I wish I could tell you what the secret is to eating alone. Quite frankly, I haven’t mastered the art after several years of doing it. Most likely due, in part, to the simple fact that when I do eat alone, I go to the run-of-the-mill fast food joints and avoid anything that seems to fancy. Even when traveling alone, I frequented coffee shops that sell food as a side thought or the local fast-food type Italian place.
I’m sitting in a cafe on Hanover street in the North End of Boston. Florentine Cafe. It took about ten minutes of walking back and forth in front of several other cafe’s before walking into this one. Why didn’t I go in the others? A combo of how much they cost and being terrified of the people watching me. I stared at the menu for what felt like another five minutes but was probably less than a minute. I walked in.
“There’s no hostess. F***. What do I do?” I glanced with uncertainty to the guys at the bar. “Here to eat?” “Yeah.” “How many?” Oh that semi-dreaded question. “Just one,” I managed, holding my index finger to my lips. “Ok. You can pick a table.” “Oh, now I gotta choose.” I choose a table at the wall, furthest from the door with a good view of the rest of the cafe. My server, a tall, well-built gentleman with a soft accent, brings my menu and asks if I want something to drink, filling the glass on the table with water. “Water’s fine.” He drops off a basket of bread and a bottle of olive oil with garlic, rosemary and what looks like pepper. I order penne with grilled eggplant and some sort of cheese and nibble on the bread while I wait, tearing bits off to dip in the oil. All the while, I feel hyper-aware of the glances in my direction, questioning the fact that I’m alone.
Normally I avoid eggplant. It’s one of those foods that lives in my weird texture category. There’s only been one time I’ve eaten eggplant and enjoyed it. It was a Greek restaurant, Taverna Hellas, in Vejle, Denmark along the walking street. They have a veggie platter with an assortment of food from grape leaves to salad. And the eggplant! It was fried to a crisp in paper-thin circles with bread crumbs clinging to the sides. It was beautiful.
My server deposits my plate in front of my. “Cheese?” He asks, a spoon full of parmesan poised over a small bowl. There were already several pieces of cheese in the dish. “Yes, please.”
I stopped noticing the questioning glances.
Penne was cooked to perfection. Eggplant was just the right size. Just enough tomato sauce. And cheese. I eat slowly, enjoying each bite. The slightly smokey flavor of the eggplant. The mild finish of the cheese.
I’ve lived my life searching for meaning in a way that wouldn’t bring attention to me or what I’m doing. I watch others from the shadows and do things in such a way that doesn’t bring attention. Coupled with society saying that lunch dates are meant for best friends or parents, being able to accept the message and not let it stop me from the enjoyment of the pleasure alone is often a feat. Maybe that is the secret. The quiet acceptance of things or messages that are and choosing not to let those define our individuality or ability.
Whether or not I’ve found the secret to eating alone, Florentine Cafe on Hanover Street is where I start my journey.