Teenage Lettuce

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.

“Yes, sir?”

“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.


Teenage Lettuce — 81 Comments

  1. First! I think.

    Great, great article on the wonders of relaxing and counting your blessings. I’ve been a long time reader, but haven’t said anything up to now… Great work! Keep it up! And don’t worry about lulls in the writing, we understand that you’re busy! Quality over quantity, and all that.

  2. You deserve it. It is nice to know that somethimes those that work hard, pay their bills, are considerate and try to do the right thing in this world are rewarded.

    There are many people that you don’t even know that are very proud of you.

    Success and happiness don’t happen on accident.


  3. I agree that you completely deserve what you got. It’s ncie that you’re still grounded but it’s important to rememeber to take time out for yourself! You can’t do anything right if you’re not at your best – remember to relax! You deserve a week off!


  4. Hi Steve. Long time reader, Reading your book,love it. I’m so proud of you. I called everyone i knew to tell them to watch yesterday!! Good Luck in everything you do.

  5. Although I have been reading your blog for years, I’ve been living overseas (Doha, Qatar) and just picked up a copy of your book whilst in the States last week. Great read for the very long plane ride from Newark to Doha. Glad that you are no longer just “The Waiter” and that the book jacket now carries your name. Enjoyed re-readng some of the stories I ws familiar with from the blog and lots of new ones. You have indeed graduated and are now “The Writier”, not just “The Waiter.” I look forward to your next effort and will share the book with my colleagues here in Doha (at least until they can buy their own copy). Also thanks for the restaurant tip for Hawley, sounds like a great place.

  6. Hi there!
    I was so glad to see you on Oprah yesterday. I just wish she would have shut up long enough to let you talk. I have been reading your blog for a long time and just want to thank you for being a great voice for all who work in the service industry. As a caterer…oh, the juicy stories I could tell!!!
    I’m so happy for you and hope the TV show really does get made…I’ll be watching.
    Take care of yourself!

  7. It was awesome watching you on Oprah. The whole episode was great, but I especially liked that it shed light on what the hourly wages are for servers in America. You did a great job. Thanks for representing.

  8. For the first time in my life, looked forward to Oprah. I recorded it because I couldn’t be home. Look what you’ve done to me! You forced me to record Oprah! I thought you were great, don’t be too hard on yourself.

  9. I can’t bear to admit that I missed you on Oprah, but will certainly check out the link. I feel like I’ve known you awhile, even though I’m a relative newcomer to your blog, but your writing carries that quality of intimacy with the reader. I am so proud of you, as are your many readers! Your parents must be so proud of you. I’ve been a cook/baker, never a server, but your writing quality carries a person right into the scene. Thank you.

  10. Well gee, the meal I had planned tonight for supper no longer sounds the slightest bit yummy, where exactly did you say this restaurant is? WTG on your Oprah spot.

  11. We’re all still dying to know–what’s Oprah like in real life?

    (And that woman probably doesn’t even know how right she is.)

  12. You certainly have earned it Steve – all those years of inconsiderate diners and what not. I’m sure it will also be nice to feel secure with our economy the way it is too!

  13. I can’t believe that I sat through 45 minutes of Oprah just to see you. I agree with Cheri that Oprah should have let you do more talking. There are WAY to many commercials. Enjoy your R&R.

  14. Nice job on the Oprah show! I thoroughly enjoyed your book and read it two days. (I have a 4 year old so that says a lot). Looking forward to hearing more from you via the web site and various new and exciting projects.

  15. I don’t usually have time to watch Oprah (even though I’m usually home when she’s on), but I had it on yesterday and was sorta listening while cleaning…but I stopped and watched when I heard your name and saw you! :-)

    You were great, I was just bummed that they didn’t have you on for very long though!

    I think you are very handsome. I like a man with some “meat” on his bones. ;-)

    Congrats on your success. I love your blog.

  16. I have a small collection of classic California fruit and vegetable crate labels from the 1920s-1950s. One of my favorites is for the brand “Teenage Western Vegetables.” The label features a cartoon of three vacant-looking young women in jumpers.

    I have the label, framed, on the wall. People sometimes offer to buy it from me. No way.

  17. LOVE the Settler’s Inn! I went to camp right around the corner in Tafton and get homesick for Trish’s bagels, IGA cakes and the Settler’s Inn. Jealous!

  18. Maybe teenage lettuce is something like old vine grapes, indicating that the plant itself is of a certain age.

    That’s all I can think of.

    Congratulations on the success.

  19. Steve, thank you for posting this piece. I grew up in New Jersey, and my parents would often take us through Pennsylvania for family trips. It’s been 10+ years since we moved to Taiwan, but the way you describe the countryside… it really brings back very very fond memories for me. I know that this very well wasn’t your intention, but a big thanks to you for making me reminisce the times of beautiful autumn leaves. :)

  20. I have loved your blog…thought it was a WOW to see you on Oprah…will buy the book soon…and also – I love The Settlers Inn…

  21. Hmmm seems that Steven and I have a commonality or perhaps Steven found inspiration from my book?

    My book about my behind the scenes experiences as a restaurant server was published a couple years ago here in Canada called “From My Side of the Table.”


    author, From My Side of the Table

  22. I’ve eaten at the Settler’s Inn too en-route to school at Penn State one time so this brought back a happy memory. Glad you survived yet another moment in the spotlight, Writer. I have a feeling it’s the start of quite a few for you, and you’ve earned every single moment of the fame and glory. Blessed indeed — and appreciative too, which is what really matters most :-) As for your mom? You’re right — she really ought to try a Cosmo!

  23. Oh, yay! I didn’t know you were from that area :) I live in NE Montgomery County, and we camped in the Poconos every summer. Hope you had a fabulous, relaxing and warm visit home <3

  24. Concerning Tammy’s posting…

    “or perhaps Steven found inspiration from my book? ”

    I’m stunned someone would come here and post accusatorily without bothering to look at the blog postings.

    I wont bother going to the site to find out more. I have read enough.

  25. Dianna, you are right…I do apologize for my abrupt assumption and always believed that writers learned from one another. I think that I brought a weakness to the table, which is quite frank from an author.

    Again, I am sorry.


  26. Hi Waiter,
    Forget about what health issues you have that are preventing you from going to the gym, because one thing is certain; once one thing is better another issue will pop up and before you know it has been 5 years and you are still thinking “I need to go to the gym but I can’t (for whatever reason)”. I’m not a gym junky but I recognise this form of procrastination – because I do it all the time!!! Get to that gym now, you know you want to, so do it, and no more excuses! ;)

  27. Waiter!

    First of all, as a long time reader and fellow wait staff… I just love your writing as always. Don’t you just HATE seeing yourself on camera, but I think that everyone does.

    As for the teenage lettuce, at least it’s not co-ed lettuce, or it would be alcoholic (though on second thought maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing)

    But yes, keep up the good work, I hope to see more of you and best of luck becoming healthier!!

  28. Hey, you’re visiting my neck of the woods! Have a great time while you’re here. I haven’t seen the Oprah clip yet, but I’m sure you did great. Cheers!

  29. Teenage lettuce??? I love learning new things. I found this great explanation in an organic food blog.

    “Many lettuces can be harvested at the baby-leaf stage, which is as early as 15 to 25 days after planting. These varieties tend to be highly textured or savoyed and keep their “loft” in a mixed salad. Teenage or adolescent lettuce is harvested 25 to 40 days after planting, is great in mixed salads, and is more nutritious than the baby leaf. Finally, there is the mature stage, 40 to 65 days after planting. These full heads are the most nutritious and keep longest in storage.”


    Thanks for a new story, Steve! :-)

  30. Hey, what did I do to deserve such a beautiful post on such a beautiful Friday morning? I have a feeling this is going to be a gorgeous day!

    Steve, I think after all the uncertainty and pain of the transformational period, you have come along and are well on your way to a new you and writer.

    Keep at it, we want to see more!

  31. Good ole’ Hawley, PA. I am a long-time visitor with family and friends to Woodloch Pines – a great employer of most of the population of Hawley. Can’t forget to mention Lackawaxen too!
    Saw videos of your Oprah segment, congrats again to you Waiter and yes, you are truly blessed.

  32. Darned straight you’ve been blessed waiter! By the way, I thought you were fabulous, and absolutely adorable on Oprah! In my opinion, SHE was the one who was lucky to have YOU! ;)

  33. Waiter!!! You were SO GOOD on Oprah! I couldn’t even remember why I had TiVoed that particular episode until you came on. You were funny, well-spoken, knowledgeable, yet humble.

    What a treat to see someone we “know” make it to the big time!

  34. Well, I will have to admit that you almost made me late for work because Harpoon put you on so late in the show, but it was worth it. I could tell that something was bothering you, but you let it out in a way when you asked her if she’d ever waited tables. Your reaction to that was perfect. I just can’t believe that she mentioned changing the very system that has been in place for so many years. Yeah, okay, go ahead and try it, oh mighty one.

    Just to let you know, the book tour is on its way to stop number 4 out of 27. You never did get back to me as to whether it was kosher with you, so I went ahead and did it. Another person along the way did contact you, and you said that it was a cool idea, so I’m good with that.

    So far, its gone from Greenville, SC to La Quinta, CA to Powell River, BC to Tarpon Springs, FL. Next stop, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This thing’s getting some travel time, buddy!!

  35. Oh my god, I totally know the Settlers Inn and Hawley! I went to summer camp about five minutes from there from the time I was eight to when I was 20, and I still have family in the area. In fact, my cousin who lives in the area is a professional waiter who has worked at Settlers. :) He’s at the Boathouse Restaurant now, which I bet you’ve also heard of if you know the area.

  36. Have you been back to the old restaurant since your rise to stardom? I have read your blog for years and felt as though we were the common man. You have achieved what many dream of, leaving those horrid working conditions and finally being on top. Congrats and I hope your success continues.

  37. i’ve been reading your blog for the longest time, just in the middle of your book, and would like to only now join the chorus of voices expressing my thanks for your writing in all it’s forms, and your amazing ability to introspectively turn the mundane into the amazing. what a great writing style.

    thanks again, and keep on entertaining.

    ps. is there a youtube video of the oprah bit anywhere?

  38. I loved your interview on Oprah. I stopped watching her a couple years ago for reasons I won’t go into here on your lovely blog, but when I read that you were going to be on, I DVR’d it right away and watched delighted the next day. You did a great job and you ought to feel pretty damn proud of yourself.

  39. At long last, I am done reading all of these entries. I wish I had the cash to pick up a copy of your book, but sadly the economy has pushed me into the ‘unemployed’ category. I just want you to know I spent the past two days reading every single entry you’ve made here. You’re quite inspirational, and I think I’ll have a hard time ever tipping anything below 20% ever again. You live an interesting life, go knock up your girlfriend and come back, then we can learn of the adventures of the mini-waiter.

  40. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I’m really enjoying watching your success. It’s been a pleasure, and I look forward to hearing more from you. Enjoy your success.

  41. Dang, I missed Oprah.

    The lady is right.You are blessed.I’ve been a reader for a long time and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.I’ve always thought you were a great writer.

    Yesterday, imagine my surprise as I saw your book in my podunk library.I snatched it up .I’ll be reading it this weekend.

    Woo hoo!

  42. Thanks for the description of that salad. It’s my turn to cook dinner tonight and I have some of the summer’s last fresh figs in the Fridge and some apples, so . . . :)

  43. This is my favourite entry of yours, ever.

    I saw you on Oprah before I read it on your blog and thought you looked great. Ever since your identity became public, it’s nice being able to put a face to your name, and your face happens to be quite nice. ;)

  44. Absolut?! I thought you were a Ketel One guy..ha..congratulations and good luck in the future always. Your book is fantastic, I’m buying another copy for our owner for Christmas.


  46. Amen Waiter, amen.

    And to the person who posted above me, I’d like to inject that perspective changes the world, and if you’ve actually worked in a (fast paced) restaurant I’d highly doubt you’d be toting the same tune (I’d preferably work on an assembly line, which I have, than return to the food industry, where I’ve also worked.)

  47. I reign myself in, we give the waiter our order, and I ask for another martini…

    You are blessed indeed, including your being a writer of a language chock full of homonyms, most of which you are blessed to use correctly.

  48. Yes, blessed indeed. I just got laid off for the first time in my 23 years of being employed. Anyone who is holding on to their job much less accelling is blessed.

  49. Well, sorry to sound churlish, but I don’t think you are blessed. Who did the blessing? God? So why are you so special then? Does that make others unblessed? Come on, just cop it sweet. Don’t ascribe supernatural dynamics to it all. You were a waiter, you are observant, you wrote a book, people like it. Good. End of story. I work in a country and with a people who do a hell of a lot more with their time and meagre resources every day, for years, and no one is blessing them. So from my perspective, God is not handing out blessing cards, because that makes God capricious and actually, pathetic, that s/he would ‘bless’ you with Oprah-appearances. Give it up waiter, enjoy the ride, but leave God out.

  50. OMG! How weird is this? I was in the States for 3 weeks roadtripping from Boston to Las Vegas in August, and whilst meandering around Pennsylvania, we actually visited this hotel. It was exactly as you describe it, absolutely beautiful. The town of Hawley was very small town America, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Your parents live in a great part of the world!

  51. Hey, Mr. Big, your always borderline proofreading skills seem to have further atrophied now that you are used to professional editors. Running a spellchecker is not an acceptable substitute.

    once by health issues – my

    That just how the local farmers – that’s

    retirement n Pennsylvania – in

    Just in case it’s not clear, that bit at the top is only mock indignation. Congratulations on your success from a longtime reader.

  52. just so you know, you used “begin” twice in one sentence. “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.”

    I hate it when you do that :-)

  53. Don’t get too freaked out by your perception of physical appearance on-camera. As someone has probably mentioned, the TV camera “adds” ten pounds to anyone (and sometimes fifteen). That means one must appear ten or fifteen pounds UNDERWEIGHT to look normal on television. Unless you’re planning lots more television, I would suggest not worrying about massive weight loss when you head back to the gym.

    Best wishes to you.

  54. It is so good to have a real post from you again. I have missed your musings lately, as they are always a joy for me. It was nice to see you on Oprah; I had my hubby d.v.r. it for me so that I could watch it when I got home from work. Hope to see more stories and less updates.

  55. I got to this story from MSN, didn’t really know what I accidentally clicked on until I started reading it. I guess my experience as a server as well connected to this story so I kept reading. By the way, great work. I can just feel the peace flowing from it. Good luck to you in your present and future success.

    All the best! :)

  56. Woops, didn’t even see that previous post. Not trying to be rude Anonymous about using the term waiter (didn’t read your post there). But I’m sure people posting here recognize that it’s another word used for waiter. But again, no disrespect.

  57. Although I am happy for your well deserved success that has allowed you to fly over the Coo Coo’s nest, I have to admit that I really miss your waiter rants.
    I am still here in the trenches in the NYC restaurant biz and find my self having to go the older posts to feel like someone truly understands and validates my own thoughts and comments.

    The climate in today’s current NYC restaurant world has a disturbing undercurrent of fear where
    no one dares to rant let alone vent,because they are more afraid than I have seen in the 10 years that I have been in the business ,of loosing their jobs.

    It’s like “Stepford Staff” out here.

    I want to see if anyone else can relate to:
    Owners seriously cutting corners, the old GM wo quit mid-shift,the new bi-polar GM, the increasing number of guests appear to be deliberately not signing their credit card reciepts or taking the merchant copy so that they don’t have to pay for their meal,which is hard to catch them in the pre-theater rush, more college educated “white people” in the kitchen.
    The list can go on.

    I have been to the other sites, but I like your rant the best. For some reason, it never seems like a bitter personal attack, just like an intelligent observation and commentary.

    I miss you as “the waiter”

    I wish that you had spell check.


  58. I am almost done reading your book and it is awesome I would love to add to your stories I have been a bartender and waitress for 8 years and have been telling my mom for the last 5 years I am going to write a book when I am finished about how unreal people are I guess I missed the boat it still would be funny to sit down and write them all out, Thank you so much for writing this book every person in the world should have to read this book!

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