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 tales of inimitable restaurant wiseacres. As always, these are real stories from real readers.
A few years back, I was on a team with three other guys, two of whom are from India — Nirav and Sekar. We got an intern, Mani, for the summer, also from India. At the end of his internship, we all went out to lunch together at an Italian place.
When the waiter came to take our orders. Mani ordered Veal Marsala. When it was brought out to him, he stared in horror.
Mani: “Is this meat?”
Waiter *confused*: “It’s veal.”
Mani: “But is it meat?”
Waiter: “Yes…veal is baby cow…?”
Mani: “I’m vegetarian. The menu didn’t say it had meat in it!”
The waiter bustled over with a menu so he could order something else. Mani first takes a look at the entry for Veal Marsala, which states EXACTLY: “Veal Marsala: over fettuccine with a red wine sauce.”
“See, it doesn’t say anything about having meat!”
As it turns out, he didn’t know what “veal” meant. Nirav, who is also vegetarian (and was the only one of us who knew Mani was vegetarian), ALSO didn’t realize what “veal” was. He had ordered the cheese ravioli, so Mani got that as well.
So we finished our lunch, talked about Mani’s plans for the upcoming school year, our manager picked up the tab, and we started to walk out. As we headed past the hostess stand, the waiter called out: “Oh, the sauce on the cheese ravioli has some beef stock in it, is that OK?”
We all stop, and look at each other dumbstruck for a long, awful moment. Then the waiter says, “Nah, just kidding. Have a good afternoon!”
In 1997 I was working in Tel Aviv for a few months. My local cafe was opposite a posh hotel which was a favorite of rich American tourists, often a source of much hilarity.
One lunchtime a group of overweight, over jeweled New York women came in and began to order in very specific detail. The best order I heard was “I’d like the Israeli salad please, but hold the olives, onion, cucumber, and olive oil.” The waiter, to her credit, said no, as “that wouldn’t be an Israeli Salad; it would just be a plate of lettuce.”
When I was just into my 30’s, I worked at a pizza place in the middle of a podunk town in an unincorporated part of coastal Texas. This was a town where criminals of all sorts came to hide out since police presence was minimal at best. It was also a town where the filthy rich built their mega-mansions on the bay side. Needless to say, it was kind of a weird town to live and work in.
While there were some cool and generous people who lived out there, there were also a bunch of freaks, leeches, meth heads, and assorted weirdos who often didn’t tip even when we were delivering during the horrendous tropical storms which coastal Texas is prone to have. So this job, needless to say, was sometimes pretty hellish.
One busy Saturday afternoon during the “Hell is cooler than here” days of August, I got a delivery to one of the many bars/illegal game rooms tucked into the different areas of the mostly rural town. It was right down the street from us and on the way to the other delivery which was up and ready to go, so I snagged it. I typically hated doing bar runs, but sometimes the customer was drunk enough to mistakenly give me a large bill for a tip, or just tip well because I was female.
So I walked into the place and called out, “Who ordered pizza?”
In the middle of the tables arranged around the place, I saw a hand go up and wave me over. It was a kind of scruffy-looking guy in a muscle shirt, shorts and flip-flops who was sitting with a rather disheveled looking woman. They kind of looked like they were in the midst of a several-day bender. I approached and did my usual pleasantries and gave them the total for the order. I could tell Scruffy was about half-plastered both from the bleary eyes and the beer stench rolling up from him. He kind of looked me over in my shorts, tie-dye t-shirt, and sneakers.
Now, I’m a practical person. I wasn’t wearing Daisy Dukes and other stupid things like some of our other female employees did to try and get higher tips. I made my tips with good and prompt service and preferred to be comfortable while I worked, so my shorts were almost to my knees and comfortably loose, as was the shirt. As he was handing me the money to cover the order he grinned kind of wolfishly, which looked entirely ridiculous since he was so tipsy.
“What would you do if I grabbed your ass?” He kind of leaned forward as if he might actually do it.
I wasn’t even looking at him. I was just matter-of-factly counting out his change from the pouch at my waist. “Probably break your arm.” It was said clearly and as a simple factual thing, no ire or upset to it. I glanced at his eyes with my best stony expression on my face so he could see the warning not to test the theory.
At that point, the woman sitting with him started laughing so hard that she literally slid out of her chair and under the table. As she picked herself up, she frogged the guy in the arm and said, “Now quit being an asshole and give the girl a good tip!”
To his credit, he let me keep the $7 and change he was due back. What surprised me more was that before I could turn to leave, the woman rummaged in her purse and handed me a $20 bill. She said it was for giving her the best laugh she’d had all year.
I still had a somewhat bemused and bewildered look on my face when I got back to the shop. When I told the story of what happened to the rest of the crew they died laughing, though the boss wasn’t happy about me talking like that to a customer. I just shrugged and said, “You don’t pay me enough to put up with sexual harassment,” and grabbed up my next orders.
I was a cook at a barbecue place.
I once had a customer order a smoked brisket dinner. Being an authentic barbecue joint, all our brisket was cooked in a huge smoker. Briskets stayed in anywhere from 12-15 hours.
Anyways, this guy’s food gets delivered to his table, and the waitress leaves. A minute or so later, looking at this guy’s face, I can tell he’s horrified by something. He’s looking around, trying to get the waitress’s attention, but she’s busy taking another table’s order, so I walk out of the kitchen and up to his table to find out what his problem is.
“Is everything ok?” I ask.
“No it’s not, this brisket isn’t cooked.”
“Uh… what do you mean it’s not cooked?”
He points to the nice red smoke ring on the brisket and says, “look, it’s raw!”
“Uh, sir, that’s the smoke ring.”
“What the hell is a smoke ring?!”
I proceed to explain what the smoke ring is, and how it occurs during the smoking process.
He looks at me like I’m telling him a big lie, and goes on to tell me he’s from Texas, and he’s eaten brisket at (some famous joint in San Antonio) for years, and he’s never seen no damn smoke ring, and that this meat is raw.
I then ask him how the hell the meat can be well done on the inside and remain raw on the outside?
“I don’t know, but I do know this is raw.”
I turn to the guy and say, “Well you better go back to Texas and get ya some more of that boiled brisket.” Then I walked away.
Next thing I see is him paying his bill and leaving. I went back to the table and he never even touched the meat.
[Editor’s Note: Anyone doubting that Jack actually talked to the customer this way, I’d like to remind you that he was a cook, not a server. Cooks give not one single solitary crap, and bless them for it.]
I was working with a guy named Richard who was the epitome of an “island lifestyle” white dude — lived in the Virgin Islands six months a year as a bartender, worked random carpenter and serving jobs when he was in the states, gave literally zero fucks about anything ever.
He had recently put in his two weeks at my italian/baja california fusion (eye roll) restaurant and was working a shift as a food runner while I was the expediter on a busy Friday night, and he was having a rough time. This was particularly notable, as every shift he got through was a miracle at that point.
He came back to the window after trying to run a pizza, yelling “these motherfuckers…these motherfuckers,” and explained that the guest had questioned whether their cheeseless pizza was in fact vegan, because the caramelized onions on the pizza appeared to be cheese-like. I sent the pizza back out, telling him to assure the customer that those were in fact onions, which he did in a remarkably nice manner (by his usual standard). The customer responded with, “This looks like the same pizza you brought me five minutes ago.”
Those of us who knew Richard knew he had lost it by the first send back of the night. Clearly this guest did not. Richard responded, “Yes, and it still doesn’t have cheese on it. And you’re going to fucking eat it.”
And eat it they did.
He lasted maybe three more days by his own volition. Forever a legend in our restaurant.
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.