Monday, October 11, 2010

Hot Lunch: A foodie fable

Patty Melt and Hot Meatloaf Sandwich met for lunch at Paul’s Coney Island and Family Diner. The place was packed with locals who apparently considered Paul’s the darling of Burton, the saving grace of the lower east side.

Catty Patty, as everyone called her behind her back, wasted no time, as was her custom, making sharp-tongued remarks to her lunch companion. “Well, is it a Coney Island or is it a Family Diner?”

“Maybe it’s both,” said Meatloaf, a little defensively. “Either way, it’s still a diner, and that’s what really matters. It has booth seating. The dining room’s rectangular, like the original one’s in the shape of train cars. And you don’t see those high-end entrees showing themselves off the way they do at Red Rooster. It’s a diner. Let it go.”

“Well!” snapped Patty. “Does a diner plant a garden around itself to make it look like Applewood Estates?” Paul’s did have a beautiful display of plants and flowers framing the entrance to the building and a row of tropical plants along the windows shielding the view of Center Road, a little out of character for a diner, but Patty had a habit of over-exaggerating to make a point, something Meatloaf knew all too well, and he quickly dropped the subject.

They looked at the specials board on the way in, and Patty turned to Meatloaf, chuckling. “Cabbage Rolls, indeed. What’s so special about cabbage?” she quipped. “Who does he think he is, stuffing himself like a swine with crumbled up God-knows-what, slopping around in tomato sauce, and trying to pass himself off as something ‘special’?” Appearance, after all, were all that mattered to Patty.

What must she think of my brown gravy? Meatloaf wondered to himself. Does she even know how offensive she is? Probably not. Again, he said nothing, and they found their way to one of the few vacant booths in the diner.

As they sat in their booth, chatting away about how clean the place was and how lively the atmosphere had become, along came the soup sisters and sat down next to the sandwiches. They had all known each other for a long time, and they all went well together at lunch. Chicken noodle was glowing with good color and inviting aroma, qualities that all agreed were quite tasteful. Chicken lemon rice was equally tasteful and beautiful, and together they made quite a nice pair.

Meatloaf was quick to complement the sisters, noting that they were the most popular of all the soups and that their status among menu items was generally agreed to be reliable and consistently good.

Patty, however, dispensed with the pleasantries and got right to her beef about one of the other soups. “Honestly, I don’t know how that lowly pea soup made the specials board and you two did not. It’s just not right. Green and runny cannot compare to your golden sheen.”

The soups, knowing Patty’s long history of criticizing the looks of other food, took her pettiness in stride. They knew, even if she did not, that everyone got their turn at the specials board eventually, and though the menu was a whopping five, dense pages long, everyone eventually had a turn. Even gruff, inelegant Patty Melt.

Meatloaf, however, had become fed up with Patty’s Negative-Nancy critique of the others, many of whom Meatloaf know well and often paired up with on previous lunches. “Well who on God’s green earth died and made you the Simon Cowell of food critique? You go off on everyone else, but have you ever taken a good hard look at yourself, sister? Your greasy bottom makes you look like you spent the night under a car. Your stringy onions are hanging out like wild hairs, and your cheese is drooling down your buns. Honestly Patty. You’re just too much.”

Just then, with a Cool Hands Luke swagger and the confidence of the guy on the horse in the recent Old Spice commercials, Flint Coney Dog approached the table. Patty was in such a state of shock from being dragged through the gravy by Meatloaf that she couldn’t speak. Meatloaf was steaming but composed himself enough to ask Coney to join them.

First impressions aside, Coney was generally viewed by his peers as a well assembled, good dog. He said little, but when he spoke his words were considered wise and useful. “Take a good look at how attractive he is,” said Meatloaf to Patty. The sauce is mounded neatly along his back with a real sense of purpose and the onions and mustard shine like well placed earrings. Not even you could find fault with him.”

“What’s all the fuss?” Coney asked, puzzled by the tension at the table.

“Oh, he’s just busy dressing me down because he thinks I’m plain and ugly,” Patty snapped. “The way he tells it, I’m as dull as a plate of fries.”

Coney didn’t think fries were dull at all. In fact he shared a plate with them more often than anyone else on the menu. They weren’t the most flashy partner in the place, but that wasn’t really the point anyway. “Look, man.” He said to Patty. We’re diner food. Nobody’s gonna win a beauty pageant here. It’s what’s inside that counts. Taste is more important than looks. You might not be the most colorful crayon in the box, but you got taste and people like you.”

Coney’s words penetrated Patty like a knife, cutting away her sandwiched misconceptions, making way for pickle slices of understanding and acceptance. Coney was right, she thought, and from that day on, Patty accepted herself for who she was: a hot lunch with average looks and enough taste to eventually make the specials board. The other sandwiches rejoiced at her Coney-induced epiphany, and Meatloaf was proud again to join his old friend at the table whenever he was called to order.


  1. You better be careful- you're gonna give steph a complex. ;)

  2. I thought about that but I was actually the patty melt :)

  3. @Bob - How deliciously self-deprecating! :-)