The gravy glowered up at me. I glowered down at it. There was a tense standoff, then the gravy laughed triumphantly and slapped me across the face, sneering haughtily as it raced out, jumped in its convertible, and tore out of the parking lot in a cloud of smoke.

"That gravy, that pallid gravy is the color of despair," I muttered, holding my stung cheek. "Chartreuse is the color of despair," said my friend, and so we went to the Monte Carlo and made the bartender get out the ladder and ascend to the top shelf, where the Chartreuse is kept. Misery loves company. But then the couple at the end of the bar started to fight, and she told him he looked like a white Gary Coleman, and he told her she looked like Mama Cass, and I sobbed, "Can't we all just get along?" and beat my brow against the bar, and it was clear that there would be no joy in Mill City tonight.

Day Two was a bitter feast of gall and loneliness, begun in the morning and ending in what some call confusion and others call late afternoon. Driving on that great, endless highway toward the fruitful bounty of California, I ended up instead in St. Louis Park. Here, on a frontage road, was Shelly's Woodroast, or as I like to call it, Woodworld. And you will, too, once you've seen it: Wood pillars made of Lincoln Log-style stacks. Wood tables. Photos of woody trees. Wood floors, bentwood high chairs, a bar made of varnished stacks of birch logs, log pegboards, knotty pine wainscoting, exposed crossbeams, a log mantelpiece the size of a canoe, logs burning in the fireplace--in sum, a world of a thousand woods. This, I thought, settling into a sturdy wooden chair, is how a maple-sap plug must feel.

I was cheered by the appearance of a good glass of lemonade, made tart and lively with fresh juice. But nearly everything else was a mess: Complimentary popovers were overdone and not at all moist. An appetizer of "fire sausage" ($4.95), made of pork, chiles, and spices, was sweet and uninterestingly mild. A five-pepper beef brisket sandwich ($8.25) was reasonably flavorful, but tough and chewy and rather unappealing. The sandwich was unaided by the terribly dry wedges of potato covered with visible, but tasteless, herbs.

And the turkey? It was the best thing about the place--moist and mild and thick-cut. It could be had either in a sandwich ($7.95) with Swiss cheese and basil-garlic mayonnaise, or as a full meal ($13.95) with gravy, "smashed potatoes," and a crisp sauté of zucchini, yellow squash, and red peppers. But there was something terribly wrong with the yellow-flecked pile of potatoes: They tasted artificial, as if Butter Buds had gotten into the recipe. Worse, easy-listening boomer classics--the Bee Gees, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young--saturated the space. Looking at all of that wood, eating my unpleasant potatoes, and listening to that unbearable whining about parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, or whatever the hell it was that should have been in the gravy but wasn't, I came to believe that what the wood was trying to speak to me, and what it wanted to say was: Get thee back to the city.

And so I learned a valuable lesson: Turkey is not turkey a priori. Should the turkey be overwhelmed by the ambiance, it will be transubstantiated into an evil form of antiturkey--and ladies, rend your garments when that happens. I drove off in search of an antidote, careening down I-94 toward St. Paul and the benevolent wizards at Buon Giorno.

Once inside I beelined for the counter and ordered the North Beach Sub, made with turkey breast, fontina cheese, bacon, romaine, tomato, and aioli ($4.99), plus a custom sandwich of turkey, lettuce, and mayo only ($4.59). I whiled away the wait sampling olives in the back and observing the clientele. The old and snappish, the young and awkward: that is who appreciates a real dry-cured sausage today. Recognizing a ready-made constituency, I began handing out literature, placards and cocktail picks in preparation for storming the state capitol to protest the possible leftover shortage. (Hey hey, ho ho! Lean Slices have got to go!) But right about then the counter girl called my number, and another promising movement fizzled in the politics of self-interest.

It was sandwich heaven. The fresh, chewy, big-tasting, house-made "torpedo" rolls, the big slices of recently roasted, very tender turkey, and the sweet, wet mayonnaise were good by themselves, and the North Beach got added dimension from the salty bacon and the snap of garlic in the aioli. But even as I sat in my car deliriously strewing crumbs, I realized: This was not the one. It was like meeting a gorgeous stranger and learning that he doesn't read: I had to face the fact that, much as I would have liked to, I could not get involved with Buon Giorno's chubby beauties. They were to Thanksgiving leftovers as linguini are to green-bean hot dish. Luckily, a man in a brown derby traded me some petrol for the remainder of my North Beach, and I sped off to Cecil's.

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