Cafe Society


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So on my good day, I was heading back for another round of corned beef hash and a last look at the new Mona's — a bustling and bright space, with a front wall full of windows, comfortable booths and banquettes — before I sat down to write. I was hoping that the staff, both in the kitchen and on the floor, wouldn't mess up the good thing we had going. Even though the service had sometimes been slow, occasionally distracted, I was okay with that. At breakfast, I'm often rather slow and distracted myself, and I tend to find a similar state of mind in my waiters and waitresses comforting. And even though the kitchen had turned out a couple of duds (a grilled cheese sandwich jacked up with caramelized onions and limp roasted red peppers taken straight from the can and laid on my sandwich without even a cursory pass across the grill), they'd also come across with that great hash, as well as a nice, Americanized breakfast burrito, fat and stuffed with those same fried potatoes and ham and eggs, though topped with a forgettable green chile. Also, unlike the original Mona's, this one has a bar that does interesting things with champagne and Ketel One — things that can make a man feel like not so much of a lush for drinking before noon on a workday.

And while on this good day the service was still a bit bungled (my pot of Earl Grey forgotten at least twice, and when it finally arrived only reminding me how much I missed my morning coffee) and the kitchen working at its own leisurely pace, the corned beef hash was, if anything, even better than before: golden potatoes and eggs just right, a massive dose of Irish poverty food sided by a single blueberry flapjack, perfectly turned, laced with a crisp-edged filigree and so fluffy in the center that it drank melted butter and syrup the way I do Harp lagers: fast and with excessive relish. It was such a good breakfast on such a good day that, for a moment, I forgot myself — forgot who I am and what it is that I do for a living. I'd been enjoying myself the way a normal person might who'd slept late and had then had a fine morning meal — not thinking like a critic or a food writer or anyone whose anonymity is, at least partly, his stock in trade.

So when the bill came (cheap for such an excellent breakfast, until I realized they'd comped me the tea that had so resolutely refused to arrive), I reached for my wallet and, thoughtlessly, pulled out my actual credit card. The one with my real name on it. Not one of the three fakes I use most nights. I walked up to the register and handed that card to Garren Austin, the owner of Mona's, who was standing right there.

"That's a good name," he said. And I replied with something clueless like, "Oh, really? Well, thanks."

He flipped the card over. My signature had long since rubbed off. He asked for my ID. And then, all of a sudden, I realized what I'd done.

In my mind, shit shit shit. My good day, right out the window.

Garren said something else but I missed it, desperately trying to back-trace, to come up with a workable lie. Then he said, "I know who you are." And I said something like, "How could that be? I don't even live here."

"Really? Where are you from?"

"New Mexico. Santa Fe, most recently."

Garren looked me in the face. He looked down at my shirt. He looked me in the face again. "That's a good restaurant, too," he said.

I looked him in the face, then looked down at my shirt — the one I'd grabbed from the pile on the floor way back when this had still been my good day. I could read it upside down just as easily as Garren could right side up. It was a Frasca T-shirt. Shit shit shit...

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan