Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Keep your eyes on your own plate

Tonight I went out for an otherwise lovely pre-reading dinner with a guest writer and some people from school.

Everything was going well until the waiter came to take our orders. He said he'd start with me, and I just assumed that at that point, the rest of the table—eight other people for God's sake!—would pick up their conversations where they left off, as most people do when you are eating in a nice restaurant with a large group.

But, no, instead of doing that, the entire table sat there silently, staring at me and listening intently to my every word.

I felt like I was placing my order on a live YouTube feed.

In case you don't know, this is not the way to behave. When a lady places her order—or a man for that matter—its best to busy yourself with other things. Look at your menu, re-fold your napkin, make small talk for God's sake. Whatever. Otherwise, said lady may feel like you are judging her choice of food.

Okay, so I will admit said lady—that would be me!—has some food and body issues that may contribute to her desire to be able to order without so much scrutiny, and we all know that. But I still think that whenever a person orders a meal, it's best if others don't act like the most interesting thing they've done all day is eavesdrop on the very private conversation that occurs between a server and his/her patron.

Really? You're going to have the calzone? But isn't that the highest calorie item on the menu?

Okay, again, so I have to admit that no one actually said that or anything like it. But they might as well have for all the looks I got.

(And for the record, I ordered the calzone because, at $11.50, it was easily the cheapest thing on the menu.)

It also didn't help that the waiter was a bit clueless. The menu said "make your own calzone," so when I asked him what normally comes in a calzone, I thought he might say, mozzerella, cheese, and tomatoes. But instead, he said, "Well, a calzone is like a pizza rolled over on itself."

Like I didn't know what a calzone was. I grew up in New Jersey for God's sake, home of the mafia and Frank Sinatra. I think I know what a goddamned calzone is.

In fact, that's the reason I was asking. I didn't want some Americanized version of a calzone. I wanted the real deal. According to the World English Dictionary, a calzone is "a dish of Italian origin consisting of pizza dough folder over a filling of cheese and tomatoes, herbs, ham, etc."

That's right—cheese, tomatoes, and ham. That's how they make it in Jersey. But as those of you who've been to any branch of LaRosa's in Cincinnati know, one person's calzone is another person's fill-in-the-blank. And I didn't want any cheddar cheese in my calzone, thank you very much.

Of course, our poor waiter did not know I hail from Jersey, but still. It seemed like a simple question. You'd think I could have gotten a simple answer. And all of this happened while I was still on stage, performing for the rest of the table like a tight-rope walker.

So I felt a bit uncomfortable when I had to explain to the waiter that I wanted a calzone with mozzarella, ricotta, tomatoes, and ham.

Ricotta and ham, you say? I might as well have ordered a chocolate cake for dinner. With brownies on top.

And that's now where it ends either.

Because when the waiter finally brought my calzone, he presented it by apologizing for burning the end of it, saying they were currently making another in case I wasn't happy with this one. Of course, his comment caused all eight pairs of eyes to look down the table at my plate and see the newborn-sized slab of dough he had placed in front of me.

Wow, that's huge!

I can't believe the size of that thing!

Boy, do you think it's big enough?

Unlike the previous words, the ones that had only been said in my head, these words were said out loud. By actual people.

I wanted to die.

Or crawl under my monster-sized calzone and hide.

I also wanted to shout, Haven't you people ever seen a calzone before??? They're always freaking huge. What, have you never been to Jersey before???

But most of these people probably haven't been to Jersey, and if they have, I'm sure they'd have no idea where to find a good calzone.

(Here's a hint: if you can add cheddar cheese to it, it's not a real calzone.)

Here's another hint: when a lady's food arrives, and it looks a bit oversized, it's best not to comment on the girth of the meal in front of her. We worry enough about our girths. We don't need to worry about our food being too fat too.

As it turned out, the calzone was amazing and completely authentic. Sinatra would have been proud of the people at The Brickyard. But the truth is I'll think twice before I order another Italian turnover as big as a small child when out with other people. Which, in the end, kind of makes me sad.


  1. I can relate to your experience completely. I find it amazing that many cheap items on a menu happen to be the largest portioned meals. I love eating out, but I tend to eat out late at night when all the other outcasts and freaks come out to enjoy the world. In the middle of the night I generally don't find it as threatening or intimidating to eat or anything. I am able to be and feel as if I belong. It tends to be the only time I am not always thinking about what other people are thinking about me. The night time is always the right time for me to eat; however, a slow metabolism doesn't seem to share the same sentiment. I respect anyone who can enjoy a meal during the day whether it be alone or with a group. You are my hero. Thanks for making it okay.

  2. Thanks so much, anonymous! It means a lot to me that you took the time to write. Fortunately, I think I won't change my behavior and will keep ordering calzones and cheeseburgers in front of other people. As I've said before, indulgence is a good thing once in a while.

  3. I've never had a calzone before, but I understand the whole deer-in-headlights situation. I'm sorry you felt that way. I'll make sure I order first this Tuesday, and hand you the cupcake under the table :)

  4. You've NEVER had a calzone??? What???!!! You poor girl!

    No need to hide my cupcake! I am not ashamed! And on my birthday, I think I deserve a little cake!

  5. Well, as one of the people at the dinner in question and likely specifically one of the people commenting on the size of the calzone (I don't remember, but it sounds like something I'd say), I apologize for being insensitive.

    I honestly never knew that it is rude to pause conversation when someone is ordering. Especially in this setting, with a big party and traffic noise right outside the open windows, I thought it was polite not to provide additional distractions.

    But your post reminded me of the importance of considering events from other folks' perspectives. Thanks for that reminder!

  6. Thanks for apologizing, Angie, but there is no need! It wasn't any one person's fault--just the way things worked out. I think this is always more of a problem at a work dinner (as opposed to a social dinner) because people aren't as relaxed.

    Also, in all honesty, I exaggerated for the sake of the blog! Poetic license? Yes, please.