‘Tasty slips of the tongue, menu edition’
Back in the Seventies, all the cool lunch spots were festooned with macrame and spider plants. Yes, back then we young working people actually left work to go to out to lunch — and not just to grab a pannini or an acai bowl to bring back to eat at our desks.
Nope, about mid-morning we’d run into each other at the water cooler (seriously) or, more likely, the coffee machine (which was a Mr. Coffee we all took turns filling up and turning on) and discuss where to have lunch that day. The Middle-Eastern Place with the really yummy backlava? The Vegetarian Place run by the ashram? Or maybe Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue? Most of the time we’d head to Houlihan’s Old Place.
Note: All of these places were gussied up with macrame and spider plants. (Well, except for Arthur Bryant’s. You shuffled along in line at Arthur Bryant’s and, if you were smart, ordered the barbecued sandwich, which a guy with a missing finger cut in half for you.)
But back to Houlihan’s. It ended up being a chain, but at the time it was a very trendy place in Kansas City that had once been an old-fashioned brass-railed bar called Houlihan’s. It was rumored that the name originated when the new owners — the ones who hung the macrame and spider plants — kept asking each other, “What are we going to call Houlihan’s old place? We’ve simply got to come up with a name for Houlihan’s old place!” Then one of them said, “Hey, that’s it. We’ll call it …” well, you guessed it.
Before I forget: one of our young Ad Crowd used to like to tease assistant account executives — read more about them in “I’ve Got Belts Older than You” — by asking them to go have the Houlihan’s hostess have “Jack Mehoff” paged.
Which brings me to my title episode. Once, while whiling away a nice long lunch “hour’ at Houlihan’s, one of our Young Ad Gaggle, after perusing the menu, asked the waiter for the “crew-dites” followed by the “quish.” She wasn’t being funny. She just didn’t know how to pronounce such newfangled fancy food. You’ll be happy to hear that we didn’t embarrass her by “helpfully” correcting her. We weren’t all that considerate (see “Jack Mehoff” prank, above); we didn’t know how to pronounce that stuff either.
Now, before you condemn me for seeming snobbish by picking this story to tell, you must know that I had (and still have) my share of menu mispronunciations. I was once corrected by an ex BF for saying “crem bru-yay.” He corrected me in public — part of the reason he’s an ex BF. One other time I asked a waiter what the “giorno” was in the soup.
No, I picked this story because I’m thinking about food and also because as sort of a Family Lore Thing I call all raw vegetables “crew-dites,” and The Dude said this weekend after I cut up some carrots “Say, did you ever tell that story about the girl who ordered the “crew-dites” and the “quish?” So here you have it.
Recently I saw a spider plant hanging in the Instagrammed apartment of one of the most glamorous young women I know. Maybe “crew-dites” and “quiche” can’t be far behind. Though maybe not macrame.
Till then, we have “acai.” Which I have never ever said aloud, because, to me it looks like “uh-kai.” (Millennial chuckling goes here.) If you’re a reader of a vintage more likely to mangle “quiche,” here’s how the internet says to pronounce acai: “ah-sah-EE.” Which I’m not even going to think of trying to utter in public.
I console myself by knowing I can pronounce “turkey” without sounding like one.
Amagansett, New York. November 2020