First, an apocryphal tale. Way back to a time perhaps in mid-19th century, the Baron de Rothschild was approached by a man on the streets of Paris who pleaded his need for financial assistance. The good Baron listened attentively to the man’s story and the explanation of the dire circumstances that brought him to ruin. Moved by the details of woe, and after thoughtful consideration the Baron imparted, “Your story, sir, has moved me greatly, and while I am not prepared to provide recompense, I will walk across the floor of the Bourse with my arm on your shoulder.”
And so it was that Sandy and I recently dined at Constantine’s in Woodbury after my buddy Joe offered high praise of their Saturday Night Prime Rib of Beef Special. Joe and I go back a few years. We joined the River Walk Athletic Club a week or so apart, and more importantly, we were both born on February 2, 1950. So you can well see, that on several levels we are kindred souls: by sharing life’s experiences & key reference points over the past 71+ years, by our commitment to mild athletic endeavors, and by sharing an interest in thick-cut standing rib roasts of beef.
There are just a handful of eateries in Woodbury, and I would say they are just about evenly split between “high ticket” and “moderate ticket” establishments (we have no fast food joints). Constantine’s is shaded into the modest category. I had only been to Constantine’s for dinner one other time, and that was well over a decade ago. It was an unmemorable dinner in a dining room devoid of charm. But since that time, the owner has upgraded both the exterior and interior of the restaurant.
All these fancy improvements? Is that why Prime Rib Saturday is now featured on their weekly dining itinerary? Joe advised me that if I wanted to guarantee getting an order of RB I would have to call by Thursday the latest, to reserve a slice, because it’s an immediate sell-out. This I did. And he wasn’t kidding about the RB selling out. We were at the restaurant at 5:00PM, and just after we sat down, a couple (clearly “regulars” since Nancy, the server, greeted them by their first names… more on Nancy in a bit) and they wanted to order the Prime Rib, too. Nancy had to deliver the bad news: “Sorry, the Prime Rib is sold out…” Cue the frowny face.
The restaurant has two dining areas. To the right as you enter is the “main” dining room, alluded to above. And to the left is the bar area, so noted because of its proximity to the postscript sized bar that you immediately encounter upon entering the restaurant. It took only a few minutes to recognize that Nancy was the denizen of the left side of the restaurant. She checks your res, she takes you to the table, she takes your drink order, makes your drinks, takes your food order, delivers your food, and probably if asked, could whistle the “Colonel Bogey March”.All this, in addition to carrying on chit-chat at each and every table.
Thankfully Joe had prepped me for this circus scene. He explained that service could be “slow” because it looked like Nancy was the only member of the staff not in the kitchen slicing up prime rib. Joe also noted that Nancy constructed a stupendous Dry Manhattan (more on this anon), which made the wait relaxed and oh so comfortable.
I did not have Baron Rothschild’s arm on my shoulder when I went into Constantine’s. But I did carry Joe’s virtual letter of introduction and the name of his server. When Nancy approached our table I said simply, “You must be Nancy, and my good friend Joe says that you make an outstanding Manhattan!” With this Nancy’s smile beamed with pleasure, “Joe! You know Joe!” And then to seal the deal she confirms, “Manhattan, straight up!”
A brief sidebar here. Just as a veteran big league fastball pitcher develops an off-speed pitch late in his career to help keep hitters off balance, I have developed a second cocktail. By my most recent calculation, I have consumed 18,743 Tanqueray Martini’s since 1973. A year or so after Martini’s came into my life Bernie & Kathleen Stone moved into the flat above ours on 96 Mayflower Avenue in Stamford. With them they brought their Irish Setter Sazerac and their love of Manhattan’s. So my recent decision to add an occasional Manhattan to my repertoire had a distant association.
We return to the corner booth in Constantine’s bar. When I make a Manhattan at home I use Canadian Club whisky, but Joe prefers Maker’s Mark Bourbon. OK, when in Rome (and you know the rest). This was too easy, “Nancy, I’ll have it Joe’s way!”
Who needs a Rothschild when you have a Joe “opening the door” for you!