A journey by plates

My husband tightens his back the moment we step inside Pig in a Fur Coat.

The name of this Madison, Wisconsin, restaurant had raised some worry for him before we arrived. Who names a restaurant Pig in a Fur Coat? And what exactly does that mean? Now, seeing a long, high-top communal table in the middle of the dining room, his uneasiness turns to worry for two reasons.

The first: My days of sitting at high-top tables are just about over, thanks to my primary progressive MS and the lack of feeling in my legs. And the second, communal tables mean dining with strangers. My nervous, introverted husband sees no reasonable explanation for such behavior.

Not me.

And not Mike and Linnea Pitts of Kenosha, high school sweethearts-turned-grandparents who are here celebrating Linnea’s 62nd birthday at the regular-height table next to us along the wall. They are already elbow-deep into a shared plates menu full of foie gras, lamb carpaccio, pork belly, rabbit and scallops.

“Would you like me to take your picture?” Mike asks, surprised to hear that, as a travel writer, I’m more interested in photos of the food than of Mark and me. And that innocent question transforms our evening from a quiet-for-two meal into an energetic culinary journey with new friends eager to share their plates with us — and vice versa. And I can’t help but think of MS connections — the belief that this horrible disease is easier to bear the more positive connections we make with family, friends and friendly strangers. Sometimes they show up in the most unexpected places.

Chef Daniel Bonanno and co-owner Bonnie Arent planned this 40-seat restaurant to do just that. Dan, a James Beard Award nominee, learned to cook in Italy, then worked as sous chef at Chicago’s famed Spiaggia before moving to Madison. He takes seasonal, simple ingredients and dresses them up. (Like in a fur coat.) Our huge, juicy turkey leg arrives bathed in a Wisconsin cherry sauce, served over whipped potatoes, Brussels sprouts and pancetta.

  

It would be easy for me to indulge in a dish like that and feel a twinge of sadness. I’m no chef, but I’m a good home cook. At least, I was, before chopping strawberries for 30 minutes meant resting for an hour afterward. In the past 18 months, I’ve gone from zealous new-recipe-experimenter to someone who heats dinner in the crockpot, steams a bag of veggies to go with it, and calls it good. But the exquisite quality of the food, and the banter with our new companions, turns a simple dinner out into a memory that prompts a smile whenever I recall it.

Evenings like this don’t only happen in Madison. They happen anytime you let your guard down and try a chef-owned restaurant outside your comfort zone — funny name or not.
 

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Kendra L.

Kendra L. Williams

Kendra L. Williams is a longtime writer and editor and the founder of MStravels.org, a blog about the ups and downs of handicapped accessible travel. She lives in West Des Moines, Iowa.

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    7 Comments

  • susanblaede  Jan 14, 2015 12:29 PM
    I'm a total foodie & loved your post. New to this site, I joined because my good friend, Bill, has secondary progressive. He was diagnosed 39 years ago & has been on medical faculty of a major medical center for the last 26 years.

    Recently, he's developed chronic hypothermia that is kicking his butt. Looking for upbeat posts, such as yours, while finding others, who've experienced similar symptoms, and what they found worked.

    Thanks again!
  • Bill   Jan 14, 2015 2:12 PM
    I really enjoy how you make the report so personal, informative and fun. There is always an adventure in the message even with the challenges presented. Your description of the people and food tell a wonderful story. Thanks again for sharing this experience.
  • Irma Beeler   Jan 14, 2015 3:25 PM
    Loved this, so on spot. 30 minutes to chop the strawberries & having to rest.
  • Avatar
    marshina  Jan 14, 2015 10:03 PM
    Hi Kendra. Enjoyed your story and checked out your travel blog. I'm disabled and use a scooter to get around Europe, South America, as well as home in San Francisco. It appeared you are still walking? My blog, escapadesbymarshina.com, deals with limited to no walking ability. The blog, like yours is very upbeat. This is the best medicine to share. How we adapt to our limitations is key to a good life. Bravo!
  • Angela D. Allen   Jan 15, 2015 10:24 AM
    Hi Kendra, I found your story very interesting, and I think what you do is absolutely great, especially having Primary Progressive MS. I was diagnosed with Relapsing/Remitting MS in July, 2003. Just in the last year, I have lost enough mobility in my legs to be wheelchair bound most of the time due to balance issues, as well as excruciating pain in my legs and feet in general, but my knees specifically. It could be going into Primary Progressive MS.

    I said all that to tell you why I admire you. I just turned 45 in November, and physically I feel 95. Recently I have let that control my decisions, and stories like this bring a ray of hope. I am an amateur photographer, writer, & digital artist who has let her fear of rejection hold her back; but no more! Thank you for being a great example for people with handicaps!

    Angela D. Allen
  • Avatar
    refusetoquit  Jan 15, 2015 8:34 PM
    GREAT insight.............MS lessens 'normal' senses but if you 'let in' those, and that surrounding you...........oh what beauty it unveils. I received a steroid drip today to lessen my exaserbation while waiting to get on Lemtrada........thankyou for reminding me of the beauty life IS..........a wonderful way to end my day.............
  • Jeanette   Mar 9, 2015 11:48 AM
    I also have MS and understand your dilemma with traveling. Pig in a Fur Coat is an outstanding restaurant and promotes an atmosphere of making new friends and great memories. I have never walked out of there without a big smile on my face and the warmest feeling in my heart. Thank you Bonnie and Dan. :-)