Saturday, March 20, 2010

Restaurant Review: The Sleepy Chapel Sandwich Shoppe

This afternoon I stopped for lunch at the Sleepy Chapel Sandwich Shoppe. This eatery is located in the shopping district of Villageville, a place I had avoided for years because for some mysterious reason the drive up there always induced a panic attack in me. What was it about the sedated greenery on the sides of the highway, the droning scent of summer and slumber, that made me feel trapped in my own car as I drove to Villageville? Painful thoughts attacked my psyche as I stayed in the right lane so as to be able to exit whenever I wanted to (much as some people like to sit near the exit in a movie theater, in case the figures on the screen loom too large, and the excessive soundtrack pummel the delicate mind). This somnolent village, once I'd arrived, seemed pleasant but oddly disturbing in its agrarian gentlemanliness. But I always made the trip because of my love for the Sleepy Chapel. Every year I would overcome my anxiety, get in my car with a well-highlighted set of printouts from the automobile association's site, and set forth for Villageville. And today I again had the longing to visit Villageville. After the car trip, which for once was in no way harrowing, oddly enough--my experiences last year traveling to numerous eating establishments may have inured me for good to interstate driving--I parked in the municipal dirt pit, got my ticket, and made my way to my destination, the one-of-a-kind Sleepy Chapel Sandwich Shoppe.The Shoppe itself is, like many of the other buildings in Villageville, a red brick building which seems to absorb somehow the heat of the sun and to be in a state of endless drowsiness. How amazed I was to see that the Shoppe, which a year ago had opened at 10 am (which I consider rather late for a restaurant) now, according to the sign in the window (a cartoon chef held on a tray a clock with moveable red hands) was to open at 11. Eleven o'clock! I pulled out my cellphone and noted that it was now 10:30. I had exactly a half hour to spend waiting for the Shoppe to open. What would I do? What was going on with the Shoppe that their hours of operation were becoming more and more circumscribed? I decided to go for a brief stroll, walking for fifteen minutes in one direction, upon which point I would turn in the opposite direction, taking another fifteen minutes to return to the Sandwich Shoppe. I thought it just might do the trick, and bring me back to the restaurant in time for opening.As I strolled along Village Street (not to be confused with nearby Village Road, Village Avenue, Villageville Street, and Village Circle), I glanced into the windows of the shops. The paint everywhere was peeling. A number of charming thrift shops charmed me, but I was intent on keeping my senses clear until I was ready to dine at Sleepy Chapel. Finding a long-lost childhood lunchbox might skew my critical eye for the entire day, and that would be doing you, the readers of these reviews, a grave disservice.After my half-hour's walk, I stepped into the Sandwich Shoppe. And who did I see sitting at one of the antiqued, green wrought-iron tables but my old friend Jacques Wool? I rushed to greet him, tripping on a rug but quickly righting myself. I shook hands with Jacques and sat down to join him for lunch."I see you have overcome your little anxieties and have made the trek to Villageville!" Wool said. "Though sometimes I wonder whether it is indeed worth the effort. The Sleepy Sandwich is not what it used to be. That is for certain!" Jacques leaned back in his chair and a gale of laughter stormed from his lips. Jacques continued, more soberly, "Once, I told you to check this place out. But you must realize, I am only human. And so is this Sandwich Shoppe! This may no longer be the food palace I once deemed it to be. This may be my last time in this joint. I am glad that you were able to be here for my farewell to Villageville!"The waitroid arrived then. As usual, Jacques ordered the cigar-flavored smoothie. I decided on the wonderful Eggless Omelet (all the ingredients you'd expect in an omelet, without the eggs--we're talking genius, here!). "I mean, really," Jacques stated, "is it worth the angst? You look like a ghost, man! Like a freaking specter!" Jacques cackled. "And for what? A plate full of diced ham and onions? I don't think so. You make the harrowing journey to Villageville once a year, and something about driving on that interstate gives you anxiety attacks--big time!" As we talked, I noticed that they'd turned on the music. The Buggles' "Living in the Plastic Age" was playing. "I haven't heard that one in years," I said. Jacques said, "What, the phrase 'big time'?" Our waitroid returned and set down our lunch. Before the server could leave, Jacques clenched his forearm and said, "Wait a moment, R2D2. I want to ask you a question. There's a big tip in it for you if you have the correct answer." Jacques blew a personfied cloud of smoke into the air and said, "My friend here has a problem. I think he has a certain sensitivity that is making him act strangely when he comes to Villageville." The waitroid looked at Jacques quizzically. Jacques said, "I think our friend here has a morbid sensitivity to...pinecones!" The server looked at though Jacques were either being nice to him or mocking him, and he couldn't be sure. "Pinecones?" he asked. Jacques said, "Yes, I think the highway to Villageville is lined with many pinecones, and these cause him to have a strange reaction. Maybe he was traumatized in the past. Maybe as a child a pinecone hit him on the noggin--and now he is afraid of them!" Jacques laughed heartily and pounded the table with his fist. "Whatever you do, do not--and I mean, do not--serve this man pinecones!" The waitroid answered noncommittally, and walked away. "What in Hades was that all about?" I asked Jacques. "Oh," Jacques said, forming a devilish point at the end of his Van Dyke beard, "you will see soon enough. Now that I've broached the subject, the true import of the symbolism will penetrate your subconscious mind." I started tucking into my omelet, pulling the sheet over my nose and mouth. "Jacques," I said, "you're a loon." Jacques slurped his cigar smoothie. It sounded like the suction in a dentist's office. "My friend, you need to get at the root of these phobias. But perhaps the Sleepy Sandwich is not the place for such explorations."The omelet as usual was fantastic. The diced ham and onions were well-polished and clicked pleasantly in my spoon. Jacques seemed to find his cigar smoothie rather satisfying--it appeared to put him in a mellow mood. "Did I ever tell you," Jacques said, "about the aspiring food critic who never actually ate at any of the restaurants he reviewed? Scandalous! He simply picked up copies of their take-out menu's and made up reviews out of whole cloth. Imagine! And no one was none the wiser--not any, not one!" Jacques absently tapped his forehead with his spoon. "Of course, he was apprehended. People cannot go through these kinds of clandestine machinations without being exposed. The idiot, he wrote a review of a restaurant that had been turned into a reptile shop! You can imagine how his editors reacted to that review when he phoned it in to them. They threw him out into the street! You may have your numerous faults as a restaurant critic, my friend, but at least you visit the eateries you are reviewing! I can say that much for you. You give us at least that much credit as readers--darn it, as human beings! Food criticism is not a game of jumping jacks!" At this Jacques slammed his fist on the table. "Food criticism is the most highly evolved form of reviewing in our century--and this man was playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with it! Madness! Who knows how many people, taking him at his word, journeyed down to that reptile shop expecting it to be Shambles' Steakhouse? It's an insult! A literal insult!" Jacques' face was flushed with anger as he sat there panting, his aviator glasses misted over with rage, like seeing a red neon light through a car window on a rainy, foggy night. After a few minutes of trembling fury, Jacques seemed to calm down again. He slurped his cigar smoothie once more, then shrugged with upturned palms and pursed lips. "But if that's how he wanted to play the game, who am I to say no? I am not Milton Bradley."The waitroid returned and offered us dessert. I love dessert at Sleepy Chapel. I ordered the avocado cobbler; Jacques had the Calcium-Lover's Sundae. Lunch with Jacques was amazing always, but I needed to psychically prepare myself for the stressful ride home. "You think about those pinecones," Jacques reinforced as he shook my hand. Oddly though, as I pulled my car onto Village Street, the prospect of driving on the highway no longer caused me any anxiety. In fact, I was home before I knew it. Perhaps talking with Jacques had done the trick. Or more likely it was the confidence I'd gained through my many food-inspired roadtrips and daytrips of the previous year. Whatever the cause of my newfound calmness on the interstate, it showed that just as I could get used to new dishes like the fabulous avocado cobbler, so could I get used to the unfamiliar road to Villageville. I was glad I had overcome this driving phobia, because I had already begun to map out a number of restaurants in the surrounding area that I wished to travel to and enjoy.

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