Dinner at Syracuse’s China Cafe

Not in the mood to be ‘That Guy.’

It’s 8:30 PM, and my stomach is growling so intensely that I’m shaking. It’s a frigid December day, and I am dressed inappropriately, without a coat. At least I have a scarf.

I have to get something to shut the pangs up. (There is an obnoxious grumble.) Armory Square is convenient. The ideal: grab a bar stool and nudge out some elbow room. (The ten at the bar can move o-ver, move o-ver.) After parking my car, I head towards Kitty Hoynes. A corned beef sandwich sounds delightful. My mouth waters at the thought. Footprints to Kitty’s meet disappointment: no vacant bar spots. I shud-der, I shi-ver.

China Cafe pops into my head (TURN!, it yells), but the place is noticeably empty, and eating by myself — not at a bar, but a table — yields too much attention. Empire is next. No bar space, no Gouda-coated Tumbleweed. My eyes dart to the empty table for two, which is a perfect place to rest my forehead and fog a window, but I’m not in the mood to be That Guy.

My eyes resist The Blue Tusk Banzai Beef and wish upon a star that hangs over Clark’s. Roast beef is never enough. (Screw the rolls, stack the shavings in my paws!) “Detroit” is not “Syracuse,” and paying double digits for unoriginal mac-n’-cheese or any other dish is a punch in the face.

My indecisiveness deserves this chill.

Arriving at Clark’s: time to window gaze like a mongrel, debate and decline (keep walk-ing, keep walking). My belt is removed and wrapped around my belly and strapped and tightened to muzzle and muffle the stomach’s nagging. My hands nuzzle and nestle into my pockets, and my legs start walking with a shuffle and a scuffle, hopping to each sidewalk square.

Exhaling warm air like Bogart’s cigarette smoke along a lonely street and into China Cafe.

Restaurant walls are (bright, bright) red. The decor has hints of red. Plaid tablecloths have red squares. Chopstick sleeves: red. My tie: dark red.

The egg roll comes presented on a plate and next to a dish of duck sauce. Photo by Christopher Malone

The egg roll comes presented on a plate and next to a dish of duck sauce.
Photo by Christopher Malone

The girl at the register is cordial and welcoming. I take a seat and wait.

The egg roll comes presented on a plate and next to a dish of duck sauce. And the roof of my mouth is burned — my tendency to eat impatiently — and it’s probably (bright) red now.

People walk by. They don’t look in. They don’t care about That Guy eating by himself.

The kids, who are coloring at tables, don’t care or stare. The remaining egg roll that is left isn’t even staring at the sweet and sour sauce. But my eyes stare at my food.

Kung Pow.

The chopsticks are unsheathed, and my body is warmed. It’s not too spicy — it could be more — but there is a lot of flavor. The celery pieces are far from dry. The chicken, except for a couple of pieces, are not overly chewy. The food is great, hitting the spot, filling the belly, warming the soul, putting the mind …

China Cafe Syracuse

The chicken, except for a couple pieces, are not overly chewy.
Photo by Christopher Malone

… at ease.

Shouting from the back is abruptly silenced by a pan crash.

One of the kids walks by my table, smiling. She turns and slaps the face of the table –  grinning while slowly leaving. Facing my food, chopsticks click, a shadow hovers over my table. Looking up at the divider, a head quickly disappears behind the top of the wall. This happens twice, thrice. A fourth time: the other girl pokes her head around the side of the wall. The fifth shadow from above is ignored, but I laugh to let her know that her antics affect my demeanor in the same way the food comforts my stomach.

My good fortune:

All things in moderation — even moderation.

The Inevitable Coffee Ring



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