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Ode: How short ribs broke the ice

Marcia Poole
Ally Karsyn

I love short ribs.

Some of my oldest and fondest food memories are nestled in slow-cooked, succulent, fork-tender short ribs.

short ribs were a specialty of my meat-loving mother and father who grew up in the Great Depression, who both served overseas in World War II – and who both swore that, when the war was over, they’d never, ever again eat canned mutton.

For them and for us, their nine kids, it was fresh seafood, fresh pork and fresh beef. Those were center plate.

Dungeness crab; juicy, well-marbled steaks; roasts, chops, spare ribs and, of course, short ribs were the stuff of made-from-scratch meals we enjoyed at the dinner table, where stories-of-the-day, lots of laughs, and occasional pouting sessions made dinnertime a family anchor.

It didn’t matter what activities or projects were absorbing us at the time, we were always home for dinner.

We all had our favorite dishes; short ribs were one of mine.

Nobody made short ribs with greater patience than my father. After a long, flavor-yielding braise in the Dutch oven, his short ribs were perfection. The rich, rich meat just fell off the bone. Oh, how I treasure that food memory.

Well, my dad died two years before I met Valter Poole, my future father-in-law.

By the time I went away to college, fell in love with Richard Poole and decided to get married, I’d grown unaccustomed to sharing meals with a Dad. So when the decision came to spend several days with Richard’s parents at their home in Detroit, I was nervous.

Richard’s mom, Betsy, was a high-energy woman with an unforgettable flair for the dramatic. Conversation came easily. She never ran out of questions about me and my family. She never failed to command attention and evoke big laughs with stories of her days in the theater, how she met Richard’s dad in the French Room of the Detroit Public Library, and how she wound up becoming his publicist.

Richard’s dad, on the other hand, was rather reserved and quite refined. When it came to conversation, he was more interested in how Richard and I planned to make a life for ourselves than in telling stories.

Richard’s dad was a man of considerable accomplishment in the classical music world—a world I knew only from afar.

He had enjoyed a long, distinguished career with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, first as violist and ultimately as associate conductor. He had conducted in France, Italy and Israel. He had conducted some of the greats: Jascha Heifetz, Marian Anders on, a young Van Cliburn—to name a few.

He had introduced classical music to tens of thousands of children through his young people’s concerts and hundreds of thousands of all ages through WWJ-FM radio broadcasts of his concerts.

He had helped sustain classical musicians during the Great Depression conducting the Federal Music Project’s Detroit Federal Symphony Orchestra.

How would I talk to him?


I was most uneasy about mealtime when I couldn’t just fade into the background. This wouldn’t be like mealtime at my house with all the kids, all the noise, all the elbows on the table, all the informality.

At my house, we weren’t big on which utensils went with what. We dished up at the stove and filled our tumblers with whole milk at the milk dispenser that my father had installed – a move meant to reduce spilt milk on our kitchen floor.

The Poole family dinner table was more formal, more conscious of proper place settings. Salads forks were used for salads; soup spoons, for soup. Elbows resting on the table? Well, that raised more than one eyebrow.


As our plans to travel to Detroit took shape, I learned the occasion would call for a bit of extravagance—a dinner out.

Forty-eight years ago, a dinner out was out of the ordinary—a splurge reserved for special occasions when everybody dressed up and minded their manners.

The dinner-out destination would be the popular Carl’s Chop House at Grand River and the Lodge Freeway. For decades Carl’s was considered one of the Motor City’s premier restaurants.

When the Carl’s Chop House evening arrived, I was more nervous than ever. After we were seated, a waiter arrived with menus packed with possibilities, including surf and turf.

As our party of four perused menus and decided on beverages, the relish plate arrived, loaded with carrots, celery and other fresh crudités.

Richard’s mom kept the conversation light with stories of how the family had come to Carl’s Chop House for years and how “maaaaavelous” the frogs’ legs were. Frogs’ legs? I kept silent and continued scanning the menu for my choice.

When the waiter breezed in to take our orders, Richard’s mother went first. “Frogs’ legs!” As she spoke, I noted the price.

I was next. But I deferred to Richard. I needed more time to make up my mind. Richard ordered fish and a baked potato with lots of butter and lots of sour cream.

Okay, I was thinking about beef. I was thinking about the short ribs I spotted on the menu. How would they compare to my father’s?

Following basic etiquette, I would rule out the priciest selections. But all the steaks were on the pricey side. And short ribs weren’t far behind.

When the waiter asked what I’d like, I deferred to my father-in-law. His decision would tell me how much of his money I could spend without appearing extravagant. He had assured me that I should order whatever I wanted. But thanks to my mother’s example of classiness, I knew better. Never order the most expensive item on the menu when you’re the guest.

When he told the waiter what he would like, I could hardly believe my ears.

“I’ll have the short ribs, please,” he said.

“I’ll have the same,” I said.

Dad smiled at me—a big, knowing smile.

There, in Carl’s Chop House in Detroit, we’d discovered something all our own: we both liked short ribs.

In the next 15 years before he died, Dad and I discovered a lot of other things we both liked – things all our own.

We discovered, in fact, that in many ways we were quite alike in our tastes and values and even some of our quirks.

I loved hearing his stories of lean times when he was studying in Boston – of his days of playing hot trombone with the Leo Reisman Orchestra to pay his way through the Paris Conservatory where he studied viola.

So many stories—wonderful stories.

And then, later on, I was touched each time I received a letter from Grandpa, hand-written with always “a little something” tucked inside. I treasure those letters.

And to think it all started with short ribs.


Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.

We’re hosting Ode’s 2nd Anniversary Show on Friday, February 2 at ISU Design West in downtown Sioux City. We’ll have live music by Shawn Blomberg, starting at 7 p.m., followed by stories about “Risk.”

Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.

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