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The Tart Lady (The Brunch Chronicles Ch. 8)

Aug 17, 2020

A Story Written By Kevin Gallagher

One Wednesday afternoon the phone rang and a young woman, sweet and polite asked what the tart ingredients would be on Sunday. Chef Anne’s take on quiche, the savoury tart, was a recent and popular addition to the brunch menu. I stuck my head into the kitchen to ask her. Busy deboning chickens she just sighed,

“Oh, I don’t know. Ask me Saturday.” 

Back on the phone, I said, “Well, Chef is waiting for inspiration. She’ll see what’s lovely and fresh at the weekend before she decides.”

The caller seemed satisfied with that. I told her we looked forward to seeing her, said goodbye and promptly forgot about her.

The next day, I was in the kitchen with Anne, when Mirro, one of our servers came in, “Anne, a lady on the phone wants to know what the tart is going to be this Sunday.” Anne shook her head, “Just tell her I don’t know.”

Then on Friday, Cosmo the bartender, answered the kitchen phone and called out to Anne who was in the walk-in fridge,  “What’s the tart this week?”

Exasperated she said, “Oh, Stilton and sardine!” After a slight pause she realized that he’d taken her seriously, “No, no, I haven’t decided yet.” But the message had been delivered and Cosmo was back, “She wanted to know if there were a lot of sardines. I told her, yeah, tons,” he said smiling with a satisfied nod.

To help offset our labour cost, Donna’s sister, Mary Jane, had offered to work brunches for tips only. So, on Sunday, freed from order taking, I was greeting and seating people. A group of four young women arrived. We had no tables free, and a short waiting list, I explained, but I expected that we should have something within a half hour. 

With a tight smile, one asked, “Could we sit there?” pointing to an occupied banquette at the far end of the room and giving a sharp toss to her blonde flip.

“Possibly” I said, “but they’ve just been seated, and we do have a waiting list. I’ll keep you updated.”

“What is the tart today?” she asked, with that same tight smile.

“Roasted red pepper and chèvre,” I said. 

“No sardines?”

“No sardines.”

She positively beamed and I smiled in recognition.

The end banquette cleared fairly quickly in fact, so the next party on the list was seated. Approaching me with a pained expression, she said “I thought you were going to seat us there.”

 “They were ahead of you on the list. I couldn’t bump them”

Po-faced, she retreated. Shortly after, a table came up, but it was too near the door. Another was too near the kitchen. Finally, we were able to find a table that was acceptable, along the wall in the centre and away from the kitchen, but not before she reminded me that her party had been waiting longer than the estimated thirty minutes.

She did not order the tart – at least not at first.  She considered each item on the menu, commenting on how tasty each one sounded and opted for simple poached eggs on a croissant, well after her friends had made their choices. Then as Mary Jane was turning away from the table, she stopped her saying,

“You know what, I’m just going to have the tart.” and with that everyone relaxed.

Our ‘Tart Lady’ became one of our regulars, usually calling in during the week to see if we could tell her what the tart would be and if she were running late on Sunday she might call several times to ask how many pieces were left.  We learned which tables were preferred and which were merely acceptable. The server would invariably write ‘Tart’ next to her position at the table while she considered the menu offerings, and never had to correct it. 

 As happens in hospitality, we had begun to ‘curate’ our clientele, learning and accommodating their idiosyncrasies and making sure they always felt welcome.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE CHAPTERS OF ‘Diary of a Restaurant – The Brunch Chronicles’.