Restaurant Rows

Dinner at homeWorld War I was started by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. World War II was triggered by the Japanese bombing attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. No one can dispute that these events are of major historical significance. But history books will never record the saber-rattling in Palm Beach County when some well-meaning retiree utters the inflammatory phrase: ………..“Let’s get together for dinner.”

First there is the planning meeting which must be similar to those held in the White House. An eavesdropper might hear such phrases as “The food there is lousy….and such small portions “ or “The chef was on vacation that night,” or “It’s OK ; if you stay away from the bread.”

Finding agreement shouldn’t be such an onerous task. But this is Florida! And retirees, with full schedules of doctor’s visits, shopping and returning, and gossiping in the shallow part of the pool, quake with fear about selecting the wrong restaurants… Before retirement, we averaged 27 mistakes a week between our jobs and home lives .Now, going to the wrong restaurant is raised to the equivalence of a surgeon amputating the wrong leg. And Florida restaurants have exploited the bad food market to the fullest, with their tasteless or foul tasting offerings.

First there is the selection of cuisine type. Since our Boynton Beach retirement community is mostly Jewish, it stands to reason that most of the local restaurants are Italian. The choice narrows down to northern or southern, bland or mucus membrane-dissolving spicy, pizza with saw dust on the floors, pizza with cheap linoleum on the floors, pizza with pictures of King Alfonso, Mussolini or Sinatra on the walls, budget-busting or dirt cheap, valet parking (with arguments about the size of the tip), no parking (leaving driver to deposit hungry herd at the door and gasp his way back from the hinterlands), too busy or too small (Yogi Berra “ Nobody eats there any more because it’s too crowded”), too empty (others know something we don’t know) and early-bird (requiring a 4 AM wake-up )

As the group gathered to make dinner plans, prospects for Italian food diminished with one comment from Morris Epstein. “Tomato sauce gives me heartburn.” When advised that white sauces are available in Italian restaurants, Morris gruffly retorted, “It doesn’t matter. Even tomato sauces served at other tables give me heartburn.” The die was cast. Italian was out.

Retired Professor Charles Engle, a pure bred Back Bay Bostonian, stretched his six-two frame, scratched his head of four concentric hairs and announced, “Maude and I prefer Continental cuisine served with a 1938 Chateau Laurier wine.” Five potential paupers on fixed incomes rolled their eyes and stuck their fingers down their throats in pantomime.

Finally Studs Rappaport broke the silence. “What is Continental anyway? The menus are always in French. Where are the languages of other continents? I have never seen a menu in Swahili. Even though I was a union man, I object to those restaurants because of their high labor costs. Each table pays for three to five waiters standing around just to synchronize lifting covers from chafing dishes, in perfect military style. I’ll be damned if I am going to finance their West Point educations.”

Delicate and dainty Carmine Schwartz leaned over the bridge table, showing just enough cleavage to make the men forget what they were discussing, and said in an agonized tone, “You’re just ignorant, Studs. Not all meals are served from chafing dishes. You don’t belong in upscale restaurants. I’ll bet you don’t even know that you have to squeeze the lemon in your finger bowl before drinking from it.” With dark clouds forming on the horizon, Continental was eliminated.

Maybe seafood would be less controversial. After all, how many wars were started by a fish? Just when it appeared that we were home free, Seymour Glick (Voted Least Informed Iconoclast in college) leaped to his feet and shouted, “Let’s face the truth and stop the bullshit! Nobody likes fish! We eat it because meat is high in cholesterol. Oh yes, some people order it dry (looking and tasting like sawdust) because they are on a fat free diet. But nobody without diet problems asks the waiter to strike a match under a flounder and serve it. What we really like is breading, tartar sauce, melted butter, pastry shell (as in salmon baked in a ….), atomic carbon (as in blackened), almonds in grease, exotic sauces spiced for throat destruction, and death-defying sugar (as in caramelized).”

The group leaned back in astonishment. Seymour hadn’t said a word all year. And suddenly he burst forth with passion. Carmine Schwartz stood up, shifting her cleavage, under watchful eyes, and said, “What difference does it make how the fish is prepared, as long as we like the final product?” She was shouted down by the rabid crowd, now riled up by Seymour’s emergence from obscurity. Seymour won and seafood restaurants were stricken from consideration.

What about Asian food? If it is good enough for 2/3 of the world population, it should be good enough for this small band of retirees, but the sanitary conditions among much of that population does not meet the standards of Jewish mothers. Mice and rats in Asian kitchens are not kosher. This hungry group had various experiences with Asian restaurants. None of them would dare touch Sushi or Sashimi. Morris once found a rubber band in his Chow Mein. Carmine, with her cleavage defying gravity, asked “How do you know that pork and beef are really pork and beef and not cocker spaniel? No one had any idea what Wor Shu Opp was. Studs once received a fortune cookie with no message in it……..and went into deep depression. Seymour was once thrown out of Ruby Foo’s for making a gesture considered obscene by the Szechuans. These intellectual observations created an insurmountable opposition to the selection of Asian food.

Of course there are other foods, e.g. Russian. German, Hungarian, Latin, Irish, Indian etc… But they all require driving on the infamous Route 95 and none of us knew anyone who made it back alive.

The solution………..scrambled eggs at home…. alone.


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