Given some of the rather contentious headlines surrounding goings-on in particular dining establishments, I thought I’d gingerly tiptoe into the fray with a smidgen of reaction and a pinch of perspective.
For starters, I must confess that I am hardly a devotee to anything offered on cable TV’s Food Channel. Enticing titles ranging from “America’s Best Cook” to “Worst Cook in America” have yet to seduce my interest. That being said, I have nothing short of the deepest respect and admiration for those wizards in the cookhouse miraculously merging diverse ingredients into something delectably tantalizing to the taste buds.
I most definitely know my way around the kitchen, at least the one in our home. Refrigerator. Microwave. Popcorn popper. Waffle iron. Coffee pot. Garbage disposal. I am close to salivating contemplating some of my best work on a well-worn and a rusty outdoor grill while two of the four burners fail to fire.
My first recollections of dining out go back decades ago with the enticing cuisine of a cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake. No disrespect to the man from Wisconsin who recently ate his 30,000th Big Mac, but I have seen fit to expand my diet in a multitude of directions. Over the years I’ve developed a taste for chili, shrimp, hummus and, oh yes, dry red wine.
In the wide world of ethnic foods, my wife and I have well-used passports with stops among the Italians, the Mexicans, the Germans, the Chinese, the French, the Indians, and yes, even the English. Fish and chips anyone? Sorry to say, I haven’t quite acquired a taste for sushi.
I was fortunate to have a father growing up who had a handful of simple standards when eating out. For example, if food or drink was to be cold, it should be cold. If it ought to be hot, then it should be hot. Beverages were to be topped off in a timely manner always. Dad would, on occasion and much to the family’s dismay, send food or drink back to the kitchen for any needed alterations in temperature. Even with such criteria, he was most generous in his gratuity.
He was of a particular ethic that a story is told of his exiting a restaurant before ever ordering. Putting down the menu and needing to excused himself from the table to use the restroom, he deemed inappropriate another menu on a wall-mounted coin-operated dispensary of “nightlife” accessories available for purchase. Not to his liking, no money was expended in either location.
In the early years of our marriage, a transient gentleman showed up late one cold winter night at the doors of the seminary I was attending. After conferring with my wife about taking him in, we walked across the street to the nearest restaurant, the White Castle, to buy him dinner and he spent the night with us in our one-bedroom efficiency apartment.
After graduating and into my first call as a young cleric, I took my bride to an upscale restaurant in Toledo for a date. We barely sat down with water glasses on the table and menu in hand that we promptly and discreetly exited the establishment. With no credit card between us and limited cash, we had deduced we couldn’t afford to eat there.
On a few occasions over the years we’ve attempted to dine out at a selected venue and retreated if only because we needed a reservation, of worse, they didn’t take them, and it would be an hour-long wait to be seated. It is a rare experience, having been seated in some locale with a server gone AWOL, I’ve taken my hunger and business elsewhere.
I’ve a good friend who will never “spend a dime” in a local bistro due to the irreverent artwork on display in this church-turned-restaurant and another friend who stridently avoids, at almost all cost, anything having to do with a chain or franchise preferring always family-owned and operated.
I take particular note of at least one fast food establishment choosing to be closed to the public, due to corporate convictions, every Sunday. Their bottom line remains high and the chickens appreciate a day off, too.
Still, be it Henry’s in Ottawa or, while on vacation, The Donut Shop in Huron, there’s something special about being welcomed with a warm smile and a hot cup of coffee.
Few, if any, should ever be ignorant of our too-recent past where a seat at selected lunch counters was tragically determined by a prejudice of the pigmentation of their skin, let alone as of recent days their political persuasion. As a periodic patron of a venti-sized Pike Place, I am urgently hopeful the proponents of the “third place” will insure hospitality to all takes first place.
Finally, most Sundays, I am a humble and grateful purveyor of a meal affectionately known as that of a Sacrament. Translated, and for any uninitiated, the lofty term conveys what is believed to be and best understood as a “means of grace.” It comes in the form of bread and wine. Reservations are never required. Seating is always available. It never divides but rather unites. It never condemns or points fingers but rather forgives and reconciles. All are welcome to this table. Best of all, someone else has picked up the tab. Bon appetit!
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org