She doesn't realize it, but slumped against the wall like that, the woman in the shimmery purple blouse is knocking framed pictures askew. The nine women with her are chatting and catching up and while they are at it, doing a little bitching. One of the women declares in a thick up-north accent that she is ready to "get her New York out." The young couple next to me sits in silence, a few mournful sighs escaping the husband's lips now and then, the wife incessantly and unconsciously twirling a section of her chestnut hair. My son oozes off my lap. I avoid my daughter's vacant stare. With eye contact comes whining. My husband and I shoot each other telepathic messages: "How long have we been here? Are we too deep into this to leave? Where else could we go?"
We are waiting for a table.
We are not in a resort town. We are not in D.C. or New York. We are not in the Fan or Oregon Hill. We are out past the car dealerships. We are in Midlothian.
In all honesty, I didn't sign up for this. When I cashed in my hipster chips and left the Fan for the suburbs, I expected something in return. I expected a permanent place to park my car, closets built for people other than the Amish and never, ever to have to wait for more than 15 minutes for a table in a restaurant.
That 15-minute threshold has seemed like a reasonably safe bet for as long as I've been in the burbs. Until, I'd say, the last year or so. Here and there we'd find ourselves jammed into some restaurant vestibule, or worse, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other hungry people almost on top of diners, while waiters whizzed by with plates of gooey mozzarella sticks right under our noses.
Sure, when the wait is incredibly long, like the hour-and-a-half wait we encountered at Midlo's new Crazy Greek, we've just turned around and gone elsewhere. But sometimes a stated "15 to 20 minute wait" turns into an hour (like tonight at Palermo). Or a 30-minute wait seems doable when you've committed to a particular shopping center, as in the case of Plaza Azteca, also in Midlothian's West Chester Commons. The wait seemed long, but what were we to do? Pack it in and head across the shopping center to Palermo? You see the problem.
Of course, we could've just left and gone across the parking lot to CiCi's Pizza, but I'm sorry, just because I am hungry doesn't mean I have lost all my dignity.
In fact, there is something downright wonderful about waiting this long. Shut up, stomach, and I will tell you what it is. First, if consumption is a good economic indicator, then call the president and let him know the recession really is over. Because, boy, are people out there consuming.
More importantly, though, bigger crowds mean the suburbs are finally beginning to entice local restaurateurs to take a shot outside the city. And if the wait times I've seen mean anything, diners in the burbs are happy to have choices beyond the sea of national chains. They want more than just restaurants where the kids get balloons and the waiters wear suspenders. They want places like Plaza Azteca, where the waiters will make fresh guacamole tableside. Like Palermo, where the homemade Italian food comes with an extra layer of comfort and photos on the wall of someone's actual Italian grandparents, who could just as easily have been mine. Places like Pescados, Q Barbecue, Capital Ale House and the Crazy Greek in Midlothian, and Anokha and Patina Grill in the West End — all locally owned or regional restaurants, whose menu items are blessedly free of a ™ symbol beside them.
So here we sit, crammed into a narrow passageway to the bar, patience thinning, stomachs growling. The 10-top has been seated, and so has the couple who walked in right before us. Still we wait, as my husband checks our status yet again. But as the aromas of sautéed garlic and tomato sauce waft around me, I know at least that this will be worth waiting for.