The best deal in literature is Daniel Pinkwater’s 5 Novels. For twelve whole bucks you get _Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars_, _Slaves of Spiegel_, _Young Adult Novel_, and _The Last Guru_ (although, frankly, I thought _The Last Guru_ sucked). You also get _The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death_.
Pinkwater’s best known book is probably The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, which was made into a Wonder Works episode in the 80s. But the prolific Pinkwater has written dozens and dozens of books, nearly all of which are worth reading and some of which are genuinely great.
Many of the places featured in Pinkwater books are thinly disguised actual places from the author’s past. The Snarkout Boys, for example, are three kids (one of whom is a girl) who sneak out every night to watch B-movies at the Snark Theater. Apparently the real theater was called the Clark, in Chicago.
That means that it’s possible that Beanbender’s Beer Garden was a real restaurant. If so, I don’t want to know, because surely it no longer exists, and that would mean I missed the greatest restaurant in the history of the world. See if you don’t agree.
> Beanbender’s was a strange-looking structure. At first, it was hard to get any idea of its shape; it just seemed to be a collection of odd-looking dark lumps in the night. Then we could see that Beanbender’s was made up of a number of dead trucks and a couple of railroad cars arranged in a circle, like covered wagons in the movies, made into a circle for protection against the Indians.
> All the dead trucks and railroad cars were covered with wooden shingles and banked with earth and gravel above the wheels. A number of kerosene lanterns were fastened to the outside of the circle. There was a door, with a lantern on either side, lighting up a sign painted on a board. BEANBENDER’S, it said.
> When we walked into Beanbender’s we were smacked in the face by a whole lot of warmth, light, and good smells. There were lots of people in the open areas made by the trucks and railroad cars. They were sitting at tables made of old giant cable spools and old doors laid across sawhorses. The whole place was lighted by candles stuck in bottles and kerosene lamps, and together with the wood shingles that were tacked onto the trucks and railroad cars, the dozens of flames made a warm, reddish glow under the dark sky.
> In the middle of the circle was a big iron thing–sort of a basket–and some logs were burning in it, making more friendly light, good smells, and crackling noises.
> There was a guy playing a little accordion, and some people were singing along with him. People had big mugs of beer and big, crisp-looking sausages and baked potatoes in their hands. They held the sausages and the baked potatoes wrapped in a paper napkin and took bites of them between swigs of beer. Even though it was late at night, three or four little kids ran around among the tables.
> It was the greatest place I had ever seen.
> Winston Bongo thought so, too. Rat, of course, had been there before. “Have a beer?” she asked.
> I had tasted beer before, and I hadn’t liked it. It was sour and sort of soapy tasting. I never understood why anybody wanted to drink it. However, in Beanbender’s it seemed that holding a mug of beer in one’s hand was the thing to do, so I went up to the bar and got one along with Rat and Winston and Captain Shep Nesterman.
> Beanbender’s beer was nothing like the stuff in cans that my father drinks. It had a nutty taste, and it was cold and good. The guy at the bar was Ben Beanbender, the owner of the beer garden. He didn’t ask us for identification or anything. He just filled mugs from a big barrel and handed them to us. I also got a baked potato. Ben Beanbender poked a hole in one end with his thumb, slapped in a hunk of butter, salted and peppered the potato, wrapped it in a napkin, and handed it to me. It was great! The potato was almost too hot to hold, and the salty butter dribbled onto my sleeve. It tasted just fantastic with the beer. The beer and the baked potato cost fifty cents. It’s the best deal in Baconburg.
In case you’re worried that I just gave away the best part of the book, trust me that this book leaps from highlight to highlight, and there are plenty of other parts that are just as good, if not always as appetizing.