The menu left much to be desired and Skip didn’t know what to make of the waitress.
He was accustomed to the tattoos, the piercings and the occasional ritual brand. Those turned up more and more these days, but he still hadn’t wrapped his mind around the deliberate scarring. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to sear the logo of some rock and roll band on one’s flesh.
It sounded like a form of torture, but he understood that someone might feel very affectionate toward a particular type of music.
Skip liked music as much as the next man. He enjoyed the Mills Brothers and The Freshmen –classics.
He was also fond of young Frank Sinatra’s repertoire, the stuff before all that business with the mob, John F. Kennedy and Cubans. When the mood struck him, he could listen to a Wayne Newton record, but could not see himself fixing a permanent likeness of the singer’s face on any part of his body.
He had no taste for that type of adornment, nor did he care for the beards so many men were wearing these days –long and stringy or just plain shaggy, like a prospector from an old serial western.
What absolutely baffled him was that while neatly trimmed hair was back in style. Men paired it with everything from Don Johnson cast-off five o’clock shadow to Yosemite Sam beards and Walrus mustaches.
Still, fashion was fashion. He could not deny it and while he might not approve of the particular styles, he believed very much in freedom of choice in one’s appearance. What was it to him if someone wanted to look like they worked at a carnival?
Skip just didn’t know what to make of the silver horns poking through the black hair of his waitress or the woman’s blood red eyes –contacts, obviously, but disturbing.
After he’d been seated in a booth and the woman had come to pour water and take his drink order, he’d almost checked his watch to see if it was, perhaps, Halloween –or nearabout that.
No, his Rolex Submariner told him it was October 13. That seemed a bit early for the restaurant to be celebrating with a dress up day for the staff and who was there to enjoy it?
It was mid-morning, after the usual pre-work breakfast rush, but before lunch. There were only a couple of other diners in the room.
“Maybe I’m in Hell,” Skip chuckled, but no, the television was on in the next room, over the bar. The noise of the television competed with the piped in pop music in the dining room, mingling the two in a weird auditory sludge, but he could still make out the idiots on CNN talking endlessly about the president.
If he listened closely, he could hear them squirm.
No, Hell would have been a third term for the previous fellow, “he-who-should-not-be-named,” but even the fiery pit would not survive that socialist.
So, Skip wasn’t in Hell and it wasn’t Halloween, but his waitress had fiery eyes, metallic horns and more line drawings on her arms showing than a brand-new coloring book.
This was something to consider. He had a long drive ahead of him and if he didn’t somehow address, thinking about it might be like a burr under his skin.
She brought his coffee, along with a handful of single serving creams and sugars he didn’t ask for. That suggested a kind nature, a good trait in a waitress or anyone, really.
He watched her hands as she poured and slowly took in her appearance, stopping on her nametag. In the bewilderment of the eyes and horns, Skip had missed the woman’s name.
The nametag read Lulu, which was uncommon.
“I’m sorry, Miss. Your name is Lulu?”
She nodded, suspiciously.
Skip smiled and said, “It was my mother’s name, short for Lucinda. Lucinda, I hear from time to time, but very few people go by Lulu these days. It’s kind of a treat for me to see someone using the name again.”
The painted black lips of the waitress parted in bleached smile.
“That’s sweet of you to say,” she said. “What can I get you today?”
Ah, the reason he was here.
Skip picked up the thin, paper menu purposefully and told her, “I read about this place online from several foodie websites. I don’t like to think of myself as a real ‘foodie,’ just a little adventurous. The websites mentioned a cornmeal ramp casserole that sounded very tasty. I’m not from,” he paused to say the word carefully, as not to offend, “App-uh-lah-chu and I understand that ramps are best found here.”
“They’re not on the menu,” he added. “I’ve scoured this document several times, but the ramp casserole is not to be found. Is it, perhaps, a chef special?”
The waitress cocked her head and hip to one side. She frowned.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “That’s a seasonal item. We only get those only through the spring. Sometimes, a few might show up into June, but not much later than that. You would have to come back in late April or May to have ramps, but I would say that it’s worth the trip.”
“Oh,” Skip said.
He thought he’d checked the restaurant website. He could have sworn it was on the menu. He was disappointed, but still game to sample something exotic.
“Might there be something else I could try?” He asked. “What about something with paw paws? I hear they’re kind of like a banana.”
She shook her head.
“You just missed them, hon. We get those in season sometime in August and we don’t get much.”
“Dear, I see to be having no luck at all.” Skip took a deep breath and asked, “What would you suggest? I’m looking for something with a local, regional flavor, something I haven’t tried before and something that might be difficult to get anywhere else –or someplace like Chicago or New York.
“Do you have anything like that?”
Lulu leaned over him and looked down at the menu.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We have a very good apple dumpling, but that’s usually for dessert, with the lunch and dinner menu.” She frowned again. “No one hardly ever orders dessert for breakfast. I don’t know how long it would take to make one or if the breakfast cook even knows how.”
“Is there nothing?”
By now, Skip realized he sounded pathetic.
A little pained, Lulu gave him what was probably the company line. The ingredients for everything was local and fresh. The eggs and milk came from nearby farms. The cheese was sourced from a dairy only eight miles away.
Skip managed a brave face and said, “Then let me have the buttermilk French toast then with bacon, not sausage.”
“I’ll take care of that right away,” the waitress said and collected the menu. “And I’ll ask the owner about the apple dumpling. He’s in the back, I think, doing payroll. Maybe he could make one up special.”
“Please, don’t go to any extra trouble,” he told her. “The French toast, I’m sure, will be delicious.”
“No, it’s OK,” she said. “I want to ask.”
Skip smiled and said, “You’re an angel.”
Lulu laughed. The joke wasn’t lost on her.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said and off she went with his order.
Easing back in his booth, Skip took out the phone in his coat pocket.
Lulu seemed nice, he thought. It just goes to show that you can’t tell a book by its cover.
He looked up the Squash Blossom Bistro in Louisville, Kentucky and yes, indeed, the breakfast ramp casserole was right there on the menu.
That should have been removed. He’d come through Louisville, specifically, to try that casserole.
Skip sipped his coffee and decided that if the owner made good on Lulu’s offer of the apple dumpling and it was as wonderful as she said, he’d leave the waitress a nice tip and go on his way. He might even try back in the Spring, if business brought him this way again.
If the dessert was only so-so, Skip decided he’d probably just put a bullet in the man’s knee and leave a lukewarm review on Yelp. That seemed about fair.
If the owner declined to make the apple dumpling, Skip hoped whoever inherited the restaurant would keep Lulu on. Horns and all, she was an excellent waitress.