11am: Brunch with Stella

Photograph by Beth Spergel


The sounds of a stomach rumbling are nearly loud enough to drown out the Modest Mouse record, being played in its entirety, here at Stella’s Bar, Restaurant and Cafe.

It’s annoying, but only until I realize it’s my own gut gurgling up last night’s indulgences. I’ll likely need to send in another Bloody Mary to see what the first was is up to in there.

I’ve come for brunch but at 11am on a Saturday morning it’s still too early to be reading a menu, so I let the Lady decide for me. Our waitress approaches, a young blonde college age looking girl who seems like she might spend a lot of time here alone on weekend mornings.

“Would you—” she doesn’t have time to inquire about the status of my desire for a second round.

“Yes, please,” my fingers slide the tall, narrow, empty glass her way as though the table is a conveyor belt.

A dad opens the front door to allow his family to gain access to the restaurants interior, the place boasting decor reminiscent of what the child of Yoko Ono and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey would look like. Curved half arches supporting the roof. Tables made of what seems to be solidified Taiwanese bubble tea. First grandma walks through the door, followed by a very late in the game pregnant mama with another young one on her hip. They each find their own place at a table next to mine. The baby does a little jig with his arms as The Moon & Antarctica switches to a new track.

The waitress proceeds to smile and point at the baby, now in a wooden high chair, from a distance as his family decides what they’ll order. They ask for a few pickles while they’re waiting for dinner to arrive and the little guy proceeds to inhale them, storing up in his cheeks a chipmunks worth of pickled cucumbers.

My second arrives in tandem with the restaurants latest visitor, a young kid who, at my ripe old age of 30-something, could be anywhere from a teenager to freshly graduated from nearby Cornell University. He says something to the waitress and she asks him to take a seat in one of the lounge chairs in the window before disappearing downstairs. iPod entranced college kids and shopping bag toting tourists pass behind him through the window framing College Street.

When she reemerges from the lower level, she’s followed by two other young guys, maybe in their late 20s. They could be as at home at a hipster bar as a business meeting, and the two sit down next to the kid. It becomes apparent that they are Stella’s owner and chef, the kid is here for an interview. Eavesdropping proves to be my favorite pastime once again.

The guys doing the interview couldn’t be north of 30. The interview is for a position in the restaurant’s kitchen. For a couple of guy wearing top button open western shirts and slightly ragged blue jeans, their interrogation style seems overly formal, as though the kid was applying for Head of Accounts at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Questions like “What is your biggest weakness?” and “Have you ever been fired?” are commonplace. They drop the big one on him, “So, do you enjoy washing dishes?” I nearly burst out laughing at the idea that these young bucks wearing britches seemingly a size too big are being so corporate for a position that—while I mean absolutely no disrespect having suffered through the menial duties of back of the house work myself—is for just about everyone a stepping stone on their procession to try and make a few extra bucks for weekend beers and school supplies. The continue to drill him as though the entire US financial system depends on whether or not he enjoys cleaning the grime from stranger’s plates. He answers every question without a hitch. They all stand up. Hands shake. He leaves.

My glass is empty and I’m satisfied with the level of tomato juice calming down the drum circle in my stomach. I haven’t crossed that fine line between hair of the dog and a too early in the morning buzz, pay my check, and move back out through the doors to continue a new beautiful day. As I’m leaving, the family is tucking into their morning meal, each dish a testament to art and I kind of “get” why the guys doing the interview were so serious. Stella’s will no doubt be packed today, because their meals come with a hefty price tag, but one that leaves even a picky baby, prone to pickles and french fries only, bursting out with a triumphantly loud “mmmmm”.