(416) 588-5695

Diary of a Restaurant: Ch 31 – Cheerios and Apple Pie

May 7, 2021

A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher

Mother’s Day was anticipated with some trepidation at Mildred Pierce. It wasn’t just that we were busier than usual on that day, but many of the customers who came were not our regulars, nor it seemed regular restaurant patrons at all. Media build-up, trumpeting the best ways to treat your mom on her special day, made us anxious as to whether we’ll be able to meet guest expectations.

One expectation seemed to be a little gift in acknowledgement of each mother – there were suggestions of teas, a bath sachet or a carnation. Donna winced at the mention of carnations,

“Carnations are for funerals and high school proms. No, we’ll  give every mother an apple pie, so she can relax in the afternoon with her family around her and a cup of tea and a piece of pie for everyone. What could be better?” 

“But Donna,” I said, “we’d need a hundred pies to give every mother one.”

“We can do it.” she answered firmly.

On Tuesday before Mother’s Day she and the kitchen crew began making the pie dough, rolling out and freezing the shells. On Friday the apples were peeled and buckets of crumble topping made. Saturday, the apples were sliced, and the pies assembled and baked. 

For Sunday, we had scheduled extra staff. Donna bought lots of flowers for the tables inside, and planted the boxes outside with pansies. We prepped heavily, ordering extra cases of eggs, cream and buttermilk. That morning, we had tortillas layered with beans and cheese, trays of bacon ready to be grilled, biscuits, scones and savoury tarts baked – and one hundred and twenty-eight apple crumble pies boxed and ready to go.

A small crowd was waiting when we opened and even though we did our best to seat at a sedate pace, so as not to overwhelm the kitchen with orders, the restaurant was full within twenty minutes. Still customers kept arriving. I stayed by the door to support Andrea, the hostess, in dealing with the crush. Under normal circumstances she was more than capable of handling any challenge with sweetness and aplomb, but since so much more time had to be spent giving explanations and directions, I didn’t want a backlog to develop at the door.

I greeted a man accompanied by two women, one older and one younger, a girl of maybe ten and a boy who appeared to be about five, clutching a baggie of cheerios. I was asking myself – where we could seat a party of five; whether maybe a four-top would do since the little guy was pretty small, and how soon we could do it when the man said,

“We’re going to be fourteen. The rest are on their way. We came early to get a table. Is that the buffet up there?” nodding towards the kitchen line.

There were no tables available, I explained and also that we didn’t seat incomplete parties. It would be about ninety minutes before we did. Having given him a moment to digest that I said,

“And we don’t have a buffet. This is the menu if you’d like to have a look at it. If you decide to wait, I’ll put your name on the waiting list.”

Clearly, he was not pleased, but took the menu and passing it to the older woman said, “What do you think, Nana?”

The woman studied the menu, occasionally looking to the younger woman and asking questioningly, “Béarnaise?” or “Huevos Monty?” and with a slight frown, “Green eggs and ham?” I had a feeling she would rather be at home with a poached egg, a pot of tea and CBC on the radio, but she handed the menu back to her son and said, “We have to wait for the others anyway…”

“The name’s Dan,” he said, “and is there any chance it’ll be less than ninety minutes?”

“It might be.”

“Where can we wait?” 

“There should be space at the bar pretty soon.”

He sighed and scanned the room for empty tables.

Our son Rory, now a waiter, was trying to get my attention.

“Table twelve is vegan. What can we give them? They’ve asked about fruit salad.”

With no fresh fruit in season, there was no chance of fruit salad. Mentally, I ticked off the items on the menu –  practically all of them had eggs, some also cream and cheese or buttermilk and bacon or salmon- there was really nothing on the menu that we could offer them. 

They were looking in our direction questioningly, sipping orange juice and looking for all the world like they were prepared to take offense.

“Why don’t  you ask your mother what she thinks we can do.” Donna had started to hand out pies to parties that had finished their meals. I saw her listening and then she slipped into the back kitchen. I left it up to her.

Back at the door, I was greeted like an old friend by a woman and her son and daughter who I’d last seen the previous Mother’s Day. They didn’t mind waiting; they were expecting it. “Just make sure I get a pie!” she laughed.

Among the new faces, there were also some familiar ones – a couple of the party boys who often showed up for brunch slightly muzzy after Saturday night revels, today, fresh faced and introducing their mothers to brunch cocktails at the bar. I was even mildly cheered to see the tart lady, and although she was disappointed to see someone sitting at her table, she was happy to know that the savoury tart was her favourite – roasted red pepper with chèvre. And I got to meet her mother, who seemed much more relaxed.

Dan’s brother and his wife had arrived. Dan had stopped his pacing and was drinking a cappuccino with his brother while the sisters-in-law had found a corner of the bar and a couple of mimosas. Nana and the little boy were sitting outside in the spring sunshine eating cheerios from the bag. Dan shot me a questioning glance. I shook my head and mouthed “Soon”

Andrea, with a fixed smile was ostensibly listening to a man who was suggesting some improvements that should be made to the restaurant operation. I was tempted to intervene, but she obviously didn’t need my help, and catching my eye, nodded to two parties that were leaving, opening up tables for Dan’s group.

A younger brother arrived just as they were being seated, remarking, “Hey, we timed that pretty good, didn’t we? I’d love a Caesar!”

Dan just glared at him.

Donna had meanwhile managed to come up with some agreeable options for the vegans, spinning dishes from menu ingredients – black beans and tortillas, cereals, blueberries, fresh tomato and sliced avocado. They were eating happily. 

Nana had her poached egg with a croissant, chatting quietly with the little boy close beside her with his scrambled egg and toast. From time to time, she would look up at her family along the table and smile. When the plates were being cleared she asked the server,

“Do you have ice cream?”

“I think we should go Ma,” said Dan, “They’re busy, probably need the table”

Ignoring him she said to the boy.

“Would you like some ice cream?” He nodded, wide-eyed.

“What flavours do you have?”

“Only one actually,” was the response, “Lindt milk chocolate.”

“That will do nicely,” she said, “Could we have two small bowls, please?”

I noticed that Donna, busy handing out pies, had given one to the party of vegans. She laughed and shrugged, “I told them there was tons of butter in it.” 

Dan’s party finished the ice cream and the gang was  starting to pack up when Donna arrived at the table with pies in hand and passed one to the older woman.

“We’ve baked a pie for you. Happy Mother’s Day. You might want to share it, or you can keep it for yourself if you like!”

Nana beamed, obviously very pleased. “Why thank you! I don’t know that I will have enough for everybody,” and with a hand on the little girl’s shoulder, she tousled the boy’s hair. “I’m sure I’ll have enough for these two.” 

Leaning over to the boy she said, “Would you like some pie?”

“Can I have some?” he asked,

“Well, you shared your cheerios with me. I think it’s only fair.”

“But there’s another mother here too, I know,” said Donna, “so I have a pie for her too. That way you can all hang out together this afternoon and eat pie.”

Catching Dan’s eye, as they were leaving, I asked him how everything had been.

He paused for a moment, then nodded. “That was great.” his said, deadpan.

No time for follow-up questions, Andrea is whispering in my ear.

“We could get two sixes and a four on those tables, couldn’t we?”

“Of course we can. We’ll just get them wiped down, reset, sweep up a few cheerios and we’ll be good to go.”