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Waiter! There’s a Hand in My Food! (And a Great, Big, Italian Sandwich)

Last week, my friend Cathy from The Noble Pig [1], wrote a great post [2] about her experience with a rude diner in a restaurant. It struck a chord with me, as well as many others, judging by the large number of comments the post received. The issue of restaurant etiquette is a very sticky wicket indeed! Mr. SGCC and I are constantly at odds over it. He thinks that I am a big, fat troublemaker. I think he is a big, fat wimp. In fact, some of the biggest conflicts we’ve had in our twenty year marriage have been over incidents that happened in, around and because of restaurants.

I believe that if you’re plunking down your hard-earned cash for a meal, it should be good. At the very least, it should be edible. And, it should be your inalienable right to be served what you actually ordered – with a smile. I also believe that if these basic criteria are not met, then you are entitled to complain. Mr. SGCC, on the other hand, believes that these things are mere perks. He seems to think that, as a restaurant guest, you should take what you are given, right or wrong, good or bad. If your order comes out all screwed up, you should just suck it up and eat it anyway. And, never, ever should you send it back to the kitchen. After all, you might hurt the server’s, or worse, the chef’s sensitive feelings.

Honestly, I don’t understand how a man with a reputation for being a pit bull in the courtroom can turn into a total shrinking violet once he sets foot into a dining room! Is it some kind of cosmic, karmic phenomenon? Or maybe post traumatic stress resulting from some deep-seated emotional wound suffered at the hands of an unbalanced fry cook? You tell me.

I could give you a million examples of situations where this man and I have ended up at odds over some incident that happened while dining in a restaurant, but I’ll limit myself to the latest (and probably the worst) one.

Two weeks ago, we were over on the other coast visiting my in-laws for their 50th wedding anniversary. We wanted to take them on a weekend trip or have a party with all of their friends around, but all they wanted to do was go out for a nice dinner with the three of us. Okay. Done. We decided to go to an old, established and very kitschy restaurant from the sixties on Daytona Beach that they used to frequent when Mr. SGCC was a child. We all piled into the car and made the twenty minute drive there.

The place hadn’t changed a bit since the last time I was there as a college student in 1985. I think I even recognized a few of the stains on the carpet. Ahem…Is that what they mean by local color? Anyway, a seedy salty old waitress brought us some drinks and took our order. I ordered a grouper dish topped with a creamy seafood sauce containing crab, scallops and shrimp. I also ordered the “special” Lyonaise potatoes to go along with it. Everyone else’s order is irrelevant for the purpose of this story.

When my dinner plate was set down in front of me, I noticed two things. First, the half congealed “seafood” sauce on my fish consisted of a lot of orangey-colored goo and one-half of one shrimp. Where were the crab and the scallops? And more alarmingly, where was the rest of that shrimp? I pulled a face and started to say something and I immediately got “the look” from my husband. You know the one. The look that says, “If you say one more word, I’m going to dump that plate of food right on your head.” I said nothing.

The second thing I noticed was that there was a shriveled up baked potato sitting on the plate where the Lyonaise potatoes were supposed to be. Before Mr. SGCC knew what happened, I struck.

“Um, excuse me. I believe I ordered the Lyonaise potatoes with my dinner. This is a baked potato.”

The waitress looked down and said, “Oh yeah. Sorry about that.” Then, she reached down, stuck her bare hand in my plate of food, grabbed the baked potato and walked off. WTF?


I was shocked! I was appalled! I was shocked and appalled! Not only that, I was totally and unequivocally grossed out! I mean, who the hell knew WHERE that hand had been before. The prospect was too frightening for me to imagine.

I started to say something, and I not only got “the look” again, but I also got a little warning kick under the table. I didn’t want to start an argument with Mr. SGCC in the restaurant, and I certainly didn’t want to ruin my in-laws anniversary dinner, so again, I said nothing.

Needless to say, I didn’t eat a bite of the food on that plate. I was fuming. Tears of frustration stung my eyes. I felt that Mr. SGCC should have supported me. At the very least, I felt that he should have let me say something to the management about it.

Now, the biggest burn of this whole thing was that no one else liked the food either. My in-laws complained about it for the rest of the evening and into the next day.

So, what do you think? Should I have said something or should I have sucked it up to keep the peace?

Did I overreact?

Has anything like this ever happened to you in a restaurant before, and if so, how did you handle it?

What would you have done in my place?

Don’t hold back. I’d really like to know how you feel.

While you’re mulling this over, let me leave you with this fabulous sandwich I made for dinner the other night. It’s really simple to make and there is no set recipe. You can pretty much put whatever you want in it.

I started with a loaf of ciabatta bread from the bakery. I toasted it in the oven at 300 degrees F. for about 10-12 minutes. Then I sliced it in half, lengthwise. I drizzled each side with a little balsamic vinaigrette. I made my own, but any good bottled dressing would be fine.

To assemble the sandwich, I layered slices of prosciutto, capicola ham and sopressata Calabrese (which is like a spicy salami) on one side of the ciabatta. On the other side, I spread a generous layer of crisp, peppery arugula. Then, I added thick, ripe, juicy slabs of heirloom tomatoes and slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella. I drizzled more of the vinaigrette on top, closed up the sandwich and voila – dinner!

You can use any assortment of meats in this sandwich, but I recommend staying with the cured Italian meats. They add the perfect salty/spicy component. If buffalo mozzarella isn’t available, you can substitute regular cows milk mozzarella, as long as it is the fresh kind. That really is key. Also, try to find the freshest, sweetest tomatoes that you can. You won’t regret it.

I served this sandwich with an equally easy and delicious white bean and pancetta soup. But, that’s a story for another day.