When I go to The Nectar in the morning to get coffee I often sit at the counter to watch Pablo, the cook, prepare for the day.
His rundown of rituals never fails to fascinate me.
First let me describe this well loved, neighborhood coffee shop that opened its sliding doors over 30 years ago. It’s built like a submarine, long and small with a dozen tables for 2 and a counter that seats 9. Comfort is not its strong point but fast, good, hardy food is.
I love to see the blanket of potatoes Pablo laces with peppers and onions that take up the whole grill. In minutes they turn into home fries that will accompany 100s of eggs ordered throughout the course of the day.
To the left is a huge pot of Quaker Oats simmering quietly while yards of bacon are unwrapped and stacked on the 10 foot cutting board adjacent to the stove.
Their busiest time is lunch when you can’t even get in but that’s when you need to see the cook in action. He’s like a one man band with 12 different dishes going at once while making dozens of sandwiches in between. I’m amazed how nothing gets burnt or forgotten while new orders are continually screamed in his ear. He reminds me of the guy on the Ed Sullivan show who used to spin plates, but unlike Pablo’s, his were empty.
‘Turkey full house’, ‘4 gacs; 2 on rye,’ ‘ham and cheese dress it up,’ ‘hard roll high and dry.’
What did I just say?
A turkey ‘full house’ means a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. A ‘gac’ stands for grilled American cheese, ‘dress it up,’ lettuce and mayo only and ‘high and dry’ states, keep it plain.
How bout, ‘two cows make’em cry,’ burn the British’ and ‘Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck’em.’
Translation: 2 hamburgers with onions, a toasted English muffin and poached eggs scrambled on toast.
If you hear someone call for ‘Mike and Ike’ they want salt and pepper.
‘Hold the hail,’ no ice.
‘Let it walk’ or ‘give it shoes’ means it’s a delivery and my personal favorite ‘hot balls,’ is slang for matzah ball soup.
One needs to go to Berlitz to work in a Greek coffee shop.
Another one I like is ’42 over easy.’ This does not mean 42 eggs; imagine the cholesteral count on that customer; it’s 4 eggs served on 2 different plates.
Who created this jazzy jargon? I have no idea but it’s what you hear in every greasy spoon across the country; not that the Nectar is greasy, it’s pretty pristine considering the volume of food that it produces daily.
One of the best parts of The Nectar are the men who work there. Steve, the manager, is hands on all the way. He’s everywhere; behind the counter, on the phone taking orders, outside waiting on the few cafe tables they put out all year round. It’s not unusual to see dog owners shivering over eggs with Steve refilling coffee cups in his coat and apron.
Mayor Bloomberg, who lives nearby, gets his breakfast there every morning. Nectar’s longevity has turned it into an Upper East Side institution.
I still have to say though the credit should go to the cook, because without his balancing act, ear and organizational skills forget it. Even the Mayor would be waiting for his ‘Jewish round with a schmear,’ or bagel with cream cheese if the man behind the grill wasn’t so efficient.
To put it simply, cooking in a fast food joint is a true art form.
Now I’ve made myself hungry. Hmm, what can I have?
Maybe I’ll ‘drown the kids, whiskey down’ with a large ‘white cow.’ (2 boiled eggs with rye toast and a vanilla milk shake) Should I have a ‘why bother’ ? (decaf with non-fat milk)
Oh why not.
I must remember to tell Steve to please ‘give it shoes.’