I haven’t eaten in many churches, save consuming the sacrament, of course. And one is supposed not to really think of food when inside the house of good, the nourishment supposedly being spiritual. There’s a lady who brings her grandchild to church at home and she feeds him crisps to keep him quiet. Naturally, I don’t approve of that. But with her at the front and me at the back, we don’t tend to interfere with each other.
So what happens when, as the heathens take over, our churches become deconsecrated and get a change of use? Not as a private residence or office space but for a restaurant.
What, you may ask, might the Lord our God make of people crowding into his previously sacrosanct temple not to pray, pause, sing or fall asleep during the sermon, but to consume? To drink, to eat, to make merry, to shout and throw one’s jokes and money around?
Well I can tell you exactly what happens because I have just visited one such place.
It’s called Grace and you’ll have to travel to Portland, Maine, to enjoy it.
The first thing you come across, when you walk into the former Chestnut Street United Methodist Church, is a pretty, tattooed girl called Ashley in a pulpit. The pulpit’s been chopped in half so she doesn’t loom too benevolently down on you.
She then sends you up to the mezzanine to where there’s a bar and where you have to wait for your table because she can’t get the old biddies who should have left by now to leave.
So you sip cocktails and look down onto the great space below. A kitchen occupies the place where once there was an altar and a large circular bar stands in the centre of the church.
Finally the old ladies leave, one with particular difficulty, dragging her left leg behind her.
Then we take our seats. The menu is quite complicated, which means I ask questions, which seem to irritate both my fellow guests who are hungry and Brian who is taking the orders.
Example: ‘Tell me about the barley and bone marrow risotto that comes with the boneless, rib-eye steak,’ I ask.
‘Well it’s not barley and bone marrow risotto,’ he replies, ‘it’s a barley risotto with marrow bone served separately.’
Fair enough I think. Brian then says he doesn’t really like the risotto. I then order it.
My starter is pork cretons. A delicious pork pate with some grainy mustard style chutney (not good) and some beetroot (very good).
Thank God (you can do that in a place like this) I went against Brian’s better judgement because the steak and risotto are exceptional.
Pearl barley makes wonderfully chewy risotto; the steak is out of this world. Pink tender, melt in the mouth – all those ‘best steak I’ve ever eaten’ clichés.
Puddings were great too – mine was cubed peaches with a creamy, nutty sauce and a tasty sorbet.
The place just about succeeds in filling the church’s cavernous space (they should turn the music up a bit). And the chef more than excels himself.
We pay up (I suppose that’s the offertory) and leave happy – the pagans among us thinking chefs make a far better use of a church than God.