A big part of the travel package for our visit to New York was a fine dining experience at Mamma Leone’s Italian restaurant. Italian was, is, and will always be one of my favorite cuisines. I was greatly looking forward to devouring as much sauced up pasta and bread as possible. The fine Mamma didn’t let me down.
Walking through the restaurant to our banquet room was almost a journey. There didn’t appear to be a sense of design in how the restaurant was built or decorated. Rooms and doors were built in unusual locations. Statues were scattered here and there. Paintings with no discernible theme lined the walls. Everything seemed to be an odd collection of… stuff. This place was one of a kind and I loved it.
Our table settings each had a menu marked to show what our dining options were for the evening. We had our pick from Mamma’s Famous Dinner meal, a meal costing a whopping $15.95 [$42.15 in 2016 buying power]. Jeff and Lloyd and I looked at one another with looks of awe on our faces. The rest of the room was starting to buzz with the feeling of “Thank God this is already paid for!”
The tables already had raw vegetables and cheese to nosh on. We dug into the appetizers as politely as we were capable of. We looked over our menus and discussed the different options, trying half-heartedly to appear sophisticated.
My meal consisted of shrimp cocktail for the antipasti, baked lasagna for the pasta course, spaghetti with meatballs from the pesce o arrosto options, and the Leone’s cheesecake for dessert. My beverage was a Coke. I really wanted to have some wine with my meal in the Italian tradition. Legally speaking I would have been within my rights to have a glass of wine in the City of New York. The group rules, however, mandated that we follow the drinking age law of our home state of Indiana. It was just as well seeing as how TJ Swann wine was nowhere to be seen of the menu.
All of the food was good, but not $15.95 good. The sheer amount of food was what drove the cost up. I got my fill of sauced up pasta and then some. I left sated and happy.
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The rest of the meals during our week stay were entirely up to us. We managed, as best we could, to avoid the fast food traps that we could find back home. The vast majority of our meals were unique to the city.
My favorite meals of the week came from the street vendors. I desperately wanted to experience a kraut dog from a hot dog cart. The first kraut dog I had was the best hot dog I’d ever had and was the best thing I had to eat all that week. I had at least four more before we left for home.
Jeff, Lloyd, and I stopped at small café with sidewalk seating for lunch one day. The menu was unlike any we would have found back in Muncie, full of things like tofu, rice cakes, and other “healthy” foods. We just sort of stared at the menu with dumb looks until the waitress came to take our orders. None of us were entirely sold on our selections.
I had a thoroughly forgettable sandwich that had but one notable ingredient – bean sprouts. Bean sprouts were completely foreign to me. The waitress was very familiar with them and highly recommended the sandwich to me. She seemed to be a nice, trustworthy person so I went with her recommendation. It was the first and last time I had bean sprouts. It’s entirely possible that the sprouts were present in a dish that I had in the ensuing years, but it would not have been by choice.
The three of us paid our bills and we went on our way down the street. We were waiting on a red light when we heard a familiar voice screaming as it came running down to the street corner. As one, we turned around and saw our diminutive waitress headed in our direction, her arms flailing in every direction as one expletive after another left her mouth. “Cheap bastards” was one of her favorite names to call us. The words “no” and “tip” when used together were also a common refrain.
Oh shit, I thought. We didn’t leave a tip. In all my years I had never been to an establishment where tipping was expected without an adult on hand that paid the bill and left the tip. I had never had to leave a tip in my life. Our waitress was now giving the three of us a very loud and demonstrative lesson on the fine art of tipping right there in front of everyone nearby on the street corner.
We each apologized to her. It did no good. We tried to explain our ignorance. It did no good. We each tried to explain our situation and limited amount of funds. It did no good. We each got a turn with a finger in our face. Even Jeff backed up a step or two. We each got a good barking at. It did no good.
She still didn’t get a tip.