5.30.2009

The Diner


brooklyn, ny

As a rule, I don’t eat burgers. Not because of some lofty ideals about the implications of eating meat. True, most of my meals are more vegetable than animal, but I’ve eaten meat most of my life. At certain points, lots of meat. It’s just I have very strong feelings about ground meat. It’s probably the most un-American thing about me. The whole concept of taking something that is perfectly lovely, juicy and well, meaty, and grinding it up just to pack it back together makes no sense at all.

Don’t even get me started on meatloaf.

Of the half-dozen times in my life I have eaten a burger, it’s always been off my brother’s plate. He stacks a meat-jus soaked bun with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and mayo with the kind of reckless gusto I can't seem to embrace on my own. He just makes it look like so much fun.

“One bite?” I always say, and that’s usually all it takes. One bite, and I’m satisfied.

So, when Andras and I headed to Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn last night for Date Night, burgers were the last thing on my mind. In fact I was barely hungry. I thought I might have a plate of local cheeses and try to soak up some Williamsburg cool.

Andras is magnetically drawn to meals that don’t require him to wait, so when the wait at Marlow & Sons exceeded five seconds, we ended up at Diner (same owners) next door, at the counter in front of a menu that read like this:

Appetizers

Crostini, Goat Cheese Salad, Soup

Entrees

Grass-fed Beef Burger with cheese

Sides

Potatoes, French Fries

I love a restaurant that makes my choices seem easy, particularly because choosing, especially at a restaurant where everything is good, feels like making the choice between door number one or door number two on The Price Is Right. What if I make the wrong choice? Or worse, what if the person next to me makes the right choice and there is nothing I can do to get what they have. That kind of anxiety can make even the best meal miserable.

Andras, on the other hand, has a cheetah-like ability to act instantly where a meal is concerned, making menu reading easy for him. That skill, coupled with the fact that he’s been a vegetarian since he was 12, might imply that our choice was in fact very simple. Neither of us would get the burger, leaving us to make a meal out of soup, salad, crostini and fries.

Just then the barmaid dropped off a slip of cashiers tape with a dozen or so hand written specials. It included a market salad with black-eyed peas that sounded just like me—healthy, responsible, and a little retro.

I ordered it. And then I got the sudden sick feeling that I had made a drastic mistake.

“For some reason, the grass-fed burger just sounds so good to me,” I said to Andras.

“Order it!” Andras said.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a burger. It could be years.”

“Just order it!”

“No, you know the last time I ate something so rich I felt sick afterward. I mean, it is grass-fed, but…..really, the salad sounds great. Just perfect,” I said, and happy to have one more decision behind me, I relaxed into our shared pint of beer.

Suddenly, the barmaid returned with two plates piled high with burgers on soft buns and placed them in front of the couple sitting right next to me. I lost focus. Andras was smiling and talking, pulling me in closer, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything he was saying. All I could think about was whether or not the guy next to me would possibly let me have just one bite. Just one? That’s all I needed, one bite, I reasoned. My eyes darted around the room. There were burgers everywhere, and people happily devouring them.

I called to the barmaid.

“I’m so sorry to do this, but I just can’t stop thinking about the burger. Is there any chance I can change my order?”

“I already put it in, but let me see what I can do.” She said. She smiled, made a few drinks and then mosied down the bar toward the kitchen.

“That’s good,” I said turning to Andras. “If she doesn’t get there in time, it wasn’t meant to be.” But all I could think was RUN!!!

Ten minutes later, my burger came. Two minutes later, I was finished. It was perfect.

I was suddenly giddy as a school girl, smiling and pouring myself all over Andras, who, never one to judge my carnivorous fits, allowed me kiss his face all over, despite the ring of beef juice that circled my mouth. I felt a sudden and inappropriate level of adoration for the barmaid. I wanted to kiss her, tell her how much I loved her tattoos and her plaid shirt.

“I love you,” I blurted out to her. “That was incredible!”

A few minutes later Andras’ nettle risotto came. He fed me one delicious bite—but it only confirmed my suspicion that for once, I was the one who had chosen best. My satisfaction slapped away any smidgen of regret as I thought about how he would get up at 5 AM the next morning for his usual 60-mile ride, and burn off all the calories I had consumed. I sighed, knowing I would probably sleep in, read a little, and maybe push myself to do an hour of yoga. I decided I could live with that.

The next morning, when his alarm went off, Andras pushed snooze while I sprung from the bed with boundless energy. I rushed off to The Yoga Room and came back after two arduous hours of hot yoga to find him still in bed.

“You are so lovable,” I said crawling back in next to him, so happy that imperfection runs in our family.

5 comments:

E L said...

Nice piece. Just out of curiosity, though...."barmaid"? Is that a New York term? I'm not usually overly concerned with political correctness, but that just sounds so...kind of...almost medieval.

Edible Living said...

Great point EL! Barmaid isn't a term I hear regularly in New York, but it's not unheard of either, and from what I understand is still used regularly in Australia. It was sort of its odd old-fashioned quality that inspired me to use it, because it seemed to fit the mood of the place, the night and my writing, but I don't mean to offend. Out of curiosity, I did a little digging and found at least one gal who feels it's the right term for her job- Check out the Barmaid Blog. At least I won't offend her. In all seriousness though, "Bartender" didn't seem right because it's a diner, not a bar, and we weren't ordering drinks. "Server" has no personality and "waitress" doesn't fit either. Any other non-offending suggestions? I'd love to hear them. In the meantime, I guess my goal as a writer is to write what I see/feel at the risk of provocation, rather than the risk of being too correct, too proper and too dull. Thanks for your comment and getting me to dig deeper!

-S

Copeland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Copeland said...

oh "one bite" by my irish bum!!! You've never been shy about eating at least half of my burger. But that's ok, it'll be our little secret. Oh, my buddy put a dab of soy sauce on the raw patties. Super tasty!!!

The Smiths in NYC said...

I loved that post. I really fell right into the story. You should def write a novel about Edible Living, I would eat that up.

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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.