Me: Can we have an Amstel and a vodka Diet Coke, please.
Server: You want a menu?
Me: Nah, thanks, we already know what we want.
Pick your beverage of choice and this will be a conversation familiar to so many of us who have lived on small islands for any length of time. Our encyclopedic knowledge of the menus of our island eateries is matched only by our unique ability to find the quickest way around our rocks on a 6-ship day. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but for me, the slightly-dog-eared, peeling-around-the-edges, hasn’t-changed-in-years menus of my favorite restaurants are the ultimate island comfort blanket.
Prior to rocking up on my rock, I spent a good number of years living and working in countries all over the world and this meant eating in restaurants where the menu was always a stranger to me. Many times, I had no idea of the language and had to rely on pictures – which always, without fail, displayed food that was more appetizing to look at than to eat. That, or the choice of restaurants was so vast that I just picked the first one on the list and hoped for the best – back then, I had a very strong stomach, I can tell you!
The fact that eating out on my rock is one of my favorite pastimes owes a great deal to the affection I have developed for the restaurants on my rock and my deep familiarity with their menus. And in many cases, with their servers. After so long on this rock, I have gotten to know many of my servers very well (they have weathered the vagaries of island life and Immigration rules in the same way that I have – with a big smile and a healthy dose of it-is-what-it-is acceptance). I have great respect for their hard work and appreciate how well they know me. In my top three eateries, no words need to be spoken, I only need to walk through the door or onto the deck and I have a drink in my hand and my favorite food on the way. It’s a bit “big fish in a small pond,” but I like it.
Some island girls (and boys) may struggle with the sameness of it all and for some, the perusal of the menu may form an integral part of their whole dining out experience. Not me. I love the culinary security of knowing almost without thinking who has the only 6oz filet mignon on island (a way more ladylike size, don’t you think?), where to get the best curry (surprisingly, not at one of the two curry houses on my rock), who serves up the stickiest sticky toffee pudding (a different locale unfortunately to both the steak and the curry), and my personal food mecca – which restaurant produces the perfect calamari.
We are fortunate on this rock in that we have lots of culinary choices. Whether your thing is food to rival the best NYC restaurant (Michelin-starred chefs – check) or fresh-off-the-boat fish (just caught this morning – check), or the tastiest local delicacies (jerk, jerk or more jerk – check), we have it all. We even have two annual food festivals, one of which takes place over a week each January and features a number of celebrity chefs and attracts the super-HNWI that thinks nothing of parking her (or his, maybe) super-yacht tantalizingly just out of reach of us mere mortals. The other food festival, aimed squarely at us less-HNW but equally deserving mortals, takes place over one crazy day of sampling specially created food and equally special cocktails from the best of our local establishments (who needs celebrity chefs anyway), all topped off with a performance from some of the best bands in the world. We have been entertained by Madonna, Prince, the Beatles, Queen, and Neil Diamond, just to name just a few. But aren’t some of these folk dead, I hear you cry? Well, I’m glad that you’re paying attention. All I can say is, long live the tribute band! The whole nature of this event, with its lack of familiar foodie options, does freak me out slightly but I have found that my level of menu-angst is indirectly proportionate to my intake of specially created cocktails, and by the time the evening’s star performer comes on stage, I am completely over it.
It helps that we eat out quite a lot – certainly more than we did before we moved to our rock. Our excuse is that groceries are expensive and wouldn’t we rather eat dinner outside watching a gorgeous sunset than slaving over a hot stove? Actually, perhaps I should rephrase that, given that the last time my lovely husband slaved over anything more complicated than a piece of toast was, umm, well, never…. But I digress. The point is that if you know the right places, which any self-respecting island chick will, eating out on this otherwise exorbitantly expensive rock doesn’t have to break the bank.
On returning from a quick trip off the rock earlier this summer, I found that one of my favorite (and least bank-breaking) restaurants had taken it upon itself to re-do its menu. The sheer audacity; I was only away for a weekend! They had also clearly decided that after at least 16 curly-edged years, it was not only the menu card that needed a re-vamp and I almost went into a state of shock when my server (who was also new) handed me one of the sparkly new re-laminated sheets with its updated menu choices.
My world tilted on its axis. What was happening? Would I have to re-learn the entire menu (and would this new server have to learn me…?). You can imagine my relief when I realized that, in fact, the only change they had made – in deference to our growing vegetarian/vegan population – was to add two meatless options (I have no beef with that!). The rest of the menu was reassuringly as I had left it just a few days earlier; my island comfort blanket was restored and life could go on.
Server: The usual?
Me: Yes, please!