It began pleasantly enough, as Husband and I went to church together and saw some of our good friends. A couple of them orchestrated a lunch after church for us twenty-somethings to spend some quality time together that didn't necessarily involve hymnals. Don't get me wrong - I adore hymnals - but sometimes you just want to crowd around a table with coffee or beers at some local "institution" and get to know each other.
Well. Our friends planning this lunch knew of one such local "institution" - let's call it Homer's - that we non-natives had not yet tried. Homer's is a 24-hour diner near our church that has been there for decades, a bastion of Pittsburgh cuisine. We had no real objections to Homer's for lunch, so about eight of us set off walking and arrived just as the Sunday brunch rush was beginning to die down. Homer's has crumbly linoleum tile, rickety booths, tabletop jukeboxes, the works. I thought for a few minutes that perhaps we were in for a real vintage treat.
Homer's has several specialties, one of which is affectionately referred to by regulars as the "swamp salad," so called because it is prepared in advance and splashed so liberally with dressing that the limp lettuce and spongy croutons seem to float in a pond of salad oil.
I'm told they also have good spanakopita.
Our waitress brought us water and coffee and asked us what we wanted. I ordered something called honey-fried chicken in this exchange:
ME: So, what does it mean, dipped in honey and then fried? Like, the honey is in the batter?
WAITRESS: Yeah, it's - um, it's really good. It's not sticky or anything. It comes frozen, so - it's good.
ME: It - comes frozen?
WAITRESS: Yeah. I mean, not served frozen. It's served hot.
ME: Oh... okay.
WAITRESS: Whaddya want for your two sides? Fries, baked potato, mashed potato, coleslaw, succotash...?
ME: Fries, please, and... whatever your green vegetable is.
WAITRESS: ... Green vegetable?
ME: Do you have a green vegetable on the menu?
WAITRESS: ... Well, the succotash has lima beans. They're green.
ME: ... I'll just go with the coleslaw, thanks.
What was wrong with this picture? She tried to sell me on the fried chicken by telling me IT CAME FROZEN, the menu had no green vegetable, and now apparently legumes count as vegetables. I'm not a health nut by any means, but I just didn't feel like shoving frozen fried chicken, (probably frozen) french fries, AND mashed potatoes down my gullet for lunch. I didn't realize how very wrong the picture was, however, until a few minutes later, when our trusty waitress deposited THIS dish upon our table:
(I say GOO! because the collective reaction at our table to the coleslaw was a spot-on reenactment of THIS cinematic gem:
Husband tried it - nobody else dared - and let's just say that it tasted like it looked and leave it there.
We wanted to ask for something else, but weren't sure how to do so without sounding like foodie snobs. While waiting for our waitress to return, everybody at our table tossed around excuses - "She just remembered she's allergic to coleslaw"... "The cook texted us from the kitchen and wants it back"... "It's too - pretty to eat"... but when she returned, all Husband could muster was this:
HUSBAND: (poking dish) She - uh - doesn't want this.
WAITRESS: ... Yeah, I didn't think so.
ME: Uh... applesauce?
In one fluid matter-of-fact motion, she plucked the sinkhole slaw off the table, whirled and dropped it into the nearest dirty dish bin, and trotted off to the kitchen.
I cannot fully describe how natural these actions were. Like muscle memory. Like she had done this several hundred times before. Like they were trying to get rid of some leftover slaw from the Clinton administration as discreetly as possible. Like she TOTALLY anticipated our rejection and was just giving us some kind of Oh-Kee-Slaw torture test to prove our mettle as Pittsburgh diners. If so, I don't know if we passed or failed. I just know I got applesauce, which tasted mercifully like Mott's, and I was really glad I didn't get the succotash, like Husband did.
PART II: Sunday's Gastronomic Redemption
coming as soon as I get some sleep.