It was tart, the kind of tart that puckered your lips and wrinkled your nose. It was sweet too I suppose, but it was one Splenda packet in your morning coffee sweet, not enough to balance out the sour citrus notes of the lemon.. but it was ripe with pulp, something I always enjoyed, it showed that it was organic, and some work had been put in to prepare it. That was the first sip, gurgling in the back of my throat as I searched my mind for other ways to describe what I was tasting.
I spit it into the grass from where I stood on the sidewalk, twirled the drink in my hand, and watched the floating remnants of fruit dance around inside the red plastic cup. The liquid was mostly transparent, with a faint yellow tint to it, nothing special in the way of presentation.. but for the price (about fifty cents) one wouldn't expect much more.
I set it down on the small homemade table that also doubled as a hand painted sign, it had a quaint simplicity to it, a style that one might say was charming, or rustic.
I pulled out my pocket notebook, and recorded my findings. Each word flowed eloquently from the end of my fountain pen to the page. I tucked them both back into the breast pocket of my Campfire Grey, Marcos Manzinni, office-casual dress shirt. Then I pulled out a stack of business cards from the back pocket of my Blizzard-White, above-the-knee, vintage running shorts. I shuffled them theatrically, took two of them, and put the rest away. I held the cards out to the proprietors of the pop-up concession. "The full review will be on my blog, you should check it out, maybe you'll be able to recognize your mistakes and grow from them." I said.
They looked up at me, fury in their little eyes, one of them took the cards and disposed of them in my half-finished cup. "Get the hell out of here you creep!" Their mother yelled at me, visibly shaking. I found it best not to argue, and just leave; there were other lemonade stands in town, and one of them was bound to appreciate my professional insight, I hoped as much at least, nobody seemed to understand what it was like to be a professional food blog critic, often times it was thankless work, but somebody had to do it..
I stepped off the curb, popped my Red and white, 10-speed, Cycler Pro off of it's chrome kickstand, and pedaled my way down the street in search of inspiration; I had a reputation of posting up to three reviews a day, so I had to keep up the pace if I didn't want to disappoint my fans.
I pedaled through downtown, passed all the 19th century homes turned storefronts. I stopped by "The House of Flora" and admired the colorful, aromatic arrangements of Roses, Lavender, and Gardenias, 8/10.
Just after that was "Twin Rivers" an antique book store that was a bit too cramped for my liking, my claustrophobia never allowed me more than a couple minutes to browse through their worn collection, 4/10.
Directly across the street was a cozy Cafe called "Carrie's'' that made a hell of a pour over brew, which I'd given a glowing review. The owner was a kind elderly woman whom the restaurant was named after, energetic for her age, always quick with wit, and generous with conversation, 9/10.
Just beside her was "Big Weenie" a hotdog eatery that felt like a food truck, and a New York pizzeria had joined forces. That's where I'd be having my lunch. I reviewed Big Weenie on my blog before, a 6/10 review for their chili-coated curly fry sampler, and a 2/10 review for something they called the Slop Dog; I generously gave them the two stars simply because of how aptly named the dish was. After that review I swore to myself I wouldn't return, but I'd seen that they were introducing the new arrival of their Big Bacon Wrapped Turkey Dogs, and just like that they sucked me back in, it was my duty to review all that I could, I had a service to provide, and my artistic integrity to uphold, so I parked my bike on the curb, and in I walked.
DING, went the small silver bell over the door. There were already plenty of customers, all but one of the tables were occupied, but that was fine by me; the bar top was free, and those seats were my favorites, they made me feel like I was eating in an old mom and pop diner back home.
The server began approaching me, but was intercepted by the owner who pointed him in the direction of another table that sat a family of five, all enjoying their messy meals. "Why do you always come back here? You clearly don't like the food man.." The owner asked me, his voice already rife with irritability. How could I explain my position to someone who wouldn't understand? I couldn't, so I didn't, I just pulled my notebook from my pocket, set it on the bar, and placed my order. "I'll have the big bacon wrapped turkey dog, and a water with lemon." I told him. "One number 8 and a water.. tap!" He yelled back to the kitchen, before shaking his head as he walked away.
The restaurant wasn't filthy, but something told me it'd been a while since they received a visit from a health inspector, another noble profession I'd once considered.. The smell of cooking fats and meats did set one's sights high, but it was only one small part of the dining process, taste was far more important, and so was presentation, which I'd already witnessed on the plates around me, and I was never impressed.
I listened to Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus play through for the second time on the jukebox. Some kids sitting in the corner must have put it on repeat, they were collectively trying to hide their laughter, but the joke was on them, because it was one of my favorite songs. I hummed along to it while I waited, and made a note of the jukebox's wonderful selection.
Another high school aged server brought me back a chapstick stained glass of cloudy, egg scented tap water. "No lemon?" I asked, trying to let my voice reflect my disapproval. She just shrugged, and drug herself to another table. I made a note of that as well, if they wanted to lose points on their review it was on them, I just needed the water in case of a choking hazard. If I wanted something good to drink I wouldn't have stopped there, I'd have kept going down the road until I got to Cosmic Cocktails, they had a frozen Caribbean Custard Daiquiri that was to kill for.
Several tables cleared out before I saw the server coming back with my food, minus points for slow service. The presentation was actually quite good, the pinkish-brown of the hotdog was cooked to just the right shade. The oily fat of the bacon glistened, and sizzled like a fajita as it was placed in front of me. The yellow mustard drizzled perfectly, curving down the meats like a river of flavor. All held together by an under toasted bun that looked like it would be just the right texture.
The server turned to leave. "Wait." I said, stopping her in her tracks. "Can I get some silverware?" "Buddy it's a hotdog.." she said, staring at me, dead behind the eyes. After a moment of silence she sighed and pulled out a roll of silverware from her apron, and gave it to me. "Thank you." I whispered. "Enjoy." She said, and turned toward the kitchen. "I hope so." I said. She stopped for a second like she wanted to respond, but then kept walking, muttering to herself.
I folded a napkin into my collar, and placed another on my lap. I cut at the hotdog, dissected it with my knife, and reassembled each ingredient onto my fork. I breathed it in, wafting the sweet smokey fragrance into my nostrils. Then, I took a bite. It. Was. Delicious.
The leanness of the turkey paired perfectly with the fatty gristle of the bacon. The sour taste of the mustard complimented the saltiness of the dish. The bacon was crunchy, yet melted away each bite, and blended with the turkey, both of which were contrasted by the tough but soft, toasted bun. It tasted heavy, but left one feeling light, like you could eat a second, or a third, and delightedly so.
I finished every last bite, wiped my mouth, and made my final notes. "Everything turn out alright?" The server asked upon returning. "Better than alright my dear!" I exclaimed. "Please could I give my compliments to the chef?!" I asked. "I guess so." She shrugged. "Tanner!" She yelled back to the kitchen. "This guy wants to talk to you!" Out from the kitchen stepped a young man roughly the same age as my server, shaggy red hair put up in a hair net, glasses steamed from the grill, an apron hanging from his neck stained with charred black streaks all but covered his Guns N Roses t-shirt.
I stood, and clapped, the rest of the restaurant's patrons failed to join in. "You cooked this.. this.. masterpiece?" I asked him motioning to my empty plate. He looked at the plate, then back to me. "I cook the hotdogs.." He said, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
"That was the most delectable.. No! The most scrumptious.. Nay! The GREATEST hotdog I have ever eaten!" I said, tears of joy welling up in my eyes.. "Okay.." He responded. Such humility! Such poise! Like Michelangelo being told he did a "good job" on the Sistine Chapel! I laughed and clapped again.
"I've gotta get back to the kitchen sir.." He said, pointing his thumb behind him like a hitchhiker. "Yes! Yes! Don't let me keep you!" I pulled out one of my cards. "Please take one, you'll find my review quite flattering! I even have a feeling a 'Chef of the Week' blurb is in order for you.. Tanner was it?" "Yeah I'm Tanner." He replied, pointing to the name tag just beneath his apron.
"Here before you go.." I said, fishing a five dollar bill out of my pocket. "This is for you." "Oh, sweet, thanks man." He said as he crumpled up the money and shoved it in his pocket. "You have a gift Tanner, don't let it go to waste." I said, giving him two thumbs up, the physical representation of the review to come. "Have a good day sir." He said returning the gesture.
"So.. how was it?" The owner asked me, arms crossed. "It was the best hotdog I've ever eaten!" I told him. "I knew it! I knew you'd like that!" He exclaimed with a big grin on his face, arms uncrossed, hands clasped together. That caught me off guard. "I thought you said my blog was stupid?.." I said, clutching onto my notebook like a blanket. "Yeah.. I did.. But you gotta understand this restaurant is my life, I put everything I had into this place.. I love cooking shows, and food blogs.. and the first time you came in here and gave me your card I was excited, I felt like a real chef, stayed up all night waiting to read the review.." This was a side of him I hadn't seen before, his tough exterior shedding before me. "And you tore my shit apart.. the service, the decoration, the food.. everything.. that didn't feel good.." He said, his big grin faded, replaced with a look of saddened disappointment. "I.. I'm sorry.." I said, saddened myself, I was used to receiving dirty looks, or harsh words, but no one had ever laid it out that way before. "That was never my intention.. I'm sorry.." I told him, as I hung my head, staring at the bar.
"Well.. thanks for saying that.. Made me work harder though I guess, tryin' to prove you wrong.." He said, his grin returning. "And you certainly did." I told him, returning the smile. I pulled my phone out, and opened my camera. "Would you mind?" I asked him. "What's that?" He asked. "A photo to go with the review." I explained. "Oh yeah! No problem! Can you get my kids in it too?" He asked excitedly. "Of course! The more the merrier!" I responded. "Come on you all! We're taking a picture!" He shouted back to the kitchen. Both of the servers walked out, and Tanner poked his head around the corner hesitantly before joining them. I was slightly embarrassed. I hadn't realized before, they were all his kids, a family operation, that in itself was worth some points for the blog, feel good small-town kind of vibes that really resonated with people, and I'd overlooked it. Seeing them all together now I could clearly see the resemblance.
"Everyone say weenie!" I said holding the camera up to them. "Weenie!" They all said in unison, smiling. I looked at the picture to make sure it was okay, nobody blinking. I would never claim to be a photographer, but it was good, a big happy family, perfect for the review.
"Alright, thanks everyone! I better run, I have a review to write." I told them. "If you don't mind me asking.. what are you thinkin'?" The owner asked. "I've never given a ten out of ten review before.. but this seems like the perfect way to start." I told him. "Thank you! We really appreciate that!" He said shaking my hand a bit too hard. "Keep up the good work." I told him. "We're gonna try." He responded still shaking my hand vigorously.
I returned home, excited to start typing. As I walked through the door I was greeted by the harsh voice of my mother. "Where have you been?" She demanded. "Town mother, researching for the blog." I told her, voice slightly raised so she could hear me from where she sat in the living room. I heard the creaking of her chair as she got up, and her heavy footsteps approaching me in the foyer, cornering me, awakening some instinct in me that told me to walk back out the front door, but I didn't, I just stood frozen and waited for her. "The blog, the blog, four years of college, and all you do is worry about that darn blog.." She said cynically.
"And you went out in that?" She asked. "Well yeah, I.." "Look like garbage." She interjected. I didn't respond, I just looked down at my clothes, wondering how one could think they were anything but fashionable. "Why don't you make yourself useful and wash my car, I need you to drive me to Mary Anne's later." She said, shooing me out of the door. "I washed it yesterday.. I think it looks.." "Filthy, disgusting, quit making excuses." She interjected again.. "Yes mother." I said as I walked to the garage to retrieve the buckets, and wash rags, there was no use arguing with her, the blog would have to wait, for that next hour I just typed it in my head; Big Weenies Big New Hit, 10/10..