A few weeks ago, Eric and I took a day trip to our alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to enjoy a day of football and pretending to be 21 again.
The football game? Ah-mazing. Not only a win but also one of the best games in recent memory. GLORIOUS!
The pretending to be 21 again? Well. That didn’t really go as planned.
The U of I was my home for four years. I felt like I knew every nook and cranny of that campus. Every tree-line walkway on the quad, every quiet place to study, every patch of grass to nap on in sun. Every bus to ride to avoid walking in the snow or the rain, every booth in my favorite hangouts, and every lecture hall seat to avoid because it was missing a desk. It felt as familiar as my childhood bedroom, and just as cozy and welcoming. I belonged there.
The connection I feel to that place is strong and intense. Emotional. I met and fell in love with my husband there. If it wasn’t for a college dorm and all it’s simultaneous awkwardness and awesomeness, I wouldn’t have met some of my very best friends. I think I look back so fondly on my college years because it connects my past with some of the best parts of my present and future.
But going back. Going back is weird. It’s funny how you expect everything to be frozen in time. It should look, feel, smell just the way you remember you it. And when it doesn’t, you’re a little shocked. You’re a little wounded. Sure, that abandoned Wendy’s building at the corner of 6th and Green served no purpose, other than maybe to attract crime and…other things, but when you see it’s been replaced with a luxury high rise apartment building with a pool on the roof (for college students, mind you…), you can’t help but feel a bit bewildered. And what is this gourmet frozen yogurt place doing here? It’s just not the same.
That sense of belonging. You want it to be there so bad. But it’s not. The faces on campus hidden by sunglasses and headphones, weighty book bags slung over their shoulders – they are ten years or more your junior. Babies! Kids you probably babysat for while you were in high school! Waiting in line in the cold to pay $5 to get inside a smelly, dirty bar and drink bottom shelf liquor until you can’t see – there’s nothing fun about that anymore.
But that’s okay. It’s good actually. Because you’re older and wiser. Because chucking stuff off a balcony is frowned upon when you’re pushing thirty. Because staying out past 2am makes it really hard to get up and go to work in the morning. Because even though it’s not the same and even though you don’t really belong there anymore, you still have the memories. You still have those four years frozen in time just as they were when you were there. That’s totally enough. No one can take that away from you.
Our trip to Champaign-Urbana didn’t make us feel like we were 21 again, but it definitely drew up a ton of nostalgia. More than anything, we were overwhelmed with an intense craving for one of our favorite campus foods….Pokey Stix!
Did you have a Gumby’s near campus at your school? If so, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. If not, I’m sorry. Really. Womp womp. That’s a travesty.
When the campus bars would close, thousands of slightly intoxicated and famished students would pour out into the streets. The late night food spots would be packed to the brim. Burritos, sandwiches, french fries, and pizza. It didn’t matter how bad it was, there was no doubt it would taste amazing after all that bottom shelf booze.
But the holy grail of late night eats? Pokey Stix. A cheesy, doughy, pizza/breadstick hybrid consisting of a pizza crust topped with an uber-greasy garlic butter sauce and smothered with a golden layer of melted mozzarella. They were cut into long strips and came with marinara and a revolting, warm, watery ranch on the side for dipping.
NOTHING but the real deal would satisfy the craving. And, until now, I thought Pokey Stix were just another thing from days gone by. Surely they couldn’t be replicated. Surely they wouldn’t taste as good as they did with best friends in the wee hours of the morning.
Good news, lifelong Pokeys fans. They absolutely can. And they absolutely do. Eric and I each took a bite of these and were pretty much blown away by the garlicky, buttery perfection. We ate until our bellies ached. Just like we used to.
So grab some old friends, an ice cold cheap beer, and whip up a batch of these for some reminiscin’ and football-watchin’. Who says you can’t go home?
CHEESY GARLIC BREADSTICKS (Recipe inspired by and adapted from: Jam Hands)
- Pizza dough (I used this Baking Illustrated recipe as seen at Brown Eyed Baker, but canned, premade, store bought, whatever you like will work. I would avoid a crust that’s too thin – the texture will be off.)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (I would avoid pre-shredded – it’s too dry)
- Prepare pizza dough as instructed. Preheat a pizza stone in a 500 degree oven for about 3o minutes.
- In a small skillet, melt butter. Add garlic and cook briefly until just fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Do not overcook the garlic or it will taste bitter! Stir in dried minced onion and salt and pepper.
- Roll the dough into a 12 to 14 inch circle. Drizzle with garlic butter and spread to the edges. Sprinkle with Parmesan and then mozzarella.
- Remove pizza stone from oven and reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Liberally sprinkle the stone with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully transfer the dough to the stone and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden – about 10 to 12 minutes.
- To serve, cut the pie in half down the center once. Then make perpendicular cuts across the pie in the opposite direction to achieve long, thin strips. Serve alongside marinara and ranch for dipping. Cheap beer is optional, but recommended. Serves 4.