The Whine List by Gary Benton
It was Bubba’s birthday and since it was close to the holidays I decided to kill two birds with one stone and take my boy out to eat. We live just a little over a hundred miles from Saint Louis, so I decided, that was where I would take him. Now, I enjoy a nice meal out at times. I don’t mean fast food either, I mean real food, brought to my table. The kind of place that has a printed wine list, not a neon beer list that’s mounted on the wall behind a bar. You know the kind of place I am talking about….the waiter always dresses very formal, has a towel over his left forearm, and servers the wine from a silver wine bucket. Of course, most of us can only go to a restaurant like that once in a while. It is cost prohibitive for many of us.
For some folks in the Ozarks Mountains of Missouri, it may never happen. Their idea of a nice night out in a great restaurant would be Momma and Joe’s Dinner, down on Pine Road. Now, there is nothing wrong with Mom and Joe’s, it’s just not a classy place for a special night out. Bubba likes the place though, with the linoleum floor, patched seats in the booths, and the cigarette burns on the Formica table tops. All of this adds to the atmosphere of the place, or so by buddy claims. Now, when it comes to Southern redneck food, Mom and Joe’s can put it out. I guess, I am saying I wanted to get out of the sticks and eat in a place where the waiter is not wearing bib-overalls and a baseball cap. Besides taking Bubba would be fun… because his idea of fancy dining was Momma and Joe’s.
The drive to Saint Louis was uneventful. We made excellent time and were soon pulling up in front of the restaurant. First thing that impressed Bubba was we were going to eat in a fancy eatin’ place that didn’t even have a casino. He almost started a fight with the feller that, “was a stealin’” my car as they parked it for us. I explained to Bubba they were called a valet and they did the parking.
“Well, we gots us a different name fer em back home.” He stated with anger filled eyes. He continued, “They still got y’alls car keys too.” He shook his head as I laughed and we entered the restaurant. He thought I was a fool.
The place was every nice. Nice thick wall to wall carpet. The drapes were red and the wood was all in polished oak. I fell in love immediately.
Bubba elbowed me and said in a whisper, “Hell, they ain’t even got a spittoon in heah. Must have been designed by a butcher, ’cause everythang is done up in red.”
I was surprised, but I knew Bubba. I approached the reception desk and stated that I have reservations for two and for exactly this hour.
In a matter of seconds we were being led to our reserved table by the hostess. I found her to be a very attractive woman with a body to kill for. Bubba must have thought so as well. He was doing very well in his conversation with her until he sneezed, just as they were discussing coon dogs, and his chewin’ tobacco flew from his mouth and onto his place sitting…just as we approached the table.
Dang, not good I thought, we ain’t even sat down yet.
“Your server will be with you in a moment.” She said in a very disgusted voice as she turned and walked away.
“I reckon she likes me,” Bubba said with his face all a glow.
Our server was a tall young black man with a neatly trimmed mustache. He informed us that his name was William, not Billy nor Willy, but William. I ordered oysters on the half shell for an appetizer for us, then requested a bottle of nice wine.
“Mule, are you really dumb enough to pay fifteen dollars fer a bottle of German wine!? You can get a cold bottle of Rapple for two-fifty at the Eleven-Seven on Rolla street. Lest ways we can say rapple….not sure about that liverfreemilk you ordered.” He stared at me in shock.
“Bubba, it is Lieberfraumilch and it is a white German wine, sweet, but not to excess. I think the name means living woman’s milk or wife’s milk. It is a mixture of different grapes and processes. That is what makes it so good and special.”
Bubba looked me right in the eyes and said, “You be one sick puppy. Drinking a woman’s milk! Well, I ain’t havin’ nothin’ to do with them doin’s. I want me a beer. Better yet, since this is your treat, I want me one of dem ‘ported beers. I wants me a Hind’kickin Beer, made in the Holy land or some place near Germany.”
I figure the waiter spoke fluent redneck for some reason, because Bubba soon had a beer in front of him. But, it was from Holland, not the Holy land. I guess it didn’t matter much to Bubba, long as it was cold.
My wine arrived at about this time and so did the oysters. The waiter pulled the cork from the wine bottle and handed it to me. Bubba looked at me expectantly and very seriously, and then I heard him say, “Son, take that cork and make ya a float fer fishin’ with. I don’t need it, ’cause I got a tackle box full of lures and stuff.”
I felt the cork and made sure it was wet. I held it up to my eyes and read the name of the wine and date. Yes, this was a very good one. The name on the cork and the name on the bottle were the same. I then placed the cork on the table, next to my plate. The waiter poured a splash of wine into my glass waited for my reaction.
I heard Bubba say to me in a low voice, “You paid fer the bottle, but he’s just givin’ you a little bit. Cheap place here I thank. I bet he is a-hopin’ ya leave some fer him after the meal.”
I swirled the wine around a bit and then raised the glass to my nose and took a long dramatic sniff. I then looked the waiter in the eye and nodded my head once. He immediately left our table.
“Ya ain’t got all that garbage with a good bottle of Rapple, Mule. You just untwist the top, pour ya a water glass full and eat yer beans and franks.”
I reached over, took up an oyster fork and poked me a nice raw oyster off the half shell. I plopped it into my mouth, followed by a small sip of wine. What a great taste combination! I was surprised when I saw Bubba take an oyster, put it in his mouth and then chugged about half his beer.
Well, he coughed once and the oyster flew across the table and landed on my right knee. He gagged a few times and then stood up. “Y’all get me a waiter here and right now!”
He screamed in a very loud voice. His face was beet red and the veins on his neck were swollen and throbbing. He was livid!
“Yes, sir?” A nervous waiter stood there in front of our table. Bubba was still standing as well.
“Ya take these thangs back and tell yer cook they ain’t been cooked. I don’t see ‘nough people in heah where he could have gotten so busy he fergot to cook ours. You make shore you tell him we don’t eat no cut fish bait! Now, get a move on man!” Bubba handed the poor waiter our oysters and I took a large gulp of wine.
Well, the night lasted much longer than I wanted it to, but soon we were on our way back to Rolla. As we passed Salem, Missouri, Bubba looked over at me and said, “Shore was a innersting ev’nin. I was fed cut bait, you got a new cork fish bobber, you drank some old woman cow’s milk, the steaks had blood in em, and you paid mo’ than ten dollars fer a bottle of wine.”
Years have pasted and Bubba brings the dinner up every once in a while. When he does, I just tell him I have the meal…..and he has the whine.