Hello, and welcome back to Off The Menu, where we explore the craziest stories about food from my email inbox. This week, we’ve got more stories of restaurant customers who really weren’t supposed to eat that. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
Around the year 2000, a friend and I got into the habit of meeting about once a month at the local Japanese restaurant (not a fusion place, just regular Japanese food — this will be important in a minute). Sushi wasn’t exactly mainstream yet in our city, and being in our early twenties and VERY sophisticated, we enjoyed watching the newbies struggle. Usually, it was just a matter of mispronunciations and minor chopstick-related mishaps.
Until this fateful day, when an awkward first date blundered its way into the restaurant. The guy had obviously picked the restaurant and was nervously trying to prove that he knew what he was doing. This lasted approximately until his date asked him what miso soup is and he stammered something about its being “soup with, you know, miso, like, in it, and I like it but we won’t get it because it’s an acquired taste so you might not like it.” So far, so normal; we rolled our eyes and went on with our plans to save the world or whatever.
They ended up ordering the restaurant’s nigiri sushi special for two. As soon as it appeared, the dude’s eyes bugged out – whatever he had envisioned, this was clearly not it. He stammered for a minute, his Man of the World pose (such as it was) slipping badly.
And then his eyes lit up. He had found something normal, familiar, and sane in the midst of this crazy world.
“Look!” he cried with relief. “Guacamole!”
And to our appalled disbelief, he grabbed the entire large gob of wasabi, popped it in his mouth, and started chewing enthusiastically.
Well, it didn’t take him long to realize his mistake. His whole body crumpled and liquid started gushing from his every facial orifice. He looked like a caricature of dismay. We dropped our sophisticate pose and our chopsticks and just gawked, as did everyone else in the restaurant. The staff converged with several glasses of water to try to put him out.
The date ended very shortly after that, and everyone in the restaurant did the only thing we could: waited until they were gone before we started laughing.
I work with a guy who very loudly and very often announces that he doesn’t eat meat or pork. Only chicken.
So at lunch today I look over and see that he’s ordered French Onion soup. I can’t decide if I should tell him before or after he eats it. So I say, you realize that is beef stock. He says, no it’s not it’s French. No, it’s definitely beef stock. Look it up when we get back to work.
He eats it anyway mumbling the whole time, Man I love this stuff and order it all the time. I hated to burst his bubble.
The husband and I were driving through Quartzsite, Ariz., a seared and barren patch of gas stations, jerky shop and a bookstore run by a nude manager in the summer. It becomes the nation’s garage sale in the winter when retired cold-weather refugees flock for free RV parking and the irresistible lure of mineral trading at the semi-permanent flea market.
We decided to stop for breakfast. A guy at a gas station suggested a place and we went in. It must have been winter because the place was packed with retirees in VFW ball caps and sparkly Christmas sweaters.
We got seated and my sweetie got up to use the bathroom. He came back a few minutes later ashen-faced with this story:
There was a very large coffee pot in the hallway where the servers got refills. And it had no lid. This plot point will become important shortly.
Just as my man walked past, one of the older patrons stopped, leaned over the open pot, closed his eyes, waved his hand under his chin and took a big whiff of the rich coffee aroma. Just as he did, a booger nugget the size of one of the crystals you’d buy in one of the stalls just outside fell from his nose and into the pot of coffee.
We spent the rest of the meal in a surreal vortex watching people at the tables around us slow-motion drink magic nose goblin coffee and marvel in low-pitched voices about how good it was, wondering if there were a secret ingredient. Oh, there was a secret ingredient, all right.
Moral of this story: Don’t drink coffee in Quartzsite, Ariz.
One Sunday, my mother in law decides that the family is going to eat at Cracker Barrel after church, which is a fine idea except that every single family that goes to church has the same thought. So this place is packed like a nightclub on New Years.
Quick aside about my mother in law: she is not usually a nightmare customer — always tips at least 20% and is generally polite — but she can be moody and demanding with little warning. And today is one of those days.
My mother in law orders steak that day, well-done. What she fails to tell the server is that well done to her is not like well done to other people. She doesn’t merely want the steak to be gray and above 165 degrees. She wants the steak to look like the cow died in a horrific dumpster fire, was burned beyond recognition, then butchered and grilled over irradiated nuclear fuel.
So when this server — who is trying to help about eight tables at once during a Sunday post-church lunch rush at a Cracker Barrel in a Confederate state — brings our food, my mother in law cuts into the steak and sees a small silver of grayish-red in the center of the steak. And starts crying for reasons known only to her hormones. She calls the server back over and tells him between sobs that she can’t eat this steak. Because it is “raw.” The rest of us discover that our food is suddenly the most visually stimulating thing we have ever seen and stare at our plates silently.
The waiter gracefully apologizes and brings the steak back to the kitchen. Five minutes later, he returns with the newly charred meat. She takes her plate and cuts into it. There is still the smallest sliver of grayish-red in the center and what little moisture remained in that steak escapes on to her plate. Cue the waterworks and her calling over our server to complain that her steak was still “raw.” Wanting to remain on good terms with a woman who will be the grandmother to my children, I stay silent instead of ranting about how that poor cow gave its life in vain to be turned into barely edible charcoal.
At this point, the manager steps in, offers to comp her meal and she changes her order to chicken fried steak, a piece of meat designed to be cooked into oblivion. And I feel awful for our server and need to find a way to give him an extra tip without embarrassing my mother in law (my father-in-law is paying for everyone’s meal, including tip. I’m pretty sure he tipped 20% that day).
I worked in a trendy salad bar as a cook for about three months in the city of Kuala Lumpur. The place offered do-it-yourself style salads where people can come and ‘check’ which items they would want in their salad from the menu forms we provide.
One day, a middle-aged looking woman came in right after rush hour. She was nice enough … until we got to the dressings. We made all of the salad dressings in-house and I was mainly the “dressings” guy, so I knew pretty much every ingredient for our 10 or so salad dressings.
The woman asked if any of the salad dressings had oil in them. Our cashier proceeded to tell her that every salad dressing we offered had oil in it, either olive oil or canola oil. She seemed flabbergasted, saying, “I thought you offered healthy salad? Why is there oil in your dressings? That’s pretty stupid!”
The cashier at this point was dumbstruck and didn’t know what to say. The manager stepped in and explained that olive oil and canola oil are a pretty crucial part of making vinaigrettes, which are generally far healthier than creamy salad dressings, etc. She, of course, refused to listen, and continued saying that we were misguiding people into thinking we served healthy food.
We thought she would just leave after her tirade, but she didn’t. After a long session of calling us stupid for putting oil in salads, she settled down and asked to have mayonnaise as her salad dressing, and sat down at one of our tables.
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.