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Wood Working: Difference between New York, River Falls café servings? Try melodrama, tax-return fears, Russian speakers

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I was just telling a friend that my favorite city in the whole world is New York City. He looked at me as if to say, "Are you NUTS?"

OK, OK, so New York has a few problems that we've discovered over the years. Back in the days when I was on an expense account, we always stayed at the fabled Algonquin Hotel.

On the first stay, we ate breakfast in the room where the famous circle of writers held forth in the 1920s.

Bacon and eggs, a bagel, coffee. $16.95. No, not for two. For one.

I mentioned it to Dave the bartender that night and he said, "Are you NUTS? Only tourists eat breakfast here. Find a dump and eat there. It'll be way better and cheap."

As usual, Dave was right.

The first place we stopped was around the corner on 45th. It was good and cheap, and I began to relax.

I had a bagel and Lox, Ruth had eggs and sausage. In the next booth sat a couple about our age, fairly well dressed, eating bacon and eggs.

Suddenly the man started mumbling, got up and grabbed our waitress, a young Hispanic, and began screaming at her about where his coffee was, screaming at the hostess, too.

The waitress claimed she had brought his coffee, at which point he grew wilder, called her a liar, flashed an I.D. and demanded to see her migrant-worker permit.

She said she didn't have one, didn't need one and started screaming back, saying she hadn't lied, but had made an honest mistake.

The man kept screaming, telling her he'll see her back "in Mexico where she belonged."

The hosted interceded and escorted the waitress into the kitchen and the man grabbed his wife, who had been looking on calmly. They walked out without paying.

The other diners erupted into conversation about the man.

I ventured a guess to our new waitress that the man probably did this in a different restaurant every morning, just to get out of paying, pointing out that his wife hardly paid any attention to his behavior.

"Nope," said our new waitress. "The man comes here frequently."

"So what was the I.D. card he flashed?"

"Ooh, she said, "He works for the Internal Revenue Service. That was his IRS card."

A young guy sitting at a table across from us said to me, "Golly. I wouldn't want that character auditing me."

Back at the Algonquin, we settled into easy chairs in the graceful old lobby and hoped a famous writer might walk by, like Eudora Welty who had checked in from Jackson, Miss., just before we arrived.

The next morning we dropped into another cheapo diner, The Red Star, located adjacent to the Algonquin.

Everyone there spoke Russian, but they made a very mean bologna sandwich on rye, which was my breakfast of choice from then on.

As I munched on the two-inch thick sandwich I couldn't help but wonder what was going on in the addled brain of the Internal Revenue man. Maybe the Midwest might be a pretty good place to eat breakfast, too.

That was years before I discovered the South Fork in downtown River Falls. It's a tad different than the joint on 45th or the Red Star.

I've never heard anyone speak Russian there.

Our favorite waitresses these days are Nicole (from way down in Madison) and Cassie. Like the Hispanic waitress, both are from out of town.

Even so, regular customers like Peter Muto and his wife (who is very calm) never complain about the service and the money men who sit at the table next to us don't worry about their income-tax returns, even though Byron Dopkins sits at the table.

Nothing, of course, is perfect.

Our group typically eats either a BOB or a BOMB, which are the South Fork's versions of an Egg McMuffin.

A BOB is a real egg placed on a bagel, with cheese, bacon and a dollop of blackberry jam.

A BOM is the same, except an English Muffin replaces the Bagel. There's also a BOC, which is the same only the holder is a croissant.

Despite this endless variety at the SFC, every once in a while, I hanker for kosher bologna sandwich. What if I asked Cassie if the kitchen could throw one together for me?

If she says yes, then River Falls beats NYC hands down.

If, no, then I'm going to demand to see her green card. They must issue them for all those communists in Madison.

Dave would like to hear from you, phone him at 715-426-9554.