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A two-year-old, a restaurant, a man playing a guitar

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Sept. 17, 2003
Robert St. John is executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at robert@nsrg.com or at (601) 264-0672.
My son used to scream like a banshee every time he ate in a restaurant.
Last year, we placed him on restaurant probation for 12 months. Occasionally we would bring him out of exile and give it another shot, each time to the same result not yet ready.
Two months ago we attempted a dinner in one of my restaurants. That adventure ended with the whole family walking out the door, entrees packed in Styrofoam, before we finished our salads.
He is now 2 years old. Probation is over, the cuffs are off. Our family is once again doing what we do best, dining out. Luckily, he no longer screams in restaurants. He has graduated to speaking loudly to every table.
Making the rounds
Sometimes he walks around the restaurant visiting each booth, "What you doin' man?" (Yes, he actually says "man.")
Sometimes he employs a more direct approach, "Can I eat your chicken?" Other times he speaks to customers from his perch at our table, "What you doin' man?" even if the other person is seated all the way across the dining room.
Last week we sat at the hibachi grill at a local sushi restaurant. He likes to watch the chef chop and stir-fry on the grill. He calls the hibachi chef, "chef hat" as in, "What you doin' chef hat? You gonna eat that chicken?"
In the old days, when my wife and I were childless (read: sane and financially secure), we dreaded being seated next to a couple with a noisy child. Nowadays, we welcome all noisy children. We want them to be seated near our table in the desperate hope that their child might be louder than ours.
This weekend our family ate in a restaurant that offered live entertainment, a man sat on a stool playing a guitar.
(Note to future hostesses: Never seat the St. John family in front of a man playing the guitar). There are a few places in a restaurant where my son should never be seated, and directly in front of the entertainment tops the list.
For some strange reason, a restaurant with a guitar player is much quieter than a restaurant with no music at all. Quiet, that is, until my son starts accompanying the guitar player. He sang along with every song. He didn't know the words, he didn't need them. He made up his own words and sang loudly in the key of Q-flat.
Eventually, he decided to give us, and his vocal chords, a rest. It was around that time that he decided the guitar player needed a drummer, so he began banging his fork on the table.
After every song he yelled out, "You did great!" The guitar player sang "Sixteen Tons" while my son ate 16 pounds. "Hey guitar man, you gonna eat that chicken?"
Like father, like son
My son has a deep passion for food. He eats like an adult, quantity-wise. He can eat his weight in french fries.
He also eats fast; salad makes its way into to his mouth by one fork and two hands. He might have a future as a sideshow act in the carnival. They can place his tent between the two-headed man and the gorilla woman. "Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, see the world's fastest eater he walks, he talks, he consumes mass quantities of groceries right before your very eyes. Watch him demolish a large chef salad using both hands, two feet and the occasional fork."
We are currently working on using utensils. His table manners are perfect. He holds the fork in his right hand and places a napkin in his lap.
Unfortunately, he picks up and eats food with his left hand and the napkin usually hits the floor 30 seconds into the meal. When he is not doing his Ringo impersonation, he waves his fork in the air.
You can't make this stuff up
True story: Yesterday, when I him asked how his breakfast tasted, he replied, "bootylicious." Our friend John David, the eternal good influence, taught him that word.
My son came into this world weighing a whopping 11 pounds, 11 ounces which is actually the amount of fruit yogurt he can consume in one sitting. He loves green beans, bananas and yogurt, but his favorite food is doughnuts. The world is full of honor-roll students, but I'll bet your smart kid can't eat a whole donut in one bite.

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