My laptop for a cream puff

April 25, 2000
 By Barry Lewis
 Times Herald-Record
If only I could have found a chocolate cream puff. There had to be one extra in the kitchen or at another station. Thought I'd brought out enough, but I should have known better. There is no "enough."

"Have any cream puffs?" I asked around, feeling less like a waiter and more like those guys on Times Square who will do anything for loose change.

"Hey, you wanna cream puff?" said Jose Martinez, a 20-year veteran of the Raleigh Hotel dining room, who felt like taking pity on the rookie. He had a trayful, cornering the market, the Warren Buffett of chocolate cream puffs.

Some rookie. Nearly 20 years ago, I took off that red waiter's jacket for the last time, swearing off serving cold borscht, cottage cheese, sour cream and buttermilk. It was great during my last years in high school and the long weekends and summers while I was in college. Good money. Hard money.

But coming back to work in Sullivan County, I thought it would be fun to serve a meal again in the Catskills.

I went for broke. Lunchtime during Passover.

As luck would have it, the dining room maitre d' was Victor Gerstenblatt, the man who watched me carry 16 main dishes during my days at the former Stevensville Country Club in Swan Lake. He also watched me drop cold borscht and hot coffee on more than a couple of unsuspecting guests.

I put a damp cloth on my tray to keep things from sliding and began my run into the kitchen. I put a few glasses of cold fruit soup and borscht on my tray and headed for the onion soup.
"Next time, use a paper napkin."

I looked up and saw the hotel owner, Mannie Halbert, keeping watch over the kitchen. "These things cost 15 cents each to wash. Use paper," he said.

Off with the cloth, on with the paper. I cleared plates off a few tables and made another trip to the kitchen for mains. Seven broiled filets of salmon, three – no, make it four – plates of potato pancakes, extra applesauce, a few pastas with broccoli, a few Passover matzoh pizzas, several tuna salads and a boiled pike platter. This table of eight would not go hungry.

My waiter, Frankie Abreu, and bus girl, Candy Pasupuleti, kept a watchful eye. I think Victor had told them about the cold borscht and hot coffee. But nothing was spilled. No one got hurt. And I was finally able to bring Ben Menkes of Brooklyn his chocolate cream puff.

Menkes looked up and smiled as I triumphantly placed the puff in front of him. He smiled. I smiled.

"You know what?" said Menkes, giving me a long look.
He must have been really impressed.

"Maybe I'll have some macaroons instead," he said. "And decaf. Hot."


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