When I was ten years old, my family took the short ride into Manhattan to visit my Dad’s aunt. A lifelong spinster, she was an accountant who lived high in an apartment building that shot its way up into the sky at 435 West 57th Street. I was highly impressed with everything: The midtown location, the doorman, the soft music in the elevator, the tiny, compact living quarters, my aunt’s adding machine with the smooth, green buttons and the frou-frou lunch we enjoyed across the street at the Holiday Inn.
The fancy items on the one-page luncheon menu included such delicacies as blueberries with cream. My meal consisted of a cream cheese and green olive sandwich, with the crusts cut off the bread, of course. Now, I had eaten a cream cheese and walnut sandwich with my father at Chock Full O’ Nuts, but this was my first experience with an olive sandwich. My mother rarely purchased olives on the grounds that they were salty and “not good for you.”
After that visit, I begged my parents for olives on a regular basis, and sometimes they relented. These delicacies were a beautiful thing to behold as I speared and wrestled them out of their narrow briny prison — first the bright red pimiento, followed by the luscious green orb. I made Philadelphia cream cheese and olive sandwiches on whatever we happened to have on hand — soft white bread from Waldbaum’s, chewy onion rye from Barnett’s Bakery, a Lender’s frozen bagel, Ritz crackers, matzo. As my sisters and I, bored on the long, hot, suburban days of summer vacation, pulled chairs out onto the shady patio and attempted to devise methods of self-amusement (long before the advent of video games and the internet), I proposed that we pretend to start a ritzy restaurant like the one at the Holiday Inn on 57th Street.
My first task, I knew, was to develop a menu. Of course, I included blueberries and cream along with cream cheese and olive sandwiches, as I strained to remember the other items printed on that page in midtown Manhattan. Now that decades have gone by, one thing remains unchanged: I still cherish cream cheese and olive sandwiches. As an adult, I now have the privilege of eating them almost daily. Even as a vegan (voluntary) following a gluten-free diet (forced by health issues), I enjoy soy cream cheese and olive sandwiches on gluten-free rice bread.
But there is another thing that has remained unchanged as the years go by. I still dream of starting a little restaurant that serves all the dishes that I wish were on the menu when I visit a restaurant. A vegan, gluten-free lunch spot where I can walk through the door knowing that I can eat anything on the menu without asking a million questions of disgusted staff. And just like back in that summer when, at age ten, I tried to develop a menu out on our patio, I still think of what my fantasy luncheonette would serve. I have developed a no-nonsense menu, based on vegan, gluten-free dishes that I have actually have eaten, prepared either by a restaurant, myself or my wife. In time, as more gluten-free, vegan items become available on the market and as customers make suggestions for dishes they’d like to eat, I am sure that the menu would be further developed and augmented. And so, without further ado, I present you with my modest gustatory proposition.
UNCLE GUACAMOLE’S FANTASY LUNCH COUNTER
— where everything we serve is vegan and gluten-free —
Sandwiches served on gluten-free rice bread (add $1 for gluten-free tortilla wrap)
soy cream cheese and olive
soy cream cheese and tomato
PBJ (grape jam, strawberry preserves or orange marmalade)
triple decker (vegan cream cheese, peanut butter, choice of jam)
Tweedledee (melted vegan provolone)
Tweedledum (melted vegan gouda)
California (fresh veggies and avocado – optional: onions, dill pickles, pepperoncini)
Lebanese (hummus, tomato, cucumber)
protein bowl (tofu, garbanzos, tomatoes, cucumbers)
garden greens (red leaf and iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green olives,
raisins, sunflower nuts, served with balsamic vinegar)
fresh fruit salad with coconut milk yogurt
baked potato with your choice of toppings (Earth Balance vegan margarine, Tofutti vegan sour topping, Daiya vegan cheese shreds, broccoli, onions, salsa, jalapeños)
vegan chili (add $1 for loaded: onions, Daiya vegan cheese shreds, Tofutti sour topping)
vegan “beef” (Tofurky brand) over rice
bunless burger (Dr. Praeger’s GF vegan) with fries and salad
sautéed tofu, mushrooms, onions over rice
nachos (vegan cheese, onions, Tofutti vegan sour cream, guacamole)
eggplant parmigiana (prepared with vegan soy cheese)
macaroni and cheese (gluten-free pasta, vegan soy cheese)
fried potato and tofu tacos (corn tortillas)
loaded fries (vegan soy cheese, Tofutti sour topping, onions) (chili or guacamole $1)
gluten-free pizza (vegan soy cheese) (toppings $1 each: mushrooms, onions, peppers, olives, broccoli, artichokes, tofu, pineapple)
choice of hot veggies: carrots, broccoli, spinach, corn, zucchini in tomato sauce, vegan “cheesy” broccoli or cauliflower
“ants on a log” (celery, raisins, your choice of peanut butter or vegan cream cheese)
chips and salsa
beans and vegan cheese
frozen coconut milk “ice cream” (chocolate, vanilla, cherry chip)
Sugar Plum Bakery whoopie pies
fresh brewed iced tea, iced coffee, Pepsi products, seltzer (orange, berry or plain), orange juice, apple juice
So, what do you think? Would anyone actually want to eat lunch at such a weird place? Anyone out there want to raise some capital for this venture? Has Uncle Guac finally lost his mind? Talk to me in the comments.