The following short story, Cheese and Crumbs, was born out of a moment of insanity on Twitter late one night, not too long ago, with two new writer friends. Without clear memory of exactly how or why this came about (most likely at 10 PM and hopped up on unnecessary caffeine), we decided to each write a story about bread. For my story I claimed Red Lobster. This won’t be “Chicken Soup for the Soul” material or anything majorly special or edited; it’s purely for fun. With a little family history woven in. So I hope you enjoy this far from perfect tale. [Please do not use without permission].
Cheese and Crumbs
A short story about Red Lobster bread
Born from new friends
Inspired by a beloved grandfather
by Leigh A. Hartman
What do you complain about the most when you go out to eat? How the tables are almost always sticky? How you’re considered a bad customer if you don’t tip your waitress well? How you don’t like the smell of fish?
Why would you go to a fish restaurant anyway? You’ve struggled your whole life with those king crabs; how all that work to get the meat out of their butter-flinging, spider-like legs. When you finally get the meat out it spits its juice into the corner of your eye. Equally annoying crustaceans are those lobsters. They even have claws that can clamp your thumb off. All those little ridges inside might as well be teeth. You shudder at the terrifying thought.
But still, you go to Red Lobster. They have things other than the typical monsters of the sea you can eat. At least they serve other kinds of fish where you don’t have to see their eyes. Not that you’re a vegan or allergic or anything of that nature. You just prefer to not be staring your food in the face as you eat it.
No. There’s one thing that’s called your name like a moth to its death in a flame since birth. Your grandfather, on the other hand, loved Red Lobster; he’d take Grandma there every Friday night (regardless of it was Lent or not) and they’d feast. They both loved clam chowder and lobster bisque.
It was never either of those soups that intrigued you about the place. What did is one of the first things brought to the table by the waitstaff; the waitstaff who’ve grown accustomed to “the look” in every child (and, dare you say it, every adult) anticipating the fresh, faultless perfection coming their way:
Your mother never makes bread at home. She doesn’t have the patience to stand at the counter and let science do its thing with the gluten and the kneading and the waiting and the baking. She does make pies and old recipes from the family with a few new ones too. But some things in life should never be tampered with in any way. Like the ratio of cheese to its bread.
There’s an exact science, you’ve come to figure out, to the combination of ingredients used in your guilty pleasure bread. It’s a tradition known among those who anticipate a special kind of treat. Does Red Lobster do anything to curb the appeal? Of course not. It’s science. Who are they to discourage public demand of a perfect formula? It took them years to develop their closely guarded secret. Test it. They only needed mere seconds to know they’d struck cheesy. Salty. Buttery. Gold.
Because that’s what they truly are: pure gold. Not that fake Fool’s Gold they give you in coal mine tours. The ultimate accompaniment to any meal. Your grandfather fed them to you in your carrier as a baby (if carriers existed in 1985 like they do today). When you were old enough the mountains of golden biscuits were all you ate; your parents learned to never leave the basket near you. They’d be gone in an instant.
Even when everybody knows they’re endless.
So because of the golden nuggets you came to not mind the smell of fish. You came to enjoy a family tradition that abruptly ended one day, in 2002, when you were sixteen years old. On a Friday night while you were teaching yourself how to use PowerPoint on your family’s computer a different kind of call came in. Your parents were out; you don’t remember exactly where. So you answered the phone.
Grandma and Grandpa were at Red Lobster like always, sitting in their usual booth enjoying their usual meal when Grandpa suffered another stroke. At one of their favorite places in the world. You didn’t want to believe it because you didn’t recognize the voice on the other end of the line. You’re parents always told you to never give numbers out to strangers. Until you hear your Grandma in the background and you knew something was wrong.
For a long time you couldn’t love those biscuits. Even after the restaurant remodeled a few years later – may as well have been decades – and the booth where it happened no longer existed, you still couldn’t stomach the beautiful, dense, glorious things. Until one day your mom brought home something you never expected: Red Lobster was encouraging folks to make their biscuits at home. You stood there, staring at the box close to tears because you missed them so much.
Just like you missed your grandfather. Just as he was synonymous with trolleys and trains, so is he with the gloriousness of Red Lobster biscuits. So to Red Lobster you returned, firm with the knowledge that avoiding it wouldn’t be what he’d want. He’d want you to savor every moment. Savor every train ride. Every bite of cheesy. Salty. Buttery. Golden biscuits.
Lou J. Redman was a man of few, simple passions. Family, trolleys, trains, Pittsburgh and he loved his seafood. He was known as Mr. TCA; his famous train suit is known in every collector’s circle and he welcomed everyone into his home during the holidays after spending weeks constructing magnificent train platform displays.
But to me he was simply Grandpa. My quiet, humble, loving grandpa. My grandpa who’d have lobster nights when his grandchildren came into town (I love fish by the way). My grandpa who’d never miss a 4th of July or Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day parade – their home was on the main route after all! So while it may not be as much of a tradition to go to Red Lobster as much as my grandparents did, I relive that night each time.
Sometimes we just need a bit of cheesy, crumbly, biscuit goodness from Red Lobster.
Unexpectedly on Friday, February 1st, I got the first call. I was 16.
And for his love of trains