Dr. Mary Chance feared she’d poison half of Liberty on reopening day.
Not that she’d personally put the town at risk. Ethel Lynn Percible’s cuisine was to blame. Her slippery hold on culinary skills had Mary wishing she’d dumped antacids instead of mints in the crystal bowl beside the cash register. True, the elderly cook hadn’t exactly poisoned anyone. But the historic recipes Mary hoped to serve were soggy, lumpy, undercooked or scorched to a fine black sheen.
A trim woman in a severe grey suit rose from a table. “I hope you were a better doctor than you are a business woman,” she snapped. Storming past, she gave Mary a dismissive glance. “You should’ve opened an emergency room instead of a restaurant. Or better yet, both. Then you’d have a thriving business.”
For a shattering moment, Mary connected with her frigid gaze. The woman had ordered the lunch special, Martha Washington’s beef stew. She’d received a concoction that resembled glue and smelled worse.
In the center of the dining room, the young waitress Mary had rehired fended off a barrage of insults. Delia Molek’s voice rose like a violin’s plucked string. Cornered beneath antique pewter sconces, she ditched patience and favored the disenchanted patron with steely regard. The gum wadded between her molars snapped angrily with her retorts.
In contrast, the less confident Ethel Lynn remained hidden in the kitchen. She’d suffered a host of culinary calamities since the first customer appeared this morning. Perhaps she was infected with opening day jitters. Perhaps she would serve up savory meals once she got into the swing of things. In the fervor of new and disbelieving ownership, Mary had overhauled the menu, bringing back a delectable array of historic recipes. Many of the offerings graced the finest Colonial tables long ago, like succulent beef dotted with cloves and cakes sweetened with Rum. The new menu also featured a Civil War recipe of chicken seared with cherries. The dessert menu included rich puddings and a Spice Cake from the Roaring Twenties so beloved by Calvin Coolidge, he’d made the confection a White House staple.
No wonder Ethel Lynn’s skills needed polish. The historic recipes were to blame for her bad start. With enough practice, she’d learn to make each dish with finesse. Customers would no longer risk upset stomachs, and the restaurant would thrive. Glancing heavenward, Mary prayed she’d hit on the problem.
The portly man fled toward the street. Delia marched up.
She said, “He didn’t leave a tip.”
Mary arched a brow. “Would you?”
“With Ethel Lynn running the kitchen? No.”
Given Ethel Lynn’s many years with the restaurant, the remark was unkind. Letting it go, Mary said, “Count your blessings. At least your customer didn’t demand a refund.”
“Point taken.” The waitress popped a fresh stick of gum into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “So. Your first day as the owner of Liberty’s one and only restaurant is a train wreck. Here’s a fun thought. We still have the dinner rush tonight.”
Mary surveyed the patriotic decorations she’d festooned throughout the dining room, a treasure trove of Americana harking back to the restaurant’s founding in the 1800s. So many beautiful things, but they’d gone unappreciated. Diners noticed little but the glop on their plates.
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