Many of my friends and family are sad to hear about the planned closing of Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1 in Saugus, Mass.
I’m not gonna lie: I never understood the affection people had for the dining experience there. I always found the food mediocre at best, particularly in later years. But I did do my share of binging there because it was close by and affordable. And I can’t argue the place’s significance as a landmark on that stretch of highway.
The massive cactus sign. The cattle statuary all across the front lawn. If you’re from around there, you can’t help but feel nostalgic.
On hearing the news about Hilltop’s plan to close, one friend lamented that all the classic eateries of the area were gone, bulldozed for unremarkable restaurant chains. He ran off some names of places long gone: Hometown Buffet on Route 114 in Peabody. Augustine’s further up Route 1 in Saugus.
Something occurred to me upon hearing the names: All my old binging holes are gone.
As a kid I loved going to Augustine’s. It’s the first buffet experience I can remember. I loved that I could eat at the trough until I was ready to throw up — which I did more than once. As I got older I realized the food was actually pretty mediocre. But that didn’t matter. Binge eaters don’t care if their drug of choice is high-quality dining. What matters is availability. It’s why college freshmen tend to gain wait their first semester. The crappy food in the dining hall is free flowing and you sort of feel cheated if you don’t pile it high.
Some days I’d binge at Hilltop, then do the same right after at Augustine’s. I was like the shark in Jaws, chewing my way from the barrel ropes to the boat.
I don’t miss doing that shit. But I don’t blame places like Hilltop and Augustine’s for what I did. Even without them, there’s plenty of binging ground on that stretch of highway to be done if I were so inclined. I’m not, thank God.
We like to heap all the blame on our enablers. But the problem always begins with the addicted mind.