On a recent road trip to Los Angeles, I came across a giant billboard that read, "Pea Soup Andersen's 110 Miles." This was very informative and gave me time to think about pea soup consumption.
Where else but the middle of flippin' nowhere could a specialty restaurant like this survive. Pea soup as a main selling point for a restaurant's appeal could only prevail in the hinterlands of the open road. Pea Soup Andersen's 110 miles; "Hell yes", I cried -- save a bowl at the table for me! My dreamy thoughts were tapped with visions of entire swimming pools filled with steamy pea soup as revelers hold enormous piping bowls and participate in ornate limbo contest, while a menu consists of over 150 pea soup varieties, everything from Spicy Jalepeno to Chunky Monkey.
"Pea Soup! Pea Soup!" I chanted for the next hour and twenty minutes. Now you might think I'm a cynic; perched too lofty for the enjoyment of simplistic pea soup at a pea soup theme restaurant. This could be no farther from the truth. In high school, I used to be one of the most animated pea soup supporters. I was president of our school's "Pea Soup Appreciation Society," a collective group who gathered weekly to discuss, share facts, photos and thoughts about bowls of green pea soup. The club consisted of myself, Jingox -- the flamboyant exchange student, and the shy girl with glasses who always got hit in the face during dodge-ball.
I pull off at the Buelton exit and proceed down the "Avenue of Flags." (My guess named such due to all the damn flags aligning the street.)
Parking my green Pontiac Grand Am rental car, I departed from the vehicle, skipping like a schoolgirl in a pink frilly dress; my pea soup awaited. I stopped in my tracks. I was deceived. Pea Soup Andersen's is NOT a restaurant that entirely sells only pea soup; it merely showcases pea soup as their specialty item. What a bunch of bullsh*t. By no means is there Pea Soup Pie or Pea Soup-sicles That's very deception advertising. Pea Soup Andersen's is a pimp-slapped whore!
Grabbing a booth, I was disappointed the staff wasn't dressed in giant flamboyant pea outfits whilst talking in deep, silly voices. The waiter, dressed merely as a waiter, simply asked for my order in a "normal" voice.
"Pea Soup! Pea Soup, you stupid bastard! Pea Soup!"
The deal with Pea Soup Andersen's is that you get a bottomless bowl of pea soup. Yes, all the pea soup you can eat. That's why America is the number one superpower. It's like somehow in 1946, Mr. Anderson bought a gigantic tanker full of surplus pea soup for a ridiculously low price from some shady, underworld soup-baron. Since that day, it's been Mr. Andersen's life mission-to deplete his colossal pea soup supply, sacrificing all worldly and conventional dignity.
The murals on the restaurant walls would lead you to believe otherwise. According to their lore, a hoard of elves are in constant pea soup production; chipping away at each individual peas. Yes, poor elves ripped from their homes, put on freight cars and shipped off to the pea soup camps in order to fulfill Pea Soup Andersen's uber alles dream of mass pea soup production. In particular, a giant, jolly elf named "Happea" has a large mallet perched over his head, ready to hammer-down on "Pea-Wee," a sad looking elf who shakily holds a chisel on a singular pea. To me, this symbolizes giant corporate America, raising it's mighty hammer, ready to strike down on, well, tiny unhappy elves. Or something like that. This scenario has all the trappings of a classic urban legend in the same genre of the crispy rat discovered in a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. But instead, an unfortunate, green severed elf's head would be found in a bowl of pea soup;a ghastly consequence to poor labor conditions.
Reading the back of the menu, I learned more. As history has it, Anton Andersen purchased the current restaurant spot in 1924 and built his pea soup empire. The original owner died in 1905 and was buried exactly where the parking lot now stands. (Sounds like something out of Poltergeist with demonic peas terrifying tired and hungry travelers, or "pea-soupers" as they brazenly refer to their loyal pea-soup enthusiast/army.) With the demand for his split pea soup steadily increasing, poor Anton was faced with the uncanny problem of what to do with a one ton surplus of peas. He solved this dilemma by putting the peas in the restaurant's window. The thriving pea-soup restaurant now purchases 50 tons of peas each year: enough for three-quarters of a million bowls annually. If you stacked up those pea soup bowls they would reach all the way from here to Bun Boy Restaurant (home of the World's Largest Thermometer) in Baker California. Goddamn that's a lot of motherflippin' pea soup!
My pea soup arrived. It was green.
"Is everything all right?" asked the jovial waiter, pestering me every five minutes with the question: "Would you like to have more pea soup?" Yes, Pea Soup Andersen's-all the pea soup you can eat. I found my pea soup limitations was one bowl. With the last spoonful consumed, it was back in the Grand Am.
On the way out, I took a quick peek upstairs to the Pea Soup Andersen's Art Gallery. I expected various giant portraits by various established artist of the day, or perhaps a ceramic Jeff Koons bowl of split-pea. What I do find is several pictures of John Wayne adorning a cowboy hat. What are they trying to say; pea soup is as American as John Wayne, or John Wayne is as delicious as a bowl of pea soup?!
Follow Harmon Leon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/harmonleon