#13: Chicken din­ner date with the mys­tery man

GA Voice - - A&E - Food Porn is a new fic­tional se­ries by long­time At­lanta food critic Cliff Bo­s­tock. Set in real At­lanta restau­rants, it chron­i­cles the ad­ven­tures of Robert, a gay man in search of a hus­band — or at least a good meal. For past chap­ters, visit www.the­gavoic

Robert had a long­time rule for him­self. If he en­coun­tered a man to whom he was over­whelm­ingly at­tracted, he turned his back and fled as far and as fast as he could.

He learned in the past that such charis­matic men made bad boyfriends, usu­ally re­quir­ing con­stant at­ten­tion. They were flir­ta­tious with ev­ery­one and made Robert feel like a barely present shadow.

That sit­u­a­tion came up at the last Food Porn Sup­per Club meet­ing. A man named Lee ar­rived late and in­tro­duced him­self to Robert. He had black hair and blue eyes, and ob­vi­ously hit the gym fre­quently.

Robert felt him­self in the kind of awe that usu­ally cued him to get up and leave. But that would be ex­tremely un­man­nerly at a din­ner he was host­ing. So he avoided eye con­tact with Lee.

Af­ter din­ner, his friend Janet drove him home. “I saw your re­ac­tion when Lee ar­rived,” she said.

“Please, shut up, Janet,” Robert replied. “I don’t need to hear it.”

“Hear what?” Janet asked. “I’m just ob­serv­ing that, as usual, you turned away from a man ob­vi­ously in­ter­ested in you.”

“Merry Christ­mas,” Robert said, not­ing the Christ­mas tree lot at Ans­ley Mall.

A few days later, Robert re­ceived an email from Lee invit­ing him to din­ner. His im­me­di­ate re­sponse was to delete the mail, but he imag­ined the scold­ing he would get from Janet.

So he wrote Lee back that he’d like to join him. Lee re­sponded that he would meet him at Ban­tam and Biddy, the new restau­rant in Ans­ley Mall, at 7:30 Satur­day night.

When Robert walked through the park­ing lot to­ward the new restau­rant, he saw Lee stand­ing near the door. He gulped and had an im­me­di­ate im­pulse to turn around and get in his car. But he heard Lee shout­ing his name. “I’m over here, Robert!”

They shook hands and went in­side. They pe­rused the menu at the front of the restau­rant where din­ers or­der. The restau­rant’s name de­rives from the spe­cialty here: ro­tis­serie chicken. Still, there are other dishes on the menu, like meat­loaf, fresh veg­eta­bles, a cobb salad, chicken pot pie, and pork schnitzel.

“Have you eaten here be­fore?” Robert asked. “A cou­ple of times,” Lee said. “I really like it.” “It seems kind of ex­pen­sive to me for chicken,” Robert replied.

“It’s not Chick-fil-A,” Lee re­sponded. “Ev­ery­thing here is lo­cal. The chick­ens lived very pam­pered lives be­fore they were ex­e­cuted. And that makes them ex­pen­sive.”

“I haven’t de­cided,” Lee said. “I find the hol­i­day te­dious. It should only be cel­e­brated ev­ery 10 years or so. But that would ruin the Amer­i­can econ­omy, lit­er­ally. Christ­mas even drives peo­ple to kill them­selves in greaterthan-usual num­bers.”

“Hon­estly,” Robert said, “I as­sumed you loved Christ­mas. You are very hand­some. You know that. Ev­ery gay man in this restau­rant stared at you when we came in. I think any­one would as­sume you love go­ing to all the Christ­mas par­ties.”

“Nope, not at all,” Lee replied. “I’m not anti-Christ­mas if it’s toned way down, like the French do. I don’t like the Fourth of July, ei­ther. Re­li­gion and nationalism are two of Amer­ica’s sever­est de­fects. I do like Hal­loween.”

Their en­trees ar­rived and a few min­utes of si­lence fol­lowed as they sam­pled the food.

“It’s as good as you promised,” Robert said, “but I’m still cu­ri­ous. Can you not set aside the re­li­gious mean­ing of Christ­mas and en­joy the food, friends, and fam­ily?”

Lee shrugged. “Sure, I guess.” He looked down at his plate and ate a chunk of meat­loaf.

Not long af­ter, they said good-bye. “I en­joyed it,” Lee said. “Are you open to get­ting to­gether again?”

“Sure,” Robert said, some­what sur­prised. He was cu­ri­ous why Lee avoided telling him his oc­cu­pa­tion and seemed so gen­er­ally undis­clos­ing. But his at­trac­tion to Lee was not di­min­ished. He would get the scoop on him some­how.

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