Anyone who knows me knows that I appreciate good food. My mom has said that watching me eat salmon is a lot like watching a kid open presents on Christmas morning. She also told me that my first trip to McDonald's was an epic flop. I was the only four-year-old on the planet who thought French fries were gross and demanded we leave, because I wanted "real food."
Because I'm thin, my high school guidance counselor flat-out asked me several times if I was anorexic. I was pretty offended by that. Given my voracious eating habits, anorexia sure as hell isn't the reason for my thinness. I have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which means that every now and then, the flap of skin responsible for keeping stomach acid from rising into my esophagus throws a temper tantrum. And when stomach acid enters foreign territory, things get ugly. On a few occasions, it's gotten so severe that heartburn has prevented me from eating for days at a time.
Every time I overcome a bout with GERD, I celebrate by eating a huge meal. And when I was in high school, this often meant a trip to the Vienna Coffee Shoppe.
I used to laugh at people who were deceived by the sign above the door. They'd come in and order a medium coffee, expecting to be handed one in a Styrofoam cup and get on with their busy day.
But it wasn't that kind of place.
The Vienna Coffee Shoppe was more of a restaurant than anything else. It had a full menu. I used to order a chicken panini. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Wrong-o. It was incredible: huge and delicious. I have no idea what kind of sauce was in there, but it couldn't be replicated (trust me, I've tried). And it came with a salad whose dressing couldn't be found anywhere else, either. There was all sorts of amazing stuff on that sandwich, and the cool thing is, the ingredients changed depending upon whatever happened to be on hand at the time. It came with lots of fruits and vegetables, too. I could never finish it all.
The owner of the Vienna Coffee Shoppe made my day every time I went in there. She was this crazy, unique, sweet old lady. Her outfits were colorful, and she'd dye her hair fun colors too. And she always wore Teva sandals, which looked just ridiculous enough to work.
She called me her "sveetie girl" (note the accent) and always gave me a free piece of cake with my panini. (I get the feeling she did that for everyone, but it still made me feel special.)
It was usually pretty dead in there, or at least, that was the case whenever I turned up. I had a hard time convincing people to come with me because it was such a weird little place to hang out. But I loved it so much, and when all else failed, I'd go by myself.
About three years ago, the lady who owned it (whose name I still don't know) was diagnosed with cancer. The Vienna Coffee Shoppe closed, and she has since passed away. I still wish I could have told her how much I loved it, but then again, I'm pretty sure she knew.
I was left with a broken heart and empty stomach, and still haven't quite gotten over it. To this day, I try not to drive past it, because doing so makes me too sad.
If you missed it, I'm really sorry, because it was lovely.
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