Every Friday, for sixteen years, short story writer John Cheever and four friends gathered for lunch and conversation at various restaurants around Ossining and Croton, New York, where they lived. Cheever, sometimes called the “Chekhov of the suburbs” or “Ovid of Ossining,” also frequented the diner at 191 N. Highland Avenue in Ossining, arriving with a book or newspaper under his arm.
But what did he order while dining out in the suburbs? No one seems to have documented that, except for his fondness for Italian food.
Cheever, who had more than a hundred stories published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, The Atlantic Monthly and Collier’s from 1935 to 1981, wrote about people in their own time, with a theme of suburban life, misfortunes and heartaches. Ironically, Cheever himself lived in the suburbs and loved it.
Rarely does food play a part in his writing, though there’s an undercurrent of disdain for supermarkets. His journals, totaling 4800 pages, hint at a dislike for fast food and a habit of eating sandwiches while writing.
Two of his short stories, “The Swimmer” and “Kinder,” were turned into films, along with other stories for television series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theatre and Playhouse 90. In Hollywood while working on one of these projects, he discovered the Monte Cristo Sandwich, and described it in detail in his letters.
After I read his daughter ‘s description of Cheever loading the dogs in the car and taking them for ice cream sandwiches, I was convinced he would appreciate a gumbo sandwich rather than a bowl of gumbo. But, of course, it should be New Orleans po boy-style, not a typical sandwich.
Cheever’s Pulitzer prize winning stories, reminiscent of The Mad Men era, could be paired with this very suburban Gumbo Joe (sloppy joe) recipe. It’s made with ground beef and condensed soup like Campbell’s, popular in casseroles since the late 1940s, and very suburban. But I don’t like beef in my gumbo or canned chicken gumbo. So, I’ve created my own Cheever Gumbo Po Boy recipe. It’s really very good though a bit messy to eat. The dogs might even lick your fingers if you’re not careful.