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September 19th, 2001 Caryn B. Brooks | Miss Dish
 

Stomaching It

     
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GENTLE, WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL READERS,
Know that in traumatic times such as these, Miss Dish loves you very much. Really. Truly.

And while in abstract form, the idea of discussing the matter of restaurants in these dizzying days seems in bad taste, the reality is that for many people out there, restaurants are not just a place to seek sustenance or to celebrate. Rather, they exist as a kind of community center, a reflection of the world large and small.

With that in mind, it pained Miss Dish to hear that the lovely couple that runs Hoda's Middle Eastern restaurant at 3401 SE Belmont Ave. was harassed on the day of the attack. Hani and Hoda Khouri both dealt with separate racial attacks. Last Tuesday, soon after the crashes, Hoda received several menacing anti-Muslim/Arab phone calls at the restaurant. She reported the incidents to the police. Never mind that the Khouris are Catholic; let's say they were Muslim--this kind of ignorance is repulsive.

The good news is that racist reaction hasn't been the norm. "We've had good support from customers and neighbors," Hoda says. Notice she didn't say suppliers. When Hani went to pick up some produce on Tuesday, he says a worker there commented that people who weren't born in America should just leave. Hani says he laughed and said, "I wish that people were smarter than that." Downtown, Tony Karam, who owns the Lebanese-focused Long Island Cafe at 1012 SW Morrison St., says he is receiving nothing but support.

When Miss Dish spoke with Paul Ornstein, the chef at Southpark (901 SW Salmon St.), he sounded as if someone had siphoned all of the energy out of him. The restaurant closed on Tuesday, and the crew has tried to make it business as usual since then. "Everyone's stomach is knotted up," he says. Ornstein says business is down 40 percent, more so for dinner than for lunch. He says he expects this downturn to last at least a month and maybe until the end of the year. "People are going to tighten up with their money, and I don't blame them," he says. As far as supplies go, Ornstein says imported products will be iffy for some time to come, especially non-local fish. Since we're at the height of the local produce season, those products won't be a problem; however, if there are still spotty flight schedules as we move forward through fall, we will see some blank spots on menus.

Some restaurants that were more than full last week include the eateries attached to hotels where out-of-towners were stranded, such as Pazzo and Red Star Tavern. William Henry, chef/owner of William's on 12th, says that while he's been getting many reservation cancellations, he's also getting some people stopping in partly due to the tragedy. "A 15-top was leaving for Paris, but now they have this French restaurant to eat at," he says.

As Miss Dish found herself careening from restaurant to restaurant each night in an attempt to find brief reprieve from the constant assault of CNN, diners seemed to be in their own bubble of stubborn resolve: The eat goes on. Mint (816 N Russell St.) was full of shiny slacks, tight T-shirts, and fists splayed around avocado daiquiris. The place smelled of the sweetest decline, the Left Bank before it took a turn for the worst. At Milo's City Cafe (1325 NE Broadway) on Friday, lunchtime woofers crowded in as a seemingly unmoving line across the street at Elmer's Flag and Banner stood guard. The always chatty waitresses there seemed in top form with their rat-a-tat banter. When Miss Dish questioned one about the level of perkiness about the place, she smiled with what finally seemed a tired mouth. "They tried to break us," she said. "I won't give them the pleasure."

 
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