Thursday, October 21, 2010

172. Mix It Up

So we’re in Pennsylvania for the week-end, staying near Famous University. Although the town has a more than adequate supply of Laundromats, there seems to be a dearth of nice restaurants to go to for Sunday brunch. And herein lies our dilemma: do we eat at the Magnolia Grill because they are supposedly well-known for their brunch and relive our previous night’s disappointment, or do we venture out of our comfort zone and try something new?

The Husband takes it upon himself to stop by the hotel front desk to ask for recommendations. As a former hotel employee myself, I can predict with startling accuracy what the girl will say if she has been exposed to the minimal amount of training on Company Policies and Procedures, “Our Hotel Restaurant is excellent, you should eat there.”

The Husband is vehemently opposed to hotel restaurants. I, on the other hand, a former flight attendant, have an innate fondness for hotel restaurants, especially ones that have things like “mimosa” right at the very top of their brunch menu.

“Sweetie, we can have brunch right here!” I say excitedly, like someone who just found a forgotten ten dollar bill in her jacket pocket.

He ignores me and turns back to the front desk girl, who is all of 19 years old and probably wouldn’t know a good brunch if it smacked her upside the head. “Olivia?” he begins, reading her ID badge, “what else does this town offer for breakfast?” (I know, but Olivia does not, that this is code for: your hotel brunch is overpriced and probably not that good anyway.)

Olivia looks up toward the ceiling, as if there might be secret writing up there: Try Summer House! Or The Red Barn and Silver Owl! Sam’s Diner? There’s an International House of Pancakes on Route 13. Instead, she says with all the enthusiasm of someone getting a root canal, “You can walk to Mix. Mix is kinda popular.  They specialize in brunch.”

“Is there a Ritz Carlton near by?” I blurt out, hopeful, imagining how great their brunch would taste right now.

She shakes her head. “I’ve never heard of it. No…….no, there’s not one in Famous Town.”

Mix it is. We know nothing about it, except that you can walk there. What kind of name is “Mix” anyway? It sounds like it should be a bar (huh, maybe I will like it after all).

“Let’s eat there,” says Tall, “It’s got to be good if it has a name like ‘Mint’. Maybe they serve mint milkshakes? Mom, could I order that?”

“Tall, the hotel lady said the restaurant’s called ‘Mix’, not ‘Mint’.”

“Oh,” he murmurs, already disappointed and we haven’t even seen the place yet.

We find it quickly, as Olivia has given us excellent directions (turn left at the Chevron station, go past the dry cleaners, and there it is—right next to Starbuck’s; I make a mental note of the Starbuck’s presence should we need a back-up Desperation Plan). Contrary to Olivia’s fully-formed 19-year-old opinion, Mix is not “kinda” popular—Mix is kinda deserted.

Not a good sign at 11 AM on a Sunday morning for a place that supposedly specializes in brunch.

Because we are adventurous (read: stupid), we walk in anyway, undeterred. The bored girl walks over to us and seats us right away (“just sit anywhere”). A few minutes later, another girl, acne-speckled but cheery, appears. She sets down four ice-waters, too full and sloshing around, instantly drenching our paper placemats.

“Have you dined at Mix before?” inquires my-name-is-Sofie-according-to-the-nametag. And then (and this should have been our warning right here), “Do you know how it works?”

Works? What does that even mean? How does any restaurant work: you order, the chef makes the food, the waitress brings it out, you pay. Not too difficult a concept to understand.

“Sure….” I begin, when The Husband cuts me off.

“No, we don’t,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” this is what Sofie actually says to us at the so-called restaurant: here’s-the-deal, “These little sticks,” she is currently setting down what appear to be tongue depressors stolen from a doctor’s office, “have your seat number and table number on them so I know who ordered what.”

I glance around. We are the only ones in the restaurant. Will it be that hard to keep our complicated 4-person order straight?

“Okay, so then you go over to the buffet,” (now I am relieved, as buffet usually means things like bacon and eggs Benedict and chocolate éclairs, at least in MOV Dream Version Perfect Brunch Place), “and then you pick out the ingredients.”

This is when she starts to lose me: ingredients. Shouldn’t the chef automatically know what to put in the various dishes? Didn’t he have to go to Chef School? And if I have to choose the ingredients, why didn’t I just stay home and have a bowl of Cheerios (ingredients: Cheerios, milk, maybe a banana).

“…..then when you have selected all your ingredients like cheese or broccoli or strawberries or almonds or gummy bears,” she is still droning on, and wait—did she just say gummy bears? in an omelet?, “you go over to the chef station and choose a swizzle stick that is the right color for you entrée.”

Is she serious? Am I being punk-d? Where is Ashton Kutcher?

“….the green ones mean omelet, the red ones mean pancakes, the blue is waffles, the yellow is French toast, the orange is bacon, the black means whipped cream, oh, and purple stands for fruit smoothie.” She smiles, triumphant that she has somehow remembered it all without using notes. (This is a bizarre system, and I will get into all that, but between you and me, shouldn’t yellow mean eggs and red mean bacon?)

“Got it?” mumbles Sofie.

Got it? The waitresses at the Ritz Carlton café never say got it: they say things like my pleasure or one moment please or I’ll be right back with that.

The Husband nods. Apparently he’s “got it”.

I glance down at my tongue depressor stick. The stick is not the only one that is depressed, I think as I survey my meal options. I flip the stick over and see a hasty 15 scribbled on it, and underneath a number 2, like some sort of math equation (15 divided by 2 is 7.5—yay! You can be in General Mathematics 101 at Famous University!).

Sofie turns on her heels to get us some coffee.

“Wait, miss!” I call out, and then when I have her attention, “I don’t understand the system.” I’m embarrassed to say that even thought I’m a card-carrying Ultra Virgo whose middle name is Obsessive Organization and I should technically embrace and potentially even love the colored stick idea, I am confused.

Sofie sighs, annoyed. I can read her face: what’s not to understand?

She quickly repeats the spiel, then smiles a fake smile, her lips turned up but her eyes still cold.

Now I’m the one to sigh. “That seems like a lot of work. Can I just verbally tell you that I want a pancake and then you can verbally tell the cook, or is he deaf and that’s why you all devised the color-coded swizzle stick system in the first place?”

“M’am,” she says, clearly irritated but doing her College Best to be patient (I can tell you right now, our surly Miss Sofie would not last one week at the Ritz Carlton saying my pleasure), “it’s easy! it’s fun! you get exactly what you want!” She is obviously reciting the restaurant’s brochure motto at this point.

“All I want is a pancake,” I continue wearily, “if I give you any ingredients, they are likely to be flour, eggs, butter, and milk.”

Then Sofie surprises me, “I’ll be right back with that.” 

The Husband shakes his head and leans in to me. “What’s your problem?” he snarls. “Why do you have to give the girl such a hard time? She didn’t invent this concept.”

“Well, it’s a stupid concept,” I respond flippantly, not realizing that I have said the equivalent of a 4-letter word in front of our sons.

“Mom said ‘stupid’!” squeals Short, thrilled that the forbidden word has made an appearance at our table—what’s next? shut up?

“I mean ‘silly’,” I correct myself. “This silly place would never fly in Crazy Town.”

“Are you kidding?” replies The Husband, “It’s a chain. They have one in The City,” (The City is a 10-minute drive from Crazy Town), “are you saying you’ve never heard of it?”

“No. Geesh, why are you attacking me? This is supposed to be a fun week-end! I just want to order my pancake.” I frown.

Right then, the girl appears out of nowhere and places my pancake in front of me. The cook must’ve thought it was for a child: there are chocolate chips on it making a face, two eyes and big broad smile.

“Bon appetit!” says Sofie politely.

“Thank you,” says The Husband, attempting to be my ventriloquist.

Sofie walks away and I hear her say something that sounds like, “My pleasure.”

(“Makes Omelets Vicariously”)

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