The Tuck Shop

The Tuck Shop was the beating heart of the University of Alberta for many decades, a holdover from the days of racoon coats, jalopies, tearing the goalposts down and 23-skidoo. It was a compact building on the edge of University property where students could get a haircut, buy toothpaste and razor blades, or get a great meal at a good price.  The restaurant had two mirrored walls, and a window wall — these were always painted with what amounted to posters for campus events, of which there were always many.  The fourth wall was a long counter with stools, and a chest-high bar in the center where you ordered your food and picked it up when called.  In the morning before classes started and offices opened they were sending huge pans of the world’s best cinnamon buns through the pass between the kitchen and the bar.  These buns were gigantic, feather-light, hot out of the oven and heavily buttered — the most fortifying and decadent breakfast imaginable, and incredibly popular.  (After the old building was demolished another campus cafeteria tried making these buns, but never succeeded in replicating the original … the University published two different versions of the recipe, but they never got it quite right.)

The place was loud, boisterous, always packed, and always smelled amazingly of home cooking.  There were dozens of booths, with trophies occupying the shelves between the high backs.  The huge round booths in the corners were always in demand, so your whole gang from all over campus could cram in together.

One spectacularly magical moment was late on a winter night when several of us were working late in the Surgical-Medical Research Institute. Three of us decided to go for dinner and discovered it was snowing, huge soft flakes drifting thick and slow toward the several inches already accumulated.  The street lights were diffused and the very air glittered in the silence.  We three linked arms, Renan, my hunky Brazilian chest-surgeon boyfriend on one side and John, the lab technician, on the other. When they broke into song I felt as if I’d been transported into a fantasy from the forties’ movies — their excellent voices, the surroundings, and undisturbed snow to kick through.  The closer we got to the Tuck Shop the slower we went, nobody wanted it to end.  I still smile and get a little thrill in my chest when I think of it.

I guess now I can toss those cinnamon bun recipes, especially since I don’t eat wildly extravagant pastries any more.  Well, I actually do eat them, I j

ust don’t bake them in my tiny kitchen so I don’t “knead” the instructions now.