Are You Mildred? (The Brunch Chronicles Ch. 10)Aug 31, 2020
A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher
The Windsor Arms had closed and with it the hotel dining room, Three Small Rooms. At the contents auction we were brazen in the face of our penury, buying glassware, cutlery and most significantly tables and chairs. Eight tables and sixteen chairs virtually doubled our dining room seating and necessitated adding another server to the brunch staff. We hired Joe. A student with solid restaurant experience and a professional approach to the job, he was inclined to give MJ what he felt were constructive pointers to help elevate her ‘sloppy’ service. MJ felt her service was just fine. “Let’s see what the tips tell us at the end of the day.” she’d say.
I was still the host, greeting and seating but I also was responsible for clearing and resetting, answering questions and dealing with any problems that might come up.
One question I was frequently asked with a laugh was whether I was Mildred Pierce.
“There is no Mildred Pierce.” I would say, “The restaurant is named after a classic 1945 film noir, – the story of a woman and her relationship with her nasty daughter”
“So why would you name the restaurant that?’
“Well..” I start.
Behind me I can hear a guest asking MJ, “What are gegs?” and see her turning to Joe who was taking an order at a nearby table, “Joe, what are gegs?”
“Scrambled eggs, MJ” said Joe, with a smirk and a shake of his head.
I continue, “Mildred is a housewife, whose husband leaves her and having few marketable skills, takes a job in a restaurant, learns the business, becomes very successful and then loses it all through the machinations of her daughter. Joan Crawford won an academy award for Mildred.”
“You must be big fans.”
“Not such big fans no, but some of the restaurant scenes are spot on.” I continued, “The name was chosen….”
One of our new regulars, a portly, middle-aged man who often dined alone was waving me over. I excused myself and went by his table.
“There is ice in my water. He should know I only have plain water” thrusting his chin in Joe’s general direction, lips pursed.
“He told me he’d replace it, then stopped to take the order at that table. I’m in hospitality myself you know, and I know what service should be.”
“I’ll replace it for you myself, Mr. Lewis” I said, hoping to escape the litany of pointers that would surely follow.
Passing the line, I hear Anne, squinting at the heat as she pulls a pan of chicken breasts from the oven telling Donna that Rick and Lisa have had a falling out.
“Does that mean we have to give back the waffle iron?” asked Donna.
Anne laughed, “No, she very graciously said we could keep it.”
On my way back with the water, the tart lady stopped me to point out that her salad had only two pieces of radicchio while her friend’s had three.
“I’ll speak to Chef about it” I said, looking towards Donna and Anne who were going flat out now, plating pancakes, poaching eggs and frying bacon and sausage. I knew that I would never mention it.
” I don’t want to make a fuss, but it is rather unfair, isn’t it?”
” Would you like me to get you some more radicchio?” I asked,
“No” she said with the resigned smile of a martyr, “I just wanted you to know.”
“You lifted too soon, MJ,” I hear Joe say,
“He was finished.”
“But nobody else was. They’re going to feel rushed.”
I dropped the water off and pointing to the table that had been asking about Mildred said, “I really must answer a question for those people.”
He gave me a terse nod, and carefully examined the plate that had just been placed before him before delicately lifting the parsley garnish to a side plate.
I had gone only a few paces when he waved me back again, this time to explain the proper way to arrange food on a plate and describe some of the more egregious presentations he had encountered.
“Food should not be stacked! If I am sent a plate with food piled high, I simply knock it down and send it back” he said, tight lipped. He continued in a monotone broken now and then for a second to allow me to agree. My attention wandered. I was trying to keep my eyes from glazing over.
I think he was saying, “I was having dinner with my cousin, the Duke of Westminster, at his club, and he…” when to my relief, Ted and Ivan appeared from the kitchen, waving me over. I excused myself.
“You should try to look more interested when a customer is talking to you,” said Ted with a smirk.
“Was I that bad?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think the guy noticed. He was really into whatever it was he was going on about. But hey, we’re going to start painting, want to get the base on the floor tonight, so get your guys to sweep and mop really well okay?”
“Will it dry by tomorrow?”
“No problem. Now go back and let your friend finish his story.”
I pulled my lips into the form of a smile and turned back to the dining room. I could hear him laughing behind me.