I first decided to become a vegetarian in the booth of a TGI Fridays during a post-Sunday mass lunch with my parents. Filled with the repressed rage of a kid bearing the weight of years spent in the stifling embrace of the Catholic church, I skimmed the menu, and, seeing the Beyond Meat Cheeseburger, I decided to make a severe lifestyle change. My choice, which affected every meal I ate for the next eight years, was caused by a chronically teenage longing to defy my parents by making meal-prep a slightly more arduous endeavor. It was more than the faux moral high ground I stood on when preaching environmental activism. It was a silent rebellion, a quiet assertion of independence, woven into the very fabric of my dietary choices.
When I first moved to New Haven in 6th grade, Claire’s Corner Copia seemed like a sanctuary for me and my recently vegetarian diet. Their expansive menu of over fifty vegetarian items was a breath of fresh air to someone used to ordering side dishes and modified salads. The farmhouse-chic decor (not in the overly manufactured HGTV Chip-and-Joanna way) provided a comforting ambiance for apple-cider-drenched study sessions. The cupcakes in the Claire’s display case were my mom’s go-to nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo-friendly classroom birthday treats.
In 8th grade, my family moved to the surrounding suburbs and, subsequently, I’ve become a less frequent patron of Claire’s. Yet, in the recesses of my memory, I hold Claire’s in a nostalgic, soft embrace. Those coffee-stained green granite countertops, the charm of the black and white checkered floors, the lone vegetarian cookbook on display that I’ve never seen sold. Claire’s reminds me of a time when life moved at a simple, gentler pace.
Now, having moved back to New Haven, my relationship with the neatly calligraphed menu on the chalkboard has devolved. Priced at an astounding 12 dollars (not including tax), the Toast with Avocado, according to the delivery app Seamless, is “2 slices of organic wholegrain toast with sliced avocado, sea salt, and black pepper.” Claire’s claims this dish is a “simple and delicious” way to “start your day,” but I’m here to call their bluff. Any day I start off by spending more than the federal hourly minimum wage on half an avocado on two pieces of lightly toasted Costco-quality bread is not my best day ever.
You may be wondering, “Wow, Daniela, there’s no way this dish can be that bad. Why direct all this hate towards a local, family-owned business?” Well, let me add that the avocado isn’t even mashed on the bread. It’s sliced and haphazardly dropped onto the toast. The average price of an avocado in CT ranges from $1-$2 and the average cost of a single slice of bread is around 12 cents. I am genuinely baffled as to how Claire’s can possibly price this dish at $12.00. I can only believe that the two limp leaves of lettuce that garnish the dish mean the staff of Claire’s is in on the joke.
Claire’s may have been my vegetarian home at one point, but my experience with their Toast with Avocado has tainted my memory. Maybe this grudge is supposed to be emblematic of the way nostalgia distorts my perception of my pre-teen years. Maybe it’s just a shitty menu addition that no administrator has bothered to take off yet. I’m no longer vegetarian: I was horribly iron deficient and no longer crave the sense of rebellion. As for Claire’s, I may not be a regular any longer, but I’ll always hold onto the comfort it provided me, Toast with Avocado and all.