Here’s how much I love lunch: I used to run a blog called Midtown Lunch, dedicated entirely to eating lunch in the worst New York neighborhood to eat lunch in. And even though I haven’t lived in New York in a decade, and the site hasn’t been updated since 2017, I still treat the weekday midday meal like it’s my full-time occupation. But over the past year, with my actual job on COVID hiatus, my wife supporting our family from her makeshift office in our bedroom, and our three kids (ages 12, 9, and 6) glued to computer school from home five days a week, my lunching has taken a significant hit, just as the demand on my parenting skills has reached an all time high.
So what’s the solution? Take what used to be a Monday through Friday addiction masquerading as work, and turn it into a once weekly special event rebranded as the “Wednesday Home Schooling Field Trip.” Why Wednesdays? Because that’s the day Zoom school ends at the too-early-for-any-parent-trying-to-get-anything-done time of 9:30 a.m., leaving me with practically an entire day to figure out what the hell to do with the kids.
Want to learn where our food comes from? Let’s watch Biggest Little Farm, and then go buy stuff from the farmers market. Want to learn how sugar cane juice is made? Let’s go to Little Saigon! My kids knew nothing about the LA Dodgers before I took them to Paul’s Kitchen for the Tommy Lasorda Special. (Full disclosure: they probably still couldn’t tell you who the greatest manager in the history of the Dodgers was, but they now know that when an American-style Chinese Food menu says that a meal “Feeds 4” it really means that it’s enough food for an entire little league team and their coaches.) These are the important lessons of the past year that will last a lifetime.
Remember, though, this is pandemic-era dining in LA, where even outdoor dining was prohibited for much of the year, so most of these elaborate lunches would get eaten inside the trunk of our car. I would pop it open, lay out all of our purchases, and hope that my kids would get more of the food into their mouths than onto the upholstery. But I fully expect to unearth a complete meal’s worth of crumbs the next time I need our spare tire: Kids need to sit while they eat, and most of the time they’d jam their full bodies into small spaces around the food containers, underneath the open hatchback of our trunk, as my anxiety about catching COVID was replaced by the anxiety of not wanting my kid’s sneaker in my lomo saltado.
So you can imagine my excitement when, a few months ago, we classed up the field trips with the purchase of… THE TABLE. Small enough to fit in the trunk, and with four collapsible stools that nestle compactly inside the folded up table like a Transformer™ for the middle-aged food obsessive, it is easily the biggest upgrade to my lunch escapades since the invention of Venmo.
The words “game” and “changer” are thrown around a bit too much these days, but our lunch game did in fact change pretty much immediately with the purchase of THE TABLE. For one thing, soup was now on the table. Literally. (#dadjokes #sorrynotsorry #arehashtagsstillathing) Because for all my questionable decisions as a parent, even I am smart enough to know that letting a 6-year-old try to eat soup in the trunk of your car is a terrible idea.
So, after nine pho-less months, our first lunch out with THE TABLE was a Vietnamese-Cambodian restaurant where I was told by a stranger walking by that I was “doing God’s work.” That was followed soon after by a bowl of Korean rice cake soup, where I was told by yet another stranger walking by that I was the “Best Dad Ever.” I’ve been posting these escapades on Instagram since the beginning, and suddenly there were heaps of comments from friends about how my kids will “remember these field trips forever.”
Everybody likes being told what a great parent they are, and that alone makes THE TABLE worth getting. It’s earning me a level of Dad praise not seen since the days when I used to take my kids grocery shopping with me. Of course I have to laugh these compliments off as completely undeserved, not just because my kids are right about the lunches being entirely for me, but also because I know that the praise is just a function of how low the bar is for dads. Push your kids around in a grocery cart? Best dad ever. Take your kids for soup and give them a place to eat that soup comfortably without spilling? Best dad ever. Do any one thing that moms do every single day with zero praise or recognition for their hard work because, well, that’s “mom” stuff? Best. Dad. Ever. It’s not right, and I know it.
But don’t hold that against THE TABLE. THE TABLE deserves all the praise. It is, after all, undeniably awesome. I guess what I’m trying to say is: It’s not me; it’s the table.
Zach Brooks is the Founder of Midtown Lunch and the podcast Food is the New Rock. And when the pandemic ends, he will go back to being the General Manager of Smorgasburg LA. He plans on continuing to use THE TABLE whenever possible.