Tuesday, August 5, 2008
In Between the Lines Pack More Lines
Whenever S.B. and I travel anywhere, the first thing we do is scout out where we're going to eat. I’m not talking the local Olive Garden or Applebee’s, either. Those we can get at home when we’re in a rush, don’t feel like sushi, or have had enough carne adovada burritos that month to feed a small South American putsch. I’m talking a city, town, or region’s best locally owned and operated restaurants. We want to know where the fish are jumping and the is duck poaching. Whose got the fluffiest pancakes, the juiciest burger, the coldest martinis, and the best bar chatter. High brow or low brow, it doesn’t matter – we just want to see what the locals got in ‘em.
As a result, we've managed to find if not fabulous then at least highly interesting food in places as out of the way as Silver City, New Mexico, Spearfish, South Dakota, Columbia, Missouri, Just Off The Interstate South Louisiana, and Where the Fuck Are We Montana.
But traveling for work is another matter. Usually, mealtimes are all about expediency, which means I end up assaulting my arteries with a crap hotel buffet at breakfast, a crap chain restaurant burger at lunch, and a crap chain restaurant pasta at dinner. Not even the one glass of teeth-staining Merlot I allow myself to wash it all down with can kill the pain. Although, the cheese cake usually does. Sigh. It’s all so cheap and dirty.
Anyway, imagine my joy when on my second day last week, I spotted next door to the client’s plant a little eatery that looked for all the world like something locally owned and operated. Okay, so the name – Helga’s House of Sausage – should have clued me into something essential about the eating habits of those who live and work in the belly of our nation’s industrial parks. But. It didn’t.
Come 12:00 noon and left to my own devices, I headed on over to Helga’s. My next clue that I was unlikely to find anything edible that wouldn’t immediately send my cholesterol frolicking out of control in flip flops and a gypsy skirt? That came courtesy of the hostess, a woman of indeterminate Scandinavian genetics who looked like once upon a time around the year of the Munich Olympics she’d been capable of bench-pressing a cruise ship. I’m not sure even AB could have taken her. Anyway, she blasted me with an ice queen stare and then barked a question no restaurant hostess in a major American city has asked since Jesus roamed the earth: “Smoking or non-smoking?”
One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. “Table for one?”
“Yes, it’s just me.”
Instead of another barked question, a heavy sigh. As if I were not so much a customer, as yet another burden in her already heavily weighed-down day. As punishment, she ushered me off to a corner table in the back. At least I was out of range of the cigarette smoke.
As for the menu. Well. Although it is one of my firmest held culinary beliefs that I didn’t stagger my way up the food chain in these here high heels to spend my life eating only vegetables, neither do I find it a particularly good sign in a restaurant that the ENTIRE menu is dominated by meat. All of it served in exactly the same way: breaded, fried, gravy slathered, and accompanied by two slices of limp Wonder Bread and a side of iceberg lettuce between which a few quarters of anemic tomatoes are allowed to peak for one brief moment before being suffocated by an entire bottle of Ranch Dressing.
When my waitress finally managed to take my own order, such was her disdain you would have thought I'd asked for roast infant with a side of sauted toddler instead of a Club Sandwich, hold the mayo.
But one good thing did come out of the meal. I had an epiphany. One regarding our country's crisis of health. I don't think the problem lies with lack of gub'ment initiative. Nor with the insurance companies. Or even the drug lords. I think the problem lies with our great big mouths.