I’m a relative newcomer to Greek cuisine, although my ex-wife and I used to cook and eat such dishes as tabouli (wonderful summer-time food) and we were familiar with gyros, hummus, and tahini.
Since I moved to Quincy I’ve been occasionally patronizing a Greek restaurant downtown; I’ve learned of many new Greek dishes and I want to learn how to cook them. The restaurant proprietors may not like this, but I go to restaurants to learn how to cook new dishes — so I query the wait staff and the cooks:
“So what’s in this? You bake it how long?”
Every time I walk into the Greek restaurant there will be a woman in her seventies sitting in a booth near the door. The second time I went there to eat the waitress said, “That woman there is our most faithful customer!”
It took me a while to realize that the woman by the door is the owner of the restaurant. She’s most likely a widow, and the waitress may well be her daughter; they both look Greek, or at least Mediterranean.
A month ago I ate at that restaurant and ordered a Greek salad. It was good, and I asked the waitress what the dressing was.
“Go ask the cooks — they’ll tell you!”
I walked back to the kitchen and talked with an old lady with a strong Greek accent.
“I liked the dressing on the salad I just ate. What’s in it?”
“Oh, mostly olive oil…”
“There was some vinegar and maybe a little garlic too, right?”
The cook pretended to be alarmed and raised her hands.
“Oh, no, I’m telling a customer one of my recipes!”
We both laughed.
Yesterday evening I drove downtown to eat at that restaurant. I stopped and chatted for a while with the old woman by the door; I complimented her on the food there and she was evidently gratified.
The waitress came to take my order. She’s a pretty black-haired woman; in her thirties, I would guess. She rattled off the three specials available.
“What was that second one?”, I asked.
“Feta cheese, pureed tomatoes, and peppers.”
“That sounds good — bring me some!”
While I was waiting for my food, I was re-reading Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s second novel, The Girl Who Played With Fire. The waitress walked by me with another customer’s order and said, sotto voce and without looking my way, “Clean-shaven now, huh? A bit of an improvement!” It wasn’t so sotto voce, though, that I didn’t hear it.
“Hmm…”, I thought.
I should say that I recently shaved off my beard and mustache, the first time I’ve been clean-shaven since my beard began to manifest itself when I was 16 years old. I’m trying to get a job and I thought it might be a good idea to assume a disguise and try to appear to be a normal person.
The feta cheese dish was wondrously good, spicy-hot but not too hot; one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I quizzed the waitress:
“So what kind of peppers are in there? Hot ones, I suppose?”
“Yeah, they’re pickled and sliced jalapenos. It’s one of my favorite dishes here!”
The waitress brought me seconds without charging me extra. I’ve got to try to make this dish at home!
While I was paying for the meal I felt compelled to make a confession to the waitress:
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to stiff you on the tip! I just don’t have any cash on me! Next time I come I’ll make it up to you, I promise!”
She smiled and said, “Oh, no problem, buddy!”
The waitress stuck out her hand towards me, palm up — I slapped her hand and I suppose I’m now obligated. Now I’ll have to go back to that place, just to fulfill that verbal and palmate obligation — it won’t be difficult to convince myself to go!