After watching the Oprah Winfrey Show, my parents and I decide to eat at one of my favorite haunts – The Settlers Inn in Hawley, Pennsylvania. Decorated with mission style furniture, the restaurant is located in the dining room of a small hotel that’s reminiscent of an old hunting lodge. The menu offers a creative take on the region’s cuisine and the chef owner always features the products of local farmers and purveyors. I’ve been coming to this restaurant for twelve years and the food is consistently excellent. I’m also a fan of the hotel’s woodsy, masculine atmosphere. There’s usually a fire blazing in the lobby’s stone hearth and the air always smells like a subtle blend of autumn and 25 year old scotch. Walking into Settlers is like slipping into a warm comfortable sweater. It’s the perfect place to unwind after seeing myself babble on national television.
“Can I get you something from the bar?” our waiter asks as he hands us our menus.
“I’ll have a dirty Absolut martini up, please,” my Dad replies.
The waiter looks at my mother. “Anything for you ma’am?”
“I don’t know,” my Mom says, leafing though the cocktail and wine menu.
“I’d love to see you have a Cosmopolitan, Mom,” I say. “That’d hit you like a freight train.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Perhaps a white wine ma’am?” the waiter suggests. “Something by the glass?”
“That’d be good,” my Mom replies.
“What do you like?” the waiter asks. “A sweet wine? Something dry?”
“I’m not sure.”
The waiter patiently describes the characteristics of a Chardonnay, a German wine, and a Sauvignon Blanc.
“I think you’d like the Sauvignon Blanc, Mom.” I say.
“Okay,” my mom replies. “I’ll get that.”
“Very good ma’am.” Turning to me the waiter asks, “And for you sir?”
“I’ll have a dirty Absolut martini up as well. Thank you.”
“I’ll be back with your drinks in a few minutes.”
My parents and I settle back in our chairs and examine the menu. Unlike many restaurants that operate under the delusion that Gutenberg Bible-sized menus and an endless list of specials denote a high-class place, the menu at Settlers is small, changes often, and there are rarely specials. At the bottom of the menu, I notice the chef is offering medallions of venison in a Bordelaise wine sauce. I love venison and Pennsylvania is a great place to eat it. Unfortunately, my brother, who has a macabre sense of humor, recently showed me You Tube footage of a deer being transformed into Bambi jelly by the kinetic energy of an onrushing car. Unable to get the “Bang, squish, splatter!” sound out of my head, I decide to order the seasoned diver scallops with applewood-smoked bacon in celeriac cream sauce instead.
“What are you going to get Dad?” I ask.
“The pork loin,” my Dad replies. “It’s good here.”
“I think I want the chicken,” my Mom replies. “But I don’t want bok choy. That’s like Chinese food.”
“Bok choy’s like cabbage Mom,” I say. “I doesn’t mean it it’ll taste like Chinese food.”
“Do you think they’d give me another vegetable?”
“Of course Mom,” I reply. “In the restaurant business, that’s what we’d call a ‘reasonable substitution.’”
After we all settle on our entrees, I turn my attention to the menu and try to decide on an appetizer. One of the salads catches my eye – teenage lettuce with figs, apple, and blue cheese in a sweet shallot dressing. Teenage lettuce? I chuckle to myself. For years, restaurants have been guilty of misusing descriptive adjectives to hype their menu items and ingredients. I know it’s a matter of time before I see “Belgian Trappist Organically Farmed Multiple Orgasm Inducing. Bed Shaking, Neighbors Complaining, Heirloom Radishes” on a Manhattan menu.
“What the hell is teenage lettuce?” I say, pointing to the item on the menu. “Is it surly and embarrassed by its parents?”
My dad laughs. “That sounds like you when you were fourteen.”
“Don’t remind me,” I say, suppressing the memory of the skinny, awkward, pimply faced kid I that I once was.
I drain my martini. I notice that my Dad has hardly sipped his. Then again, he didn’t see himself on national television either. To my chagrin, I noticed how chubby I looked on the air. I silently promise myself for the hundredth time that, once by health issues are under control, its back to the gym. What I need now, however, is another martini.
The waiter comes back to the table. “Have you decided what you’d like for dinner?” he asks.
“I have a question,” I say.
“What’s teenage lettuce?”
“Oh,” the waiter says, smiling slightly, “That just how the local farmers describe their product.”
“It doesn’t lock itself in its room, play loud music and scream ‘I hate you!’ does it?”
“No, sir,” the waiter says. “It does not.”
“Steal the car? Get navel piercings?”
“No, sir,” the waiter says, laughing.
I decide to give it a rest. When I was a waiter, I always appreciated a funny customer. However, there’s always a danger that the customer will over do it. I rein myself in, we give the waiter our order, and I ask for another martini that arrives in short order. I take a small sip of the cold vodka and then gently place the glass on the table. I’m going to try and make this one last longer than five minutes. The waiter arrives with our appetizers. My salad doesn’t issue any adolescent protestations and is very tasty.
As we eat, my parents and I quietly discuss what happened on Oprah, how my baby nephew is starting to sit up by himself, and how retirement n Pennsylvania is treating them. As the 80 proof alcohol I imbibed makes its presence known I begin to feel the tension in my neck and shoulders begin to dissipate. During a lull in the conversation, I take a sip of my drink and stare out the dining room’s leaded glass windows. It’s dark outside, but I know the leaves on the trees are quietly smoldering with autumnal fire. When the sun comes up tomorrow morning, the Pocono Valley will be awash in red, green, and gold. It’s been a hectic couple of months. Many things in my life have changed – and most of them for the better. But I came to this beautiful place to get away from it all. To remember what’s important, plan my next move, and, most of all – relax.
Then suddenly a memory from my taping at the Oprah Winfrey Show pops into my head. When I finished speaking to Ms. Winfrey and sat back in the audience, the woman behind me said, “A couple of months ago you were a waiter and now you wrote a book and are talking on Oprah!”
“Hard to believe, huh?” I replied.
“You have been truly blessed, sir,” the woman said. “You have been truly blessed.”
I take another sip of my drink and look at my parents. I think of my family and friends. I think of the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside and the fine food and service I am enjoying. It’s nice to be waited on for a change. Many other people, especially in these uncertain economic times, are not so lucky. I think of everything I have gained and everything I have lost.
Yes, that woman was right. I have been truly blessed.