One group of friends maintains a decades-long tradition
Breaking bread among family, friends and neighbors dates back centuries and is likely the most globally ubiquitous form of social gatherings. From street block parties to town picnics to dinner clubs, nothing seems to bring us together more than good fare and drink. Food is clearly the focal point of planning and often the topic of banter at any worthy dinner party, and for Suzanne Owens of Pittsford, there’s nothing she looks forward to more than her dinner group. The group’s beginnings were a spur of the moment idea while Owens and friends Patty and Lucy Carroll were on their way back from purchasing a wedding gift.
For the twenty years since then, the same five couples have gathered every month or so, with each hosting on a rotating basis. Sound familiar? We’ve all heard about or been part of dining groups—be they at our homes or scoping out the latest hot spot in town. For this group of fifty- and sixty-somethings, the camaraderie, themed menus and libation aplenty have created a bond like no other. The meals have served as a backdrop for celebrating their kids’ achievements, family weddings, graduations, new jobs, extraordinary golf stories, hunting tales, and Buffalo Bills pontificating. They’ve also comforted one another in more somber times, such as cancer diagnoses and loss of loved ones. They were also there unconditionally to support dinner club members Tom and Lucy Carroll when they lost their home to a fire.
“Our group has been here for each other through thick and thin,” says Owens, fifty-eight, of Pittsford. “We’ve grown very close over the years and the friendships have been so important,” she adds. Two members of the group, Colleen and Greg Teren, moved to Maine a few years ago but still come back for the gatherings as they did on this fun-filled evening. They hope to host the group’s first out-of-state meal in the near future. It’s also not out of the question for the host to invite special guests, something that happens every so often.
As a fly on the wall at their late August dinner, the history and intimacy of the group was immediately evident. Hugs, laughter, inside jokes, finishing each other’s sentences, and ball busting spanned the cocktail hour, dinner prep, and sit-down meal in Suzanne and David’s beautifully appointed home. Although the dinners originally began with fine china and formal attire, it’s mellowed into a more casual, come-as-you-are affair—to everyone’s liking. The group is interwoven in a number of ways, from direct family connections to several members growing up on the same street in Brighton and reconnecting many years later. As you would expect between long-time friends, where differences in personalities and professions were evident, there was nothing but harmony in the air. Not surprisingly, little work talk was overheard from a diverse occupational group consisting of a facility maintenance director, an executive assistant, a medical sales professional, an attorney, a supply chain manager, a marketeer, an interior decorator, an environmental products distributor, and a court clerk.
“We usually have themes for each get together,” said Owens. “It’s generally seasonal cooking, in the spirit of, say, the Kentucky Derby, or an Italian seven-course meal.” We’ve even had a Christmas in July theme and, of course, our annual playoff football dinner in January.”
This evening kicked off with a serve-yourself bar in the kitchen and starters on the back deck, which featured plump shrimp and snow crab claws with two dipping sauces (thanks to Suzan Tellgren), brie and caramel pecan glaze with crackers (compliments of Terry and Karla Emmens) and bruschetta with seared tenderloin, capers, mustard-horseradish aioli, and grated Parmesan. Next, a salad assembly line began in the kitchen. Arugula, baby spinach, raw red onion, goat cheese, Rainier cherries, and pistachios—all dressed up with a Dijon-honey vinaigrette, was a lovely, guilt-free seasonal course thanks to Lucy Carroll.
The group soon migrated into the dining room at the urging of the hosts. Although the evening was casual, the nicely appointed tablescape was straight out of a fall Pottery Barn magazine. Once seated, the family-style dishes quickly began circulating. One was a hearty cauliflower gratin with Gruèyre and Parmesan cheeses, and the seco
nd was a San Francisco–style rice pilaf dish that hit the stove last minute but was delicious none the less! The main course, generally the responsibility of the hosts, was a delectable marinated pork tenderloin with a mustard cream sauce—an ideal protein for the slightly cooling temps. For the sweets course, the other Carrolls in attendance (Dennis and Patty) brought an a
pple pumpkin bundt cake with caramel sauce. No, August wasn’t too early for pumpkin!
While some dinner clubs are predicated on one-upping each other with the finest white truffles and rare vintage ports, this fun-filled group is clearly built on the ties that bind and a focus on friendships. Notwithstanding, the offerings were excellent, and when posed with the question “who is really the best cook in the group,” unanimously, David Owens got the vote.
This was an easy group to warm up to. They genuinely welcomed two strangers with open arms (yes, they did know we were covering the party). Who knows, maybe we’ll even get invited back!
Vince Press is a seasoned freelance writer, PR guy, and food and beverage enthusiast who will do just about anything for good bourbon or Asian noodles.