home somewhere in the South. I love a good donut and Krispy Kreme is good. But – I can remember trying one for the first time and thinking, man – these can’t hold a candle to Madsen’s! What’s all the fuss about?
And that’s still true today. Donut lover that I am, I’ve tried my share around the country and even on the rare occasions that I could find one overseas. I never met a donut I didn’t like. But Madsen’s? They take the (fried) cake.
I recently learned that when the far-flung members of my friend Sue’s family converge upon their Saybrook cottage (a couple of miles east of GOTL) each summer, her elder brother Rob is in charge of the Donut Contract.
Instituted a number of years ago to avoid donut mayhem during visits, the Donut Contract states that any person in the cottage may have any type(s) of donut in any quantity they wish from Madsen Donuts, but they must commit to it on paper before Rob or another family member makes the donut run to GOTL.
Once you have signed off on your choices, you are responsible for consuming those donuts, and only those donuts. You may not change your mind later and attempt to claim a relative’s duly-contracted donut. There is no change of heart after the contract is signed and the little beauties are on display for all to admire and covet.
Also, there should be no wastage of donuts. If you claim to have room to eat a cream stick, a chocolate-frosted fry cake and a glazed cinnamon twist, then you’d better gobble all three donuts down. Waste not, want not. Or something. While there may be further private negotiations after the donuts arrive, the bottom line is that you are responsible for your donuts. End of story.
By the way, the folks crammed into this family cottage range from 70-something grandparents who have retired to New Mexico, my friend Sue from California, and other siblings, spouses and significant others, to adult and teenage kids and toddling grandchildren. They literally come from sea to shining sea, meeting yearly to eat donuts and burn off the calories by swimming and kayaking in Lake Erie’s sparkling waters.
So what are your “musts” when vacation takes you back home? Do you have your own version of the Donut Contract? Tell us more . . . and enjoy these last few weeks of summer!