High Noon at the B-29

by

02/17/2002

600 Columbus Avenue, ny, ny 10024

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

“All my dishes are masterpieces ‘cause my customers deserve the best! They should lick their fingers to the bone,” my Dad would say.

“Nobody eats here just once unless he dies before the next time he plans to come in,” my Dad said. He was always busy cooking and talking at the B-29, the restaurant so named because of the B-29 plane propeller (or so may dad said) hanging from the ceiling. I worked there, too.

The restaurant may have been open to the public but only those who appreciated dad’s cooking were welcomed there. My father had emigrated from Greece in 1919 and had risen in the food chain from busboy, to waiter, to short order cook, chef and restaurateur. Dad was surveying his domain from the open kitchen. As he cautioned the customers in the packed dining room, “Never eat in a restaurant with a closed kitchen! Specially in a greasy spoon cause that’s probably what they hide …greasy dirty spoons and grimy pots and pans. See how I scrub with heavy steel brush so everything shines. Spotless! Look! See your face in it?”

One one hot August day in 1944, as my dad orated from the kitchen and people sat and had lunch, one of the customers winked at another customer and at my mother, who had just served him. He yelled out, “Too salty! Ang, you put too much salt in this stew. Whatsamatta Caliopi, you give your husband a hard time last night or sometihin and he didn’t have his mind on the cooking this morning?”

More customers chimed in with, “Yeah, sure is salty. Where was your head this morning, Angelo. Whaddya do, drop the salt shaker in the pot?”

Like a flash of white, Dad flew out of the kitchen, practically knocking me over as I peeled potatoes. My father’s chef’s hat was askew, the apron strings on his white apron strings were flying as he threw his apron on the ground and then Ptui! Ptui! spit on it. He pulled out his keys from his white pants pocket as he screamed, “Out! Everybody out! You don’t know how to eat, git outta here. Git out and stay out! He pushed the customers waiting on line to get in, “You get outta the way. Nobody’s comin in. Everybody out. Go to some greasy spoon alla you.”

Once the last customer was herded out the door, Dad locked the door from the inside. The only ones left inside were my mother, me, our waitress Female Fox, and Snowball the cat who was cowering in the corner. As we stood open-mouthed, dad was banging pots and pans and muttering, “Lousy ingrates, don’t know how to eat. Ptui! Too much salt. What they know? I teach ’em to appreciate good food. Caliopi, Zaphra, you too, Female, sit down eat some of this terrific stew. Female, don’t worry, I pay you for the day and I’ll give you an extra ten for the tips you woulda made. Ha, look at the windows see how they’re lookin at us. Like hungry wolves with their tongues hangin’ out. They’re hungry and they know what they’re missin. Humpf,I show them. Too much salt.”

Female went home. Mom and I went to the movies. Dad padlocked the restaurant, put up the metal night gates, locked them, and didn’t reopen the restaurant until the next morning for breakfast. Although all the customers came back, no one even whispered anything about my dad’s stand at the B-29 on that hot August day at high noon.

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