Friday, July 31, 2009

Closing...

Café Rio closes at 8 pm. It seems a little early, especially in the summer, but by now Ananda and Josh have been working for over nine hours…Marissa worked her six and went home at 4…Jerry relieved Sonja around 5 so that she could go out.
I have been here for twelve hours.
At 8:20 Jerry is putting the last pie in the oven and the dining room is still half full with a four top, a couple of deuces and a fourteen top that lingers over dessert and coffee and will stay until almost 9 as Ananda closes around them…sweeping, collecting parmesan shakers and putting them in the fridge, filling the napkins.
New Kid Josh has stayed caught up through what turned out to be a pretty busy Thursday, the place nearly full most of the day, going on a wait during dinner service. I walk through the dish room and, without realizing it, start bouncing my head to his music. He’s doing the same, his ‘fro bouncing forward and back. I think again how much he looks like Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter…Zack could definitely be Horshack. Great, I have Sweathogs.
I start looking around at what needs to be done the next morning, and what’s needed from the store, the usual bananas, cucumbers, yogurt…gonna need more beer…then I sit and wait for the others to be done. There is stuff I could do now, but then what will Marissa do tomorrow morning? It can wait.
I check the news, then starting looking for Green Hornet stuff online. The other night I saw something from ComicCon on TV and Seth Rogen was showing off a new Black Beauty, so there must be a new movie in the works. Yep, next summer. I’ve always liked the Green Hornet, Batman’s always been my favorite, but I could never afford to be Batman. The Green Hornet though? Yeah, a regular guy could be the Green Hornet.
Jerry finishes first, then Josh and Ananada. “Is it ok if I leave a bus tub for tomorrow?” Josh askes. “Yeah.”
He hauls all the trash up the back stairs and then the half-block to where the dumpsters are. Then he and Ananda smoke while I settle out the credit card machine. The change bag can wait for morning. I hate the change bag; don’t know why.
Josh and Ananda leave, I lock the door behind them and, as I was this morning, I am alone with Café Rio. Metal is playing in the dining room, but in the office I can barely hear it, it is almost drowned out by the freezer’s compressor, the rattle of the fan brushing the shroud on the low-boy cooler, and the swamp cooler.
I count out the cash and checks, filling in the blanks on the daily report, adding in the credit card sales. Not bad, way up from the last two days and tomorrow should be as good or better, lots of white license plates in town again.
I turn out the lights in pretty much the same order that I turned them on, back to front, checking that ovens are off, pilot lights are on, turning off exhaust fans, double checking that no one has hidden in the bathrooms or walk-in cooler and then I switch the radio to the ‘40s channel for the night. I go out the front door, locking it behind me and, after taking a look inside through the window at my dimly lit pizzeria, I turn and walk away.
It is 10 pm.
‘Til morning.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Opening...

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cafe Rio Quote

"Hey, Eric, where's the tzatziki? Oh, and the stove's on fire."

New Kid Josh

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sick.And.Tired

Of whining employees. Of demanding customers. Of vendors who won't communicate. Of people with a sense of entitlement. Of staff who have been here for more than a year and still don't know their fucking jobs. Of stretching the hell our of one end to make it meet the other...or at least get within sight. Of couples who do not communicate through dinner, or worse those who communicate with others through text while their "loved one" is directly in front of them. Of waffling prospective employees.
Ok, that's it for now, I feel a little better.
Someone pass me a beer.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hmmmm…comfort food. Maria wrote about her favorite comfort foods and wanted to know what her readers liked, and I instantly knew that I’d be up late writing this one.
I’m going to be brief because one, I’m flippin’ beat, and two, because I plan on expounding on a few of these in the coming decade or so.

Not in any particular order, but kind of:

Green chile cheeseburger from the Outpost Bar in Carrizozo, New Mexico. I’ve been told for years that the Owl Bar in San Antonio, NM (about 65 miles west of ‘Zozo) has the best in the state, but I have never taken the time to stop there.
San Antonio has another contender for best burger in the Elk Horn Café, just across the street from the Owl. The Elk Horn was ranked 7th best cheeseburger in the US by someone at some magazine…Men’s Journal, I think.
But, the burger at the Outpost is plenty good for me, there certainly isn’t a better one in the county. It’s just sloppy enough and the chile has a nice heat, the patties are hand formed and generous and the fries and thin and crispy (don’t ask for a large order of fries unless you’re sharing with a couple of other people) and the décor is…amazing.
I’m hoping to take a tour of New Mexico’s reputed best places for green chile cheeseburgers one of these years, so hopefully I’ll have more on this at some point.

Mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Blackberry cobbler…hot with vanilla ice cream.

Banana pudding. Yep, the old pot luck standby. My second (or maybe third) cousin Patty makes the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve only had it once. It was at the pot luck after my grandpa’s funeral and the taste of that dessert made the day a little brighter for me.
It was nothing fancy, a lot of chefs are playing with comfort food these days and sometimes it gets a little ridiculous, but Patty’s was just the usual instant pudding with ‘Nilla wafers and bananas…and something else that gave it an extra creamy texture and taste.
Her secret? Sure, I’ll share, after all she shared it with me, whipped cream powder added to the pudding mix.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese is one of my favorites also, though the last time I made it after a few years of not having it I was pretty disappointed with the Campbell’s tomato soup.

Chicken fried steak. When I lived in Oklahoma any town worth being called a town had a place that did an outstanding CFS with cream gravy (I hear that in the South, brown gravy is the norm…no, thanks). But when I made the move west I found that was not the case here. Lots of places had chicken fried steak on the menu, but lots of them were mediocre at best. Thankfully, there are now two places here in town with good CFS, Landlocked and Smokey B’s (SB’s is as big as yer head!).

Long John Silvers…three piece fish platter with extra hush puppies and “crunchies.”

Fried chicken…I prefer homemade, but I don’t get that motivated very often, so KFC takes care of my chicken cravings…original recipe, I prefer dark meat and absolutely love their coleslaw.

Bacon.

Spaghetti carbonara. This is one that I like to make for myself at work because it’s so quick, easy and flippin’ amazing. I first had it in Germany and was absolutely blown away by how good it was.
I mean, I was a kid whose mom had a repetoire of several casseroles, things from boxes and spaghetti had jar sauce on it. Germany was a culinary awakening for me.
Having said that, my next pick for comfort foods has to be…

Mom’s casseroles. Five Can Casserole was always my favorite and was my kids’ favorite when they were small. The name says it all, here’s how to make it. This one’s for Sarah who claims that all her cooking involves opening cans.

Brown 1 lb. Hamburger-drain. Add 1 can cream of mushroom soup – 1 can tomato soup – 1 sm can chopped olives – 1 can enchilada sauce – 1 sm can chopped green chilis.* Heat through. Alternate layers of mixture with corn tortillas. Top with grated cheese and bake til melted and hot through.

*I disapprove of this spelling of chile, but that’s how she wrote it.

Mom’s other casseroles included Tuna Rice Royal (has to be said in the manner of Jules in Pulp Fiction, “Royale with cheese…I like that.”) and Cheeseburger Casserole, another childhood favorite for me and later my kids and which involves canned biscuits. Yum.

And speaking of biscuits, let me cut this list short so that I can get some sleep. Thanks, Maria, for sparking my dulled imagination at the end of the night.

Biscuits and gravy, I love biscuits and gravy. Biscuits and white gravy with lots and lots of pepper, sausage gravy, and my favorite of all, that which would be my last meal if I had the chance to choose, biscuits and chocolate gravy.
That’s right, chocolate gravy. I’m not going to say too much because I actually have a post nearly finished regarding biscuits and chocolate gravy, I’m just waiting for a chance to make some and take some pictures.
Stay tuned.

Monday, July 6, 2009