Friday, November 28, 2014

More, Sir?

Orphans need to give thanks, too.

And by orphans, I mean all those people whose families are either too far away or are far too annoying to want to bother with on this most American of holidays. Holiday orphans.

At Camden's tonight, orphans were defined as any party of three or less; the chef's thinking was that if you had at least four, you could cook your own bird. Some people like to be the boss of everyone.

Fortunately for this orphan, I'd gotten an offer too good to refuse. A full Thanksgiving dinner for me, followed by helping a pro serve other orphans for a few hours. A chance to pay it forward, so to speak.

The only thing wrong with this picture is that I have absolutely no serving experience. Nada. Zip. But who's going to complain about the service at Thanksgiving? Do you give your Mom a hard time when she's slow in getting the stuffing on the table? When Uncle Bill takes too long to carve? Probably not.

By having my meal before the orphans showed up, I was able to speak with authority about what I was serving. Well, except to the woman who said she'd have fish instead of turkey. (Sound of record screeching) Do you see any fish on that menu, lady? There's no fish here on Thanksgiving.

What they did have was a handsome and hearty green salad (to clear the arteries for what was to come) followed by succulent smoked turkey - the skin crispy, salty and full of flavor - with all the usual suspects: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans and pearl onions, cranberry relish, gravy and the carb lover's dream, stuffing.

Of course, the stuffing wasn't as good as my family's but how could it be with no pork sausage in it? Does anyone not prefer their own family's stuffing?

Before I'd even finished my meal, orphans began showing up despite the fact that dinner wasn't going to be served for another half hour. It was an understanding bunch, though, and they made do with beer and wine until it was time to feed them.

From then on, the evening became a jigsaw puzzle (where to seat everyone), a memory exercise (who wanted the Cotes du Rhone, who wanted the IPA?) and a hand/eye test (not enough experience pouring ice water from a pitcher).

In the interest of full disclosure, I let all the orphan tables know I was a neophyte with no serving experience so that their expectations wouldn't be too high. As a result, I was lavished with praise for not doing worse than I did.

What I excelled at was talking to the orphans and finding out why they were there. More than half said they'd opted out of family, even though they were close enough to visit. Fair enough. Orphaning by choice is a real thing.

A woman sitting at the bar got a text mid-meal from her sister saying she'd been proposed to. Another had come alone for the second year, having enjoyed last year's orphan meal so much. A wine rep brought his crew of two. Another wine pro brought one, was joined by a third and then got a text saying a fourth was on the way.

Whoa there, mister. There are no four tops at an orphans' Thanksgiving. They left to find a non-orphans' dinner.

Things were crazy busy for the next couple of hours as orphans continued to arrive, eat and depart with their turkey sandwich for tomorrow. One woman was so touched when I dropped off her table's sandwiches that she teared up. "That's the nicest thing I ever heard of," she said with a catch in her voice.

I was asked to mediate a debate about sweet potatoes versus yams. Not the same thing, I clarified. She gave me a high five and he scowled. At least we're learning something at this table tonight.

Dropping off a drink order to a couple, I took up their menus, reminding them that there were no choices tonight. "What if I don't like that?" he joked. Feel free to walk out that door and find yourself another orphans' Thanksgiving, I suggested. They grinned and stayed.

I had all the power (if none of the skill), especially with the scent of smoked turkey and gravy wafting out from the kitchen. They wanted what I could deliver.

Make no mistake, I had no idea what I was doing, but the real server was good enough to teach me terminology, tell me where to find certain beers and express appreciation for whatever I did.  In the ultimate compliment, when she was in the weeds and completely overwhelmed, she told me she'd have killed herself if I hadn't been there to help.

Pretty heady stuff for a novice server.

Three hours in, we began to run out of food. Peach crisp was the first casualty, but nobody complained about the pumpkin pie made extra creamy with Paula Deen's suggestion of adding cream cheese. By the time the last guest - celebrating his birthday today - arrived, we had exactly enough gravy for him and not one ladle more.

Only once he got to his dessert course did I sit down and have mine: chocolate pate, not an option for the walk-in orphans but available to the stopgap help.

Which, after being in constant motion serving orphans for four hours was about the nicest thing I'd ever heard of.

That would be just one of several things for which this orphan is thankful this year.


  1. thank you..thank you, thank decent of you. ..i'm beginning to like you.


  2. ok..ok...let's just say it re-affirms my faith in you...among other that better?


  3. What I wouldn't have given to see you serving. I'm rolling on the floor in laughter at the thought. But I know you enjoyed it and that's all that matters.