MUCH WAS GAINED BUT SOMETHING WAS LOST when the language police tried to eliminate gender in occupational references. A fisherman became an angler (nobody liked the term fisherwoman, anyway); stewards and stewardesses became flight attendants. And waiters and waitresses became servers. (So why didn’t hosts and hostesses become greeters?) I’m all for gender equality, but I confess I’m partial to waitresses as human beings and as nouns. Waitresses (not servers) are, after all, a storied breed. Their praises have been sung by everyone from Tony Bennett to Tom Waits, and they are the stuff of myth and legend in Hollywood. My favorite aunt was a well-loved waitress at the luncheonette in Stern’s department store for more than 30 years. Among the nearly 80 covers we’ve produced for this magazine, near the top of the list of my favorites is Lora Shelley’s portrait of a waitress (Valley Table 7, Feb–April 2000). And, for the record, I married one.
At a recent dinner out at an excellent little restaurant tucked away in the Italian section of Poughkeepsie, in casual introductory conversation with the waitress, er, server, I quipped, “I don’t eat anything purple.” As jokes go, it barely rated a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, so everyone rightfully ignored it. When she returned later to take our orders, however, the young woman turned to me and politely asked, “Should I instruct the kitchen that you’re allergic and your order should not contain any nightshade vegetables?” I was, in short, flummoxed. (I had to look that up, but it’s the appropriate word to describe my astonishment at her insight, her courtesy and her skill.) She was correct—many purple vegetables do belong to the nightshade family, which can cause ill effects in susceptible people. (The subject, in fact, is explored in “Eating Purple” in this issue.) The ensuing meal, by the way, was exemplary; there’s no doubt we’ll return to the restaurant soon.
Speaking of returning, as it does about this time each year, fall Hudson Valley Restaurant Week once again is looming on the horizon. Over the short span of two weeks, about a quarter of a million people will visit 200 or so participating restaurants, many of them booked up early. You can bet that every participating chef and every server, greeter, dishwasher, busboy and coat check girl will be intent on giving you the best they have. (It’s a great time, by the way, to show your appreciation for their efforts.) It’s absolutely the best time to enjoy the culinary riches of the Hudson Valley.