Screams fill the trenches on a recent Friday night.
“All day!” “On the fly!” shouts the manager from across the room, just loud enough for whoever’s on the line to get the message and do their job.
“We can’t be out of oil, we just restocked yesterday!”
“What do you mean, We’re out of rags? It’s only Friday!”
The cries wrestle loudly against the bustle of the teeming dining room. I walk to a corner carrying a sharp knife with a coworker by my side, screaming “CORNER!” just in time to stop my fellow constituent from receiving a bloody end to an otherwise cash-filled night.
But these aren’t the sounds of a battlefield, nor a last-minute doomsday-prepping family. These are the sounds and interactions of an average dinner rush at “The Parlor.”
When I first walked into The Parlor as a wide-eyed high schooler, I never thought I would call a job “home.” But as I received a behind-the-scenes look at what makes this award-winning restaurant tick, I quickly learned I would be here every winter and summer break I could.
From busboy to dishwasher to prepper, I find myself excitedly coming back to the nontraditional pizzeria every chance I get, always being greeted by an over-emphasized “myyyyy boyyyyyy” from the pizza maker.
But I couldn’t get this feeling from just any restaurant. The family that is The Parlor’s staff has largely consisted of the same people since I started three years ago, which is a testament to the fun-filled work environment, but is even more so a prime example of loyalty and brotherhood among these, dare I say it, soldiers.
Whether it be discussing cinema with the manager, the latest Kanye album with waiters, my favorite home cooking methods with our chef, free-styling rap lyrics with the dishwasher or knife-sharpening techniques with the dough roller, I can easily say it’s the supportive, family-like team at this culinary palace that has kept me coming back all these years.
Nowhere is this idea that working in a restaurant is like getting ready for war so evident as it is in the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” No moment quite exemplifies the quote “calm before the storm” like the quiet hour immediately preceding a dinner rush.
Like the hiding toys from Sunnyside Daycare’s Caterpillar Room in Toy Story 3, an empty restaurant breeds a fearful silence. But the waiters rechecking expo, the dishwasher cleaning every last miniscule smudge in his station and the line cook grabbing extra to-go containers all know one thing. That aforementioned silence? It’s nothing more than a false sense of comfort.
Then the families come in.
“Here it comes,” I think to myself as the first party of five waltzes in. Another comes in two minutes later and then another right after that, lest we forget the reservation for 12 we have 30 minutes later.
On the floor, I’m running around to every party, trying to keep waters full, dirty plates off tables and customers happy. The number of tasks being thrown at the only busboy becomes exponentially more daunting for those next few hours, to the point where I’m managing a mental list of tasks ranked on priority, deciding what to push back and what I need to get done at once:
“Not important at the moment.”
“F--k, I forgot about that!”
“We gon’ handle that later.” (To the tune of Mac Miller’s “Senior Skip Day”)
“Please be 9 by now!”
I find myself strangely comfortable in the dish pit. Like one of Ford’s famous assembly lines, I’m locked in a cycle: blast the food off, throw it in the machine, dry! Except, not all three of these steps are in order. They’re all being done simultaneously, each for a different set of dishes or cooking utensils. But no matter how many dirty dishes fill up my station, I find myself in a Zen-like state, continuously cleaning until caught up, sparing just enough time to take a coveted “break.”
But nothing comes close — for me, at least — to doing prep. Being one of the first two people in the establishment at 7 a.m. gives me a chance to relax. With no annoying customers or scalding hot pans in sight, I can daydream as I cut, dice or portion the dozens of ingredients that make up our menu while happily singing “I can’t keep on losing you!” from Mac Miller’s “Dang!”
It doesn’t matter if I’m dealing with 120 lbs. of mozzarella or gallons upon gallons of sauce; few jobs have given me so much relaxation, even with so much to do.
Of course, what keeps The Parlor exciting is its expansive menu. Owner and chef David DiBari never fails to amaze customers and employees alike with his Da Vinci-esque creativity and originality.
An alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, DiBari has been pumping out some of the most eye-catching pizza’s on this side of the Mississippi, with more than a few one-of-a-kind options.
While Chef makes sure to provide customers with all the mainstays like queen margherita and roni roni roni, the true excitement comes in the lower section of the menu, where options like “the everything bagel” (mozzarella and parmesan cheese topped with everything bagel seasoning and sous-vide egg yolk sauce), “the lemonator” (cured lemons, smoked scamorza cheese and a delicious chili sauce) and “the shrooms pizza” (wild mushrooms, béchamel, truffle cheese etc.) awaken the palettes of adventurous customers with an explosion of exciting flavors.
But The Parlor has plenty for non-pizza lovers as well, with “the parlor pocket” (a soft-boiled egg wrapped in dough with ricotta and truffle oil) and — without a doubt in my mind — the greatest chicken sandwich of all time (topped with a to-die-for chili honey) ensuring outside-the-box options for everyone.
During a break from a double shift or even a staff meal, items like these always help to remind me of one of the greatest feelings of all: an amazing meal after a hard day’s work.
Even though, with graduation looming, my days at The Parlor are numbered, the people, the memories and the meals I have enjoyed at this culinary laboratory will always hold a special place in my heart.
With that in mind, I cannot recommend working in some form of the culinary service at least once in your life enough. The experiences made do more than just keep one busy.
Rather, they serve as a meditation on the values of hard work and provide memories that will last a lifetime.
Your palette, work ethic, nostrils and wallet will all thank you.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.