Hello, and welcome back to Off The Menu, where we explore the craziest stories about food from my email inbox. This week, as we come up on the end of Off The Menu, we’ve got a grab bag of stories. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
I went to college at Belmont, in Nashville, during the early aughts. During my sophomore yea,r I was in a band, and we always practiced on Monday evenings. When coupled with my class schedule, I never had a chance to eat dinner until close to 9 pm. So, every Monday I’d order from the local Chinese delivery place and then settle in for some Monday Night Football.
I got the same delivery guy every week: Dat. Dat was a Vietnamese immigrant in his mid-20s who had a functional, but nowhere near fluent, grasp of English. His family owned the restaurant, but I was never able to quite work out why a Vietnamese family owned a Chinese place. While that is still a mystery to me, what wasn’t a mystery was the fact that Dat was awesome and loved football.
On his third or fourth delivery, he noticed that I had the game on, and asked what had happened up to that point. I filled him in, and he went on his way. Same thing on the next trip. The third time he asked, I invited him in to watch for a bit. He took me up on it, and we watched and chatted for about five minutes. From then I always asked him in, offered him something to drink, and he took the opportunity to chill for a few minutes between deliveries. I’m sure I’m the reason some other Belmont students got cold Chinese.
This went on for the entire Fall and Spring semesters. His stops got longer and longer. I told Dat he should bring himself something to eat and put it on my bill. He brought food for himself, but refused to let me pay for it. He even tried to refuse my tip, but I told him I wouldn’t order again unless he took it. So I had a companion for my late evening Monday dinners. It was like Rob Schneider’s character in “Big Daddy,” except, thankfully, not Rob Schneider.
After my sophomore year, I moved off-campus and out of the delivery area, but I’d occasionally drop by the restaurant and grab a to-go order, and got to say “hey” to Dat if he was in. We couldn’t chat for long, however, because he’d be under his mother’s watchful eye. Apparently, she’d been completely unaware of Dat’s Monday stop-overs.
The restaurant has long since closed, and Dat moved to Australia, where he continued to learn English and is now a teacher. He has a wife and two kids. We’re Facebook friends. Life is funny.
Ahh, the nostalgia of “Grandma’s cooking.” My grandma’s food was always little hit or miss. She was a good cook of savory things, as long as she didn’t try to get too creative. She made amazing pies. She bought the world’s most disgusting and disappointing cookies. (Oreos, Grandma. Look into that.) She made a glorious sandwich.
But on the whole it was good. Her nemesis? Newfangled convenience foods. Google refuses to tell me when Bisquick Shake ‘n’ Pour (just add water!) first came out, but we all clearly remember the first time Grandma bought it: sometime around 1987 or 1988. None of us were in the kitchen while she was preparing the pancakes, but we can picture her, and hear her thoughts, oh so clearly:
“Hmmmm…if these are good with just water added, I bet they’ll be even better with milk and eggs!”
They looked exactly right – they rose and were golden. The problem was on biting into them. Or…trying to. They were dense and tough and rubbery. My grandpa propped one ankle up on one knee and pretended to patch his shoe. He and my dad laughed uproariously. Grandma was not amused.
We laughed it off, told her it was fine, and had eggs and muffins instead (because like all grandmas, of course, she had too much food available).
The next time we visited, I can picture her in the kitchen again, with the mix in hand:
“These were awful the last time I made them. Maybe they’d be better if I added milk and eggs.”
It’s fine, the pies totally made up for it.
Years ago, I was bartending at a locally-owned Mexican restaurant in St. Paul, MN. The food was authentic and good, and we had a regular clientele that generally ordered the same items whenever they came in. Bartending there was pretty easy, as it mostly involved serving beers and making margaritas (the smell of Cuervo Gold still makes me gag).
One evening, someone ordered a different kind of drink — I don’t remember the details, but it was fruity and looked pretty good. One of the less bright servers (I’ll call her Maria) came to pick up her order and said, “Oh, that drink looks good. How does it taste?” I said, “Why don’t you use a cocktail straw to take a sample and taste it?”
Maria said, “Take a drink from a customer’s drink?” I laughed and said, “No, stick the straw in the drink, then put your finger over the top of the straw and then taste it.”
I figured that would be all the instruction she would need. I was wrong. She took the short straw, stuck it in the drink, put her finger on top of the straw, pulled the straw out…then emptied the contents of the straw into the palm of her hand and proceeds to lick it from her palm.
I always wondered exactly how that tasted — salty? Like the underside of a serving tray?
Right out of high school, I worked at a sit down pizza chain restaurant that had a manager problem and a mice problem. I was taking a table’s order when a mouse ran across the window sill behind them (they never noticed). Another day, a mouse dropped straight on a pizza and that table walked out. Mice would get stuck in glue traps and squeal so loud we would turn the music up so customers couldn’t hear. We were kinda chicken to retrieve the traps behind the glass cooler, so they died a slow miserable death. I was demonstrating our vacuum system to trainees and a mouse jumped out when I stuck my hand in it. Each morning we had to deal with chewed through boxes of crackers or whatever else was left out.
We started storing everything in the walk-in because that was the only place mice didn’t go.
I was at one of my favorite restaurants in Richmond, VA a few months ago. A group of four college-aged individuals sat down near my table and began to comment on the menu. One of them saw the Oxtail Sopes small plate and questioned the table as to what part of a cow an oxtail is.
This began a discussion which included, “I’m pretty sure it’s the tongue” and “I think it could be the cheeks, I think beef cheeks are a food.” Unable to reach a conclusion, they pulled out their phones to search for the answer. The next thing I hear is, “I found it guys, ‘an Oxtail is made from the tail of an ox.’ Huh, I never would have guessed.”
Do you have any food-related stories you’d like to see included in Off The Menu? Feel free to submit them to WilyUbertrout@gmail.com. New submissions are always welcome! (Seriously, you don’t need to ask if I want you to send them in, the answer is always yes). If you’d like to stay up to date with OTM news, my Twitter handle is @EyePatchGuy.