Wednesday, July 8, 2009
My Friend Al . . .
Picture it! The Eastern Market/Potomac Avenue "section" of Southeast, Washington, DC. 1999 - 2004.
An apartment where "men" live. I mean REAL men. The kind of man with girlfriends who lived in separate (and not always neighboring) states lived. The kind that, largely, lived paycheck to paycheck (if not hand out to hand out). The kind that didn't care what time the Metro stopped running because a cab would pick you up in front of any bar in town at any time you wanted them to. The kind of men that welcomed friends to come and crash on the couch - but had friends that new better than to actually SLEEP on that couch. The kind of apartment that the men ONLY moved out of to move in with their betrothed. And that was only because they wouldn't move in with US and the other men. The kid of man with arthritic thumbs from the time spent playing PS2. The kind of men with no food in the cupboards, only beer, wine and liquor in the fridge and three plates - only one of which was "clean" at any given time. We were men. Men that ate whatever was easy, delicious and minimally nutritious food. We were the kind of men that had Al on speed dial.
"Who is Al?" you foolishly ask. Well - you've OBVIOUSLY never gotten the invite to crash on our couch so let me go ahead and tell you about Al - our Executive Chef for all those years.
Al is the namesake for Al's Gourmet Pizza. And let me tell you - that is not just some sort of slapped together name that didn't walk the talk. No, no. Al was GOURMET all the way. And he, and his crew, delivered in 30 minutes or less and they knew our number (and our order) when we showed up on their caller ID.
We ordered from Al's at LEAST four nights a week and sometimes we would order from him more than once per evening (I remember one particular night when we ate 300 wings, two pizzas, four subs and some mozzarella sticks . . . spread out over five hours and six separate orders).
The TYPICAL dinner order was a SIXTEEN INCH sub for everyone who happened to be at the apartment when we picked up the phone (you could TRY to order the eight (note the lower cases there vs. upper for the SIXTEEN) but you would be chided and overruled). And we're not talking turkey breast with reduced fat mayo and fresh veggies. Nah. Screw that. We're talking cheeseburger or chicken patty or tuna with extra mayo or Meat Of Your Choice parmesan. Fish Filet (when we had Catholics over during Lenten Fridays ONLY).
The TYPICAL snack/Tiger Woods Golf order was at least 100 wings with a towel underneath the tray to protect the ottoman.
I can't even BEGIN to imagine how many thousands of calories Al provided me with on any given week - much less over the life time of him being my Executive Chef. Needless to say it was a love affair that my roommates and friends handled better than I did or could. They could actually put the second eight inch sub (the sixteen-incher was actually two, separate, eight inch subs) away for later. They could put down their paper towel before the last wing was gone. They could leave a slice of pizza for someone else to eat for breakfast (if the bugs and mice didn't get to it first).
I never went to Al's. Never wanted to. I never wanted to meet the man or thank him - face to face - for all the delicious dinners and drunken fulfillment. Okay - to be honest - I never wanted to leave my couch to go further than the front door to get my Al's. Vinu went TO Al's once though. Once. He said it was utterly anti-climatic and a bit of a turn off. Turns out Al is NOT at the stove. He's not tossing pizza crust in the air and ladeling mayo on the subs himself. He's not frying the fish filet and he's not putting the speciality in his specialty pizzas.
Nope. Turns out that Al's is actually a sad little storefront without much charm or sitting space and with a television that is set to the soccer channel and turned up way too loud (here I just assumed it was an actual mob of excited fans chanting for the pizza in the background when I called).
Turns out that Al's is not worth the mystique I put on him or the romance with which I discuss the food he sold me to this day. I don't care though. You were a good friend, Al. Thanks for that! Thanks for everything!