I am sitting in Beechwood, my favorite cafe, where I eat every day. I have for years. The waiters and baristas and managers have become my friends. It's one of the reasons I love Jersey City. It's home.Restaurants have always felt like home to me. Eating in them, working in them-although truth be told... I am a really bad waitress.Just a really good caterer. I was always in the weeds and got by with charm. Anyone who thinks waitering is easy should be required to work a saturday shift with major call-outs, and a rainstorm. It's also the best way in the world to buld cameraderie and learn about people. When I was hit by a car, right after my mom died, I was so attached to the people I worked with, my doctor thought I should keep the job for "social reasons." I could not disagree. Glorious Food was my second family. It was a place where I learned to earn a paycheck, be nice to demanding bosses, appreciate food, and just be a grown up. I was home.
When I was growing up, my mom hated cooking every day.We lived really far from a grocery store and my dad worked insanely long hours.At 4, I remember telling her I didn't like the boeuf bourgignon she had obviously slaved over. She was so mad. Well. I remember a lot of restaurants-especially Foster's, near my Dad's office after that. In retrospect, it is a place we just spent a lot of time talking-and my parents always talked about topics-politics,sports,art.....law.
Meg and I obviously had no problems joining in. Mom saw no reason for kid food. Just no reason. And after Foster's, there was this absolutely beautiful Chinese restaurant called Victoria Peak. It was Colonial Chinese-swags of red velvet, big carved chairs that looked like thrones. I remember mom whispering to me that "Bette Davis" son was sitting next to me once. Which of course neant so much to me at-4. And every Chinese meal started with soup. I loved it. Soup. And I wanted Hot & Sour. Not wonton-with it's doughy dumplings and scallions and chicken broth. I wanted the other. The first time I ordered-my mother and father tried to talk me out of it. I wouldn't budge. I had tasted my father's-which he ordered with extra vinegar. And which I demanded. It was different. And looking around, I had a feeling that I can identify now. I felt grown up. I felt like there was stuff I didn't know yet, but wanted to. And food still does that for me. I feel warm, and safe, and accepted, and adventurous all at once. It is where family is-even if family is far away. Or it can be adventure. Or the future. Or for me. Memory.
So -today, Sam , the manager of Beechwood, asked me where I tried Korean food. It was in Koreatown in NYC. Near my parents' apartment when my mom was really sick and my dad wanted a breather. We walked in and looked at a menu that we couldn't read. We talked to a waitress that was very busy and looked really puzzled at a bunch of little kimchis and radishes. we tried to not talk about mom and we tried to have fun and we tried to forget that she wasn't there.
And that's a lot for today.......