Sunday, June 6, 2010

Restaurant Review #1 - Fried Baloney Sandwiches at the Anemia Stop Café

  Trying something new here, just to see how it goes. I thought I would take a shot at applying my own interpretation to a restaurant review. My first target is “Maple & Motor”, a burger joint in Dallas. Here goes:

  Okay, my first issue with this place starts with the name. “Maple” and “Motor” are two streets that cross nearby, and while I agree that the name is kind of catchy, this restaurant is not located at that intersection. Instead, it’s on the corner of Maple and Clara. You might find this to be a minor quibble, but I look at it this way: I’m not even inside your building yet, and you’re already lying to me. This is going to be a challenging courtship.

  So we park the car and approach the entrance, where we encounter several notices posted on the door. One of them clarifies that we should “order first, and then select a table appropriate for your party”. Interesting. Thank you for the bit about ordering first. It’s very frustrating when you wander into an unfamiliar establishment, cautiously select a booth, and then get ignored for an hour until a bored, 12-year-old waitress wanders by, discovers you sitting there, then grunts and points at the counter.

  We step inside, and quickly learn that the atmosphere can be described as “cozy”. Several tables, a couple of booths, and a jukebox. It’s the kind of place where everyone turns and stares as you stagger in from the sunshine, temporarily blinded by the comparative dimness, because there’s nothing else to look at. I don’t like finding myself at the center of an impromptu floor show.

  Off to the left is a long counter, where you can apparently place your order, pick up your order, get a frosty beverage from a small bar, and possibly request a passport. I’m not sure, there are several things going on, with multiple people on the other side of the counter, bent on unknown tasks. But there does appear to be a small line with other people trying to figure out what to do as well, so we join them.

  As we wait our turn, I notice two guys standing to our left, somewhat near the “order up” part of the grill. Initially, I think they are just waiting for their food. Then I realize that they are grinning and nodding their heads at everybody that comes in. Do they possibly work here? Are they greeters of some kind? But why aren’t they actually speaking? And why would they need two of them in this tiny place? This is slightly troubling. I don’t immediately rule out the possibility that we are actually standing in a cult recruitment center of some kind.

  There’s a shift in humanity, and suddenly we are standing at the counter, facing an older woman who couldn’t possibly make it any more clear that the last thing in the world she wants to do is take our order. She doesn’t even say anything, just kind of looks at us and waits, sporting a welcoming smile that is so fake it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that she was giving birth at the same time. Okay, then. We’re on our own.

  Directly behind Chatty is a chalkboard with the menu. It’s rather limited in the number of items, which is fine, and it’s kind of hard to read, which is not so fine, and the details are very sketchy, which sucks. But I decide to go with the fried baloney sandwich, because it’s something I absolutely don’t need and it should be a good test for the kitchen. If you can make a decent fried baloney sandwich, you ain’t half bad.

  Then Lethargia throws me with a question. “You don’t want fries with that?”

  No, I didn’t SAY I don’t want fries, why are you making that call for me? Has someone spoken to you about my cholesterol? I’m guessing they don’t come WITH the sandwich, like I was somewhat assuming, but since your stupid board doesn’t tell me what does or does not come with, I didn’t know to make the special request. “Yes, I want fries, too.”

  She sighs. Apparently she now has to start completely over, because I was so rude and threw her with a complicated order. Now she distrusts me and has further questions. “Do you want a drink?”

  No, I’ll just choke it all down. I can always drink out of the toilet if there’s an emergency. “Yes, I’d like a drink.” If it’s not too much trouble. If you need a manager for an over-ride, forget it.

  She throws a Styrofoam cup in my direction. More punching of keys on the register, then “Is that all?”

  Well, I don’t know. Are the condiments extra? Is there a surcharge for a straw? “I think that’s it. Oh, and whatever he wants.” I point at Terry, standing beside me and a little frightened that it’s now his turn. There’s been so many questions so far.

  She sighs again, because her life is so horrible and people just don’t understand, then she glares at Terry. Luckily, he’s been taking notes, and quickly provides all the necessary details about his nourishment needs without having to be prodded. Anemia pointedly glances at me, letting me know that THAT’S how it’s done, and that I really need to work on my ordering skills. She lovingly hands him his own drink cup, then punches about 47 more buttons and finally announces a total.

  I hand her a credit card.

  She takes it reluctantly, studying it with suspicion as if I just laid a dead possum on the counter. She flips it over a few times, furtively looks at one of her co-workers, and then attempts to slide the card in the little slot on the side of her machine. I say “attempt” because she’s not very good at it. She half-heartedly sticks the card in, and then barely moves it, as if waiting for gravity to pull her hand downward for her.

  Of course it doesn’t work. She displays her insipidness about twelve more times, then gets her co-worker’s attention. Can he try it? He studies the card as well (people, it’s a MasterCard, not a nuclear weapon) and then slides it up and down in the slot like he’s trying to get the campfire started.

  Meanwhile, the line behind me is growing longer, with people getting a little stir-crazy. I glance in their direction with an expression that I hope conveys “I don’t even know you, but I want you to understand this is not my fault. I don’t have financial issues. I have a credit limit that can fund Rhode Island. These people just don’t know what they’re doing.”

  The crowd just stares at me. They don’t care about my need for validation. They just want food.

  Eventually, the guy at the register gives up and starts to manually punch in the numbers on the card. (You could have done that fifteen minutes ago, Einstein.) Lo and behold, the transaction whizzes through. Lethargia tears off a slip and hands it to me to sign, which I do with the quickest scrawl I can, shoving it right back. Then she takes my card and just lays it on the counter for me to pick up.

  Oh no she didn’t. That makes me crazy. I had the decency to politely hand it to you, you can perform the same courtesy in return. This isn’t Chinatwon, where it’s just part of the culture to place someone’s change on the counter. This is the Oak Lawn part of Dallas, and nearly everyone you meet is gay. Not only should you have placed the card back in my hand, you should have sung a show tune while you did so. Can’t stand her.

  Then she places yet another drink cup in front of me. (Is she on drugs? Do I look really thirsty? How many of me does she see?) I leave it sitting there as we head to the soda fountain with our original cups.

  I get my ice, and then push the button for root beer, which sounded refreshing at that particular moment. Sadly, the machine didn’t agree with my selection, and squirts out this white, gassy froth. No syrup.

  Instantly, this little guy runs out of the back room, screaming that the root beer is out of syrup. (I guess that’s his sole job, to monitor such.) He pops open the machine and starts fiddling with a mostly-depleted bag of brown goo. “Try again.”

  More froth, and a startling burping noise.

  More fiddling. Again.

  Still more froth.

  Great. First I was holding up the order line, because people don’t understand the intricacies of plastic cards. Now nobody can get anything to drink, as I stand in there in slight embarrassment while a man is on his knees before me, jerking on a bizarre cow udder to no avail.

  Three hours later, I finally have some root beer. Terry and I scurry to the back of the seating area and plop down at a table near the jukebox. Now we just have to wait for our food. And any other humiliation that might be available.

  But at least we learn the true purpose of the grinning, wordless duo standing near the grill. They actually pick up the completed orders, scream out the number on the order, and then proceed to the person who has that number, assuming that person who has the number is paying attention and has not left the building because the root beer isn’t working right.

  A bit later, here comes Chuckles with our delivery. He slaps down one baloney sandwich, one hamburger, and one order of fries. Then he races back to his serving partner because apparently they can’t be separated for very long or the government will collapse.

  We stare at the single paper boat of fries, because we ordered two. It’s an awful lot of fries, though, so maybe they combined them? Somewhat rude, but possible. I’m fine with it. I don’t need that many fries anyway, like the cashier tried to imply. But Terry’s not hip. We paid for two, we get two. Off he goes, returning shortly with an apologetic Chuckles and more crispy, salty goodness.

  At last, we get to taste the wares. The fried baloney sandwich is actually pretty good. Not the best I’ve ever had. (That distinction belongs to a former hole in the wall in south Oak Cliff, known as “Big Al’s”. They would actually bread the bologna and THEN fry it. Oh. My. GOD. It was beyond nirvana. When that place closed down, I had to go on medication.)

  Terry is enjoying his burger as well, so from an actual food perspective, this place is decent. I start to relax, and ponder coming here again. Just then, the jukebox suddenly blares to life.

  What the hell? No one is even near it. Well, WE are, with the main speaker just behind my startled head, but we didn’t touch it. And for some ungodly reason, the song selection is something from Rush. I’m not familiar with their repertoire, so I don’t have a title, but you can’t mistake that lead voice. And it’s one of those jam sessions that will last for days, with wailing guitars and a very excited drum player.

  Next thing you know, people are pouring into the place, overwhelming Lethargia at her station and snapping up all the tables. (Wow, guess these people really like Rush, and turned into the parking lot when they heard it on the street.) Within seconds, I am over this dining experience. It’s too small, there’s too many people, and there’s far too much noise. I calmly finish the rest of my meal, but it’s time to go.

  Once Terry is done, I leap to my feet and begin clawing my way to the door. Suddenly, just as I can see daylight at the end of the tunnel, some manager-type semi-accosts me and wants to know if we enjoyed it. Right at that moment, I get one of those weird coughing fits where you are basically choking on your own saliva. So even though I try to nod my head affirmatively, the retching noises I’m making don’t exactly speak highly of the menu. The manager gets a puzzled look, but then Lethargia screams out that someone else is trying to use a credit card, and he’s off.

  Gasping for air and tripping over people who won’t get out of the way, I stagger out the door and into the parking lot. The Rush guitar solo is still playing as we drive off into the distance.

  I have a feeling they probably don’t want us to come back. Or at least me. I would imagine they love Terry. He knows how to order properly, has developed a better relationship with both Chatty and Chuckles, and doesn’t select beverages that require a maintenance worker…

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