“Ma’am, do you want the cheese to melt or do you want it warm?”
I looked at her inquisitively and she returned the stare with utter impatience. She was a petite woman with wavy black hair swept up in a hurried ponytail, a white shirt and apron emblazoned with the store’s cheery logo and a big pin that said “Hi, my name is Lucinda.”
Lucinda quickly categorized me as an incompetent culinary idiot for not knowing the immediate response to her apparently obvious query, but all I was thinking was how I’ve never before been asked what degree of warmth I wanted my Panini sandwich and leave it to some wanna-be quasi-gourmet food market in South Florida to be the first to pop the question.
“Won’t the cheese automatically melt once you heat it up?” I ventured. I couldn’t help myself. I had to be smart, even though I’ve been warned by friends to never ever be smart with food servers before you’ve been served your food: they can do all sorts of things to your food when you aren’t looking: use stale ingredients, toss it on the floor, spit or sneeze on it and then serve it up with a smile all in the name of revenge. Okay, so I have real paranoid friends. In any case, I really couldn’t help myself.
Lucinda re-filed me under “Complete Moron” and slid off her smirk long enough to reply, this time speaking Oh-So-Slowly:
“…some…people…just…want…it…warm (pause, two, three, four) …don’t …like…the…cheese…all…heated up.”
What’s the point of a panini, I felt like offering up as a cheap rebuttal, but was distracted by my momentary lapse of self-pity for being stuck in a culinary wasteland that offered few good options and even less gastronomic understanding, let alone customer service. Lucinda could have worked here or at Borders or at Chevron. It really didn’t matter.
It was her annoyed breathing that snapped me back to life and I arrogantly informed her that My Panini would have the cheese melted, of course. She sighed and warned me this would take a good fifteen to twenty minutes and I called her bluff and said that would be fine. It felt more like a round at a boxing ring than a sandwich order at a food market, but, I was determined to win this fight, and so I stood there, leaning up against the display counter, blocking the view of the stuffed cabbage, quiche lorraine, and roasted Tuscany vegetables. They had nothing to do with this skirmish but lended way to me being as obtrusive as possible for the duration of my wait.
My experience with Lucinda had most definitely deflated any craving I had originally had for a Panini and I began wondering if I would have been better served going to the local sushi bar for some hot tuna crunch rolls instead. At least there they always smile at me.
I received a phone call from a long-time friend while I waited and my aggressive stance melted as quickly as I hoped my panini’s cheese would. Before I knew it, Lucinda was facing me with my wrapped sandwich. As I ended my phone call, I paid for my lunch and headed out to the car. As I headed home, I unwrapped my Panini to find that the inside was stone cold and the outside was charred beyond recognition. The cheese, whose loyalty was obviously torn, had spots that were solid and spots that where melted. Suddenly, my neurotic friends didn’t seem so ludicrous. God knows what else had happened to this thing while I chatted away oblivious to Lucinda’s revenge streak. As hungry as I was, I carefully wrapped up my battle-scarred sandwich (and ego) and put it away. No knockout punch and no lunch for me today.
¼ cup steamed spinach, liquid drained and chopped fine
4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
8 roasted red pepper strips
2 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives
¼ teaspoon oregano
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh pesto sauce
Two slices of crusty bread
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Arrange ingredients between slices of bread, brush with Olive oil and pesto sauce, then grill* until golden brown and, yeah, the cheese is melted (about 5 minutes)
Makes I panini
* Use either a panini grill or a grill pan with a weight on top. Toaster oven works as a last resource.