Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lunch at the Patio, Part 2

By Todd Morehead

City Paper recently revisited the best Cookin’ with Ass of 2006 which featured a review of The Patio Cafe at Patterson Hall, an all-female undergraduate dorm at USC. On a recent press day one of our more twisted associates was so inspired by the re-run that he invited the staff to lunch at The Patio (though not, we would later learn, on his tab).

Paul Blake, publisher of the City Paper, seemed particularly excited at the prospect and urged Sean Rayford and myself into taking lunch at 10:45 a.m. though we were already behind schedule on the issue.

“I think they open at eleven,” he said, breathing heavily.

“Is it cold out?” Rayford yawned from under a leather coat on the couch. He’d slept in the office again and until the lunch invitation arose, we hadn’t bothered to wake him.

“You’ll be warmed up once we get there,” Blake said. “Trust me.”

Ten minutes later, Blake jerked his car into a parking space on the far side of Pickens Street and exited the vehicle almost before the engine had time to shut off. He jogged toward the sidewalk, rubbing his hands together more from jittery excitement than from the cold. His zipped up his sport sweater against the wind and sped on ahead of us.

Rayford lit a cigarette as he walked. “Look at us. Three creepy old dudes heading to have lunch at an all girl’s dorm.” He still had red streaks on the side of his face from the seams in the couch cushion, a cowlick blowing lightly in the breeze.

“We’ll just play it off like we’re German grad students,” I said.

“Let’s go,” Blake yelled up ahead, “Trenholm’s already up there.”

“Is he back in school?” I asked, trotting to catch up.

“I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure he commuted downtown for this.”

We had to slow to a brisk walk up the Pickens Street hill before we veered into the park and crept up the back pathway toward the dorm. As we made our way around Patterson Hall, I found myself winded from trying to keep up with Paul. We passed a row of pink and purple bicycles chained to a rack and he began to pick up his pace.

After City Paper reprinted the original restaurant review for The Patio, we expected the place to be full of lecherous old men. But only Trenholm was there, waiting for us in the lobby. He grinned broadly when we approached. A few undergrad girls in Palmetto T-Shirts and flip-flops had begun to trickle in to wait for the cafe to open. A brunette chewed on brightly colored pen and blew an errant curl out of her eye while she made notes in the margins of her textbook.

Blake’s phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered, still panting from the walk.

A gaggle of blondes in low-slung jeans sauntered by, giggling to each other.

“Yeah,” he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side to take in the view, “we’re putting the finishing touches on the issue right now.”

He spent a few moments on the phone while the rest of us sat and made small talk and before long a Patio buffet attendant unlocked and opened the doors for business.

We were disappointed to find that they no longer offered chicken fingers on Wednesday and realized we’d have to make do with something healthy. The freshman girls had formed a long line at the salad bar, so Rayford and I grabbed our trays and made way for the pizza line. Trenholm and Paul had apparently discovered some type of stir-fry station across the room. Standing in line and gazing out the large windows, I realized that our original review was right; a middle-aged man on an upper floor of the Park Circle apartments could probably read the menu boards at the Patio with a high powered telescope. Though unlike the days when Paul used to live at Park Circle, the menu boards at the Patio now conveniently feature a calorie count next to each entree.

“Did you notice the calorie counters?” Rayford asked when he slapped his tray down at our table. I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or peeved by them.

We sat and pigged out on pizza and salad and traded stories about various jobs we’d been fired from while herds of coeds giggled quietly from nearby tables and slurped loudly on pink scrunchy straws. Before long, it was time to return to the office.

Stuffed to the gills from lunch, we found that we had to make slower progress through the park on the way to the car.

“That was pretty good pizza,” I said to no one in particular, zipping up my jacket against the chill.

“Yeah, we’ll have to come back when the weather warms up.”

“Mmm. For the fresh fruit?”

“No. The mini skirts.”

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