Dishin' That: Something sweet, savory about the Thursday-night special

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Just when I was thinking my longtime, teeter-tottering love affair with restaurant shenanigans may be waning, a chance meeting took place this past week, sending me sky high.

It was a much-needed boost in reminding me why I continue to do the work, when so much about it has changed.

It started at a Commercial Street coffee shop, when I ran into a customer who goes back to my very early years of restaurant management in Portland.

Recalling our initial meeting vividly, he had walked into the restaurant and sat at the bar. I made him a bourbon Manhattan, and we had a lovely conversation. He told me I was the first person he met upon moving to town. A rare, cross-the-line, yet strictly platonic friendship ensued.

James became a Thursday-night regular, along with a cast of characters that make the Seinfeld crew seem dull. There were a couple of lawyers (one of whom I’m still crushing on) and the ladies who did my hair. Always on hand was our house-musician Ryan Curran, his server-wife Sarah, and a bunch of their friends. Another new-to-town financial guy named Mark was a constant presence, and his then-girlfriend (now wife), too.

Not exactly regulars, but regular enough, were Chuck and Nancy, who paid their dues and morphed into owners of the wildly successful CVC Catering Group. Alex Altman and JD from the original Binga’s, and of course, my in-between-pregnancies BFF. Her husband, fondly known as My Attorney, aligned his priorities by juggling poker with golf, making plans to join us a given.

But the thing that made Thursday nights so special were my two young daughters, who sat in the same stools each week, doing homework and kibitzing. They ate lobster, scallop and sweet potato cakes, and Caesar salad with extra “ancho-bees” as they socialized. They listened attentively as one of the lawyers helped with math I had no clue about.

The best part was nobody in the group passed judgment, except for one of the servers. Not one to pull the food-chain management card, that server worked for me anyway, so her dirty looks and snide comments went ignored. The kitchen manager loved my daughters, often inviting them to “help,” thus furthering their education in a way not available to very many. By 7:15 pm, the girls were whisked home, just as things went from PG-13 to R and beyond.

I had forgotten just how special those days were until, over coffee talk, James asked what they’re up to now. Shaking his head in disbelief when I told him Number One graduated from college last May, and her sister will graduate next year, we both fell silent.

Talk shifted to another restaurant where I worked briefly, and our paths had crossed again, because by chance he had strolled into the place. Recently married, and moving off the peninsula, James and Carla were seeking neighborhood places with decent food and comfy bars. I introduced him to the owners, some of the staff, and the restaurant worked its way into their “Where should we go to dinner?” rotation.

Then, the poop hit the fan. Details next week.

Peas & Q’s

Q — What are your thoughts on open-toes shoes in restaurants? — Linda T., Portland.

A — Having dropped a keg on my toe once, I think they’re unsafe and unsanitary. Comfortable shoes can make or break a long shift and smart restaurant people are always looking for that right combination of arch support, non-slip soles, and hopefully, a splash of uniform-friendly fashion. If someone could design a cute, cushy, steel-toed woman’s shoe with a grease-proof grip for under $100, I’d be interested in going on “Shark Tank” with them.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.