Yesterday my Prius pulled into Ritual's parking lot between nothing but pick-up trucks that easily dwarfed it. Was I doing the wrong thing following my instincts to one of the handful of restaurants open in the Heights and putting myself in danger? With just a few puddles in the parking lot, it seemed pretty secure.
Inside, a few couples and families sat in the expansive one-and-a-half-story restaurant. My youthful server told me that the evening before, co-owner Ken Bridge let staffers who lived nearby know that the restaurant would be opening with a limited menu the next day. Anyone who could safely make it to 602 Studewood Street was welcome to come work. That resulted in what appeared to be a nearly 1:1 employee to guest ratio, not including the kitchen team.
The small menu included biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak and other brunch dishes that had been held since Harvey hadn't allowed for brunch. "We've been so bored," my server admitted. I ordered chicken-and-waffles, a surprisingly airy cornbread waffled topped with a crispy cayenne-pepper-rubbed chicken breast, and a Coke. That eagerness to help, to do something, manifested itself in my server refilling my soda for the first time after roughly four sips. And as I finished, she came with a to-go cup filled with more Coke. It was a gesture that I'd never seen, in all of my years of eating out.
When I asked for my check, she let me know that the menu would be expanding, likely to three times its size at the time, throughout the day. Then she asked me to come back and see. And to bring friends.
This was a different kind of desperation in the wake of Harvey, a loneliness, an ennui, a person eager to support herself but just as restless to help in whatever small way she could. And as circumstances become less dire, there will be more of these tiny mercies to perform for one another.
Helping a business find its footing as it reopens is an important one of those. (To find restaurants currently open, read this.) But so is spending a bit of time with a neighbor who's been isolated. Or, of course, pouring that extra Coke for the food writer who almost never drinks anything but water. Because we've all seen enough water in the last few days.