I stepped out of my office, a renovated section of the ol’ JC Penny building, and enjoyed a brisk walk down the street lined with grungy half-melted snow. Traffic kicked up brown spittle and I took great care not to step too close to the curb.
It was grey outside, but not un-enjoyable. A slight breeze carried the smells of food from the restaurants in Downtown Bismarck. Grilled meat seemed to be the dominant smell and I imagined a cadre of carnivorous cave men grunting in JL Beers, thumping their forks and knives on the tables in impatient anticipation.
A little cakery sits on Broadway. It changes names and handlers it seems every other month. They serve specialty sandwiches and soups of the day. I’ve stopped in there a few times, and its like a hen house. By hen, I mean, testosterone impaired. The clucks of the women-folk are accompanied by the clinks of freshly-brewed coffee, expensive tea, and forks used to delicately peck at their special sandwiches.
I walk past the man-cave and the hen house towards Caffé Aroma. You read that right, two effs. It’s a nice little coffee and sandwich joint tucked away inside a building. The owners liken it to having “a warm, friendly, family atmosphere.” I liken it to a library that you can eat and drink in and that’s comfortable to me.
A wooden carving of a cowboy greets patrons with a real red kerchief tied around his neck. It’s cracked with age and because it’s dry. Terribly dry. It could probably turn to ash in a minute with a Miyagi friction rub – you know, the rub that Master Miyagi does to heal Danielson’s charlie horse – and the thing is dusty as hell. Not the kind of dust that’s earned out in the field rustlin’ ponies, but the sickening kind of dust that’s more of a build up of dead skin.
I order a cold turkey sandwich to go and because I’m feeling healthy I order it on wheat. I over-pronounce the “wh” in wheat like Stewie Griffin accompanied by an arching brow. The sandwich artiste looks at like she wants to laugh but isn’t sure that she should laugh because I might be serious.
It takes a few minutes to prepare so I nonchalantly peruse the place. I pick a magazine from the bottom of a neat stack of National Geographics and casually make non-committal remarks, “hmmm,” and “mmm-mmmm,” before setting it down on the corner of the table.
My sandwich is ready in a jiff. I feel a little guilty with leaving the magazines disheveled so I reach in to my wallet and pull out two bucks for a tip – I always leave a tip whether I’m feeling saucy, artsey, or convivial. Then I beat a hasty retreat back to work.
Upon my return I crack open the Styrofoam box and waiting for me inside is a great sandwich. I asked for a turkey on wheat. The artiste must have been feeling generous today. Inside lay a thick warm slice of twelve grain wheat – that’s wwhheat – bread, on which lay about four delicate turkey slices, fresh thick cut provolone cheese, and about eight rashers of crispy bacon, topped again with that wonderful warm wwhheet bread.
Let me just share with you I don’t have any great love for twelve-grain bread. My bread shouldn’t crunch without being toasted, God damn it. Perhaps it was the artistic presentation of the sandwich, or the cold gray day, or my sanctum of an office away from man-caves and hen-houses, but it almost melted in my mouth.
I rarely visit Caffé Aroma, but the few times I’ve been there, I’ve requested bacon with my sandwich. I didn’t ask for it this time, but these people KNOW their patrons. I ate every bite of my sandwich and bacon that I didn’t realize I wanted until the anonymous artiste remembered for me.