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’m not going to ID the restaurant, because I don’t want to add to their problems. The place is local to us, and we were in the habit of hitting it every few weeks for breakfast. It’s aging and on the downhill slide, most of its customer base seems to be in their 60s and 70s (if not older), and they never seem terribly busy no matter when you go. But they have good breakfasts and some specialties that we like, so we go, but always with an alternate plan in case we show up to find the place boarded up (yeah, it feels that close to closing). The FOH staff consists of a younger waitress (very cheerful and good at her job), an older waitress who’s pretty much all out of fucks, and the manager (maybe owner) who’s competing with the older waitress for that last slot on the Olympic Lack of Fucks Given team.
The last time we went, we drew the short straw and ended up with the older waitress. No big deal, because she had never been terrible, just desultory. We ordered coffee while we looked at the menu, but when the coffee came, it was undrinkable. Not just bad, but a horrible burnt plastic aroma and taste, like there had been a fire at a toy factory and the kitchen staff had dipped a bucket into the storm drain to grab some of the firefighting water runoff and threw it in the coffee maker.
I saw the manager by the front and, not wanting to bother the waitress, I went over and told him about the coffee. He didn’t give a physical shrug, but somehow managed to convey that he would have shrugged had it not required effort. He said “oh … they just fixed it too, maybe something’s still wrong …” and came over to collect our pot and cups. “I’ll make a new pot,” he sighed and wandered off.
We ordered food from the waitress and drank our water, and eventually the food came, accompanied by a fresh pot of coffee (and a glare from the waitress, because apparently not wanting to drink borg piss is out of line, somehow). We tried the coffee and again were treated to Chateau du Carcinogen. At this point, we were aghast, as there was no way anybody could have tasted that stuff and said “Yes, this is something people will pay us for the privilege of drinking rather than file a class action lawsuit over on behalf of its victims.” We called the waitress over and repeated, “This is completely undrinkable, it tastes strongly of burnt plastic,” causing her to roll her eyes and take it away without another word.
We finished our meal (which was fine otherwise), paid (coffee not on the bill), tipped, and left without a single word of apology or acknowledgment from anybody about the problem. It would have been fine if the manager had come out after the first bad pot and said “Hey, I cleaned the coffee maker, made another pot and it still tastes like a Go-bot fucked an electrical transformer. Sorry about that, can I get you some tea?” It’s the fact that his business plan has apparently devolved to “Keep serving Flint tap water and hope nobody with functioning taste buds comes in.”
“I frequently consider what I want to do for dinner on my way home from work. One night, knowing I had some vegetables in the fridge that I wanted to use, I decided to make my mother’s meatball fricassee recipe (handed down through the generations).
“I chopped the vegetables – crying my way through the onion – and mixed the meat into balls with onion, garlic and potato. The recipe calls for the dish to be cooked on the stovetop for 40 minutes and oven for 40 minutes. I looked through my pan options and decided not to use the metal pan as its insides were peeling. I decided to use my glass pyrex pan.
“Big mistake. Big. Huge.
“An hour later, everything was set and the food was cooking on the stove for about a half hour. I was putting my laundry away when I heard a great crash. My beautiful meal had exploded! So now, in addition to having no food I had to clean up glass, potato, meat, carrots and tomato. It had soaked through to the burners below the stove top. Thank God no one was hurt due to my ignorance.
“The point of my story is this: Glass pans are NOT stove-top friendly.”
I was at a steakhouse in Seattle, alone at a two-top, basking in the warm, false feeling of well-being brought on by the first Martini of the evening and listening to the sound of arteries clogging all around me. My server was a woman in her late fifties-early sixties, with seen-it-all eyes and a pleasantly informal attitude. By the time she’d handed me my bread, she was already calling me “Hon,” like she was a diner waitress from a 1950’s film noir. It was fantastic.
I can’t eat like this a lot — it’s unhealthy as hell, but so, so worth it. So to make the most of it, I’d starved myself all day, no breakfast, no lunch, only caffeine to stop the shakes, and now it was 8:00 PM. I was starved, so when she suggested an appetizer, I went for it and ordered the lobster bisque. She brought it out and put it on the table. I put a spoonful in my mouth, it was heavenly, and my left arm started tingling already.
My server came back to check on me. “How’s the bisque?” she asked.
“It’s like a lobster rolled in butter and then took a swim through heavy cream,” I said. She didn’t miss a beat.
“Honey,” she said, “If you wanted to live forever, you wouldn’t be eating here.”
As my first regular job, I got hired on at a frozen yogurt place. As an employee of this particular company, your prime directive was to be an ecstatic service droid on cocaine. I’m not a very people-oriented person and had previously been self employed. As this was my first “real” job, I was fairly intent on making a good impression and trying to provide good customer service, despite being generally anxious and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, when anxious, I tend to talk fast and slur words together.
While manning the cash register on my first shift, a little boy of about seven arrived with his yogurt and grandmother in tow. As I was trying to remember how to run the register and remember my spiel, the kid is staring at me. Finally, he speaks: “Do you get free frozen yogurt?”
I pause and try to smile in what I hope is a friendly manner. “Yep, I get a frozen yogurt free every shift.”
Both the grandmother and the kid stare at me. “What?” he asks.
“I get one free frozen yogurt every shift.”
Now the grandmother says, “What?!”
“I get one free frozen yogurt every shift. . . ?
“I get. One free yogurt. Every time I work.”
By this time the woman has finished paying, so they grab their things as I wish them a good evening. As she moves away, she gives me a disapproving and slightly confused look, then turns to my manager next to me and says “thank you!” Without looking back at me.
Once the woman and her grandson were out the door, I realized because of my tendency to slur words together when nervous, she probably thought I was saying, “Yeah! I get a free frozen yogurt every shit!”
I was eating at a local Japanese chain with a friend of mine. One of the tables diagonal to us had a family with three kids — a boy about eight and two unruly girls about five and three years old. Right as we sat down, we realized they were a problem table. The five-year-old girl was coughing very loudly and exaggeratedly, with her head cocked back and her tongue hanging out of her mouth. Her parents paid her no attention, so she upped her volume into a scream-cough.
There wasn’t any food on the table yet, just a big drink for Dad (one of those scorpion bowl type things). I don’t know what they ended up ordering, but the kids weren’t really into the menu, and the parents weren’t helping them understand it. A minimalist restaurant with a foreign menu is probably pretty dull to the average kid.
The two girls remedied their boredom by running rampant through the entire restaurant for an hour. I’m not someone who is too bothered by crying babies or kid tantrums in public, but I’ve never seen anything as bad as this. The girls were dashing between the tables and screaming their heads off. They kept going into the bathroom on the other side of the dining room shrieking with glee, then flying back to their table in complete meltdown mode because one of them hit the other or something. At one point, the cougher went by me and coughed directly onto my plate–I felt it on my arm. She ran into a waiter, who luckily did not drop his tray. Neither parent could give a shit that they were single-handedly making the place pandemonium. Dad was typical prep in a sweater vest and some pastel pants and kept sucking down scorpion bowls. Something was up with Mom; she was in pajamas and wearing a knit beanie over some uncombed hair, was slumped over and kind of catatonic-looking.
The waitstaff just did not know what the fuck to do. At one point, I think they must have told the parents that the girls were trashing the bathroom. Dad fetched them, and on their way back, the older girl was screaming “MOMMMMYYY! DADDY won’t let us DANCE in the BATHROOOOOM!” They went right back to running around.
Eventually, they got into a physical fight. The older sister whipped the little one again and again with a cloth napkin. The little one fell into a nearby chair, hit her head, and became entangled in the chair’s legs. The chair wasn’t empty. The older one whipped her harder, raising her hand higher and higher. On one of her windups, she hit the face of a distinguished looking older gentleman behind her, jostling his glasses. This man sat directly across the aisle from Dad; I felt really sorry for his table of similarly-aged folks, they were the closest to the action and I’m sure their whole meal was drowned out. At the end of his wits, he slapped the table and said as firmly as he could, “You. Must. Stop! Please!”
Dad was finally embarrassed enough to do something. He scooped up the older one while she thrashed around and took her outside. My friend and I are thinking, finally! All kids have an outburst now and then, but there comes a point where you have to cut your losses, abandon your scorpion bowls, pay the bill, and get them the hell out of there, and they had reached it about 45 minutes ago.
Alas, the other three family members did not follow. Dad didn’t even take her to the car; he parked her right outside the door where she could still be seen and heard screaming at the top of her lungs. He didn’t even wait for her to calm down; after a few minutes of more screaming, they came back in. Still. Screaming.
“MOMMY! DADDY is being SELFISH! HE ONLY THINKS ABOUT HIMSELF!” (a line she must have heard from mom, but doesn’t mean it ain’t true). Mom snaps out of her stupor, looks surprised at the girl, and says sweetly, “Oh, honey? What’s wrong?” as if this is the first tear she’s seen all night.
Dad’s head exploded in exhaustion after his fifteen minutes of half-assed parenting. He went off: “It’s YOUR fault.” He points at mom. “I don’t know what you DO all day. Must be NOTHING. What if I just fucking LEFT? THEN where would you be, ‘LITTLE MISS STAY-AT-HOME MOM?!'”
I literally could not believe my ears, like this was next level. The screamer kept screaming, Dad got ANOTHER DRINK, and the son, who had been sitting still with his head against the wall the whole night, had silent tears streaming down his face. Suddenly, the girl demanded a sundae: “I want an ice cream sundae with whipped cream and a CHERRY ON TOP. RIGHT. NOWWW!”
My friend and I settled our bill, and my friend went to the bathroom. While I waited for her, I saw a waiter come out with none other than a single bowl of ice cream with whipped cream and a mother fucking cherry on top. So after the girl’s elaborate dinner theater, her two siblings watched as she ate an ice cream sundae all to herself.
I hope they tipped, but really, who knows.
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.