August 8, 2013: The Golden Pheasant

We deviated from the text on our drive to Okoboji last week. After our stop at the Wells Ice Cream Parlor, we detoured down Highway 3 to drive through my hometown, Remsen. No navigation system would have mapped out a drive to Okoboji that would have taken us through Remsen. But that's what we did. Mom's call.

Although it was nothing short of a drive-through, I had fun. As for the other occupants in our vehicle, not-so-much. They just watched their mom get excited about recognized houses from childhood, a big church, an old school, and a restaurant with a peculiar name.

I was a waitress at the Golden Pheasant in the 80's. It was a prime job and I made great money in tips. People came from miles away to enjoy the signature prime rib. You really couldn't miss if you ordered a steak. From the t-bone to the New York strip, customers left satisfied and happy. And my corresponding tips were proof of their pleasure.

Many friendships were made as it took a troop of teenagers to wait and clean the tables and fill the salad bar. Denny, the owner, fed us family-style before every night's work. We ate before the customers arrived. He prepared us the meals ranging from ham steaks to petite cut steaks. And we were allowed trips to the salad bar.

Bertha made all of the salad bar items. Her signature dish was liver pate. My memory is of a plump Bertha sitting on a stool next to the walk-in freezer as she peeled potatoes for her homemade salad. This was my first vision as I checked in to work each Saturday. She cooked through the day for the fresh salads served that night. There were no pre-bought Cosco items on the salad bar at the Pheasant.

Every Saturday night I waited on a kind man named Floyd. He was single and a farmer. Floyd was shy by nature and always sat in the same booth. If his booth wasn't available, he waited until it opened. He looked like Micky Rooney and kept a comb next to him in his favorite spot. His order was always the same; a t-bone, medium rare, with a baked potato. He ordered the exact same steak each Saturday night from the exact same seat.

One busy night I placed his order without asking him. Feeling pleased with myself on knowing my customer, I told him to enjoy the salad bar as I had him covered with my pre-order. To my shock, he was not happy. Quite the opposite. He was flustered. He liked the routine of placing his order and did not like my presuming otherwise. It was a lesson learned in customer satisfaction. Never presume.

I also learned how to deal with drunk people at an early age. People drink a lot at steak houses with adjoining bars. The alcohol seemed to flow freely and the enjoyment, even higher with a good cut of steak. I would clear tables as full of drink glasses as dishes. Another lesson learned. I have never since worked at an establishment serving alcohol. Drinking is only fun and funny when you are participating.

There was one particular memory involving liquid courage of a customer that was enjoyable to me. There was a local couple who frequented the restaurant. They came late and stayed long. The husband was loud, obnoxious, and overweight. And he wasn't nice to his wife. She, on the other hand, was quiet and kind. She always thanked me and when I would catch her eye, I felt pity for her.

On the particular night of note, they sat in my section. I learned a lesson that night as well; barbecued ribs are very slick on a platter. As the husband grunted his displeasure in the delay of my serving their order, I accidentally spilled the entire rack of ribs on his lap. Yes, the entire saucy meal slid from the plate onto his front section.

As he barked at me like a rabid dog, the unexpected happened. His wife burst out laughing. And then she laughed harder and louder; uncontrollably without words. For the first time ever, her husband was speechless. I quietly slid away and I summonsed a busboy to help me clean up. My female customer and I locked eyes again. This time I felt admiration.

For the record, the Golden Pheasant did serve pheasant back in the day. There was actually a pen of live pheasants in an outside display as people pulled in. I never tried this delicatessen, but I hear it was wonderful. I stuck with the liver pate. Good food. Good times. Good people.


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