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June 5, 2009

The server who gives out advice



Bucky raises an important and difficult question in his guest post today, and my only concern with it is why he thought he wouldn't eventually be writing about every food-related event in his life for Dining@Large. 

Wow. This is one ugly photo. He must have been taking lessons from jl.

Here's Bucky. EL

So, we were driving down the coast last week, on our spur-of-the-moment vacation, and Mrs. Bucky spied a little café that looked out over the beach in Newport, Oregon. 

“Why don’t we stop for lunch,” she instructed. ...

I should point out that when we take a driving trip, she is the Navigator while I’m just the Captain.  Since we were in Oregon, I started calling her Sacajawea.  After about the 50th time, she started getting irritated which, of course, made me do it another 50 or so times.  But I digress.

We went into this charming little place and perused the menu. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, because I knew it would be made with Tillamook cheese.  I don’t remember what Mrs. Bucky ordered because, at the time, I didn’t think I would eventually be writing about it, so I didn’t take any notes.  And my memory is beginning to fail me at times.

Where was I?  Oh yeah…

When the waitress brought our lunches, I did what I always do — always have done, since I was a little kid and old enough to manage myself at meal times.  I salted my grilled cheese sandwich.

Whoa. The waitress practically tore my arm off, grabbing that salt shaker out of my hand.  “What are you doing?” she…uh…well, “asked” is too mild of a verb, while “screamed” overstates it.  And then — AND THEN — she said, “You don’t need that salt.”

Sacajawea just sat there with that smirky look on her face — yes, that one — because she has been telling me that same thing since the very first time she ever saw me eat a grilled cheese sandwich many, many years ago.

What I want to know is, should a server ever advise a customer on condiments? 

(What I don’t care to know is what you think about salting a grilled cheese sandwich.  Yes, I am aware that the amount of salt I eat will likely shorten my life by a couple of years.  But this country is going to hell in a hand basket, and I figure I wouldn’t have enjoyed those couple of years all that much anyway.)

(Photo by Uncle Larry, who apologizes that it’s fuzzy.  He was sitting in the cramped back seat; and Bucky wouldn’t stop on the busy highway so he could get out and take a good, clear picture of the Tillamook Cheese factory in Tillamook, Oregon.)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:06 PM | | Comments (97)


At first I thought this place was a factory and not a cafe.

I don't believe I have ever had a waitress give me advise. However, I ate lunch one day at the old Capitol City Brewing Co in Harborplace. Think I ordered some type of burger and fries. Well the serving was hugh, and I was hungry, so I ate everything. When the waitress came to remove the plate, she pronounced very loudly and with a tone of disgust, "I cannot believe you ate the entire thing!" At first, felt emabarrassed. But then looking at her, she weight all of 98lbs, so maybe she had some issues...

Here's the key question: did you taste the sandwich before you salted it?

There's a famous anecdote about salting-before-tasting involving Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Rickover was considering two Navy captains for command of a nuclear submarine. He interviewed them both over dinner, and noticed that one salted his food before tasting while the other tasted and then salted. Rickover gave the command to the latter, on the theory that anybody who was reckless enough to add salt to something he hadn't tasted was too reckless to be trusted with a nuclear sub.

I kind of like that photo.

When we were living in Switzerland I once asked the grandmotherly waitress for the salt. She brought it, but grumbled "Aber NICHT GESUND!"

And that''s why Bucky never had his own battleship.

If you're still on your trip and find yourself a bit north, near Lincoln City, stop at the Otis Cafe for breakfast in (of course) Otis, OR.

Jim That anecdote is more commonly attributed to Henry Ford. I wasn't at either dinner so I can't confirm more than that.

Sorry - Just noticed that your trip was last week. You'll have to work in a stop at the Otis Cafe next time.

Wow... Mrs. Bucky lets you be Captain? In my case, I'm more like a Midshipman that's been given the privilege of steering the ship.

I may cringe (in fact, I may even shudder) when I see you salt your grilled cheese sandwich but never would I tell you not to do so. Though, I might go back to the kitchen and tell the cook with the really big knife...

It's your sandwich enjoy it however you'd like.

“Why don’t we stop for lunch,” she instructed. ...

Great line, Bucky. She poses a question, and you correctly interpret it as a command.

Maybe the waitress was very proud of the local cheese and thought it perfect just the way it was?

Ripping the shaker out of your hand is a bit over the top. No doubt Donny B would have deducted major points off the tip.

As to your question, I think a server should keep their comments about condiments to themselves unless asked.

I've been to a few steak restaurants where they take it as an insult if you get the steak cooked above medium. I was once suggested to "try" it at medium rare.


When I was in the Navy, and it wasn't that long ago, a low to middle-ranking enlisted person (usually a boatswain's mate) actually steered the ship. They acted on the commands of the Officer of the Deck. The captain stays in his stateroom and usually only visits the bridge if something interesting/dangerous is going on.

I think that a server would be perceptive and helpful to make a suggestion regarding condiments. However, I think taking the salt out of your hand was going a bit too far.

I didn't know that Henry Ford had any thing to do with appointing nuclear sub captain??? LOL

That was excessively spirited serving, Bucky, but I had a similar thing happen my first time in a Vietnamese restaurant.

My then girl friend and I walked in to stares, then a flurry of activity as they found the English menu. I carefully read it, hoping to find anything that made sense. I didn't, so I smiled, and fell back on tiny ethnic restaurant technique number 4 - just point at something randomly.

This got me a fragrant, lovely bowl of noodles and soup, probably pho. It was delicious. However, there was this tantalizing bottle of red stuff with a green top. When I picked it up, about 8 Vietnamese elderly ladies appeared out of nowhere, and shouted, "No, no! Too hot for you!"

Well, I have this minor issue with the word "no," as some of you may have noticed (that is also how I ended up in the Army, but that is another story. Same girl friend, though). I put a little bit in my soup, stirred and tasted. It added even more deliciousness, so I spooned in another teaspoon or so of what I later discovered was Huy Fong chili garlic paste, and crawled up on to my own personal food bliss cloud.

It was another 20 years before I had Vietnamese food again, but I still love it. Looking around, I see that I have only 3 large jars of Huy Fong chili garlic paste. Time to renew my stock, I think.

I don't blame those ladies. They were trying to save the silly Anglo kid from second degree burns. They didn't know I was fresh off a year of Southern Indian food.

You must have the most diverse palate of anyone I've ever encountered. Good for you!

Owl runs a very close second.

Jim asked: did you taste the sandwich before you salted it? No, I didn't. I understand that theory and I guess I generally taste something before I salt it. But after decades of experience with grilled cheese sandwiches, I feel quite confident that the chef who prepared them likely didn't salt them.

Tim - we went through Otis, of course. I'll make a note and next time we go to the Oregon coast, I'll try it. Next time, I'm pretty sure we're going to stay in Lincoln City rather than in Seaside.

PCB Rob - What's the point of being Captain if you don't get to drive the ship? I'd be wanting to see how fast it could go, and if I could make it jump over waves and stuff.

Sam - you were supposed to be

In this area, Tillamook cheese is revered and held in the highest regard. It's like sacrilege to put salt on it ! I'm sure that's why she let you have it with both barrels.... not the salt itself, but desecrating our sacred cheese :)

I like the juxtaposition of boat and pavement.

Mitzi, I take it you are from the Oregon coast?

I like the juxtaposition of boat and pavement.

I liked it when Uncle Larry said to the building, "Say cheese!".

And it did. And not just any cheese.

Lissa, your girlfriend got you to join the Army? Well, I'm going to have to ask you to tell that story. Ba dum Bum!

Oy, I'm going to need some new writers. My material is about as dated as the menu at Sabatino's.

RoCK, it is simple. My girlfriend forbade me to enlist.

I enlisted the next day.

I have this little problem with authority, you see. Which was a bit of an issue in Basic Training.

Bossy servers never pull that with me. I find that the yentas are always women and many,many times, they want to give special attention to the man with whom I dine. I swear it's a bizarre form of flirting.

What I want to know is, should a server ever advise a customer on condiments?

Yes ... especially when it involves ketchup on hot dogs or anything but cheese and a tomato on a Louis Lunch hamburger sandwich in New Haven.

Lissa, the thought of you in the Army boggles my mind. I would have expected you to flunk out even faster than I would have if I'd been foolish enough to try something like that.

Question authority!

5 months, Hal. Which was longer than your cruise .

You'd probably have made it if the Army Band needed a bass mandola.

So how did you get out, Lissa?

Ketchup on hotdogs is the only way to go. Free your mind and your wiener will follow. Kaiser WIlhelm said that.

I think Eve thought you were dying, PCB. First JMc bumps off RoCK.

Ketchup is evil. On anything.

BG, my arches fell and my knees blew out. What happened above the neck wasn't pretty, either. So, Uncle Sam invited me to go back to Massachusetts.

Lissa, no one gave me orders on the cruise. Like BG, I'm curious how you escaped from the army, though. Do they have a "this was a horrible mistake" clause in the contract?

Ketchup isn't evil, just often inappropriate.

You are right, Hal. Ketchup isn't evil. Just people who brandish it.

Ketchup is an important ingredient in the barbecue sauce I make for ribs.

My friend Whiskey-Foot caused me to deconstruct ketchup in my head, so I can't eat it anymore, except when BG gets fries from the rib place. Mustard on a hotdog? I think not. I still stick with a tomato-based product like sriracha. Yes, I know that's a chili-based product but it's still red. Putting mustard on a hotdog is like putting Old Bay on a crab cake

I don't put ketchup on hotdogs, but I will put a ketchup based relish on them, like the Works topping at Pollock Johnny's. I'm pretty sure that is just ketchup, peppers and onions.

Sriracha is too sweet. Mustard on hot dogs is great.

Mustard and relish (dill or sweet) on my hot dog.

I've never had relish, although now that I think about it, maybe I would like it. I have so many things to do before I die.

Sriracha is sweet?

Mustard is the answer. Owl, where is your German heritage here?

Mustard is an obnoxious flavor. That makes sense since it's in Old Bay with it's even more obnoxious friend celery seed.

A good mustard is a fine thing.

I grew up with that nasty yellow mustard. Totally without nuance.

Try a nice grainy Dijon-style mustard. Or even Gulden's.

Hal's got the right idea.

Or try some deli mustard that has horseradish in it, I've got some in my fridge now and its great.

On my hot dog it is "nasty yellow mustard" with sweet relish and finely chopped red onion.

Why not just horseradish and noit that saucy thing. Horse raidsh straight up nice and thick pour some of the juice into the bun. And some kethup,

What's the deal? You can't get real sinus busting horseradish around here. The stuff I had as a kid would almost make you hallucinate. Yes! This stuff I can eat with a spoon.

You know what would be a good hot dog set up: horse radish, mango chutney and sliced fresh jalapenos.

Owlie, considering that you grew up with COLA brand cola, it stands to reason that your mustard didn't have nuance.

Now, if you are looking for nuance, pick up a pail of Fallot and Cie's dijon. You can get at a William Sonoma. It's a little pricey, but I swear it makes everything taste better. It is one of my few condiment splurges.

All this talk of hot dogs and condiments is gonna change my dinner plans.

Ok, late to the party, but must weigh in! Ketchup! Heinz Ketchup specifically. Hamburgers, hotdogs, sausage, just about everything goes with it. But not steak.

Unless it's my beef strogonoff recipe which calls for it. And, yes, I do like beef strogonoff. The twist is that I make mine with filet so that the meat is tender enough to eat as oppossed to the sirloin it is usually made with.

BTW, Owl, many year round produce markets sell whole horseradish root (Cross street used to, not sure about now) and if you grate some of that you will have the sinus blasting heat generating experience you are seeking.

I got a whole horseradish root from the ghetto Safeway on Harford Rd in January but it was withered and sere, no juice or punch. Disgusting. No doubt way leftover from Jew Year's Eve. A bitter hebr indeed.

Try the H Mart in Catonsville for whole root horseradish.

Owlie, step back from the religion.

Speaking of salt reminds me of this one time I was on a trip with one of my friends...

We stopped for lunch at a little diner right off the road and when my food came I began to salt my burger. In doing so, I spilled the salt. Apparently, this is bad luck, unless you put some into your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder. So I did this, but the salt shaker hit this scary trucker guy in the head. He came over and spat right in my burger.

I showed him, though. Right afterwards, we tricked the waitress into making him pay for our meal. It was a good one.

Bird, you're being an ass. Back away from religion.

No offense intended. That's what my Jewish friends playfully call Rosh Hashanah Seder. Offense against Safeway for selling old horseradish intended.

There's a guy at the downtown farmers market that has killer horseradish. It's a small stand a few stalls away from the dairy trailer.

Owlie, there is a difference between a member of a group using that kind of language and someone outside using it.

I was pushing it by telling the dyslexic rabbi joke. You've crossed, bro.

Okay substutute Jewish New Years Eve. Ridiculous.

One word for hot dogs: Sauerkraut. A hot dog without sauerkraut is like a beer without foam - flat and tasteless.

I've heard the story many times about the salt and the promotion but I think that there are those times that everyone has that we just KNOW what we want. For instance, I will always pepper my potatoes regardless. I will always put cream in my coffee without tasting it first. Even if I were following a recipe (a rare occurrence) I would never think to prepare meat without garlic. That's a given for any recipe, regardless of how well esteemed the chef who wrote it was or how it is "intended" to taste. So there. I'm guilty too.

BTW, I still find the love affair with salt to be overdone. I think it's down right weird when I go to Iowa and see people put salt in their draft beer.

I thought it was a given that good sauerkraut on a hot dog was a given. Or kimchi.

Ketchup! Heinz Ketchup specifically. Hamburgers, hotdogs, sausage, just about everything goes with it. But not steak.

Joyce, I'm late in commenting, but props to you for Heinz ketchup. I will avert my eyes and ignore the part re: b--f s--------f .

Harry, I think I saw something about that on Dateline or somwhere. Were you on television?

This guy I work with puts mayo on his hotdog, and maybe some ketchup too.


Who made up the rule that hot dogs shouldn't have (fill in the blank)? Was there a vote?

I don't eat ketchup on my hot dogs, but I don't see any reason why somebody shouldn't. And mayo? I'd never do that either, but I can't think of a good reason not to.

I neatly solve this problem by avoiding hot dogs on general principles.

A delicacy we learned about from teaching in an all-boys' private high school (and don't knock it until you've tried it): french fries with mayo instead of ketchup.

In Utah (and maybe other places, but Utah is where I've seen it used almost universally) fries are served with "frysauce" which is one part ketchup and two parts mayo.

(Almost universally = everywhere but McDonald's, for some reason.)

Buckminster: Cool. Thousand Island dressing might work, too.

Cleatus, I believe that is how the Belgians eat frites. With real mayo, it is very nice.

I "caught" the mayo habit for my french fries in Germany, some 35 years ago. Still do it (sometimes alternating with ketchup).

Bob is right, of course. There's no good reason to be offended by what someone else puts on their hotdog, unless they try to force you to do the same.

Although I couldn't do it today if I tried, one of the best hotdogs ever in my youth was from the Home Depot cart guy. It was everything on it, which consisted of, 1 bun, 1 dog, ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, chili, cheese and sauerkraut. It rocked and remains in my memory as best hotdog ever!

Oh and, YP - sorry about the b--f s---------f mention!

I still like Icelandic hot dogs the best, with crunchy fried onions and potato salad.

Potato salad on the hot dogs, or on the side?

Potato salad on top, Hal. I was very dubious, but it was delicious with the crunchy skinned, fatty Icelandic hot dogs.

Only one of the gas station chains makes them that way, though.

Thank you, Joyce. Since Lissa and you have mentioned that it can be good and provided some reasons why it can taste better than it looks, someday if I am brave, and dared to (and also fortified with strong drink), I MIGHT try a certifiably good version of it. (Especially if you didn't tell me what it was or if you changed the name.) I'll try anything at least once.

Yum - During the summers when I was in college, I worked for the Forest Service in a job that required living in a tent for long periods of time. Because we had no refrigeration available, we ate lots of boxed food where we just had to add water and heat. Liptons made a beef stroganoff dinner like that and we ate it, like, three times a week.

Considering the alternatives available that didn't need refrigeration, it was good. I don't know if they make it anymore, but if they do, start there and work your way up.

YumPo, it's especially good when served on a bed of quinoa.

If you visit most any camping supply store you will find a large variety of freeze-dried and vacuum-packed food. Some of it looks almost good enough to eat. Heck, even MREs aren't that bad if you get to eat them at a time and place of your choosing.

YumPo, I'm quite sure that I've told this story before, but...

During the mid-late 70s, the (then) husband was in the running for a huge step up job. In the final interview, I was flown in to stand inspection. (And as a feminist, I truly despised that whole business. However, there was so much money involved that I could - weee-ell - not be bought, really, but be rented briefly.) I got the last nonsmoking row on a sold-out flight, so that I had to sit in front of a guy with a big ole' cheap-as-spit stogie for the entire 4 hour flight. I stayed nauseous for days.

That evening, the Boss-To-Be took us to the restaurant of his choosing (his town, after all) and he and Husband talked business nonstop, through 3 drinks each while I feigned interest and danced with butterflies that wandered between my stomach and my head.

Finally, when B-T-B decided that we could order, he summoned the waitperson and ordered for all three of us. (His wife had come down with a last minute "bug". You'll probably be as stunned as I was to (much later) learn that her lawyer had already contacted him.)

He ordered Beef Stroganoff. I'd heard of it before, but never seen it. When my plate was put in front of me and the silver lid-thingy was removed with a flourish I thought someone in the kitchen had also sat in front of Cigar Guy.

(I played with the mess briefly and then put its lid back on. Husband and B-T-B were so engrossed in each other that neither noticed.)

I have never looked at Beef Stroganoff since. Frankly, I never give it a thought and when the subject comes up, I pretend it's being spoken in a different language. (The language of people who would eat a thing that looks like that!)

Okay, after Bucky's well-meaning suggestion, Laura Lee's really terrific recipe idea, and RiE's comment, I'm cowering and whimpering in a corner. Love all of you, too! ;-)

Eve, great story. My sentiments exactly. Come sit by me.

C'mon, left out the key part. Did he get the job?

Did he get the job?

You're such a guy, Bucky! Of course he got it.

Not only that, Eve, but I'm an HR guy as well. So when I got to the part of the interview that involved "three drinks each" I shuddered. That's not part of your standard interviewing guide.

Speaking of HR,
I'm going to a new job but was never interviewed. They knew what I could do and hired me on the spot. Its a small community here.

I just got my welcome packet of stuff for the new job. I didn't realize there was so much stuff I have to read and sign (health care, insurance, non-compete, etc.) And I thought getting a mortgage was a lot of stuff to sign.

Note to self: never change jobs and buy a house at the same time. too much stress and paperwork!

At Matthew's Pizza, the pizzas come on a paper plate & are put on top of an upside down paper plate. When a friend put the bottom plate on top of his pizza to keep it warm, I thought was a good idea. But when I did that on another visit, the owner saw it & reacted strongly. He said he'd rather bring me a 3rd plate than have me put my pizza directly on the table - something about keeping the crust from getting soggy.

Once at the Carnegie Deli in NY, I saw 2 young women waiting for a 3rd to order dinner. They decided to share a dessert while waiting but the waitress refused to take the order. She snapped "You have to eat your dinner first."

..not part of your standard interviewing guide.

Boss-To-Be was the owner. It was a fairly large company, especially considering that it was privately owned.

Turned out, many of the practices were non-standard.

Enough time has passed that I can fake a sense of humor about the whole thing but some of it was kind of nightmarish at the time. I think the moral of the entire saga would be: take great care about those who would feed you Beef Stroganoff!

Despite his many wives, B-T-B was childless when he died. He left the business to his alma mater. The business no longer exists. We had moved on long before his death, so that's really just an aside.

I think the moral of the entire saga would be: take great care about those who would feed you Beef Stroganoff!

Over the course of my HR career, I've learned many, many lessons about career management. This, Eve, is a new one. I will abide by it for whatever is left of my working life.

There used to be a place on Rte 40 in Rosedale called Charley's Country Kitchen. I was a regular, and one day i walked in and the place was nearly empty. One of the servers jokingly asked " Do you have reservations?". I replied " Yeah, but I'm going to eat here anyway".:-)

One of the servers jokingly asked " Do you have reservations?". I replied " Yeah, but I'm going to eat here anyway".

I nominate this for comment of the week.

It is a good quote, but so is this one:

I think the moral of the entire saga would be: take great care about those who would feed you Beef Stroganoff!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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