One of the things that is followed during the book is the transition of the family business from a bar prior to Prohibition, then to a restaurant, to a diner in the 60s and on to a cocktail bar.
This scene is from the first day that the bar morphs into a restaurant. It's quite a long scene but I just loved the whole of it!
Jette had invited Mathias Becker to be the guest of honor. The doctor was never one to turn down the offer of food, and he happily accepted. Joseph led him to the best table in the room. "This is quite delightful," he said to my father as he sat down. "I can't wait to see the menu!"
"Actually there is no menu," said Joseph.
"No menu? How can you have a restaurant without a menu?"
"You've got two choices," explained Joseph.
"Just two?" pouted Doctor Becker.
My father shrugged. "We've got either pork chops and sauerkraut, or jambalaya and jalapeno corn muffins."
The doctor stared at him. "What did you say?"
"Pork chops - "
"No, no. The other one."
"Oh. Jambalaya and jalapeno corn muffins."
"Goodness. That sounds like an illness, not something you eat," said Doctor Becker.
"Oh no, it's delicious. It's got smoked sausage, chicken, rice, and tomatoes in it. And a lot of spices."
The doctor's wrinkled. "Spices?" He stared long and hard at Joseph. My father smiled affably back. Finally the doctor came to a decision. "Pork chops," he harrumphed.
It had been Jette's idea to offer only two items a day. She knew her limitations as a cook. In addition, she wanted to be in the dining room while the restaurant was open, so the food needed to be prepared in advance. Lomax was stationed in the kitchen, ready to plate up orders from the bubbling pots. Each day there would be one traditional German dish, bland and monumental, and one more exotic.
As that opening sitting progressed, however, Jette began to wonder whether she might have miscalculated.
Joseph was carrying plate after plate of pork chops across the room. Not one person ordered the jambalaya. Finally Joseph came out of the kitchen, looking worried.
"We've run out of pork chops," he told her,
Jette let out a deep breath. "All right, then," she said.
The next people waiting to be served were Bucky and Minnie Rohrbacker. Bucky was the best cattle auctioneer in the county. He'd been known to knock back a drink or two at the Nick-Nack in his time, and he was gazing around the room with an astonished look on his face as he lowered himself into his chair.
"Sure looks different in here now," he said, a little wistfully.
Minnie Rohrbacker beamed at Joseph. "And look at you, all grown up!"
"The thing is, we've run out of pork chops," said Joseph.
"That's all right," Minnie said kindly. "What else do you have?"
Joseph stood on one foot. "Jambalaya and jalapeno corn muffins."
Minnie Rohrbacker's smile slipped a little. "Jamba-?"
"Jambalaya. And jalapeno corn muffins."
"That sounds interesting," she said uncertainly.
"It's better than the pork chops."
Neither of the Rohrbackers looked convinced. "Don't you have anything else?" asked Bucky.
Joseph shook his head.
Bucky looked at his wife. "Well, we're here," he sighed. "We may as well try the - what was it again?"
"I'll bring it right out," said Joseph.
A few minutes later he delivered two steaming plates of jambalaya to the tables.
The Rohrbackers sniffed and prodded cautiously at their food. Finally Bucky shoveled a forkful of rice and sausage into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment. Then he took another bite. And another. Then he took a small bite of corn muffin.
Jette watched all this from across the room until she couldn't help herself any longer. She went up to the table. "How is everything?" she asked.
By then small beads of sweat had begun to appear on Bucky Rohrbacker's forehead. "Good God, Jette," he gasped. "What's in this? My throat feels like it's on fire."
"Don't you like it?"
Bucky shook his head. "My head may be about to blow off, but I believe it's the best godammed thing I've ever put in my mouth." He wiped his napkin across his brow.
"Could I have another glass of water?"
You don't become the most successful cattle auctioneer in Caitlin County by being a shy and retiring type. Bucky Rohrbacker was used to making himself heard over the agricultural ruckus of a busy auction yard and a crowd of squabbling farmers. He was blessed with a very loud voice, and his profane opinion was heard by everyone in the restaurant.
Thirty minutes later there was no food left in the kitchen.
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