Strange daze…

I had the strangest evening tonight at the Broad Ripple Brew Pub.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, for hubby and I, the Brew Pub is sort of our place. (Well, really, it’s his place, I guess I just married into it.) It’s the closest thing hubby has to a “local,” a traditional Irish public house near your own home that you frequent so much they know you by name and drink preference. Hubby and I met for the first time at the Brew Pub, in fact, on our auspicious first blind date. I was both impressed and slightly alarmed that the staff all greeted him by name. Three pints of strong microbrewed ale followed and the rest, as they say, is history.

But I digress… Hubby’s been on yet another business trip, so baby and I decided we would venture out tonight to the BP for dinner and some (for mommy, much-needed) social interaction. We always see someone we know there, and I was hoping some of our regular circle would be in attendance. When the weather’s nice, as it was today, the gang usually congregates just outside the entrance to chat and partake of the lovely house beverages.

On the approach, I saw several folks I recognized, but more of hubby’s acquaintances than mine. The few friends I had texted about coming out were not able to join us, but I decided to make the best of it. After all, baby and I were already out and that was half the battle won.

Baby started squawking for his dinner, and I was getting hungry myself, so I put my name in for an outdoor table. The hostess seemed a little surprised to learn it was just me and the bambino, but as I’ve written about before, I have no problem dining out on my own, and I knew the baby would certainly keep me busy enough.

We were seated toward the back of the outdoor tables on the nonsmoking side. I pulled baby’s stroller up next to me and fed him his strained vegetables and cheese puffs, stealing sips of my chardonnay in between bites. In typical fashion, he ended up immediately throwing every item I gave him in an attempt at appeasement onto the floor, which I retrieved as quickly as possible to keep the wait staff from stepping on said items.

As I was trying to keep baby amused and waiting for my pesto chicken sandwich to arrive, a 50-ish couple entered, stage left. You know how when you’re on a plane and the seat next to you is empty… You sit there waiting nervously, watching every passenger come on board, silently praying that you don’t get stuck sitting next to some annoying chatty Cathy or some weirdo who falls asleep and drools on your shoulder? That’s exactly how I felt tonight.

I heard them before I saw them; a wispy woman dressed in a bright yellow flowered dress, wafting perfume, with a blond updo and lots of makeup, trailed by a graying, mustached average Joe wearing glasses, shorts and a polo shirt. If I’ve ever seen a woman who screamed “high maintenance” without ever opening her mouth, she was it. The woman was complaining, none too quietly, to the hostess that she wasn’t getting precisely the table she wanted because it was too hot for her to sit in the sun. I saw that the hostess was intending to herd them into the seats at the table next to me, which was shaded, so I wasn’t sure exactly what she was bitching about. For some reason, she suddenly changed her tune and said the table was fine.

The poor waiter, I could nearly see his shoulders rise as he approached their table. First, she insisted on making a big deal about asking if the pub still had the “Lawnmower” ale, apparently trying to impress her date by letting him know she was really in the inner circle here. (Which, of course, they do, it’s one of their signature items.) Then she tried to order for her date, quizzing the waiter about the other brews, even though each is detailed in fairly good length within the menu itself, as he so politely pointed out.

“But YOU’RE the waiter,” she said. “YOU should be able to tell us…”

I could actually see the waiter bristle at that. Finally, she insisted on having the waiter bring her date a sample of her choice so he could make sure he really liked it before committing to a pint. Now come on. I got the feeling at this point that this was her date and average Joe was really just along for the ride.

I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation; this unlikely duo was obviously on a first Match.com or some such date. It was all “so, what do you exactly” and “how did you get interested in that” chit chat, mostly her asking the questions and then proceeding to go right ahead and keep on talking instead of waiting for an answer. The woman also mentioned her ex-husband several times in rapid succession, and she had the most insincere fake laugh I’ve ever heard. She had sort of a new-age hippie vibe going on as well and talked a lot about living in California. No surprise there, really.

Amid all this enlightening banter, I was trying to keep baby amused with flagging success. At one point, he let loose with two or three ear-splitting squeals, as babies are sometimes apt to do. Not angry squeals, just “hey, I have a voice now and I’m going to use it for fun” squeals.

I uttered blanket apologies and quickly leaned over to hush the baby as a few other diners around us looked our way and smiled nonchalantly. Except for High Maintenance.

“Excuse me, is that your child?”

Uh, no, I just enjoy taking random babies out to dinner. Of course it’s my child, bimbo!

“Yes. Sorry, he just likes to squeal sometimes,” I think was my reply.

“Well,” she said pointedly, “WE like to talk.”

I was so flabbergasted, I couldn’t even respond. Did this bitch REALLY just all but tell me to keep my baby quiet so she could carry on a conversation about God knows what kind of superficial insanity? Yes, yes, she did. She and Joe went back to their scintillating exchange as I silently seethed.

Now, I totally respect the fact that not everyone is automatically enraptured with my baby, and I don’t expect them to be. However, he is only one year old! Cut him, and me, some slack if he wants to screech a little! He wasn’t wailing or throwing a temper tantrum. He is a well-behaved little guy for the most part, and I expect the people around me to weather his few-and-far-between outbursts with a certain level of tolerance. I felt this woman was totally out of line. After all, we were outside at a family-friendly dining establishment, not to mention the fact that every few minutes, a Harley roared by on the street not 20 feet away from where we were sitting.

My meal arrived and I proceeded to eat as fast as I could while wrestling the baby on my lap, both of us getting angrier by the minute. I was halfway tempted to pinch him and make him squeal again on purpose, just to provoke High Maintenance to say something else and give me a valid reason to go off. But alas, she kept her many opinions to herself, and Joe.

Baby was getting pretty hot and restless at this point, so I paid my tab, loaded him back into the stroller and prepared to leave. We had to pass the table of doom on the way out, and as I wheeled by, High Maintenance nearly leapt out of her chair, all smiles. Which creeped me out.

“I just wanted to tell you, you have the most precious baby! What’s his name?”

Uh, what??? I figured maybe she felt bad about jumping all up in my grill, so I went along with it.

“How ever did he make that adorable sound with the straw?”

I explained as patiently as I could that while he was chewing on a straw earlier for sheer entertainment value, the squealing noises he made were just him. She looked dumbfounded, convinced that he’d discovered some miraculously clever party trick.

“Does he like hockey? I could get him season tickets… Larry Bird was my neighbor.”

For real, lady??? This was getting weirder by the second. I couldn’t get away fast enough, although now I’m dying to know how the date wound up in the end… I gave a wave to the regulars as I passed through the parking lot heading toward the car, and thus ends my long, strange Brew Pub evening.

Za Za Zing!

Yesterday marked the auspicious occasion of what I’m calling the first of my 39th birthdays. (I refuse to accept that next year, I will be hitting the four-decade mark and have decided just to stay at 39.) Such an occasion, of course, merits due respect.

Some people prefer their birthdays to go unheeded and unnoticed. I am not one of those people. I love for my birthday to be remembered and my existence to be celebrated once a year. Expensive gifts are not necessary, just a phone call or an email to say “Happy Birthday, glad you were born!” is more than enough to make me happy. So imagine my delight when my birthday-related events took in not just one day, but an entire long weekend!

It all started on Friday night. Last summer when junior was about three months old, hubby had the grand good fortune to go to France on business to attend the annual 24 hours of LeMans race (24 heures de LeMans, for those of you playing the Francophile version…) While he was calling to tell me about the gorgeous hotel rooms he was staying in, the glitterati-strewn parties he was crashing, and the famous elbows he was rubbing, I was aching for a solid uninterrupted stretch of sleep and attending to the demanding needs of our new baby. When hubby got back from his weeklong trip and saw how frazzled I was, he packed me up and sent me off for a night on my own at a local hotel. The room turned out to be something of a disappointment, but the night of sleep and solitude was greatly appreciated. I wrote the hotel manager an email to let her know my displeasure about the state of the room and she graciously credited my preferred guest account with enough points for another night’s stay on the house. Well, what better time to take advantage than my birthday, I ask you!

As much as hubby travels for work, staying in a hotel is second nature to him at this point, but it’s still a big deal to me. There’s just something naughty and indulgent about being able to use as many towels as you want without having to throw them into the laundry afterward. Hubby and I had hoped to find an overnight babysitter and make the stay an adults-only evening for two, but alas, our sitter options were not jiving with the time and date, so I flew solo. The manager must have put a note or something on my account, because when I checked in Friday night, I was upgraded to a suite. Ninth floor, spacious, clean, nice view, two rooms and movie channels all to myself. What more could a girl want? I only left to walk across the parking lot to enjoy a beer while I waited for a Friday’s takeout burger and fries. The rest of the evening (and much of the next morning) was spent watching tv from the king bed in blissful quietude.

Saturday, I returned to the casa. Hubby, junior, stepson and my dad took the boys to the zoo for the afternoon. Good fun was had by all.

Sunday evening was the friend-gathering birthday celebration. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub is sort of “our place.” Well, really, it’s hubby’s place and become my place only through our association. It’s the site of our very first blind date meeting many moons ago, and many, MANY evenings after. It’s a great spot in the summer when the warm weather allows al fresco drinking and dining, and it’s even better in the winter when you can hole up in the dark and cozy Snug to enjoy some darn fine pub grub along with a hearty pint. And, the establishment is smoke-free and kid-friendly. Double bonus.

The weather Sunday was warm enough for us to enjoy a drink on the patio with friends as they arrived, then we all moved inside for dinner. My go-to order at the BP is the spinach melt, and it never disappoints. A surprisingly rich plate for a vegetarian option, the savory spinach mixture is sandwiched thickly between two slices of sourdough, along with tomato slices and cheese, then the whole thing is grilled until toasty. I always order it with the colorful fried veggie chips instead of the boring old potato variety.

Our friend Alison and her daughter Aine offered up babysitting duty on Monday night for my actual birthday so hubby and I could enjoy a fancy-dress dinner out together. I wore my favorite fabulous beaded black dress, which in retrospect might have been a little overkill for a Monday night in downtown Indianapolis. I didn’t care. Hubby looked dashing as always in that classy European way as only he can.

I spent some time looking at some menus online to decide where we should go, and finally settled on tapas at Zing, a relatively new eatery on Indiana Avenue just west of the canal by about a block. I had been there once before over the holidays for our friend Theresa’s surprise 40th birthday party, but only for a glass of wine. I regretted not eating anything then, but I had just catered a baby shower lunch that afternoon and was too full and exhausted to really enjoy the food that night. I pledged to come back when I could really partake, and last night was it.

Zing wasn’t very crowded when we arrived at 6:45, but a small and steady stream of customers trickled in and out the entire time we were there, which I was happy to see. Zing is a little bit trendier than I usually go in for, decorated in bold colors with interesting touches like a beaded curtain up the stairs and rather loud fake-glass low light fixtures, but I like it. Our table next to the window offered a view toward IUPUI to the west, and the rather unfortunate sight of the recently fire-ravaged luxury condos to the east.

I’m not terribly sold on the whole idea of tapas, although I know it has gained a huge amount of popularity in recent years. As I said before in my all-you-can-eat post, I’d still rather order one decently portioned plate of something I know I like rather than have one or two bites of a dozen different things. In my mind, however, tapas is different because it’s all made to order and of higher quality ingredients. I’m still not sure about the concept of “sharing” with a dozen or so different people, though. If I order a small plate of something that I turn out to love, I don’t want to feel bad about polishing the rest of it off. I don’t want to have to feel guilty about someone else getting shafted! Between the two of us, it was a perfect sharing situation. We like different things anyway, so we were able to trade small tastes of our choices, but still load up on the stuff we liked.

The waitress told us about a deal where if you buy a bottle of wine, they throw in a complimentary meat and cheese antipasto sampler tray. I don’t know if this is just offered on Monday nights, or if it was just offered last night, but if you’re ever there and it’s thrown out at you – take it! Hubby and I would have each had a glass or two wine anyway at $6 or $7 apiece — the Spanish red we chose was $26 a bottle, and the meat and cheese usually cost $3 or $4 a pop. So for us, it worked out to be a bargain. The wine was served in these really cool stemless glasses. On the sampler, we received several thin slices of capricola, salami, provolone and asiago, plus a little ramekin full of a delicious marinated garbanzo bean salad, a taste of grape salsa and giardinera – along with a basket of thin bread slices and some olive oil to dip them in. It was a perfect starter course — just enough to give you a great taste of everything and whet your appetite for the other tasty treats to come.

Hubby doesn’t like seafood and nearly half the Zing menu consists of fish dishes, so we narrowed down our choices quickly — some fantastic chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, broiled and served with a kick-ass spicy tomato sauce that tasted like something straight out of New Orleans; a trio of fried risotto balls full of sexy melted mozzarella and peas atop a creamy tomato sauce for me; and for hubby, a very generous serving of fingerling potato fries with crumbles of sausage and a squeeze of lemon (what can I say, you can take the boy out of Ireland…). Between the two of us, we finished every delicious bite. It sounds like a lot of food, but when you consider we each had a few slices of cheese and meat, two dates each and the rice balls for me, potatoes for hubby, it really wasn’t all that different than sharing a starter and then each enjoying our own meal. The ingredients all echoed each other and blended nicely, too, and the red wine capped everything off in an ideal way. We left feeling perfectly full and content, but not stuffed. Our total bill was $50 on the dot, not including tip, which we felt was extremely fair value for the amount and quality of food and drink we enjoyed.

In short, I really liked Zing. A lot. Good value for what you get foodwise, and a dynamic decor in which to savor it. We’ll be back.

Zing – http://www.zingrestaurant.com