Thursday, July 30, 2009


The alarm goes off at 6 and I hit snooze for the first of several times, finally giving up when it becomes apparent that the dogs are not going to stop barking through the fence at the neighbors.
After showering, I briefly consider shaving but decide against it. It’s not that I like having a beard so much, but that I hate to shave and after twenty years of shaving nearly every day I’m just not going to do it very often. I put on my usual cargo shorts and t-shirt, feed and water the dogs, fill a hole under the fence where they’ve been working on their latest escape attempt, pick up a puppy landmine in the living room and leave for work.
I stop at a coffee shop owned by a friend; I used to stop almost everyday, but
have been stopping less often lately. Today I stop though, have a cup of strong black coffee and a warm blueberry muffin with two pats of butter. The conversations are almost always the same “how’s business” type of thing, but today Troy is excited about the new GI Joe movie. I really couldn’t care less. Maybe if it was based on the ‘70s toy instead of the ’80s cartoon…
I park in my usual spot in the parking lot behind the restaurant, walk down the stairs carefully, so as not to step on any snails, unlock the back door, and flip on the first of several lights as I step down into the back kitchen. This is where most of the prep happens: veggies chopped, sausage made, meat smoked, cheese grated, dough mixed and rolled…where all the non-pizza stuff is cooked and the desserts baked.
I ignore last night’s stove mess and walk through the dish room into the dining room and the adjacent open kitchen where the pizza making goes on in front of a large window so that people walking, or driving, by can see the dough flying through the air. It’s not something that’s common to see in this part of the country and tourists will often stop and stare.
I start the coffee and turn on the espresso machine and then walk around getting a mental list started for the day’s prep…rolls and bread need to be baked; sausage needs to be made and cooked, including some links; cheese needs to be grated and pizza sauce made…and at some point, I really need to spend some time in my office with the books. Later.
I pour the first of what will be at least three cups of coffee. After that I’ll drink a pineapple-orange juice and a couple glasses of water before switching to beer…actually that beer sounds pretty good right now.
I light the oven, one of my favorite things, though it only takes a second. I turn on the gas, open the access door and stick my lighter in and pull the trigger. The fire catches at the front of the big burners that run the length and width of the oven and rolls up and to the back with a barely audible orange whump before settling to a steady blue.
I then fill the ancient steam table with a bucket of water from the dish room and turn the gas on then up with the pair of permanently affixed vice grips which serve as a knob, light that fire, check for water leaks and re-check that the brittle drain plug has stayed in place during the filling. Once the water is good and hot, I’ll put the soup pot and sauce pot in the table to hold for service.
At 10 am Marissa arrives. Marissa is an older Italian lady whom I hired about month ago. She had been working at the Italian place up the street for seven years when one day she showed up for work and the landlord was there loading up equipment and changing the locks. She is a very good worker, always on time and works steadily through the day, breaking only to eat the sandwich and a couple of snacks that she brings every day and to smoke a cigarette. Today she’ll start by making a pot of rice and then will mix and roll at least two large batches of dough. Though she moves slowly, she will often accomplish more in her six-hour shifts than the boys during their ten-hour shifts.
I place a gallon of milk in a pot and place it on a diffuser over a very low flame that will take the milk to 180 degrees in about an hour. I will then add salt and vinegar to make ricotta cheese. In the meantime, I roast a couple of pans of green chiles, filling the kitchen with one of the most amazing aromas on earth and one of the reasons I love living in New Mexico. In about a month large roasters will appear outside several stores in town and workers will fill their drums with bags of chile, light the jet-like fires and the drums will spin, the chiles tumbling and roasting inside, filling the air for a block in every direction with their delicious smell.
Around 10:30 or so the waitress, Ananda, arrives along with the dishwasher, New Kid Josh. I like Josh, he came in one day a few weeks ago while I was shorthanded and asked for a job. I hired him on the spot, not because of being shorthanded, but because I liked his Afro, which he usually keeps controlled with a pink bandana. He listens to heavy metal, is very quiet, but funny, and plays hacky-sack on the sidewalk out front when it’s slow, something that used to be a common sight in front of Café Rio about 10 years ago. Sometimes, he shows up early. The first time I told him that he didn’t need to be here before 10:30 he said that he knew, but that his mom had kicked him out.
Sonja will slide in as late as possible, sometime before 11 and will stock up the pizza bench and make a couple of slice pies.
With each arrival the café comes a little more to life, a little more noisy as different music comes on in each area and equipment starts being used…each arrival a snooze button…until Café Rio is fully awake and ready to open her doors at 11:30.


Maria said...

I WILL get to NM someday simply to sample your restaurant. Someday...

Eric said...

You're welcome any time, Maria.