Unless you’re in Cranston, Rhode Island and happen to wander into Tony Papa’s Italian Restaurant half an hour before closing. On that evening, you have entered The Twilight Zone.
I’d worked up a world class craving for humble pasta and meatballs in red sauce, with a little salad.
It's the easiest thing to prepare, and fortunately easy to find on their menu. When the waiter brought our Chianti, we said we were ready to order. I pointed to the section of the menu that says FAVORITE ITALIAN DINNERS. There are three, one of which is Meatballs...Nestled into Your Choice of Pasta. The notation immediately below says “All Italian Dinners include Your Choice of Salad or Pasta or Daily Potato and Vegetable” Perfect! I opted for the salad and the vegetable, and settled back to anticipate Italian heaven. Wrong.
“You can’t do that,” the waiter said.
“Because you can’t have a salad and pasta.”
“Because it says salad or pasta.”
“That’s if you’re ordering it as an accompaniment. According to the menu, if I wanted to, I could actually order even more Pasta instead of the Salad or Daily Potato, along with a Vegetable,” I explained as I ran a finger along the lines to show him, word for word, in case he was new to the job or hadn’t read the menu in awhile or couldn’t read at all. “But all I really want is the salad.”
“No. Not both.”
“What’re you, my mother?” I said with the sweetest smile I could muster. Proximity to spaghetti brings out the Italian in me, and that can mean zero-to-sixty sarcasm that morphs into Neopolitan super-bitchiness. It’s a gift.
“Is the owner here?” I asked.
“Yes, he is.”
“I’d like to talk with him, please.”
The waiter returned soon: “The bartender says you’re wrong.”
“Is the bartender the owner?” I peeled off my sweater, it was getting hot in there.
“Then let me talk with the owner.”
As I waited, I knocked down the rest of the wine, and the owner finally emerged from the kitchen. A formidable, dark-haired man, more wary than friendly, wafting a scent reminiscent of a pet I once owned - a goat. As I apologized for taking his time, took a deep breath and patiently explained again (yes I did, it’s something I picked up - and couldn’t shake off - from living in Canada), he feigned interest in the menu. When my lips stopped moving, he answered.
“No. Only the vegetable.”
“But why? It says…” and I read it again with a lot of Pleeeeese, massa Tony! in my voice, my pasta-and-salad craving now through the roof.
“Right,” he said firmly. He’d had to agree with me, and now I knew I had him. “So?”
“The menu’s wrong.”
At that point, I think you'll agree ordering anything at all would have been a bad idea. We paid and left…with a copy of the menu, which you see above, as a souvenir of the complete breakdown of customer service. Later, online, I found another damning review of the same restaurant from a diner who had been a frequent customer and had brought many family members there. One fateful night he’d ordered the swordfish, told the server it was dry, and watched in disbelief as the owner sat down next to him, told him he was wrong and that he wasn’t going to prepare another one, and maybe wouldn’t prepare him anything else at all.
Please don’t confuse this dictatorial, insensitive, cold, short-sighted stupidity with the amusing, fictional "Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld. What’s happening at this insignificant little eatery in Cranston, Rhode Island is sadly representative of the downward spiral of real American customer service. It says: Stay Or Go, We Don’t Care.
I WENT. I do care. Fortunately a really great Italian restaurant, Sogno’s, is right down the street and happily awaiting new diners that Tony Papa’s ungratefully place-kicks out of its customer base.