The City Diner had taken over the name and location of a famous Hopewell city dive that had closed in 1988. But it was anything like its namesake, offering a rarified atmosphere with swank prices to match. The owner was Jack Raisin, who had earned a Michelin Star at his boutique in New York before deciding to be a big fish in a little pond and returning to Hopewell.

City Diner was at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement as well as molecular gastronomy and any other number of buzzwordworthy terms, but as anyone who was anyone in Hopewell knew, the real deal was the quarterly Diner Tasting.

Writing for the Democrat-Tribune, I’d heard all sorts of things about the Diner Tasting, many of them from the City Diner itself. Whenever someone ate there, their reciept would include a star ranking based on how well they had conducted themselves. It was possible to get up to three stars by simply dressing well and behaving in a genteel fashion, but four and five star rankings were reserved for those who were somebody.

Naturally you had to behave yourself too. The Southern Michigan University football coach Brock Manfred found that out much to his sorrow when he got zero stars for showing up in muddy practice clothes and getting tipsy despite being the highest-paid and most-important honcho in town.

God only knows how I merited an invite. I guess they were interested in a little free publicity.

I showed up in a suit and tie only to find that, to my astonishment, the dress code was actually business casual for men and dresses of strictly medium swank for ladies. The usual City Diner tables had been cleared away in favor of very tall standing-room-only ones, and a steady stream of waiters were bringing out incredibly froufrou dishes. It looked like incredibly fresh sushi or sashimi, thin-sliced and raw to the point of being bloody or very barely seared.

It didn’t look very appetizing despite the moans of pleasure all around me when my fellow attendees took a bite, so I mostly filled up on bread and water. That came back to bite me soon enough when I needed to pee, and like most restaurants north of 7.5 on the Hipster-O-Meter, City Diner’s bathroom was well-hidden.

I waited until my bladder was bursting before taking the door that seemed likeliest to hide a privy. I timed it for when Jack Raisin was giving an address to all the waiters and diners to minimize my potential embarrassment.

The room I stumbled into wasn’t a bathroom but rather the kitchen. There, splayed out on a kitchen table, was a dude who had been very neatly cut open, surgery-style. He was surrounded by plates and immaculately clean tools for shaving off and shaping meats.

“Help me,” he croaked in a sedated, barely audible whisper.

On the plus side, my bladder wasn’t bursting anymore.

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