People are always telling us, “Erin and Henry, you guys need to go out alone once in awhile, good Goddamn.” Because we don’t usually do that. Warped Tour might have been the last time it was just the two of us, out and about, without a demanding, possessive four-year-old in tow. Although we did have a double date a few weeks ago, I still thought it was time for just the two of us to grab some dinner and struggle for things to converse over. Politics would definitely not be one of those things.
I have a Groupon for the Gypsy Cafe on the South Side that needs to be used by November 1st, so I thought that would be a good date place for us. We both really enjoy quirky ethnic places and I’m part gypsy so it all made sense. There was a vegetarian moussaka on the menu that I had been eying.
My mom even said she would babysit, but that we would have to bring Chooch to her house. I was looking forward to it all week.
So, there it was: last minute, Saturday at 4:30, when I went to print out the Groupon. That’s when I noticed the not-at-all-fine print about reservations. I made Henry call and of course it was too late to get in for that evening, unless we waited until after 10pm. I can’t eat dinner that late. I could risk dying.
Plan B was to still drop Chooch off at my mom’s house, eat dinner at Blue Flame and then go to a haunted house, as there are several out in my old ‘hood. Blue Flame isn’t exactly a romantic restaurant, but it’s cozy and quaint and the type of place you might catch Chuck Mangione playing on the sound system while roast beef sandwiches and beef barley soup are being served. Plus, my Pappap was friends with the owners so I pretty much grew up there. It was always the first choice on the nights my Pappap felt like eschewing the finer establishments in favor of slummin’ it with a burger, because even though he was filthy rich, sometimes he liked to keep it real.
He would still get his glass of Lambrusco though.
Unfortunately, the economy hasn’t been kind to Blue Flame. People apparently would rather go to chain restaurants these days than authentic mom and pop establishments so choosing Blue Flame is always a crap shoot because there’s never a guarantee it will be open.
And as we drove past last night, it was honestly hard to tell. There were people in the lot, but it could have been a drug deal. We decided to just find a restaurant closer to the haunted house.
“There’s a place in Rostraver called the Roadside,” Henry recalled. “We can try that place.”
I didn’t care. Probably, I was going to end up with a grilled cheese anyway. Most places specializing in American fare hate me.
We rolled up into the parking lot just in time to see a pack of elderly zombie-walking their way to the front door.
“Well,” Henry bright-sided. “The food must be good. Old people always eat where the food is good.”
“Where did you hear THAT?” I asked, appalled. “That’s not true at all.”
And we both knew I was right the moment we walked into the Roadside and were slammed with the funk of nursing home and boiled carrots. I can’t emphasize how much I am not exaggerating right now. And the walls, they were wood-paneled. The floors? Green and white linoleum.
“Oh, Henry,” I murmured, as a table of white-heads turned to look at the two young’uns who just walked in. Yes, they were even coveting Henry’s youth with gummy, open-mouthed stares, like he was squirting the Fountain of Youth from his dick.
“Yinz can sit anywhere!” a haggard broad hollered from the kitchen, making my shoulders rise up like they were being puppeteered.
I chose the side of the restaurant that did not resemble a Bingo hall.
We only got one menu, and a Xeroxed copy of hand-scrawled specials. The waitress came over, pad in hand, ready to take Henry’s order.
“Oh, I’m not ready yet,” he said, and while he was still talking, she aggressively asked me for my order.
“Um, I didn’t even get to see the menu yet. You only gave us one…?” But she was already huffing back to the kitchen.
“What do you need a menu for?” Henry teased. “You’re only going to get a grilled cheese anyway.”
To the chagrin of our olfactory organs, our table was right next to the salad bar, which I quickly deduced was a large source of the offending stench. It was included with Henry’s $8 dinner special, and our red splotchy faced waitress made sure to remind him of it three times. He stood up, leaned forward to get a better look, then sat back down.
“That’s OK,” he mumbled. You know it’s bad when Henry passes up a salad bar.
Although, I’m not so sure where they got the license to call it a salad bar. It only had: lettuce, huge onion quarters, an entire vat of BEETS, tomatoes, mandarin oranges and a double-wide tub of butterscotch pudding that looked like it was scraped out of three dozen diapers. The other side had carrots, corn, mucous-y chicken noodle soup and two pans of apple sauce. Clearly this was nursing home cafeteria leftovers being pawned off on people gullible enough to pay for it.
Suddenly, there were FIVE old people converging around the salad bar, plopping beets and apple sauce onto white plates. I was squealing at this point. It was like a bad zombie movie.
In addition to a medley of dream catchers and framed photos of lighthouses, the Roadside Restaurant had strung several of these elegant lampshades from the ceiling to better light the festering salad fixins below. I’m pretty sure the shades were embellished by Lite Brite and a gut feeling tells me if we would have walked through the kitchen, we’d have found ourselves in the nursing home rec room where a flock of blue-haired dementia patients could be found sitting with hunched backs, knocking out more restaurant decor.
The only thing on the menu for me was a grilled cheese. “Hard to fuck up a grilled cheese,” Henry said, jinxing my whole meal. Up until that night, I was the only person I knew who could ruin a grilled cheese. I’m so bad at it, that now I just use the microwave now when Chooch says he wants one.
Roadside might have me beat.
“What the fuck—” I started, having just took a large first bite. “What kind of cheese is this?!” I cried.
My face must have reflected my cheese consternation, because Henry was doing that fucking laugh of his where his face is all scrunched up and his head bobs up and down on his shoulders, but no sound comes out.
Trying to suck the orange paste out from the backs of my molars, I realized it was a set-up. They managed to make me eat like I had just taken out my dentures, like everyone else in the joint. But the cheese, it was so sticky and Elmers-esque, I couldn’t get over it.
“It’s like goddamn bomb shelter Velveeta,” I spat to Henry. “I bet it’s been sitting underground since the motherfucking 50s! Taste this shit,” I thrust my grilled cheese over to Henry, who took a tentative bite and promptly started laughing all over again.
“Don’t forget to go to the salad bar!” the waitress said again, sashaying past with a pitcher of iced tea.
Our entire meal was only $12.99.
“Hey, you forgot to get your free dessert,” I reminded Henry as we left.
“That’s OK. I’m pretty sure it was just that butterscotch pudding.” The mere mention of it made me burp bile.
And then Henry, because we dined with octogenarians, drove like one the whole way home.
Even though I was deep inside your Grandma Edna’s heaven last night, we did nothing but laugh the entire time. And I guess that’s really what it’s all about anyway, right haters?
(Plus, the Penguins pummeled the Flyers. It was a night of win.)