Tony Abbott was having fun telling his story. “So I told her, ‘Rebecca, Sweetheart, I may not be the best man in bed, but I sure as hell can make a yummy grilled cheese sandwich!’ And the look in her eyes suggested that she didn’t believe me. So I put my pants on, turned off the dirty movie and marched to the kitchen to prove her wrong.”
Rick Smalls shook his head with a mixture of disgust and glee. “Tony, It’s admirable that you’re willing to own your shortcomings in the sack, but you cannot compete with me in the department of sandwich construction!”
Both men paused, gazing around their patrons at the bar of the Grasshopper Spot, who were watching the conversation in bemusement.
“Uh,” Tony stated, “Does anybody here need a refill?”
“I’ll have another Yeungling, but please don’t touch the glass using the hand you use to make grilled cheese.”
“Sorry about that sir.” Tony took the glass to refill it. “Rick, my sandwich isn’t just a grilled cheese. It’s a delirious concoction of sharp cheddar, aged provolone, and Irish grass-fed cow butter. I use exactly two tablespoons of butter, shred the cheese finely so it melts in just the right amount of time, and grill it for exactly seventy-five seconds on each side. The finest chefs in France couldn’t make it better than that.”
“How did Rebecca like the taste of it?” Christopher Maddox asked as he took a sip from his Great Green Grasshopper cocktail.
“She left the apartment while I was looking for the cheese grater. But, that’s not the point!”
“Did you seriously use the word ‘delirious’ to describe your grilled cheese?” Rick cocked his eyebrow at Tony.
“Well, dare I ask, how do you make it?”
“First off, deep six the Wonder Bread crap,” Rick held up a finger to everyone present at the bar, “Cuz only real bread works here. I like to go with Challah because it’s nice and thick. And then top that with Tillamook cheddar, sharp Vermont cheddar, and Gruyere. Add a dash of black pepper. Use whatever spread you want. Cook it on a low temperature so it doesn’t burn and you seal in that quality cheddar flavor. Let it cool, and eat it slowly. It’s like an orgasm right in your mouth.”
“Oh please,” Tony protested, “Mine is like an orgasm in your mouth!”
“Yeah, maybe one of those orgasms you had in high school, where it’s over in three seconds and you feel disgusted and ashamed afterward!”
“You talk a big game Rick, but mine is the people’s grilled cheese, and the people will agree after just one bite!”
“Then that’s a bet!” Rick held his arms up in the air. “You and me, in the kitchen! We are gonna make our own version of the grilled cheese, and these people are gonna vote on who’s is the best! The winner gets to take all the tips home tonight!”
“That’s probably super illegal, but okay!” Tony followed Rick out of the bar and into the kitchen, with the clientele quick to follow.
“You know guys, if you really care about having orgasms in your mouth,” Christopher tried to inform the crowd, “There’s a guy around the corner who can provide that for ten bucks.” He shut his mouth after getting dirty looks from the others who were heading into the kitchen.
“Okay, the rules of this contest are simple,” Donny Holcomb announced to the crowd gathered in the kitchen. “Both Rick and Tony are gonna cook their grilled cheese sandwiches within the time allotted. They both have a five-minute time limit, and neither one may interfere with the other’s cooking. Once they are done, their creations will be tasted by a panel consisting of me, our cook Eddy, and my fellow server, the one and only, Melanie. Are our contestants ready?”
Tony placed his hands on his hips and stood proud behind the metal prep table across from the grill. “Oh yeah! Let’s do this thing!”
Rick was equally game. “You all are gonna see who is the big grilled cheese around here!”
“Keep talking, big guy, when this is over I am gonna grill your cheese!” Tony regretted the words as soon as they shot out of his mouth and Rick responded with a stink-eye glance. “Uh, no I won’t, actually. I’m gonna grill your ass, is what I meant!”
Eddy stepped in front of the two contestants. “I want a good clean fight! No stepping on toes! No fires! No spilling ingredients! Remember, I have to clean up everything as part of my closing duties tonight! So let’s get it on!” He raised his arm sideways and cut the air downward with his open palm. The game was on.
Rick and Tony sprang into action, running over to the walk-in fridge to gather their ingredients. Fetching the cheeses and butter, then racing to the bread bin in the kitchen to obtain the slices they would need, they skidded haphazardly back to the grill.
Donny took it upon himself to provide color commentary for the benefit of those patrons who had trouble seeing the contestants in action. “The contestants are in the spreading phase now. Abbott is pursuing a strategy of careful, gentle strokes of butter on the bread. Smalls is going for more of an all-out blitz of butter on his slice. We’ll see how this plays out for him.”
“The cheeses are taking to the field now. Abbott is deploying his trusted and true squad of cheddar and provolone, making sure he’s got the right amount of each on his bread. Smalls has his twin cheddars and his Gruyere going and it’s anyone’s guess how well these will play together. He seems to have faith in his Challah bread to get the job done.”
“Donny, can you please shut up?” Rick called to his server as he readied his sandwich for the hot grill.
“Everything’s headed for the grill now. This is what will separate the men from the boys, as we see how their sandwiches respond under immense heat and pressure. Folks, this contest is brought to you by Bud Light. Please feel free to order some from your server as soon as we’re done here.”
Far removed from the proceedings, Jessie Rhine was stuck in the manager’s office looking over inventory sheets when the phone rang. She picked it up after the first ring.
“Thank you for calling The Grasshopper Spot. How may I help you?”
“Evening Jess! How is everything at the G-Spot?”
“Pretty much the same as you left it, Jack.” Jessie answered.
“Pretty much the same huh? You mean the G-Spot hasn’t seen any action since I left you in charge?”
“It’s seen a lot of action. In fact, sometimes it was a little too full, and things got pretty messy.”
“Yes, and hairy. Very hairy. Especially that night we had all those seamen come in from Navy Yard…”
“So how is your trip to Europe?”
“Honestly, this continent is not as pro-nudity as we Americans think it is.” Jack Steele shook his head, intoning into the receiver. “But overall it’s a fun trip, me and the missus.”
“You know what the best thing about Europe is? Those long loaves of bread they have. They’re shaped like thick sticks, you know, and they have hard crusts. We should have them here in America!”
“We do, Jack. It’s call French bread. You can buy it in just about any grocery store.”
“Seriously?” Jack’s eyebrow hinged upward. “And we were over in another country too – that one that’s shaped like a boot, you know, uh, Switzerland. Did some great skiing on those mountains!”
“You mean great skiing watching?”
“Fine, whatever. I’m sixty-one years old, my knee’s not the best anymore, big whoop. Anyway, those mountains are majestic. I would give my remaining testicle to buy a place on those beauties. And then we went to Italy. My God, it was amazing except for that one city that got hit by a hurricane. That place was awful. The streets were completely flooded, and everybody had to ride around in boats.”
Jessie stared blankly ahead. “Wow. Sure makes you appreciate living in America.”
“But the rest of the country was spared, and oh man, they have some of the best food and drink you’ll ever have. Like, think Domino’s Pizza, except that it doesn’t make you want to kill yourself. And there’s this very neat, exotic wine they have, it’s a white wine, uh, pino greejio, I think it’s called – “
“Pino grigio? Jack, that’s not an exotic wine. We serve at least five glasses of it every day.”
Jack froze, staring into the phone in indignation. “We do?! How come I was not kept abreast of this development?!”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that I needed to inform you of that. I kind of just assumed every bar owner knows about the existence of pino grigio.”
“You need to tell me these things! I’m the boss! Need the info! Now, can you tell me what the POS numbers were for last week?”
“I sent those to you a few hours ago. Check your Gmail.”
Jack opened the first Excel sheet and gasped. “We made over two billion dollars in the past month?!”
“No. That’s the restaurant’s phone number. How much we made in total sales this past month is at the top left.”
Jack squinted at the number she was referring to. “Oh. Man that sucks. That number is much lower.”
“We still had a pretty decent month in sales, especially liquor. Per customer our averages are going up, and the labor percentage is pretty much where we want it. We hired some new folks recently and they’re also working out pretty well.”
“You know what really might send this restaurant towards that magical two-billion-dollar mark? Higher customer turnover. People pay their money, they get their food or drink, and then they’re outta here. Then more people come in and the process repeats. More money, everybody’s happy!”
“Jack this ain’t a fast food joint,” Jessie protested. “People don’t just come in here to grab a bite to eat. They come here to socialize, be entertained, bond with people, have a good time. We can’t be rushing people out of here.”
“Why not? Once people pay their tab, we ain’t got no more use for them. They just take up space.”
“No, they don’t. They make this a fun place to hang out. That brings us good word of mouth, more customers coming in, and more sales. Everybody’s happy. Didn’t you ever have a watering hole you frequented, where everyone knew your name, and you were friendly with the other patrons and even the employees?”
Jack pondered for a second. “Come to think of it, when I was in the Navy, we did have this place we’d like to go when I was stationed in Carolina. It was called the Rusty Anchor. Real dive bar, but man was the beer good.”
“That’s it? Don’t you remember any of the people there who made it special?”
“I don’t remember a lot of them, and that’s how I know that place was special,” Jack laughed. “Because when you’re partying with your chums and downing liquors until 2 AM, you’re not doing it to make memories. You’re doing it to enjoy the moment. It’s about living for the now, not for the future.”
“So you see what we’re going for,” Jessie answered. “We want our guests to have that same atmosphere of fun and camaraderie that you had back in the 1800s. Who cares if we don’t have any money in the future? What matters is that we’re having fun now.”
“Hey I like that,” Jack became quieter. “That’s how we should market this place. ‘Forget the Future. Enjoy the Present. Drink Lots and Lots of Alcohol.’ That’s what our slogan should be!”
“I will put it before subcommittee. Have a good night.” Jessie hung up the phone and breathed heavily, hoping that whatever memories she would have in the future, they would not be of that conversation.
“Alright, both of the contestants have finished their creations,” Donny announced to the kitchen. “Now we will begin with: the tasting. Judges, ready?”
“Ready!” The three judges yelled in unison.
“We will start with Tony’s sandwich. Judges – dig in!” Donny, Eddy and Melanie all took pieces from Tony’s creation and munched while he beamed with delight by the grill.
“Well, how do you like it?” He asked.
“Tony,” Melanie said as soon as she finished chewing and swallowing, “The cheese is melted just right. The flavor is rich and intense. My only concern is maybe, waiting a little too long to flip it on the grill, because the amount of caramelization on one side was a little much.”
“It’s a delectable taste and I really enjoy the blending of the different cheese flavors together,” Eddy said. “I think this sandwich is a real winner.”
Tony nodded and smiled, certain that victory would be his. Donny then invited the judges to share in Rick’s sandwich that was newly hot off the grill.
“Rick, this sandwich is soo creamy,” Melanie oozed while she was still chewing. “It’s like, there’s a party of cheese in my mouth. Very tasty.”
Eddy was equally impressed. “Very good, great idea to use a thicker cut of bread. The texture is crisp and the crumb is hearty. I think the crust could have been browned around the edges a little more, but this is a quality concoction.”
Donny clasped his hands together. “Good job judges, now let’s huddle together and figure out who the winner is – “
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!” Jessie yelled as she walked into the kitchen. “Why are you all in here and why are all these people in the kitchen?”
“We’re having a contest to see who makes the best grilled cheese sandwich!” Donny told her. “There’s still some of both sandwiches left if you wanna help us judge the winner!”
“Let me get this straight. Instead of serving our guests while you’re on the clock, you all are hanging out in the kitchen, wasting food and allowing the guests to come in here, all for some stupid competition?”
Everyone in the room was silent. Melanie gulped as she could practically smell the write up coming her way.
Jessie walked over to the remains of the sandwiches and took a bite of Rick’s. She studiously chewed and swallowed, then did the same with Tony’s sandwich. She then gazed around the room, looking at all the formerly eager-looking patrons who now seemed scared and uncomfortable.
“If you’re gonna do this,” she continued, “you seriously need to salt the butter. It just tastes all-around bland.”
Jessie grabbed several slices of cheddar and two slices of bread. “I’m gonna show you guys what it takes to make a real cheese sandwich. No one is the winner until I’ve thrown my hat in the ring! And the rest of you, if you’re gonna be in here watching, there’s a two-drink minimum.”
Cheers erupted all around as Jessie finished assembling her sandwich and threw it onto the grill. Even Tony and Rick joined in the revelry.
“Forget the Future. Enjoy the Present. Drink Lots and Lots of Alcohol!” Jessie screamed, as Donny took that as an invitation to return to the bar and offer more libations to the excited spectators.