So here's the problem: You're hungry. Maybe you're meeting someone, or you have friends in town. Or you just want a quick bite for yourself. You figure you'll drop by the cafe at King Arthur Flour. You turn into the lot. And that's when your brain clicks into gear: It's summer!
The lot is full. There are cars in there from Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Delaware... and oh! Did we mention Massachusetts?
Last week, we asked locals for their advice on how to handle King Arthur. We got some good tips. Which we'll get to in a moment.
But first, we thought it only fair -- purely in the interest of scientific research, you understand -- that we scope out the King Arthur cafe ourselves. At lunchtime. In mid-August. Today, actually.
So a little before noon, we headed over and each took a different food line: for sandwiches, the bakery, or grab & go. Here's what we looked like, all fresh and innocent.
Why is Rob smiling? Well...
I’ve been victimized twice already by my esteemed colleague Aileen’s mysterious ability to flip a coin in my arch-rival colleague Rob’s favor. But when Rob invited me to join in a third race from Point A to Point B, I said sure. I’m that kind of teammate.
Sure enough, when Rob and I drew straws in the entrance to King Arthur Flour with another colleague, “Nice” Tom, you know who drew the short one. Aileen wasn’t even there. Her powers are maddening.
Anyway, I trudged to the end of the sandwich line and turned on my stopwatch. I was 11th in line. I had plenty of time to observe my surroundings. Animated conversation at 8 o’clock. Noisy kids on my 6. Dartmouth rower at 9, on the move.
See that little bright spot of yellow back there? That's Mark.
In front of me, 12 o’clock high, the Holy Grail: menu board and checkout. I memorized my choices. Go ahead, ask me what’s on the Salami & Capicola.
To my astonishment, the line moved apace, and soon enough I was first. I glanced to the bread line; there was “Nice” Tom, well back in the pack.
Daylight! An opening. Elijah, my new best friend, called me to his checkout station. I did not hesitate: spicy tuna special on brioche bun. Why spicy tuna? Because August means mayonnaise! What could possibly go wrong?
I waited for the green light, inserted my card, got the Approval -- such a good feeling, Approval -- and stopped the timer. Six minutes and 33 seconds! Rob was nowhere to be seen -- of course -- but “Nice” Tom was still in line. In your face, “Nice” Tom!
I wandered over to gloat. Only then did I realize that I held not spicy tuna brioche victory in my hand, but a buzzer. Dang it!
Tom checked out with his 6,000 calories of pizza and brownie at 15:48. My buzzer buzzed 43 seconds later.
So yeah. Last again. Go figure.
You know what really hurts? After eating I hesitated for just a second at the trash receptacle -- I mean, just a second! -- and sure enough, Tom had something to say about hurrying up already. You don’t expect someone “Nice” who’s from, I don’t know, Iowa or someplace, to throw that kind of shade.
Tip #1, from a DailyUV reader: "Get there close to 11 when breakfast and lunch menus switch over. The whole porch was empty and there was lots of room inside too. Nobody in line."
It’s Ohio, Mark. And I’m one of four kids. I had to fight for every scrap of food that so much as grazed the surface of the table. And I may seem nice, but that’s a ruse. My wife is nice—”Minnesota nice.” She’s one of those people who will slice the last piece of cake in half, eternally, because theoretically it’s possible. I? I will always take the other half.
Midwestern dining etiquette aside, that I found myself on the pastry line at lunchtime should not be considered a win. For starters, what kind of lunch-worthy items could I expect to choose from? Peering past six or seven people ahead of me, the best I could make out were a tray of pizza slices and the lonesomest little wedge of quiche you’ve ever seen in your life.
The view from Tom.
And yeah, I saw Mark over there, blazing through the sandwich line, looking about as smug as that sweet man is able to. My line ground to a halt. A couple of tourists (let’s assume) couldn’t seem to decide on what pastries not to get. And honestly, who can blame them? To pass the time, I longingly perused the sandwich menu across the room, landing on the one that I would not be able to order.
Mm-hm. Salami and Capicola.
Twelve minutes later, I made it to the pastry counter! By that point, I got Mark hanging around me like a schoolyard wiseacre, waiting for his buzzer to light up. I order two pizza slices and a brownie, but of course the pizza’s got to spend a minute in the reheating oven. Tick-tock!
But Mark’s still waiting. My slices come out hot. Mark’s not so smug now. I’m starting to feel like Dave Wottle in the 1972 Games.
But 43 seconds ahead of Mark’s buzzer, honestly, is virtually tie in this scenario. So who had the edge? It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my pizza, and left not even a crust behind, but Mark’s sandwich did look pretty dang good. Advantage Mark?
Not so fast. In the pastry line, one may order dessert, too. I lifted and bit into that brownie like it was an Olympic medal.
“That hurts more than a little, Tom.”
Tip #2, from a DailyUV reader: "Go early and speed to the left while others pause and look which way to go."
Mark can complain all he wants about his luck, but I'm not the one who tried to buy off Aileen's coin-flipping mojo. So all I can say is, your short straw was karma, Bud!