Karen's Korner

Elegant Park Lane: A Man and Memories

Karen Brady

Buffalo Evening News
October 20, 1971

It's funny - how much we take good things for granted.

Good things like the Park Lane Restaurant.

We seldom think of them till they're gone.

And then we're stuck to find how much they've meant. To so many of us. In different ways. At different times.

I'm sure that's why this week you can't go anywhere without hearing reminiscences about the Park Lane.

It was destroyed by fire on Sunday. And even though it will be rebuilt - it will never be the same. For me anyhow.

I guess because my own memories of the gracious restaurant are early ones, not late ones: I spent a remembered part of my childhood there.

I had my first dinner "out" at the Park Lane. I remember I ordered peanut butter and jelly. On toast. And the waiter didn't blink. He just brought it. All three layers of it, held together by fancy toothpicks, the kind with pastel-colored "hats" on. And I took all the toothpicks home.

I also had my hand kissed for the first time at the Park Lane. By a wonderfully tall gentleman who was of course Peter Gust Economou. My mother couldn't get me to wash that hand for the better part of a day.

And then there was the very first Christmas that I can recall. The whole family went to the Park Lane, down a full corridor of real, lighted Christmas trees - to visit my maternal grandparents.

They lived in the Park Lane Apartments at the time and that is how I came to know the restaurant when I was still very small...

As I grew older, my grandmother gave me birthday parties in the restaurant. Much anticipated parties with everything from gingerale with cherries to turkey divan and cashews and a little musical birthday cake that Mr. Gust himself brought out once. So he could have everyone in the restaurant sing to me...

My friends remember other things.

They remembers the magic of Christmas and summer as you approached the restaurant and saw Gates Circle - ringed with lighted trees, or gushing fountains.

They remember champagne cocktails and engagement gatherings, wedding parties and Sunday brunches. They remember the great glass window that faced Gates Circle from the restaurants, and the great glass mirrors on the walls of the main dining room. They remember the double staircase that led two ways to the banquet rooms upstairs.

My father remembers meeting Peter Gust for the first time, in the early thirties. My father was making arrangements for a fraternity dinner at the restaurant...

And I remember the day I spent with Peter Gust almost four years ago - talking about the restaurant and the delight Mr. Gust has always found in its food.

"We eat with our eyes, not just our sense of taste," he told me. "Food has so much color and eye appeal, it it is beautifully prepared. Its very sight should stimulate the appetite."

And then the elegant Mr. Gust, who in 1953 spent nine days at the Buckingham Palace State banquets, took me to his office to give me an idea of all the work, thought and joy that went into planning a party menu for a Park Lane affair.

"Nothing," said Mr. Gust, "is more important to the party than the menu...Guests form their impression of a party the moment they arrive. And any food that is set out must be beautiful to look at. It must make them want to eat it."

Mr. Gust gave examples from his head of perfectly balanced party fare, none of it too filling or too fattening - from fancily prepared fresh fruit in season to an entree under glass and an exotic spun-sugared dessert.

He loved talking about all these things and he loved talking about the Park Lane where he had already spent 40 years of culinary creation and tender supervision over the foods prepared there.

And then the Greek-born Mr. Gust, a member of every recognized food group you could imagine in the world, had to go back to the restaurant he knew and loved.

And it was sad to me that on Sunday he had to watch that clean, decorous, gracious restaurant go up in flames.

But just the same I think there's a certain beauty that memory brings to such a sudden ending to a restaurant that has meant many things to many of us.

We won't forget it. We can't forget it. Even if each of us remembers the beautiful old Norton home, a restaurant since the early '20s, in a different way.

It's just funny - how much we took it for granted before it was gone. As if its big chef's salads with the special "Peter Gust Dressing," and its parties and banquets and weddings and brunches would go on and one in Buffalo. Just that way. And forever.


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