30 Days of No Caffeine, No Alcohol: Week One

Kolaches stuffed with Prasek's Hillje Country Sausage and Fruity Pebble Donuts at River Oak Donuts.
Kolaches stuffed with Prasek's Hillje Country Sausage and Fruity Pebble Donuts at River Oak Donuts. Photo by Kate McLean
The human body can withstand a lot, like for example: a high speed Formula 1 crash in Monte Carlo or perhaps the loss of memory due to a traumatic childhood event—or that guy carrying the log in the movie Broken directed by Angelina Jolie.

The human body of a restaurant worker can withstand MORE than a lot, except we don’t necessarily have easy access to “health insurance” in order to obtain “therapy” or even “stitches.”

Pacing at the ticket printer in anticipation for the first order, polishing stemware quickly for a 13-top that just walked in, realizing the prep isn’t perfect, the product hasn’t shown up, entering the wrong temperature for a bone-in filet. Five minutes before go-time to observe employees glued to their phones. Refills, re-fires, errors, and smudges.

Orchestration is not guesswork or luck, it is paid for with preparation, communication, talent and sweat.

And then there are the critics; the new ones, the old ones, the Instagram “influencers” and the Yelp revie—just kidding, we don’t give a shit about Yelp reviews. Just about everyone has an opinion on the center plate and whether those people place us on a pedestal or a spit, it’s all good, it’s why we do this. To serve and to feed… you.

That being said, our bodies endure a lot in the way of work, but also in the lifestyle we enjoy. Hard work equals rewards both big and small; maybe it’s a cigarette, maybe it’s a bottle of Barolo, or maybe it’s a shot of mezcal for the team that just cooked and served 200 two-tops for Valentine’s day.

Unfortunately, in the long run, those “treats” don’t have the best outcomes, and with years upon years of poor habits, at some point the body has to speak up and say, hey asshole, can you not?

“It’s probably your gallbladder, fill this prescription, and no alcohol and caffeine for 30 days, is that going to be a problem?” My doctor of eight years looked at me.

“No, I can totally do that.” I was shooting blanks and she knew it.

5 minutes later.

“Wait, for real? Like none?”

Like none. This isn’t a story about change. This is just 30 days of survival working in the restaurant industry without caffeine or alcohol so I can fix my stupid gallbladder and go back to normal.

As I was listening to a combination of murder rap and breakup songs in the car, lo and behold there appeared a Whataburger and I just so happened to be starving. That’s when it hit me. If two of my top three treats had been eliminated… looks like I was going to be eating a lot of whatever the hell I wanted.

Day 1: I picked up the magical cure from Walgreens, a medicine named “Nexium.” But to me it looked more like a dashing, ivory unicorn flying down from the clouds, landing majestically at my feet, nudging me to climb atop his back. He would be my constant companion, my twice-a-day, 20 milligram steed on this 30-day quest. I felt optimistic. I had just enjoyed a kid’s cheeseburger with mustard and onions only, a small French fry and was headed into work. I GOT THIS.

Whataburger, there are many locations in Houston, some even open every day and 24 hours.

Day 2: Master sommelier Craig Collins and his friend Maureen, both friends of Brian Brossa the GM/Owner of the establishment, came in that night for a tasting and brought with them a sample of the soon-to-be-released GINRAW gastronomic gin from Barcelona. What’s unique about this gin is that it's a blend of botanicals individually distilled at the lowest temperature for evaporation to occur (75 degrees Fahrenheit) using a Rotaval. A Rotaval is a machine that distills an ingredient at a low temperature resulting is a clean, subtle snapshot of aroma and flavor. Collins noted that it had exceptional mid-palate weight in contrast to nearly every other clear alcohol. Ethereal notes of juniper, black cardamom, and lemon whispered through the tasting straw. I made martinis with a twist and later a crystal clear, garden water cocktail that ended up kind of overpowering the nuance. Oh well.

GINRAW Gastronomic Gin from Barcelona is a premium gin that will be available on the market in a few weeks. It is distributed by Vintus.

Day 3: Exiting a cold hospital room after a night of fasting and on the way to my car, my hunger softly screamed “Prasek’s sausage, cheese, and jalapeno kolache from River Oaks Donuts!”  Four inches of authentic smokehouse sausage saddled with American cheese, a long strip of jalapeño, all covered up in a yeasty bun. But what's a kolache without a doughnut friend alongside? So, after one kolache, a Fruity Pebble glazed doughnut, a plain cake doughnut hole, and a pint of 2%, I began to sink hard like a rock. Just as hard as I slammed my car door into the white Hyundai adjacent. It was 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and since I couldn’t drink black coffee, I took a nap.

When I woke up at noon, as I scrolled Instagram, I stopped to fantasize about the Blood Bros. BBQ Pastrami special they were serving up that day. 44 Farms Tri-tip done pastrami on Breadman Baking Co. marbled rye with a Gingerbread stout beer mustard, swiss, and house-made sauerkraut. Damn guys, sorry I couldn’t get it together before Pre-shift.

Later that night in the kitchen office, as I quickly ate half of a moist, Red Velvet cupcake from Crave Cupcakes, Brian Brossa the General Manager/Owner looked at me with concern.

“So, like, your doctor didn’t say anything about food? Like what to avoid.”

“She neglected to say anything about food, therein lies my loophole.”

“Okay. Are you going to research this at all?”

“Absolutely not. Google is the devil, and there is no point in scaring myself. I gotta go check on table 8.”

“So, like, your doctor didn’t say anything about food? Like what to avoid.” “She neglected to say anything about food, therein lies my loophole.” “Okay. Are you going to research this at all?” “Absolutely not."

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On the way home, I began thinking about the best crispy taco shell in town. The beloved crispy beef taco piled high with shredded white cheese from La Tapatia—but I just kept driving. 30 days meant plenty of time for crispy tacos.

River Oaks Donuts, 3601 Westheimer, open every day from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Blood Bros. BBQ, 5425 Bellaire, open Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. or sell out.

Crave Cupcakes, 5600 Kirby & 1151 Uptown Park Boulevard, open Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond, open Sunday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. and Friday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Day 4: I woke up annoyed from angry, frustrating dreams. I think the caffeine is leaving my system. So long old friend, I’ll wake you from the CryoFreeze in 26 days. Twenty-six days, that sounded very long, I wasn’t feeling as optimistic as day one. After a few hours of type-writing, I was starving again and two minutes later, speeding down I-45 to Gerardo’s Drive-In for barbacoa tacos, pork chicharrones, and seeing as it was 10:50 a.m. an episode of Spanish soap opera. A heap of cow face meat rested in the doubled-up warm corn tortillas, sabor dripping all over my fingers. I fumbled the opening of my caffeine free Sprite and it spilled all over the table.

Gerardo's Drive-In, 609 Patton, open Monday to Friday 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

At work that night, my mood flowed between nonplussed, irritable, and then cheery when interacting with guests.

“Okay, I did a little research and I think you want to avoid fatty foods,” Brossa said apprehensively after having observed me all night long.

“Well, thank you for looking that up, but I’m just going to deal with that next week.”

I returned home to finish the cold chicharrones, still sitting on the table that still burst with flavor after being dipped in fresh green salsa... followed by five yellow M & M’s. It wasn’t so bad of a day.

To be continued...
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