I was 19 years old and working at my first waitress job at a restaurant in my hometown in Illinois called Ground Round. By the name you can tell it wasn't vegan. I worked for a manager who was a pervert. (Not too put too fine a point on it.) He liked to show porno movies after hours to teenage girls. The Ground Round was known for the peanut shells on the floor. This was in the 1970s before everyone was freaked out about peanut allergies and apparently there wasn't any sexual harassment laws,either. Heaping bowls of peanuts were served to each table and the shells just tossed to the floor. Besides providing further sex education where Conant High School left off, and coming home with peanuts caked to my shoes, I learned to love Sangria.
Growing up in a middle class neighborhood of mostly white people, I found Sangria to be a most exotic drink. It conjured images of blue skies and white sand, women in red dancing with castanets and men with thin moustaches and tight pants. (Or maybe I got that last image from the prono movies.) Anyway I loved drinking the Sangria at The Ground Round (no matter I was under age) and to this day enjoy a cold glass of this delicious elixir. An added bonus is the fruit which helps me meet my daily requirements.
My mother served a lot of meat and potatoes. That's what mothers did in middle class America in the 1960s. To this day I can't eat mashed potatoes due to the fact I ate them 365 days a year as a kid. I never ate fried shrimp until I was 20 years old and living in Denver which tells you about my culinary expertise. Shrimp? Fried? Amazing.
One of the restaurants I worked in Colorado, called Toby Jugs, served french onion soup. It was hot and gooey and rich. I used to eat bowls and bowls of the soup. For free. I grew up on Campbell's Tomato Soup. I didn't know French Onion soup existed.
Toby Jugs also had a oyster bar that I thought was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen in my life. It helped me become a vegetarian, all that watching people slurp those mucus membrane looking things. I don't care if it is supposedly an aphrodisiac. Those slimy oysters would never get me in the mood. However, memories of the French Onion soup still make me swoon. The soup was one of the reasons I was disappointed when the owner, yet another creepy guy, didn't pay his taxes and the restaurant got shut down one day, an eviction noticed slapped to the front door. Which really bummed out my friend Debbie Kraft, who was also working there, as her favorite pair of shoes got locked in the restaurant, too. She never did see those shoes again, and I never had another bowl of Toby Jug's French Onion Soup. Pity.
For a few weeks I had a job at an Italian restaurant in downtown Denver. I don't remember the food, but I do remember the smell. I liked working there just for the smell. It wafted outside the restaurant, and the minute I would walk through the doors it would envelop me. The smell transported me to Rome. Surrounded by the scent of rich sauces and fragrant bread I felt warm and safe, if that makes sense. The smell of the restaurant was like eating the best meal of my life without the calories. I keep hoping I will smell that scent again. Guess I'll just have to go to Europe!
For a year I was a waitress at Marie Callenders. I fell in love with rhubarb pie there. Not strawberry rhubarb, but the tangy sweet rhubarb as a solo act. Just writing about the pie now makes me want a slice. However, I did not fall in love with working at Marie Callender's or the relentlessly intense managers. I was working five nights, going to college during the day, and I took off one day during Spring Break.
The manager, an angry little man, scolded me. "This job must be the most important thing in your life," he said. Not the right thing to tell a 26-year-old college student, especially because serving pie to old ladies didn't seem to have a lot of promise for a bright future. I quit a few weeks later and started working at an Elks Lodge which may not have been the wisest career choice, but at least no more old ladies ordering pie. Now I might be considered an old lady who orders pie.
Where I work now I'm known for not eating the food. My dietary preferences have changed through the years and now I prefer tofu and whole grains. Besides, cheese and pie and alcohol can pile on the pounds.
Still, if I was told to pick the foods for my last meal on earth I would ask that I could eat at that heavenly smelling Italian restaurant. I would drink tall glasses of icy sangria and eat bowls of French Onion Soup and thick slabs of rhubarb pie. I would die a happy woman. I might even request one of those old porno films from The Ground Round to be shown. Just for laughs. But no oysters allowed.