The Cupboard Restaurant
1400 Union Avenue
Warren is out of town so every evening when I pick the monkeys (Satchel, 4, and Jiro, 2) up from school, they excitedly ask me, "Are we going to a restaurant?" Monday was dinner at my sister's house and Tuesday was roller derby practice. I had nothing scheduled for tonight and couldn't find a reason to say no.
"I want to go to the Chinese restaurant!" Satchel said.
"Which one?" I asked.
"The one with the balls!" he replied, refering to New Hunan's nasty basketball pit.
"I don't want to go there," I said. I've been maxing out on sushi and that's what I would normally order. "Besides, you don't want to eat there, you just want to play."
"Nu-uh," he said. "I want some egg soup and dumplings!"
"Dumplings? You don't eat dumplings at the Chinese restaurant," I said as I turned towards Midtown.
"You're going the wrong way!" he screamed from the back, soon joined by his brother.
I was wracking my mind to come up with somewhere to go.
"I want dumplings like in Oxford," Satchel wailed refering to the most delicious Ajax Restaurant (where he ate everything but his chicken and dumplings).
Chicken and dumplings, where can I get chicken and dumplings....
I let them whine while I drove towards the Cupboard. It's not my favorite place. I actually usually complain wildly when asked to go there by friends who come to visit and desperately try to get me to take them there. But, I'll do anything for my monkeys. And besides, it was a good opportunity to try and get them to eat some vegetables.
When I pulled into the (very full) parking lot both monkeys immediately stopped crying and started cheering, "Yay! Restaurant!"
We were immediately seated by a very nice, ownerly type woman who asked if I preferred a table or a booth. (I prefer the booth.) "It'll probably be a few minutes before Kiki gets to you," she said.
Uh-oh. If they warn you that the service is slow, does that make it better or worse? The monkeys immediately went for the butter packets and I went for my notebook. They dipped fingers and licked directly with their tongues while I eyed Kiki across the room paying very close attention to an elderly woman sitting at a table by herself. That's when I noticed it was "What's cooking Wednesday" (Wedneesday according to the menu), obviously a popular night for seniors. (Which also explained why at 6:00pm we seemed to be on the tail-end of the rush.)
Kiki came by and in a thick (Russian?)accent said, "I'll be with you in a minute."
Jiro looked at me insulted and said, "I want my juice!"
By now I was annoyed. And amazed by the prices listed on my menu. $8.18 for a meat and three seemed a little steep. (Although now that I think of it, $7.95 for a meat and three at the Ajax seemed like a deal.)
The monkeys were busy rummaging through my purse. Satchel tried to hijack my only pen and Jiro used half my bottle of travel sized Purel fruitlessly trying to clean his hands.
The ownerly-type woman came by again to say Kiki would be with us in a minute, she was just sure of it. I gave her a look which thankfully prompted her to say, "Let me get you something to drink."
As she came back with my incredibly sweet tea and the monkeys' orange soda, Kiki swooped in to take our order. "I'll get a meat and three for them to split..." I started.
"You want the kid's meal or the adult meal?" she asked.
"How much is the kids' meal?" I asked hopefully.
"$7.19," she replied.
"So the adult meal is $8.18 and the kid's meal is $7.19?" I confirmed.
"Yes," she said.
"Okay, I'll go with the adult meal for them to split with chicken strips, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed spinach, and squash casserole." I knew the last two items were a stretch but there was no well known green vegetable like broccoli, green beans, or asparagus to be found. "And I'll go with the vegetable soup."
"I'll get you some bread," she said as she walked off.
Just then Jiro noticed the very delicate Christmas decorations lining the railing about a foot above his head. "Ooh look!" he said.
"Oh, yes, uh, please don't touch honey. Just look," I said in a half-demand half-plea.
Amazingly he listened to me.
"We need to put up our Halloween...I mean Christmas decorations!" Satchel said.
"Maybe Daddy can put some lights up this weekend," I said.
"And the spiderwebs!" he said remembering we never put them out for Halloween.
"I don't know about the spiderwebs...well, maybe we can make them look like snow."
"Okay," he agreed. "I'm going to be a vampire for Chris...I mean Halloween next year!" he said, still confusing the two holidays. (Last year he went to see Santa at the zoo dressed as a Christmas vampire.)
"Where's the bread?" asked Jiro.
I looked around and made eye contact with a kindly busboy. "Can I help you, mam?"
"Can we have some bread please?" I asked sweetly.
"Sure," he smiled as he headed towards the kitchen.
Just then I saw Kiki come out with some rolls and I briefly felt like an ass for jumping the gun with the busboy...until she gave the rolls to another table. She certainly has an interesting system.
A few minutes later a different waitress brought us some cornbread and said, "The rolls are still in the oven, I'll bring them out as soon as they're done."
The monkeys pounced on the mini-cornbread muffins and I took a moment to relax. Then Kiki came over with our food. That was surprisingly fast. She had an extra plate for the monkeys to use and said, "I told them not to make the chicken too hot," which I thought was nice.
I divvied up the food and got busy on my soup, which Kiki apparently also requested lukewarm. I didn't care too much. I was just happy to be done with the waiting portion of our meal.
Satchel declared the cornbread "yummy" just as Jiro regurgitated his back into the basket. Satchel immediately polished off his share of the potatoes. I reminded him that next to seaweed, spinach was the food that was the strongest ever. He had a few bites then said, "Ew. Spinach juice. I don't want anymore."
"Eat your chicken," I said.
Kiki came by to check on us and give us our check.
"I'm done," Jiro announced as he took the last slurp of his Orange soda and slid under the table. "I'm going to stand next to you," he said clutching a quarter he had snagged from my purse. (Clearly he saw the candy machines in the foyer.)
The waitress brought the rolls over and warned us that they were hot. Jiro crawled back in his seat and grabbed one. "HOT!" he yelped. I grabbed it from him and yelped, "HOT!" I quickly pulled it apart to help it cool off and yelped a little more.
"I need to go potty," Satchel said. We all got up to go and fearing a repeat of Andria's Arcade incident, I made a point to tell the hostess that we were all going to the bathroom, not leaving, and to please not bus the table.
After doing his business, Satchel dutifully went to wash his hands. Once they were lathered in his "favorite" soap (the foamy kind) I realized that the water faucet was broken and permanently stuck on scalding. I desperately tried to get the soap off his hands with a wet paper towel, but was only mildly successful. I assured him soapy hands were better than dirty hands and we headed back to the table. Kiki was standing guard and upon seeing us said, "Oh I thought you had left. Good thing they didn't bus the table."
We all had a few more bites, had our favorite busboy bring us a to-go box, and took our check to the front. Our grand total: $20.99. Yikes. I think my soup, which was rather large, but not that large, cost $8 something too. While I paid, Jiro helped himself to a free piece of gum in a large container on the counter and Satchel snagged the one and only quarter in order to get some raisinettes that he had no intenion of sharing. I had no cash and had just earlier emptied all my change into my little change box at work. I asked the hostess to add a quarter to my tab so I could give Jiro his own quarter, but she had already started running my card through.
"You don't have to put it on the card," she said helpfully, "you just put the quarter in the machine."
I looked at her.
"It's separate," she said like my abundance of grey hair and attendance at "What's cooking Wednesday" made me stoopid.
Yes, I understand how vending machines work, thank you very much.
I put a tearful (and somehow slighted) Jiro in his carseat as Mr. Stingy smugly put his own seatbelt on. Like I said before, I'll do anything for my monkeys, especially my littlest monkey, so I looked in my secret change holder and dug in the very back to actually find a quarter. I walked Jiro back in and let him get some Chicklets.
Back in the car, Satchel was suddenly ready to share.
As we drove home, I tallied up our food intake. Me: lots of vitamin enriched vegetable soup. Satchel: one strip of protein packed chicken, one bite of protein packed stew meat, two bites of vitamin enriched spinach, lots of carbolicious mashed potatoes and cornbread, a dab of butter, a few slurps of orange soda, and a handful of chocolate raisins. Jiro: two dabs of butter, half a quart of orange soda, two bites of bread, and a handful of gum.
Two out of three ain't bad.