Master of mastication
"My grandfather owned a 24-hour deli in Montreal known for its smoked meat sandwiches (not Schwartz's). The place is on a major city artery, which is now a relatively safe shopping/party street, but back in the '70s-'90s, it was where the hookers hooked and the dealers dealt. So the crowd was always… unique. But the late-night customers were particularly colourful.
"My dad is not weak-hearted. He joined the artillery reserves at 16 to 'blow shit up' and fulfilled that dream several times over. Before he told me this particular story, though, he said, 'I still gag when I think about it.' *Downs a glass of Scotch and reaches for the bottle*
"It's the middle of the night, and an old man totters in with a slightly-less-old woman. The man is cartoonishly old -- incoherent, jowly, all the stereotypes. The woman fusses over everything, getting him seated, getting him settled, etc. She orders a steak for each of them. The beautiful, succulent steaks are served promptly. Thing is, the old man has no teeth. So the woman picks up his steak, in her hands, and chews off pieces until they are soft. She really gnaws at the meat, getting the whole thing good and mushy so she can poke it into the old man's mouth, piece by soggy, disgusting piece. She masticates the whole thing, and he swallows the whole thing, and 40+ years later this image still makes my dad shudder.
"I'm sorry." -- Emily Vaccaro
Never order the donut
"About 10 years ago, a friend and I are driving from Toronto to Niagara Falls. I want a coffee, so we stop in at a nearby walk-in Tim Hortons. There's a small lineup, and directly in front of me is a firefighter apparently ordering for the station. He stands to the side after ordering, allowing me to order.
"I order a double double. The server nods an OK, and begins to make a large number of coffees, 20 or so for the fireman, and one for me. A couple of minutes pass. The server then hands the fireman two coffees and some donuts, and he turns and leaves. I am now staring at five coffee takeout trays, each with four medium double doubles! The server asks me for something like $30.
"I'm so confused at this point, and to avoid embarrassment, I simply pay the $30 and carry the almost-3ft-high stack of coffee trays out to our car. [Editor's Note: NONE MORE CANADIAN.] I place the stack between the front seats, with my friend silent and dumbfounded, completely mystified at the Berlin Wall of coffees now separating us. I lean forward and, peering around the stack, calmly say, 'I thought you might want a coffee.'
"We end up laughing so hard about it, we can't drive away for almost 10 minutes. And no, I still have no idea what happened. But I'm probably lucky I also didn't order a donut." -- Josh Nickerson
Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have more tales of completely WTF restaurant incidents. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
The Subway fight
"When I was 16 I worked at a Subway next to a public park that was known for attracting drug users. A lot of crazy things happened that year, but the craziest had to be 'The Fight.'
"One afternoon, I'm restocking vegetables before dinner rush, so the store is empty. Suddenly, a scrawny man bursts in looking very agitated. 'Hey! Have you seen a guy with a red shirt!?' he yells at us. We say no. Scrawny guy continues pacing back and forth practically foaming at the mouth. Seconds later the door opens again and it's -- you guessed it -- red shirt guy! Immediately red shirt guy charges at scrawny guy in front of the soda fountain and punches him in the face, HARD.
"I think about running to the back to call 911, but my older, always stoned male co-worker stays up front and watches. So I freeze. A few punches and a broken chair later, red shirt guy runs off and leaves scrawny guy covering his face. Defeated, he glances at us, walks to the bathroom, then rushes out the back door, dripping blood along the way.
"But it isn't over yet. Shortly after, two women enter in hysterics with the blare of police sirens behind them. 'Why didn't you DO something!?' one shrieks at me. 'Uh, I dunno lady, probably because I'm a short teen girl who barely weighs 100lbs holding a bag of lettuce,' I think.
"Co-worker simply grabs the mop to take care of the carnage, and I go back to work. We never told the boss what happened or how the chair broke." -- Heather Martinson
It's a sign
"I worked at a chain 'roadhouse' in college -- the kind of place where you could throw peanuts on the floor -- and was forever running afoul of management, as smoked-out student-servers do.
"Early one evening, a co-worker and I were in the building's glass-enclosed vestibule, cracking open peanuts that were available for waiting customers. A few hundred yards from the restaurant, towering over the nearby boulevard, was a billboard for a plastic surgery practice. The sign featured, quite literally, a giant rack.
"Subtle? No. Eye-catching? You betcha.
"At any rate, my co-worker and I were taking note of the billboard, pointing, chuckling, and commenting how it was 'so Greenville.' We failed to notice, however, that a couple in the foreground was exiting the restaurant and climbing into their car, which was parked in the first row.
"The husband stopped short as he was ducking into the passenger's side, looked angrily at us, and began gesticulating in an aggressive manner, which caused his wife to go to his side of the vehicle to calm him down. At that point, the other server and I went back to work, not thinking much of the incident, which we obviously found quite amusing.
"About 10 minutes later, a female server went through the dining room rounding up all the male staff. When we arrived at the office, the manager, who was just getting off the phone, asked, 'Who tried to fight a customer?' My co-worker and I burst into laughter and explained what happened.
"To appease the complainant, we were written up (a symbolic gesture, at best). As for the citation's reason? The manager wrote simply: 'Boobies.'" -- Dave Brockton
The Viagra and the credit card
"I worked in a fairly fancy restaurant right down the street from where most of the big theaters in Boston are located (kind of like a podunk Broadway) and we got a lot of business from people getting dinner before and after a show. A few years ago, the big musical Jersey Boys came to town and we were packed every night at 5:30 with people trying to make the 8pm showtime. We'd been hearing from guests that the show was fantastic, but on the long side (like three hours).
"So I was working one Saturday night and a 10-top comes in -- five couples, all 50-something husbands and wives and clearly all friends for a long time, who were obviously excited about their big night out. They were seated at a big round table in my section and started off great -- respectful, fun, and spending lots of money. They were also upfront about needing to leave by a certain time so they could make their 8pm showing of Jersey Boys. Perfect.
I was in the middle, clutching a Viagra, increasingly pissed off, and wondering how my life had come to this.
"So the meal is winding down, and I see one of the men in the party trying to catch my eye and kind of tapping his closed fist on the back of his chair (it's hard to describe, but he was basically making the universal sign for 'let me slip you my credit card'). I sidled up behind him and let him subtly pass it to me. But instead of feeling the cold plastic of a credit card, I felt something like a little pebble drop into my palm.
"Puzzled, I opened my hand (turning to the side to conceal what I was doing to everyone else) and saw… a Viagra. A tiny, diamond-shaped, aquamarine pill that said 'Pfizer.'
"My brain was struggling to compute this when Boston's Bob Dole muttered to me, 'Just go in the back and cut that in half, sweetheart.'
"Looking back, I don't know why I didn't just nod and do it (more tip for me!), but I froze with the weirdness and inappropriateness of it all (people cut Viagra in half? That's a thing?). In this moment of hesitation, another man at the table (who had drunk a huge amount of wine) realized that something had been passed to me and bellowed, 'DON'T TAKE HIS CARD! I SAID I WAS PAYING!' simultaneously reaching around the table to snatch what he presumed to be a credit card out of my hand.
"Out of some strange loyalty I didn't want the whole table to know their friend had erectile dysfunction, so I closed up my hand and refused to open it despite the other guest's protestations. This guy then started grabbing my arm to make me give 'the card' to him, while Viagraman was trying to pull me away from his friend -- so now they were doing a tug-of-war for me in the middle of a crowded dining room. And I was in the middle, clutching a Viagra, increasingly pissed off, and wondering how my life had come to this.
[Editor’s Note: Possible contender for Best Single Sentence we've ever received in a submission.]
"One of my other tables saw this battle royale and came over to tell the men to unhand me (in a rare show of chivalry). They finally let me go, and started waving his credit card at me, telling me to take it. I did, and then went back to the man who started it all, slipping the pill back into his hand while saying the only thing that came into my head: 'I'm so sorry sir, but I can't accept drugs from the guests' -- which made the entire table, especially the guy's wife, REALLY curious, but I just went to run the credit card and had someone else drop it off while I seethed in the back. The whole thing was just a massive WHAT THE FUCK.
"Now I can look back and laugh, especially when I wonder if the guy just took the whole Viagra. I really don't know how ED drugs work, but I love to imagine that guy getting the world's most embarrassing boner in the middle of a late-third-act Frankie Valli song." -- Megan Zimmerman
Do you have a restaurant, home-cooking, or any other food-adjacent story you’d like to see appear in Off the Menu (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please email WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Off the Menu" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
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