It’s a beautiful day outside. Things are going great for you. You’re kicking ass at work, you’ve got big plans for the weekend, you’re getting laid consistently, your team’s winning, it’s awesome. The sun’s out, there’s a crisp pre-winter chill in the air, you’ve got the rest of the day off to do whatever you want. It’s time for a thumping big chicken schnitty at the pub.
It’s a late lunch; it’s around 3:00pm by the time you put the Foot Falcon into drive and start striding towards the local. But it doesn’t really matter. A later lunch just means you can ease into the evening without leaving the building. You’ll get some nice alone time in, time to take stock, and then when the quittin’ whistle blows your mates will start filing in one by one for a knock off.
There’s dead leaves lining the footpath, kicked to either side by neighbourhood folk, leaving a jet black strip straight up the middle. It’s a runway, straight as an arrow, guiding you towards take off. And by “take off” I mean “the pub.”
Beyond the branches of the last tree on the block it rises; nestled on a corner, nature strips dividing the roads around it. A weathered circular beer sign jutting out of its roofline like an all-seeing eye. Sturdy and broad, forged of brown brick and stained wood. The pub. The local. The extended lounge room. And she’s a beaut at that.
Reaching the precipice, you lead with one arm extended, palm flat, meeting the glass pane with its yellowing edges. The doors are heavy and stuck, squeezed beyond the limits of the space allotted to them thanks to years of re-coating and residual beer layered up. But they give, with a small heave, creaking on hinges that should’ve been WD-40’d about 18 months ago.
Immediately it hits you: The smell. The wafting tang of the wood fire crackling away in the dining room. The gentle note of oil bubbling in the fryer behind the kitchen door. The lingering pong of piss spilling out of the men’s room door. “This is heaven,” you think, as your feet peel softly away from the ever-so-slightly tacky carpet with each step.
There’s a seat at the bar calling out to you. Your favourite one. The one you gravitate to whenever you can. It’s the best seat in the house, too. From there, you’ve got everything. The view of the TV on the wall above the pool table is unimpeded, it’s not so far down the bar that you have to stand to be served, but nor is it right under the taps where the thirsty folks will be reaching over you come peak hour.
You’ve got nothing but time, so you decide to get a beer before ordering food. A pint, fresh and cold. The keg’s just been changed. The chiller’s working beautifully. It pours large and clean. Perfect amount of head. The bartender drops it down in front of you with a wink. “Enjoy,” she says. And christ alive you will. One big cold boy, fresh off the wood. It barely touches the sides. You don’t even bother to put the glass down. One elbow on the bar, the other hand on the froth. A little sip here, a bigger gulp there, a little light banter with the bartender about not having to work, and it disappears like magic. Glorious.
And then you ask for a menu.
You already know what you’re gonna order, of course. But it’s polite to have a look. A familiar dance. A traditional tango between you and the pub. They’ve got Asian-style sticky pork belly on the menu now. That’ll be good for when Mum and Dad are in town next. You make a mental note of it. And then comes the phrase you’ve been horny to hear since leaving the house.
“Know what you want yet?” the bartender asks.
“Just the chicken schnitty for me thanks,” you reply.
“And another one?” she says, taking your empty glass.
You nod decisively. A guttural “yeah” slips out from the very back of your throat.
Within seconds there’s another beer in front of you, and a long metallic stick with a plastic number 69 wedged into the top. “Nice,” you think to yourself.
The wait is agonising. It’s longer than you expected. The kitchen’s prepping for dinner and you’ve caught them on the hop a little. You’re two thirds of the way through the drink when you hit an all-too-familiar quandary: Do you have enough time to go take a piss before you food arrives?
It’s a problem you’ve had before, will have again, and will never have a clear answer to. You um and ah for a moment before going for it. The wallet and phone go back into your pockets, your sunglasses – cheap ones, $10 wayfarer knockoffs from K-Mart, but no one has to know that – go down on the bar. That’s collateral. Seat insurance. The internationally recognised symbol of “I’m sitting here.”
Off to the toot you go, the annoyingly loud door clanging shut behind you. You’re only in there a minute, maybe two at the absolute most. But when you emerge, it’s there.
On the bar.
Shimmering golden in the afternoon sun.
Thick and juicy, resting gently atop a bed of chips. A small, well-dressed salad on the side. A pot of steaming hot sauce sitting alongside.
Conveniently enough, the cutlery tray lies between you and your lunch. You can grab a knife, a fork, and a crucial napkin without evening breaking eye contact.
And when you sit back down and get comfortable again, you pause for a moment to appreciate it. This humble plate, a crumbed bit of chook cooked fresh just for you, is joy personified. It is everything good and kind in the world, distilled down into a humble pub meal.
The stream of sauce drizzling from the tiny jug as you pour, the pop of the lemon being squeezed around the plate, the sching of the cutlery clanging together as you pick them up in separate hands. This is a dream. The only thing you wanted from today, and now it’s here.
You dive the fork in, knife following a microsecond afterwards, tearing yourself a piece off the edge. It’s a deeper brown than the middle, and the extra crunch it yields brings you to life.
That first bite – that first perfect bite – is pure bliss. It is godly. And the only thing better than it is the knowledge that you’ve only just begun.
There’s a chip to follow next. Crispy golden brown, like it’s chook brethren. But light and fluffy on the inside. It’s scalding hot, bringing water to the eyes. You’ll blow on the next one, you think to yourself. But you don’t. You never do.
The salad comes next. A crisp, fresh accoutrement. A piece of dirt-standard lettuce drenched in tangy lemony dressing. You shovel all of it into your mouth before diving back into the chook. You’re trying to eat better, and that’s a half-effort that definitely counts.
By now, the gravy has seeped beyond the ridges of the chook and has begun melding with the chips below. They’ve softened up, and absorbed the sauce’s tang. But it’s still a chicken-based main event here, and with each bite of the schnit that becomes more and more apparent.
Intermittently, you wash your food down with more sips from the pint glass; the residual froth noting each time you put it back down. A beautiful amber flood chart if ever there was one.
Finally, you reach the end of the meal. The last bite of schnitzel passed through the lips, a final chip sopping up residual sauce. You gently rest your knife and fork, perpendicular, on your plate; one or two discarded chips strewn nearby.
The bartender walks by again. She grabs your plate. You smile.
“Another one?” she says, taking your empty glass.
What a bloody good day.