Tayah Fretz

Unfortunate Food Discoveries

I looked down at the dessert size plate in front of me, completely disappointed. THIS is what a thirty-dollar plate of food looks like? I glanced over at my friend as she happily dug into her dish of zucchini, carrots, and some sort of bean, before staring at my plate again. I HAD ordered the shrimp scampi which came with a side of sautéed zucchini and scallops. What I had envisioned, and what I received were two completely different things. What was sitting on my plate was overcooked pasta, swimming in a watery red sauce with giant flakes of basil strewn across the top. Frozen thawed shrimp the size of my thumb nail were placed I suppose decoratively around the edge of the bowl, even though there were only maybe five. The amount of pasta was maybe enough to fill my hand. As if this wasn’t a disgrace enough to the pasta, my side dish of zucchini was swimming in some sort of oily brown substance in a long tray, and my scallops were spongey and rubbery.

I must’ve lost track of how long I’d been staring at my plate in disgust, because I was snapped back to reality when my friend Amanda kicked my leg under the table to get my attention.

“Something wrong with the food?” She asked as if she couldn’t tell by looking at it herself. She eyed me as she brought her Stout to her mouth and took a long sip.

I forced a small smile as I looked back over at her, “No, just was expecting…uh…. a little more food is all.” I said, before reluctantly picking up my fork and twirling it in my watery, overcooked pasta, hesitating before putting the fork full into my mouth. The bland taste of watery sauce, basil, and mushy pasta was overwhelming.

“Good?” she asked, taking another bite of her veggie entourage, while still leveling me with her eyes.

I shrugged, wobbling my head between my shoulders as I swallowed slowly, “Pasta is overcooked. “I said slowly, reaching for the salt and pepper and unceremoniously drenching my plate in both, one in each hand.

“Can’t be that bad if you’re still eating it.” She said in her sly, indignant tone, before pushing her hair back over one ear as a breeze blew through the second floor patio.

I sighed, staring out at the ocean for a moment. Three more days Tayah, three more days. I thought to myself before stomaching another gross, expensive mouthful.

Thinking back to the beginning of the trip before that one terrible meal too many that week, the whole trip had seemed like such a great idea. I had been beyond fed up with summer classes, work, and attempting to find an apartment for the fast approaching school year. A friend of mine who had been residing in Maryland and I planned a spontaneous road trip down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I’d been there once before with family, and was completely in love with the area. Nags Head in particular was gorgeous. Within a week we had made all our plans, I would leave my home from the Poconos, drive to her apartment, pick her up, and make the seven hour drive down. We had booked a cheap hotel, seeing as we were both struggling students. I had never so much as driven further than New Jersey by myself, let alone to the outskirts of DC, and then nine hours away from my home. I was ready to branch out and experience things for myself, outside of family vacations. What I wasn’t prepared for, was the week from food hell.

You see, I’m a simple person. Put some Chinese takeout in front of me, and I’m golden. Take me to a sketchy looking diner where eight dollars gets you a massive burger and fries, I’ll love you forever. I have simple tastes, which is fortunate because my wallet can’t very well support much else. I don’t like spicy food; I don’t like my food to be over seasoned or drenched in too much sauce or dressing of some sort. I’m pretty easy to feed. My friend, Amanda, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I had never spent more than a day with her at a time, so one could say I walked into this one and have no one to blame but myself. First off, she’s a sworn vegetarian. Not because she empathizes for the animals, but because she just doesn’t like the taste of meat. Hey if you’re a vegetarian, more power to you, but I for one love meat of all shapes and sizes. There were so many times during the entire trip, that I was craving some good, cheap comfort food. Every Chinese buffet, burger shack, diner, or cliché named place such as “Dirty Dicks”, we passed, I craved. This was my struggle for the entire week. I wanted so badly to just have good inexpensive food. Or ANY good food for that matter.

The first time I saw that we were going to have an issue was after I had picked her up and we were roughly two hours into our drive. We had left at nine in the morning, and I had gotten nearly no sleep the night before so I was utterly exhausted. Furthermore, I was hungry. I saw a sign on I-95 that read –Food, Next Exit-. It then listed off a few fast food locations, including a Burger King, a Wendy’s, and a Dunkin’ Donuts. Perfect! I thought to myself and glanced over at my friend Amanda who’d laid her seat back and gone to sleep. I glanced back at the road as I poked at her arm.

“Hey, you hungry? Or do you want coffee? There’s a bunch of places coming up and I’m tired and hungry.” I said, maybe a little too excited at the prospect of fast food.

She sat up slowly, rubbing her eyes, “What kind of food?”

“I saw a sign for Burger King and Wendy’s and we can stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts for your coffee. I could really go for a nice Whopper and a Frosty.” I smiled, merging into the right lane to prepare for the exit.

She glanced at my phone which was being used as the GPS, “We still have over five hours…let’s just drive for another hour or so because I just want to get there.” She yawned, “Plus what am I going to eat at those places? And Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee sucks.” She said, laying her seat back down.

I frowned a little and gripped the steering wheel, my knuckles whitening. I whimpered internally as I passed the rest stop, eyeing the customers inside the windowed dining rooms enviously. “Alright…” I sighed, blinking tiredly. I mean…I was the driver, one would think that I would take first priority for something like this, regardless of what the passenger thought. In an effort not to cause tension, I engaged in the first metaphorical biting of the tongue that week. As I’m sure everyone can tell, there would be plenty to follow that moment.

It wasn’t until we were another hour into the drive from that ignored plea of mine that I really began to get tired. I was starving. Hadn’t had breakfast, and had only had one bottle of soda as far as caffeine was concerned. I began to get desperate. Seeing as she is indeed the passenger, I eventually requested help to find a place to eat, insisting that I couldn’t go much further without some sort of sustenance. Contrary to my friend’s popular belief, my mortal form needed fuel now and again. After she refused several “easy” locations because they were not up t her standard of living, she eventually settled on a restaurant called “Blue Talon Bistro” in Williamsburg, Virginia. First off, I’d like to clarify that I was NOT aware of what Williamsburg is. After this event, I find out my friend WAS aware of what Williamsburg is. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a very historic town in which you have to park and basically walk through the town as they don’t allow much through traffic. To top it all off, Williamsburg was about ten miles off the exit. Yup. You heard me. Ten damn miles off the freaking exit.

So while we passed plenty perfectly fine diners, fast food restaurants, and other restaurants that didn’t sound as painfully expensive as a restaurant with the name “Talon” in it, I began to get more and more irritated at the fact we were nowhere near this so called perfect restaurant. By the time we actually parked, I was internally seething. I was starving, tired, and look absolutely horrid. I’d decided like a normal human being on a road trip that morning, that I would wear leggings and a baggy lime green t-shirt my brother had gotten me from the “Rainforest Café”. Never been there, again, too expensive for my taste. My hair was loosely pulled up into a bun, and I sported a no makeup slightly sweaty look due to the air conditioning being broken in my car. We walked up to the brick front bistro and inside. I immediately felt out of place. A quiet serenade of some sort of French music filled the air, the place was immaculately clean and well decorated. Waiters and waitresses rushed around in white button downs with black vests, and a black tie. They all wore clean, pressed black slacks, and every woman had her hair pulled into a neat bun and had full makeup on.


Blue Talon Bistro (Photo Credit to Website)

I forced a tiny, embarrassed smile when the hostess looked up from her podium. I felt her judgmental eyes give me and my friend a look from top, to bottom, and then back up again. “Two?” She asked reluctantly, picking clean looking white menus off the surface of the podium.

I nodded slowly, “Yeah…thanks.” I said, rubbing my arm slowly as I glanced around at the clientele that this restaurant boasted. Men in hideous golf attire, but nonetheless expensive, women in sundresses, and men in button downs and khakis. The hostess walked us all the way to the back of the well decorated bistro, despite our passing many empty booths and tables. I was convinced at that point that she was hiding us from the rest of the people in the bistro.

After she had taken our drink orders, I looked down at the one-page menu. A complete turnaround from what I was used to seeing in diners and Red Robins, the restaurants more my speed. I reluctantly started reading down the menu, a salad…another type of salad…a vegetable dish of some sort I couldn’t really understand, a…cheese and grape tray? Who actually goes out to a restaurant and gets cheese and grapes? Just for laughs I happened to glance at the price next to the cheese tray dish, in italics there sat a standalone “18”. My eyes bugged a little as I stared at it, and immediately began to read the little numbers next to the other dishes, 16, 19, 21, 28, 35, 18…what kind of place was this?! Charging eighteen dollars for what I can get at the grocery store myself! I kept my mouth shut, and glanced over at my friend Amanda who had already decided on the more expensive of the few salads they offered, and happily took a sip of her water when the waitress sat it down. I was brought a bottle of coke…with an empty glass. Really? For a place that charges so much for food, you’d think they could at least pour the freaking soda in the glass for you.

“Have you decided?” She asked, almost a little impatiently, her dark eyes darting between us both.

My friend didn’t wait to see if I was done before she told the waitress what she was getting, and they both looked over at me blankly.

I glanced between them before desperately looking down at my menu, “I’ll um…I guess I’ll have…this uh…burger?” I said hesitantly, pointing at it on the menu with my finger.

She nodded a little, “Okay.” She said, taking mine and my friends menu, before walking off quickly back to the kitchen. We then waited for probably a good half an hour before our food came out, what I saw in front of me was some rendition of a burger smashed between two slabs of toast, piled with blue cheese crumbles, with a side of steak cut fries. I was so hungry, and now I had something with blue cheese in front of me. I hate blue cheese which, had I had more time to look at my menu, I would have seen came on the burger. At that point I didn’t care, I just started eating. The flavors were overpowering, and not at all in a good way. The burger was well done, and the toast was dry, my French fries weren’t even remotely salted, and still tasted too much like eating a baked potato. Now remember those prices? Yeah, I’d forgotten to check mine on the burger, so when we split the bill and mine came back at 32 dollars for a terrible burger and some potatoey fries, and a bottle of soda. I was livid. I restrained my desire to lash out as I reluctantly handed the waitress my credit card. At least…I thought, I’m full now.

Towards the end of the week, after many…many horrible overpriced meals at places I would never even have thought twice about stopping at had it not been for my friend Amanda, I was fed up. My vacation was turning into a total nightmare. Nothing we did was what I wanted to do. Finally, I got so irritated one night with her while we were in our freezing cold hotel room (because she of course gets to pick the temperature too), I looked over at her while she had spent the past hour trying to find a place up to her standards. I stood irritably, and pulled my sandals on. “You know what, I’m going to Subway, we can walk to it, I’m sick of driving all over the place for food, you can come with me or figure something out.” I said, completely annoyed.


    View from room in the hotel

Needless to say the walk to subway was a bit awkward, but as I ordered that lovely foot long roast beef hoagie, I felt a bit of myself coming back. I happily handed the woman behind the counter my card when she told me my total for a foot-long hoagie and a large soda was only a whopping seven dollars. I waited for my friend Amanda by the front of the establishment as she finished ordering her veggie hoagie and bought a bottle of water, before we started the walk back to our hotel. The walk was a bit more talkative, we discussed what a gorgeous night it was and just enjoying the breeze coming from off the ocean. Once we got back to the room, I nearly destroyed my hoagie tearing it out of the wrapper so fast as he clumsily sat down on my bed. I picked up one of the halves, and fit as big of a bite as I could on the cut end. My eyes rolled in my head delightfully as I chewed, making pretty pitiful “food is good” noises for a moment, before swallowing. “This is SO good.” I said out loud, glancing over at her as she daintily unwrapped hers and took a bite, nodding with her head swaying from side to side, “It is.” She said, almost sounding a little defeated.

SUBWAY SUBS Cold Cut Combo Whole Wheat Bread Submarine Sandwich Hoagie, Subway Subs Sandwich Shop Fast Food Restaurant Foot Long

The famous roast beef Italian hoagie

            I smiled over at her before taking another big bite of my one cheap dinner of the week, and not coincidentally, the best meal of the week. I reached over and turned down the AC, popped on some reality TV I liked for the first time that week, and took another bite of my hoagie. Oddly enough as I chewed over the meaty goodness of a cheap meal, I felt comfortable for the first time that week.


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