The descriptions of the food, physical locations, and presidential travel are either factual or based on our own experiences. The rest is best described like this…
Once upon a time, there was a restaurant named Hawthorne Lane. It was a very fine restaurant, with white tablecloths and brightly polished silverware. The restaurant was quiet and serious, with well-mannered waiters who would ask if you cared for another glass of iced tea—served with a miniature pitcher of sugar syrup—or perhaps some more wine.
The restaurant lived on a little stub of an alley that was also called Hawthorne Lane. Hawthorne Lane (the alley, not the restaurant) wasn’t a very large alley, but it was also very fine, with tall brick walls covered with ivy, and arches to walk through.
Hawthorne Lane (the restaurant, not the alley) was successful. It served delicious food to people who dressed well and enjoyed being asked if they cared for another glass of iced tea, or perhaps some more wine. Everyone thought very highly of the restaurant and told it so. One day, the president of the entire country came for lunch, and his big Southern laugh could be heard echoing through the ivy-covered arches.
But one evening—as it watched the light glow through its windows and listened to the thousand tiny clinks of polished silverware—the restaurant noticed something that it had never seen before. While everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, they also seemed to be working very hard, not just the waiters and the cooks, but even the guests. When they talked, they were careful to keep their voices evenly pitched. Even when they laughed—which happened often, because the restaurant was truly pleasant—they seemed to catch themselves, as if everything that they did needed to be as brightly polished as the wine glasses, as crisply starched as the linens.
When the restaurant realized how hard its guests were working, it became sad. It wondered if being fine and well-mannered made everyone just a tiny bit uncomfortable. And—after much thought—it decided that it would rather be a restaurant where people felt relaxed when they visited.
Away went the white tablecloths and the elegant dining room. In came dark wood paneling and light fixtures that looked like grass skirts made out of tan suede. There was also a chandelier that looked like it was made out of real antlers, because the restaurant thought that it ought to have one thing that was very silly, and the chandelier was very silly indeed.
The waiters were outfitted in T-shirts and sleek trousers. The service was a bit less polished, but it was undeniable that everyone was having more fun, which helped the guests to feel comfortable. The host dressed smartly in a suit and tie, but he also wore canvas sneakers, knowing that it was important to be just a little bit silly. Instead of quiet music, the restaurant played rock-and-roll, including Emotional Rescue by the Rolling Stones, because it liked the part at the end of the song where Mick Jagger talks about riding a horse across the desert.
The restaurant created an interesting cocktail list with lots of inventive drinks. One of the best was a hold-over from the restaurant’s past, a Greyhound-like drink called the Royal Hound with very tiny, very delicious pieces of dried grapefruit stuck to the rim of the glass. The restaurant found a clever wine expert, who created a new wine list with a section of 50 wines priced less than $50 per bottle, because it wanted its guests to feel like they could try different things without worrying about the price.
The restaurant thought that the food on its new menu should be less proper than before, but still interesting and exciting. It greeted each guest with a plate of crunchy, cheesy crackers and small, rich chive biscuits that disappeared so quickly that the restaurant wondered how anyone could possibly eat them so fast.
Wanting to serve food that made people feel comfortable, the restaurant offered an absolutely delicious chopped salad, and a tasty wedge of iceberg lettuce with St. Agur blue cheese dressing. There were richer starters, such as potato skins with very good housemade bacon, and deep-fried clam strips with tangy aioli. The appetizer list also included unusual foods like headcheese and marrow bones, both of which were well prepared indeed. One of the visitors didn’t like the tomato sauce that came with his bones, but he happily ate all the marrow anyway.
The restaurant struggled a little bit with its pasta courses; the pappardelle with peas and ricotta was heavy and bland, and the rock-shrimp linguine was rather ordinary. However, the guests liked the spaghetti dressed with uni and breadcrumbs, remarking on how comforting and homey the dish tasted, in contrast to how unusual it sounded.
The restaurant recovered its balance for the main courses. The pork schnitzel was perfectly fried, juicy, and not the least bit greasy; braised lamb cheeks on polenta had at least one person licking the plate. If the hamburger was somewhat dry, at least it was cooked medium-rare all the way through, just the way the guest had asked.
That only left the dessert menu, and the restaurant had to admit that it was puzzled, as one couple absolutely did not like any of their desserts. On one night, they complained that the jelly doughnuts were overfilled. On another night, they said that neither the ice cream nor the cookies in the baby ice-cream sandwiches tasted at all good. The restaurant understood that not every person would like every dish, but it couldn’t understand why these two were so upset when so many other people said nice things about the desserts. But the restaurant was a very wise restaurant and understood that these were small problems. And that there’s no pleasing some folks.
The restaurant has been busy for several months now, content with its new look, new mission, and new name. It is quickly winning new friends, as people visit and tell others that they should go. Some diners are drawn by the buzz, as restaurant-goers often are. Others hold memories of what the restaurant once was, like the young lady who popped in one day looking for the old, elegant, white tablecloth restaurant. Maybe she wanted some of the iced tea served with the little pitcher of sugar syrup. The host in his suit and basketball shoes smiled at her.
“We used to be Hawthorne Lane, but not anymore,” he said. “Now we are Two.”