Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mennonite Date Night

“A Mennonite restaurant?” I asked, looking at Mary with my head cocked to the side.

“Yes. It’s supposed to be wonderful,” she said. “They have kind of a limited menu, but it’s all homemade and I’ve heard just . . .” hands over her heart now, “incredible things about it.”

Neither of us had ever been to a Mennonite, well, anything before, much less a restaurant. We’d seen them at the craft fairs or around town, women in modest shin-length dresses, sparse makeup if any, and the traditional black or white covering on the back of their head. But a restaurant run and staffed entirely by Mennonites? We weren’t sure what to expect.

“So, do we need to brush up on our early American vernacular?” I asked. “Do I need to be like, ‘Wife, what wilt thou have for thy entree?’, or, ‘Miss, couldst thou top off my sweet tea when thy time affords thee an opportunity?’”

“You’re an idiot,” Mary said. “For one thing, I don’t even think I’m supposed to talk. I think you’re supposed to order for me since you’re the man.”

Then a look of concern spread across her face. “Are they going to make me wear one of those doily things on my head?”


“You know, those doily thingies they wear on the back of their head. Am I going to have to wear one of those?”

“What, do you think it's going to be like those restaurants that require jackets on gentlemen?” I asked. “You think they’re going to have spare doilies for heathen women that come in without them?”

Mary pouted, “Shut up, I don’t know.” Then she giggled. “Do you think the schedule is posted on the bulletin at their church?” Then: “Or that we’ll have to put our tips in an offering plate?” She snorted to herself while I shook my head.

“Thou art indeed a heathen, wife.”

So it was with mixed expectations that we visited The Wooden Spoon in Gentry, Arkansas. It’s a small restaurant, but very charming. A small area with gifts and baked goods lines the inside of the front wall. Zucchini bread, scones, Rollkuchen (fritters), and streusel cakes were just a few of the items available. And our apprehension about how to behave was lifted when we saw one of the modestly-adorned waitresses texting on her iPhone.

Once we were seated, we perused the menu. It was limited to less than a dozen selections. Catfish, chicken, pasta, standard fare. We each ordered a cup of potato soup and the catfish dinner. The soup came in a coffee cup, which, like all the other dinnerware, was speckled enamel. We discovered after she’d left that our waitress had forgotten our spoons. Trouble was, we weren’t sure which one she was. They were all built and dressed so similarly.

“Is it her?” Mary asked, pointing to a young woman carrying a tray of food.

“I have no idea,” I said. Sadly, I couldn’t have picked her out of a police lineup if she’d stolen my wallet. And describing her would be equally useless. “Yes, officer, she was tall, fair-skinned, light-haired, wore a long, plain dress, and a black doily on the back of her head.” Every waitress in the joint fit that description.

Fortunately for us, she came back and asked if everything was all right. When we told her we needed spoons, she smacked her forehead with the heel of her hand and said, “Duh! I’m so sorry.”

Everything was wonderful: the food, the service, the relaxed atmosphere. And the dessert selections nearly outnumber the entrees. Bumblebee Pie (a mix of berries), French Silk Pie, Rhubarb Cream Pie, Coconut Pie, Dutch Apple Cake, Bread Pudding, and more I can’t recall.

Mary ordered the French Silk Pie and I the Bread Pudding. Both came quickly and were positively ginormous. Her “slice” of pie — a piece so large that if it were a rock it could be used to bludgeon a man — was drizzled with chocolate swirls and topped with a creamy whipped fluff. My bread pudding was just as big and smothered in a buttery, sugary, cinammon-y sauce that I am not ashamed to say I wanted very much to pour over myself.

It was a fantastic experience, and we will go back again and again. The staff was gracious and attentive and the food was fabulous. So the next time you find yourself in Gentry, Arkansas on a Friday evening, stop by The Wooden Spoon.

Thou wilt love it.