My blog buddy Dan lives on the west coast, but recently wrote about menu malfunctions in Poland, China and Mexico. He kinda-sorta implied that such things wouldn’t happen here in the good old USofA. He might be right. I don’t remember ever ordering something off the menu and being served something different. On the other hand, Dan’s post caused me to remember some restaurant / menu challenges I have had.
The very first time I ordered a bottle of wine in a restaurant was about the first time I was legally able to order alcohol. I was maybe a month beyond my 21st birthday and my then girlfriend wanted wine. We knew very little about wine. I selected our wine based on price, not the cheapest, but nowhere near the highest priced. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing.
This was a fancy-schmancy place in Albany, NY and the waiter looked less than happy to have children at one of his tables. He brought the wine, opened it and handed me the cork. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do. Do I sniff this thing? I tried to look mature and simply nodded. Then he poured a little wine into my glass. I had seen other people do this, so I swirled. I looked. I sniffed. I paused. I thought this was going to be a one-two-six deal, but the wine smelled funny. I tasted. I had never seen anyone spit wine out onto the floor, but I gave it serious thought. The wine was bad.
Again, trying to conjure up maturity beyond my years, I shook my head and told the waiter the wine was bad. He scoffed. What could I possibly know? He took my girlfriend’s glass and poured a sample for himself. The look on his face was priceless. Yes! Booyah! Booyah wasn’t a thing in 1975, but booyah! New bottle. On – The – House!
While attending West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, my roommate Tony and I, along with two other guys decided to go out to dinner to a little dive that featured an all-you-can-eat chicken dinner for parties of four or more. Tony weighed slightly over 300 pounds, and I’m pretty sure he got that way by eating. The others, myself included, were much thinner, but we had those enviable metabolisms that allow young men to consume their weight in chicken and beer and still stop at McDonald’s on the way home.
We each received a chicken dinner on a plate. Three pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes and corn.
We finished that in a few minutes and asked for more.
The waitress brought a bowl of mashed potatoes, a bowl of corn and a plate with four pieces of chicken.
We ate that and asked for more.
When the waitress arrived with another four pieces, Tony stopped her:
“Ma’am? This might go easier if you understand that we’re going to eat a lot of chicken. When we’re done here, this table is going to look like the lost chicken graveyard. I’d hate to see you running back and forth all night.”
She brought us a tray of chicken.
Years later, when I was working as a consultant for Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Co., I was returning to our office after spending the morning at a client. I stopped at a McDonald’s drive-thru and picked up a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and some fries for the ride to Hartford. When I got to the office, my best friend John came right over.
“You want to get some lunch?”
“I already ate.”
“Come with me to the Pillar, it’s hash day.”
“I already ate. I don’t like hash and I don’t really like the Marble Pillar.”
The Marble Pillar was a Hartford staple before it closed after 133 years in business. Small, popular German-ish restaurant with a mostly-male wait staff, known for their gruff treatment of customers.
“Just come with me. You don’t have to get hash, you can get dessert.”
After a few minutes, we found a table. The waiter brought our water and some pumpernickel bread for the table. John immediately said: “I’ll have the hash.”
I was looking at the dessert section. The waiter was growing impatient. John as growing impatient, as thoughts of hash danced in his head. I sensed that I needed to wrap things up.
“I’ll have a hot fudge sundae and a cup of coffee.”
“If you think anyone here is going to make you a hot fudge sundae in the middle of our busiest time, you’re crazy.”
“Coffee, I’ll just have coffee.”
Despite that encounter and several other unremarkable lunches at the Pillar, I was sad to learn that it was closing in 1993. In the six years that I worked downtown, I often ended up at the Pillar’s bar with friends after work, and that was always fun. I guess I was part of the problem, having left the city for a job in the suburbs.