On Saturday Greta and her dear fiancé Rico made the decision, in the spirit of adventure and friendship, to swing into Atlanta for the afternoon to have lunch with me. This was delightful news but I also felt some pressure – this had better be one good lunch to be worth 5 hours roundtrip in the car. I picked a local eatery known for supplying artisan breads, meats, and cheeses to the best restaurants around town; I’d discovered the place one week prior and it was a store filled with charm and good food. Even if the pollen count was exploding like yellow dust bombs in our heads, eating with my friends on the porch of a trendy Atlanta eatery seemed like key ingredients to a perfect made-to-order Saturday.

What I couldn’t have made to order, it turned out, was my sandwich. As I approached the register, I set my Black Cherry cola on the counter and assertively announced my selection off the menu – a chicken sandwich with bacon and the house dressing. “Oh,” I added, “could I also please put some provolone on that?”

“No, I’m sorry, we don’t have provolone.” He stopped his tapping on the register to look at me.

I blinked and then slowly looked down at the paper menu sitting on the counter underneath my hand. Words popped up through my splayed fingers – feta, parmesan, artisanal cheese platter… and provolone. His eyes followed mine.

“We have provolone for the muffaleta but it’s not on the chicken sandwich. I don’t have surplus cheese.”

Did we not live in an era of ‘have it your way?’ Was I not paying 15 dollars for this stupid fancy sandwich? And he’s telling me he could not spare one slice of cheese?

“If it makes you feel better,” he continued, “a lot of people ask for cheese on that sandwich.”

It did not make me feel better. I wanted to be snarky and tell him if extra cheese was requested so often, maybe he should have ‘surplus cheese.’ I just smiled weakly, though. I slid my cola off the counter and joined my friends at the picnic tables outside. I wedged myself between two perfect strangers on the packed benches and leaned across the table to tell Rico and Greta what just occurred.

“Doesn’t this place, like, sell cheese?” Greta asked.
“Yes!” I cried indignantly. “It’s what they DO. They do so have ‘surplus cheese.'”

I had a feeling what I was dealing with was not a lack of cheese, but a surplus of attitude. Although countless hours were spent carefully creating the feel of a quaint market and deli – the cluttered counters, making you stand in line, the close seating – they would not stoop so low as to alter their carefully-planned menu for underdeveloped palates like mine. With that conclusion made, I had to keep myself from rolling my eyes at the intentional irony of expensive sandwiches delivered on plastic trays. The fakers. Greta dug into her gourmet hot dog, Rico ate his fancy pork sandwich, and I ate a rather bland chicken sandwich (which, not to beat a dead horse, would have been delicious with a nice slice of cheese.)

Of course, such silly things didn’t dominate our conversation for long. The sun warmed the weathered wood beneath my tray and I crunched on potato chips and licked the salt off my fingers, but it was my heart that was warm and full after a couple of hours with good friends. When it was time to leave, we were left with the conundrum of what to do with our trays: Did we take them and turn them in (as you might in a casual cafeteria)? Or did you leave them to be collected (as you would in a real restaurant)?

We discussed it for a minute, and then settled upon a course of action:

We placed our trays on the bakery counter and then bolted before anyone could tell us their rules about surplus trays.