the chorister's c




29 August 1998

It was Saturday morning; I had just finished my work at the recording studio; I needed to get some lunch; and I had a couple of hours to kill before the movie I was going to see. So I went across Wisconsin Avenue to the Friendship Heights Booeymonger to settle in for a while.

Booeymonger is a string of three local delicatessens -- the other two are in Georgetown and Bethesda. It's the sort of place where the food is good, not great, but you feel a sort of loyalty to it. It's a casual, neighborhood place where you bring your parents for brunch before you head down to the monument and museum districts.

The restaurant in Friendship Heights is at a sort of crossroads, just one block inside the district line from Maryland. It's in a building directly over the Red Line Metro station, and Mazza Gallerie is across Jenifer Street: this is a small upscale mall that's gone through some downscaling. The mall is now anchored by the unlikely combination of a Nieman-Marcus and a Filene's Basement. Behind Booeymonger's building is a divisional Metrobus barn.

The deli wraps around the corner of the building, and features semi-permanent, roofed sidewalk seating. Inside, it's Goldilocks-sized, not too small, and not too big -- about two dozen tables, a couple of mirror-facing counters that snake around awkward corners, and exactly one booth. The decor is vaguely 70s, with biomorphical butcher-block tables that look something like bloated Pac-Men. A recent facelift replaced some of the worn-out fittings with new bleached wood, and this lightens up the place a lot. Two overgrown pothos vines spill out of plastic pots. The place is clean enough.

Most food orders involve a three-step process. First you step around to the left of the bagel bins to a well-hidden, almost clandestine window to place your sandwich order. Then you queue up to the right, pour your own coffee, and pay a cashier. Finally, you hang out by the napkins-and-plastic forks counter and wait for your name to be called. There are lots of variations, like the separate line in the center for the cold salads orders.

The food is that eclectic deli mix of "whatever sells:" espresso, pastries, bagels, fruit salads, frozen yogurt, and great cholesterol-bomb sandwiches with goofy names and lots of Russian dressing. One of my favorites is the "Patty Hearst." There's beer on the menu board but I've never seen anyone order one.

The hurly-burly at lunchtime rush was marvelous. There was a radio somewhere, playing just audibly. Since the last time I was in, a television was installed, but I seemed to be the only one paying any attention to it at all. It was tuned, with the sound off, to the local cable 24-hour news channel, transmitting a mid-day 30-minute loop of cheaply produced consumer information (how to fix your lawn mower) and incomprehensible political rants. There were cooks calling food orders, the gurgle of twenty conversations, cash registers chirping.

I watched people.

A table of Hispanic men on a work break. A 50-ish, well-dressed couple talking to a young black man named Andre with a smooth skull. Five-year-old towheaded boys. A woman in white wearing sensible white sneakers -- a medical technician or just someone staying cool in the August heat? Hardhats and baseball caps. The usual twentysomethings. An old woman having a silent conversation with herself. An Asian woman with a five-inch square tattoo on her right bicep, hair in loose pigtails, and a T.J. Maxx employee's vest.

I realized that I had seen the news channel loop twice around, and it was time to go.

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©1998 David L. Gorsline.
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