Before shows like Fear Factor and Bizarre Foods triggered mainstream gag reflexes, I toyed with my own notions of pushing the edible envelope. For much of the '90's, for example, I worked for a guy who allowed me the latitude to turn his specials chalkboards into an outlandish culinary canvas.
Conceptually, it seemed clear we were onto something. "Club-your-own, whole-roasted baby Harp seal" triggered lots of table conversations. A few folks were appalled and protested our flippancy, but most ate it up for the obvious parody on culinary adventurism that it was. By the time our "Marvin Gaye" promotion ran ("Bring in your dad and get two shots free!"), we were lampooning life from an epicurean perspective on a fairly regular basis.
Of the spoofs we served up in those days, "Javelina Nipple Fritters" proffered quite a parable on the power of suggestion, an invaluable tool of our trade. And it taught me a lesson on what rapport, some sense of humor, and a little artful persuasion can bring to the table.
"Good evening," I greeted a group of gregarious seniors early on that particular shift. "You folks familiar with the menu?"
"We've heard about this place," one fellow spoke up. "We're from Wisconsin. So's the owner here, right?"
"Well, let me tell ya; he didn't learn to cook this stuff in Wisconsin." There were chuckles all around the table.
"Well, let me tell ya," I mimicked back in my best Fargo-ese, "He and his family spent time in New Mexico, ya know." Now the table was laughing with me. "The food's great. Spicy. Different. But great. If you have any questions, feel free."
My Midwesterners took their time, digesting the menu descriptions over two or three drinks apiece. Every time I spun back by, they'd quiz me. Carne Adovada, Chimayo chicken. It was all new to them.
"This black bean linguini, is that beans with noodles?" A Mr. Whiskey & Water wanted to know.
"Actually, that's pasta made from black beans."
"No shit?" All the liquor and laughter were loosening lips.
"No shit, sir." I took the liberty, too.
"You're our kinda' guy," Whisky & Water shook my hand.
"I love you, too, sir; in an almost sexual way." I threw out one of my go-to lines. We were all laughing hard together. They were putty in my hands.
"Another round?" I seized the opportunity.
"You bet your sweet ass," one of the women said, getting into the act. "Then we'll order."
Deciding to just go with the experience, the group pretty much let me order for them. Some seafood. Signature pastas. A roasted garlic plate. Lots of red meat.
"All this will certainly give you a good sampling of our wares," I assured them, walking away from the table.
"Hey," Whisky & Water turned me back around, "What's the story with those 'Javelina Nipple Fritters?" Glad someone was game for our little joke, I just took things further with my answer.
"There are eight to an order," I went along, dotting my fingers down either side of my torso to accentuate the folly of local, female peccary's teats served up as Southwestern fare. "They're beer-battered and fried, with a texture not unlike calamari, and served with a trio of zesty dipping sauces."
"What the hell, bring us two orders," W & W played on. I relished the humor being bandied back and forth between us. These were my kinda customers.
Things continued to go well. My Wisconsinites wolfed-down their appetizers and dinners, and washed all of that down with more cocktails than I should have allowed them in good conscience. When things suddenly turned quiet around dessert, I simply assumed everyone had had a little too much of everything.
"No dessert? You folks pooping out on me?" I tried to revive them. But now there were no laughs. No responses, comments, or conversation.
"Just the check," Whisky & Water deadpanned.
In the end, and after all the good vibrations I perceived that we'd shared, they left me barely fifteen percent.
I found out why the following afternoon, when my boss phoned me at work from his home. He got right to the point, without saying so much as hello first.
"Somebody called the office today. I'm fuzzy on the details, but apparently you fucked up the order on a large party sent in by some friends of mine in Wisconsin."
"I didn't fuck up anything." Certain, I immediately became defensive.
"Let me finish. They said the food and the service were great, but you forgot the one dish they really wanted to try and tell everyone back home about."
My mind raced. I was drawing a blank. Then, it occurred to me.
"No. Javelina Nipple Fritters?"
"That's what they said." Boss-man ah-ha'd. "Go ahead, explain. I'm listening."
"Sometimes, I wonder why I let you do the things I let you do." With that, he ended our conversation.
The next day, his wife made a long distance call and cleared everything up. Maybe two weeks later, I got a $25 check in the mail, drawn on a bank in Whitefish Bay.
The words "Nipple Fritters" were written on the memo line.