FOOD- THE EATER- Eaters in love: Lawrence would have loved Riverside
PHOTO BY RYAN HOOVER I wonder if D.H. Lawrence would've liked Riverside Lunch. He never let on much about food in his writing, but that's not what makes me wonder if he'd have enjoyed Riverside's modestly delicious burgers. It's his philosophical notion— and I paraphrase— that humans aren't free when they're endlessly pursuing new courses, only when they work inside a known framework. Riverside lunch embodies that philosophy.
Unless it's your first time, when you visit Riverside, you know what you want. Once I went in with my son, sat down, and was told by the waitress that those particular seats were reserved. We moved to one of the varnished wooden booths, and as we perused the menu, items began to appear at the empty table: at each place, two single burgers with lettuce and mayonnaise and two 8-ounce bottles of Coke. Between them, a basket of fries, covered with two small paper plates. Moments later, two handsome older women who looked like they might work in some high-level bureaucratic capacity for municipal government appeared, sat down, and after some small talk with the owner, ate their obviously never-varying meal.
I think Lawrence would've loved this predictability. But I think he also would've loved the burger— it is, after all, the burger that draws us back. It is working class genius, unimprovable, imminently repeatable, and a great bargain to boot. It's relatively small, neat and tidy on a toasted bun. No matter how you embellish it, it won't be dripping down your arms. The burger's shape is irregular, hand-formed and patty spatula-smashed on the grill. You don't order the burger rare or medium; it comes well done ("Eating raw meat," it says on the back of the menu, "can be hazardous to your health.")– but tender.
It isn't as though you don't have any options with the burger, but they're finite, and you can more or less guess them by now: single, double or triple; lettuce, tomato, chili, slaw, cheese (American), and grilled mushrooms or onions. The burger will be the same when you order it today as it was last month and will be next year.
The same is true of the fries. You won't need to wonder how they'll taste, whether they'll be fresh and crisp or wilted and cool (the former), or if they will ever come. They will be there a few short minutes after you order them, each "basket" of shoestring fries covered with two small plates— a basket ostensibly serves two, though I've eaten an entire order solo. Try them with some ketchup or the way I like them: with A-1, Texas Pete, salt, pepper, and cayenne from the shaker. Each time I visit Riverside, I'm less surprised to find these condiments standing ready. Each visit, I feel more at home. I certainly don't need a menu. The beer selection is displayed as a row of bottles and delivered to the table as cold longnecks. You can even get a Stella or Heineken, though Budweiser and the domestics rule.
Riverside's hot dog shares many characteristics with the hamburger: the toasted bun, the neatness; I tried one the other day with chili, cheese, and slaw. It was perfectly delicious with no mess. Riverside offers a serviceable if not particularly smoky barbecue sandwich, but I think I'll not order them anymore. Perhaps every once in a while I will order a hot dog– every seventh visit, perhaps. Now that I've made that decision, I feel much freer, in a very Lawrencean sense.
Mealtime at home and abroad can be so fraught with indecision and error. It's nice to know exactly what I'll do and how it will happen; I'm now free to think about other things.
The waitresses (no waiters here) tend toward brassiness. You'll find that if you know what you want and don't detain them with needless questions about the menu, they'll be there when you want them. You'll feel confident that if anyone gets out of line, the waitresses will be able to handle him. Males do most of the cooking and usually deliver your food to you as soon as it comes off the grill. Your bill comes with your food; you pay the man at the register on the way out. Once you understand these basic ideas, you will be free.
Lawrence's idea is sublime, but open to abuse. It could be used to justify a distinct class system, slavery even. But I believe Lawrence would've corrected that interpretation in favor of one that hopes that while a master plumber might not have the time, inclination, or resources to run a stud farm in Ivy, or the horse-breeder the desire to master the art of plumbing, there will be a mutual respect between them as they rub elbows at Riverside Lunch.
PHOTO BY RYAN HOOVER
PHOTO BY RYAN HOOVER