Monday, July 08, 2013

Sandwich Time, or a Total Cocktease

Hi there peeps. For the first time ever I'm posting something on the blog that isn't a restaurant review. I'm writing a novel. Here's the first chapter. Your thoughts?

The buzz surrounding this fucking place, Sandwich Tina, was intense even by Seattle standards, where the opening of every can of Vienna sausage gets a mention in the Times. So yeah, the buzz was comparable to the sound of a million bees each playing a specially designed kazoo, specially designed, of course, to be able to be played by a bee. Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square was the city’s de facto sandwich district: the area boasted shitloads of office workers, and of course these people needed to eat, and they were total fiends for sandwiches. Which made this neighborhood an obvious choice for proprietor Wilbur Tina to open his eponymous sandwich shop, Sandwich Tina.

Sandwich Tina was precious as fuck. It was twee, wry, and wizened, simultaneously old yet impishly young. If Bjork were a sandwich shop, she would be Sandwich Tina. To frame this as a convenient, SAT-style analogy, a normal sandwich shop is to clothes as Sandwich Tina is to doll clothes. Beneath Sandwich Tina’s handmade lace awning, hidden speakers dripped the kind of inoffensive music which is made by bearded fuckos and their greasy-haired girlfriends, and there are too many people in the band, and they play irregular instruments like the zither or the washboard, like a fucking jug band staffed by Muppets.

Inside Sandwich Tina, the preciousness intensified in concentric circles the closer you got to the counter, as if Dante wrote about Brooklyn instead of Hell. Every table was a carefully-sourced antique, charmingly wobbly and propped up with folded cardboard coasters. Atop each table was a handmade doily, crocheted by Wilbur Tina’s very own grandmother. Above each table hung either a dilapidated chandelier or a tortoiseshell lampshade, spotty and brown and as unappealing as fly paper, complete with those inefficient old-timey light bulbs. Decorating the walls were Ansel Adams prints and rustic kitchen utensils and apple dolls; the latter were attached here and there on Sandwich Tina’s walls, and while they might have exuded a certain charm during the day, the apple dolls’ withered and cramped faces were creepy at night, and absolutely terrifying after hours. Plus one of them eerily resembled George W. Bush.

Tina’s retarded d├ęcor obviously didn’t deter customers; it was packed daily, with lines out the door. Part of the allure was Wilbur Tina’s obsessive commitment to locally sourced ingredients. He made everything, including the cold cuts, bread, and even condiments himself, and almost all of the vegetables came from the Pike Place Market. If he could’ve found a sugar farmer in the Puget Sound region, he would’ve bought sugar for his irrationally popular clafoutis, but of course sugarcane, which is apparently much wiser than millions of people, refuses to live in the Pacific Northwest.

But today there was something going on across the street. It was such an intriguing development that no one could keep their attention from drifting to the window, to view what was going on: the bearded fucktard line cooks stopped adjusting their suspenders. The waitresses in their frumpy grandma clothes quit showing each other their tattoos. The customers ceased taking photos of their sandwiches with their iPhones, for possibly the first time ever. Even the apple dolls seemed to be checking out the flurry of activity.

Outside there was a film crew setting up. A white van was parked across the street, its side door slung open. Lots of black cables spewed out the side of the van like intestines, as though the vehicle had perpetrated some grave atrocity and had committed seppuku in disgrace. Maybe the van ran over some kittens. It was so ridden with guilt that suicide was the only option. People darted about, checking wiring and setting up lights and microphones and all the other shit necessary to make a movie or, in this case, a television program. And the focus of the filming was Sandwich Time.

Across the street from Sandwich Tina was its nemesis: Sandwich Time. “Purveyors of Fine Luncheons since 1897” read the antique shingle hanging from Sandwich Time’s door. This legacy lunch counter had been in business since the Klondike Gold Rush, when young entrepreneur Cornelius Armstrong came west to sell groceries and cheap lunches to prospectors headed north. When the Canadian government passed a law requiring gold miners to bring a year’s supply of food with them; Armstrong’s fortune was assured.

Antoine Lavoisier Armstrong was Cornelius Armstrong’s great-great-grandson, and Sandwich Time’s fifth proprietor. Times change. Sandwich Time had successfully adapted to the public’s changing appetites over 116 years in business, even weathering the disastrous 1970’s, when American food really tasted like shit. Lately, however, Sandwich Time really sucked. This was entirely Antoine’s fault. He was a total asshole and he didn’t know how to run a business. Which was why the film crew was setting up inside his restaurant.

Dominique Beretta was Seattle’s hottest celebrity chef. His show, “Dominique Republic” was HBO’s first and only cooking show. But this was a very special episode. Sandwich Time was a Seattle institution, and Dominique Beretta was trying to save it.

Inside Sandwich Time, cameras rolled as Beretta tired to whip Antoine into shape. Beretta wanted to start by sampling Sandwich Time’s menu. Cameras trailed him as he ventured into the restaurant and sat down. The place was deserted inside: an old lady sat in the corner cheerily chewing what appeared to be an egg salad sandwich. At another table a couple douchebags were vainly trying to position their plates in the most artful possible angle to record the meal on Instagram.

Once seated, Beretta glanced at the menu, which was waiting for him on the tabletop. He looked up, ready to order. He was immediately approached by a handsome man with a nose like a knife blade and a shark’s smile and a gunslinger’s dead eyes: this was Rex Boudreaux, Sandwich Time’s sommelier/ mixologist/ butcher. Rex never met an arm garter he didn’t like, and tonight in honor of Beretta’s visit he was wearing a vintage lacy red one. Looped twice around his left bicep, Rex had obtained the garter on auction: it once actually graced Jayne Mansfield’s upper thigh.

“What would you like, chef?” Rex asked. “The Tournedos Rossini Crostini is quite tasty.”

But Beretta already knew what he wanted. “Maybe something a little less extravagant, thanks,” he decided, handing the menu to Rex. “I’ll try the oxtail biscuit and the porchetta.”

Rex smiled thinly. “Both are delicious choices.” He backed away.

Beretta looked around the room and dictated his impressions to the cameras. “The dining room has seen better days, obviously. The fir floors are clean, but worn down.” He gestured to the art on the walls, “Oil paintings of pastoral countrysides, and long-dead lords and ladies in stupidly ornate gilt frames everywhere. Peeling Victorian wallpaper. The tables and chairs are all antiques, but…” he paused to wobble the table back and forth, “… the legs are as uneven as fuck. The pressed tin ceiling is cool but it looks like they painted over more times than the bike racks at my junior high school.” He quit looking around and gazed directly at the camera to render his verdict. “All in all a portrait of ruin, or a decadent descent into utter madness. This restaurant is the living embodiment of every Edgar Allen Poe story, condensed into a sandwich shop.”

Rex returned with Beretta's order, setting down a couple plates on the table and interrupting Beretta's reverie. “Quoth the raven," Rex sneered, "‘Eat your fucking sandwich.’”