I know some of you will find this difficult to believe, but three decades ago, when I first started working in restaurants, I learned how to mix up pancake batter from a grizzled old cook who smoked cigarettes while he was cooking. One time, a bit of ash from his Pall Mall fell into the batter and he shrugged, "Oh well, it adds a little kick to the flavor." I had just started smokingat the time and thought, "What the hell, maybe he's right."
Flash forward to a very different place and time. It's nearly impossible to find a restaurant where smoking is permitted and that's a good thing. I mean, I used to smoke in restaurants myself -- cigarettes, coffee and a patty melt was one of my favorite meals -- until I started appreciating the joys of walking into a dining room, even a greasy spoon, that didn't smell like an old dirty ashtray. It's been so long since I've sat anywhere near a smoking section (that was always my favorite station in my waiter days, because I believed that smokers left bigger tips -- despite a shred of evidence to support that idea) that I'm blown away, pun intended, when I find a venue that still permits smoking.
Last week, my friend Lou Jane Temple and I ate breakfast at TJ's Cafe, a Grandview diner that I like a lot. Smoking hasn't yet been outlawed in Grandview, and when Lou Jane and I walked by the big slanted windows at the entrance, we saw two older ladies, with teased and sprayed coiffures, drinking coffee with extra-long cigarettes hanging out of their mouths (like characters in one of those Warner Brothers women's prison movies).
"You don't see that anymore," Lou Jane said.
We ate breakfast and the couple sitting in the booth behind us chain-smoked like fiends. As a reformed smoker, I try to be tolerant of those who still light up, but all that smoke wafting over almost ruined my appetite.
"And smell your coat," Lou Jane said after we walked out of the place. "It's like we were in a saloon."
Funny, that didn't used to bother me at all, either. It's a different world, baby. -- By Charles Ferruzza