Of All Things - Cover

Of All Things

Public Domain

Chapter 10: A Piece of Roast Beef

Personally, I class roast beef with watercress and vanilla cornstarch pudding as tasty articles of diet. It undoubtedly has more than the required number of calories; it leans over backward in its eagerness to stand high among our best proteins, and, according to a vivid chart in the back of the cookbook, it is equal in food value to three dried raisins piled one on the other plus peanut-butter the size of an egg.

But for all that I can’t seem to feel that I am having a good time while I am eating it. It stimulates the same nerve centers in me that a lantern-slide lecture on “Palestine--the Old and the New,” does.

However, I have noticed that there are people who are not bored by it; in fact, I have seen them deliberately order it in a restaurant when they had the choice of something else; so I thought that the only fair thing I could do would be to look into the matter and see if, in this great city, there weren’t some different ways of serving roast beef to vary its monotony.

Roast beef is not the same price in all eating-places. What makes the difference? What does a diner at the Ritz get in his “roast prime ribs of beef au jus” that makes it distinctive from the “Special to-day--roast beef and mashed potatoes” of the Bowery restaurant?

To answer these questions I started out on a tour of the representative eating-places of some of our best known strata of society, and, whatever my conclusions are, you may be sure that they are thoroughly inexpert.

First, I tried out what is known as the Bay State Lunch, so called because on Thursdays they have a fishcake special. It is one of the hundreds of “self-serving” lunchrooms, where you approach the marble counter and give your order in a low tone to a man in a barber’s coat, and then repeat it at intervals of one minute, each time louder and each time to a different man, until you are forced to point to a tub of salmon salad and say, “Some of that,” for which your ticket is punched and you are allowed to take your portion and nurse it on the over-developed arm of a chair.

Here the roast beef shot through the Punch and Judy arrangement in the wall, a piece of meat about as large around as a man’s-size mitten, steeping in its own gravy and of a pale reddish hue. The price was twenty cents, which included a dab of mashed potato dished out in an ice-cream scoop, a generous allowance of tender peas, two hot tea-biscuits and butter to match.

Considering the basic ingredient, it was a perfectly satisfactory meal, and I felt that twenty cents was little enough to pay for it, especially since it was going in on my expense account.

For the next experiment I went to a restaurant where business men are wont to gather for luncheon, men who pride themselves on their acumen and adherence to the principles of efficiency. The place has a French name and its menus are printed on a card the size of a life insurance company’s complimentary calendar, always an ominous sign. The roast beef here was served cold, with a plate of escarole salad (when I was a boy I used to have to dig escarole out of the front lawn with a trowel so that the grass could have a chance) for seventy-five cents.

The meat bulked a little larger than at the Bay State Lunch, but when the fat had been cut away and trimmed off the salvage was about the size of a boy’s mitten. As for the taste, the only difference that I could detect was that one had been hot and the other cold.

And, incidentally, the waiter had some bosom friends in the next room who fascinated him so that it was all I could do to make him see that if he didn’t come around to me once in a while, just as a matter of form, there would be no way for me to tip him. Beef and salad, plus tip, ninety cents.

That evening I ambled up the Bowery until I came to the Busy Home Restaurant. On a black-board in front was written, “Roast Beef, Mashed Potatoes and Coffee, 10 Cents.” My old hunger again seized me. I said to myself: “Look here! Be a man! This thing is getting the best of you.” But before I knew it I was inside and seated at an oilcloth-covered table, saying, in a hoarse voice, “Roast beef!”

The waiter was dressed in an informal costume, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and a mulatto apron about his waist, but he smiled genially when he took my order and was back with it in two minutes. The article itself was of the regulation size, cut somewhat thinner, perhaps, and bordering on the gray in hue, but undoubtedly roast beef. It, too, had an affinity for its own gravy and hid itself modestly under an avalanche of mashed potatoes. A cup of coffee was also included in the ten cents’ initial expense, but I somehow wasn’t coffee-thirsty that night, and so didn’t sample it. But I did help myself to the plate piled high with fresh bread which was left in front of me. All in all, it was what I should call a representative roast beef dinner. And I got more than ten cents’ worth of calories, I know.

But so far I had kept below the Fourteenth Street belt in my investigations. Roast beef is a cosmopolitan habit, and knows no arbitrary boundaries; so I went uptown. Into one of the larger of our largest hotels, one which is not so near the Grand Central Station as to be in the train-shed, and yet not so far removed from it as to be represented by a different Assemblyman. Here, I felt, would be the test. Could roast beef come back? Surrounded by glittering chandeliers and rich tapestries, snowy table linen and silver service, here was the chance for the ordinary roast beef to become a veritable dainty, with some character, some distinctive touch that should lift it above all that roast beef has ever meant before. I entered the dining-room, in high hopes.

The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.