Brand building through storytelling

Pigging out in St. Petersburg

Fernando Botero, whose paintings we viewed the other day at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, depicted all his subjects as decidedly porcine and gave even the crucified Jesus multiple chins. So it was fitting that we stopped for lunch en route at Skyway Jack’s, the local shrine to all things piggy: sausage gravy, pork chops, pork brains, bacon or any combination of the above, served with home fries redolent of bacon grease.

I never dreamed pig decor could be raised to such flamboyant heights until I set eyes on Skyway Jack’s, where a giant pig in a blue jerkin stands guard at the door. Inside, pigs frolic on the ruffled curtains that are as essential to old-fashioned hash joints as worn pine paneling and mottos like “You want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen.” I spotted quite a collection of wise-cracking mottos, but it’s with pigs that this eatery has really gone to town. Ceramic, wood or stuffed, they adorn every surface—pigs in chef’s hats, pigs with wings, pigs sporting bow ties or flowers between their ears, a pig reading on the toilet.

Could a pig with a rifle be lurking somewhere? Remember, this is NRA country. I thought it wise to avoid conspicuous curiosity, being the only woman in the place whose lavender sunhat coordinated with her top. At Skyway Jack’s baseball caps are de rigueur, and on hot days fishermen are free to saunter in wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, an earring and a pirate-style bandanna. Jack has no truck with that old saw “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” nor does he get fussed if you drip gravy on your beard.

While I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Jack, he leaps off the copy on the back of his menu with biceps flexed and girlie tattoos shaking up a storm. I wish I could have shown this piece of prose, equal parts manifesto and founding legend, to some of the so-called professional writers I used to edit, who didn’t have Jack’s flair for the telling detail or even his knowledge of grammar. Okay, so he probably hired someone to write it. Still, a short-order impresario who respects the power of the word no less than the fat on the hog is a guy whose blind spots I just might be prepared to forgive.

One corner of the menu declares, “Let’s pig out at Skyway Jack’s.” The opposite one says, “Delicious fried eggs at Skyway Jack’s” above a sketch of a naked female torso with two plump golden yolks for breasts. I could have bought a souvenir T-shirt with strategically placed breast motif to surprise all my feminist friends. I could have called Jack a male chauvinist pig but really, what’s the point? He’d be honoured.

On my last excursion in the sun before the drive home to Toronto, I tucked into my he-man-size omelet, bursting with feta cheese and spinach, like the good trencherwoman I am. It came with a flaky biscuit still warm from the oven and a heaping mess of fragrant home fries, almost creamy on the inside but crisp on the outside. We observed a few minutes of reverent silence while my husband polished off his hobo hash (eggs, potatoes, grated cheese and bacon) and I cleaned my plate of all but the last few golden spuds. Frankly, I’d have loved those last few bites but I just bought three pairs of capri pants I hope to wear without holding my breath. It’s no secret why so many folks at Skyway Jack’s have bellies that jiggle when they walk.

That meal confirmed two defining truths. As my husband often says, I really do eat like a bird—a vulture. And as I’ve suspected for years but didn’t know for sure until I saw an entire exhibition of his work, Fernando Botero is not my kind of artist. Even so, I can’t help but wonder what he’d do with the lunch time crowd at Skyway Jack’s. Check it out, Fernando. Have an extra biscuit for me and don’t forget to dip it in sausage gravy.


Posted by Rona

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