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    Entries in Texas Weiner (4)

    Thursday
    May182017

    BRUCE ALL BITEY

    Back in the ’70s, there was a guy named Bruce who came into the Weiner King every week or so. He was tall and lanky and graduated high school with me. I considered him to be my friend. Not a close friend, mind you, but a friend just the same.

    The Weiner King in Flemington was one of the most popular places in town back in the day. Most customers came back time and time again because they loved the food. Obviously, that was the case with him.

    Bruce loved our Texas Weiners. For those of you who might not know, and I would always describe it like a mantra of some kind, “A Texas Weiner is a hot dog with mustard, onions and chili.” Oh, the memories this brings back… Our hot dogs were grilled and the chili was made in-house from a secret family recipe. All meat! No beans! Bruce also loved French Fries and Coca Cola. That’s what he always, always ordered and he usually came in after the lunch crowd was gone. Somewhere between 2:30 – 4:00: that lull time every restaurant experiences.

    You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. So what, some guy likes Texas Weiners, French Fries, and Coke. What’s the big deal? So did almost everyone else.

    Well, what made his order special was due to what ALL he ordered. Each time, it was the same exact thing. Bellying up to the counter, he’d say…

    “Yes, I’d like seven Texas Weiners, seven large French Fries, and seven large Cokes, please.” Take into consideration that he was always alone. And tall. And thin. And, just in case you’re wondering, NO, seven Texas Weiners, seven large French Fries, and seven large Cokes will not fit on a single tray. I’ll let you figure it out.

    Bruce always waited patiently while we went to work. He was soft spoken. We’d pour the seven sodas and he’d take them to a table around the corner, in the very back, so he could be somewhat hidden from view and not noticed by anyone else passing through. You never heard a peep out of him and he’d sit there for quite some time, chewing and sipping away.

    After eating all that, he’d throw out his trash. You’d think he’d be heading toward the door, but…

    Noooooo!

    He didn’t. He came back to the counter to order again. “Yes, I’d like seven Texas Weiners, seven large French Fries, and seven large Cokes, please.” And he’d spend another half hour or so back in his corner, munching away.

    I never wanted to believe that one man could consume all that, but Bruce was proof. The girls were always shocked, too, because they were light eaters.

    “Where did all that food go?” they’d ask me.

    “I don’t know, but I’m sure he’s got a bathroom at home,” I’d generally respond.

    “Ewww!” I had no explanation for it other than to add that everyone’s metabolism is different.

    Whatever became of Bruce, I don’t know. After the Weiner King closed, where did he go for his food fix?  

     

    Friday
    Aug122016

    The Wart Tree

    In the late seventies, early eighties, I was in the Weiner King business in New Jersey. It was at the tail end of my restaurant career. At one of the locations, there was a large window along the side of the building, next to the front counter. (Actually, the restaurant was mostly glass around the sides and front.) When customers entered the place, the dining room was to the left and the ordering area was to the right. Very easy to navigate. This particular window and sill was all the way to the right, at the far end of the counter. The sill was just above waist-high and sitting on it was a very handsome ming aralia, about 18-inches tall, that looked like a small, leafy tree. No, it wasn’t a bonsai.

    The Weiner King had an extremely loyal following, no matter which of the six stores you visited. At this one, one of the customers was a very nice lady who came in at least twice a week during the lunch and/or dinner rush. Quite the regular, it came as a surprise when she walked through the front door around 4:00, not her usual time. (You get to know your customers’ schedules after a while.) Between 2:00 and 5:00, it’s called ‘slump time’ and it could take forever to get through if you don’t keep yourself busy. I must have been bored that day and let my mind wander — which was nothing new. I was working with a girl named Lauri, who was a college student on summer break. The lunch crew was gone and the evening crew hadn’t yet arrived. Just us. And one customer.

    She walked over to the counter to order but, instead, kept going toward the plant with her arms extended. Her hands got within inches of it, as if to fluff up the leaves, when she said, “I’ve really admired your plant. Every time I come in, I stare at it. It’s beautiful! What is it?”

    “It’s a wart tree.” I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, but it did. I said it, it was too late, and, in a flash, she retracted those arms faster than a toad can stick its tongue back in its mouth.

    “A WART TREE?” she exclaimed with an almost look of puzzled disgust on her face.

    I had to think fast. “Yes, a wart tree. You’ve seen Lauri working here before? She’s studying biochemistry at Rutgers University. You know how some warts have seeds?”

    “Yes..?”

    “Well, someone she knew had a wart. She removed the seeds in a lab and cultivated them into what you’re looking at here.”

    “You’re joking, right?”

    “No,” I insisted. “Ask her.”

    I hated to put Lauri on the spot but, despite her abundance of intellectual prowess, she was one heck of a good sport with a great sense of humor. After collaborating my story with some kind of details pertaining to the structure, functions, and interactions of macromolecules between animals and plants, the woman seemed to buy the story. 

    “It was, after all, a plantar wart,” I added, just to ice the cake. “You know, plantar… plant?”

    “Oh. Huh. A wart tree. I’ll be darned. I never knew that.” She composed herself but was still perplexed. “Well, I’d better order dinner for my husband and me.”  

    I went back to man the grills and Lauri stayed up front working on the rest of the order while making small talk. The woman, meanwhile, stood far away from the little tree. After she left, the two of us laughed pretty hard. It was dumb, but it was done.

    I’m convinced that when she got home, she told her husband all about it, and I’ll bet you he told her how there is no such thing, while rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. In the end, though, she was either afraid of the tree, warts and all, very embarrassed, or too angry, because I never saw her again.

    Was I silly for doing it? Yes, but working 80 to 100 hours a week will do that to you. And my old boss, Jack, who worked at least 100 hours, used to do it all the time. Just not to customers.

    Thursday
    Jul232015

    The Mushroom Incident

    Since I was a child, I could spot a hair on my plate, whether it was on top, mixed in, or at the very bottom of whatever I was eating. For some reason, hairs always migrated my way.

    When I was in the Weiner King business, we bought most of our foodstuff from R&R Provision Co. based out of Easton, PA. Weiner King, for those of you who don’t know, was primarily located in the central NJ area. As the name implies, we specialized in hot dogs and hamburgers — Texas Weiners, in particular, with mustard, onions and homemade chili sauce. No restaurant made a better chili dog, and that’s a fact!

    To say that, after many years in the business, I got a little tired of the same food every day would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I tried every variation possible — hot dogs and hamburgers with any and all combinations of toppings imaginable, but it got old. You could only eat so many French fries with mustard, in other words, and fish sandwiches with pickles and ketchup.

    Invariably, I’d send one of the workers out for a couple of good steaks. “Get one for me and one for you.” Or fresh sea scallops. Whatever I was in the mood for. A lot of times, the R&R rep would bring us samples in hopes that we’d put them on the menu, but we pretty much stuck with our main theme. The samples sure were a nice change, though.

    On my nights off, I would sometimes go to the Union Hotel on Main Street in the heart of Flemington, and order breaded, deep fried, mushrooms. For years, they were one of my all-time favorites, so when R&R gave me a flyer with them as one of the specials, I gobbled up the offer and bought a 10lb. case. Holy mackerel!!! I was in my glory. When the delivery truck arrived, I went outside to greet the driver.

    “Do you have my mushrooms?” He could check what was on the list.

    “No,” he responded, “not today.” Fortunately, deliveries were twice a week.

    I don’t know if I had to wait a week or not, but it seemed like an eternity, and my mouth was watering at the thought of biting into those delectable, deep fried to a golden brown, morels. Oops! I mean, morsels. They were button mushrooms, after all.

    Finally, the frozen treats arrived and I quickly and carefully cut open the box. Certainly, I didn’t want any of them to spill on the floor. Not a single one. I threw a whole bunch into the deep fryer and told my employees, “Eat them while you can. The rest are mine. That’s the law.”

    We were very liberal when it came to employee meals. They were always free and plentiful but, when it came to my mushrooms, I took a hands-off approach. Anything but them. While they were cooking, I went into the back room to close up the case and throw it in the freezer. I may have written DO NOT TOUCH on the box, too, but I did notice one thing that was printed on it: PRODUCT OF THE PHILIPPINES.

    I didn’t care where they were from, but it goes to show you that, even in the 1970s, we were outsourcing. Did I worry about foreign pesticides, hormones and antibiotics back then? No. All I cared about was that I could eat my mushrooms every single day until I looked like a fungus. Well, not really. As a rule, I ate them in the late afternoons, when it was very slow. I didn’t want customers wondering if I was serving them, and I didn’t want employees asking me to share. 99% of the time, I’m a very giving person, but not with breaded or battered mushrooms. Until one day…

    I was probably about halfway into the box when, one fateful afternoon, I had a life-changing experience. It altered this one eating habit of mine for the rest of my life. Believe me when I say that, until that day, I was enjoying bite-after-bite. I sat with my plate of about a dozen mushrooms when, as usual, I popped one in my mouth. As I chewed and chewed, I thought there might be a hair in there. Yuck! I stuck my fingers in my mouth and, yup, it was, indeed, a hair. I should have just spit the darn thing out on the spot, but I didn’t.

    I managed to grab the end of it without losing any of the mushroom or breading. Then, I started to pull. Out and out it came. I moved my fingers away from my mouth. The farther they got, I realized this was no ordinary hair. It was LONG and STRAIGHT and BLACK! It was as long as my left arm could stretch by the time it was completely out. I immediately spit the mushroom into the garbage and just about heaved on the spot. I was totally shocked and disgusted. How did something that long get wound up into one mushroom? I didn’t want to think about it. My appetite was gone. I threw the remainder of that case into the dumpster and, to this very day, I cannot eat deep fried, breaded mushrooms. Just thinking about them would make the hair on my head stand up… if I had any, but I won’t eat them to this very day.

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Feeling Loansome

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.

    We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.

    One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…

    “Hey, George. What’s up?”

    “Jack?”

    “Yes, George…”

    “I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.

    “Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”

    I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!

    I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.

    Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.

    “Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.

    “The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.

    §

    Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”

    Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.

    One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.

    “George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”

    “OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.