December 9, 2012

Gardiner diner puts on fourth annual latke party to celebrate start of Hanukkah

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

GARDINER -- "Latke, latke, latke," 6-year-old Yana Montell said as she waited -- almost patiently -- with a row of other young girls sipping hot cocoa on their stools Sunday afternoon at the A1 Diner's counter, waiting for the gathering's star attraction.

click image to enlarge

Martin Weiss and his mother, Miriam, sample latkes on Sunday at the A1 Diner in Gardiner. A special menu was served at the restaurant, which celebrated the arrival of Hanukkah, including the potato pancakes that are served with a side of applesauce.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Mike Giberson, right, and Neil Andersen prepare latkes Sunday in the kitchen of the A1 Diner in Gardiner. The restaurant's owners served a special menu to celebrate the arrival of Hanukkah, including the potato pancakes.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The Hanukkah and latke connection

It is the oil that the latkes are fried in that is part of Hanukkah. On Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the open miracle of a one-day supply of consecrated temple oil burning for eight days. The main commemoration of that is lighting the Hanukkah candles. However, it is also customary to eat food fried in oil. Thus, it has become a tradition of many to eat latkes fried in oil.



That would be the latke -- potato pancakes which are a traditional Hanukkah meal for many Jewish families, Montell's included. And the most popular dish at the fourth annual latke party, in downtown Gardiner.

"When you're Jewish, there is not exactly a lot going on in this area this time of year," said Yana's mother, Susan Montell, of Gardiner, organizer of the latke party. "I wanted something local we can go to, to have latkes and connect with family and friends. I'm pleased it has caught on."

You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy, or make, a latke -- or come to the latke party.

Montell, whose other children -- Juliana and Renata, both 8, and Aaron, 13 -- also attended, said the party is open to anyone.

Mike Giberson and Neil Anderson, longtime owners of the A1 Diner, quickly cranked out latkes -- some with salmon, apple sauce and other traditional additions -- from the diner's kitchen Sunday afternoon, a time when the diner would usually be closed. They agreed to open the diner for the event, which has been held elsewhere in the city in previous years.

Giberson, who is not Jewish, said latkes occasionally appear on the diner's menu, especially for brunch.

"They're pretty simple to make, just grated potatoes, egg whites, corn starch, salt and pepper, pretty much," Giberson said while manning the diner's flat-top grill. "Patrick (Wright) from Gardiner Main Street asked if we'd have it here. Why not? It's the holidays."

Rob Tenney, of Augusta, has come to the event each of its four years. He's not Jewish, either.

"I come because these are my friends and I enjoy it" said Tenney, adding that the first time he had latkes was four years ago, at the first Gardiner latke party. "They're good. One thing I like about them, they're a bit different every time you have them."

Rabbi Susan Bulba Carvutto, of Augusta's Temple Beth El, where a Hanukkah party is planned for Friday, said the Gardiner latke party is fast becoming "a great new tradition."

"In central Maine, there aren't a lot of Jews here," she said. "Most of our temple's families are pretty much alone in their neighborhoods. This is a great way to get together."

She said the latkes at the diner were delicious.


Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

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