Recollections of Gordon’s
By Carl Mink
“Good afternoon, Gordon’s.”
“Hello, I have a 7:30 dinner reservation and wish to cancel. It’s for four, under Carl.”
“Yes, sir, thank you for calling.” It was the end of a glorious beach day in July 2008; nobody in my family wanted to rush off to make it to the restaurant on time.
I wondered whether I’d just been speaking to one of my former co-workers from the summer of 1977. Gordon’s was a well-established Hamptons culinary institution popular as much for its expert preparation of French and other Continental dishes as for its reliable, though staid dining experience.
Earlier that year, I had stopped into Gordon’s to inquire about a job; I’d worked the previous summer as a dishwasher at Fromm’s, which was just down Main Street. I was offered a busboy position. My interviewer was George Polychronopolous, he and his partner, Hans Anklam, had just purchased Gordon’s. George, about 40, kept things humming inside the kitchen. He had thick, dark hair, and a cigarette perpetually dangled from his bemused expression. Hans was younger, trimmer, and fairer-haired, with a Pistol Pete moustache.
I reported for work as soon as school let out, clothed in the black pants, black shoes, white button-down shirt, and black bow-tie which I’d bought down the street at LaCarrubba’s. I was introduced to my fellow busboys, Saul Shapiro and Pat Fallon, who attended Brown and Harvard, respectively. I said that I would be attending Syracuse. Actually, I would be a senior in high school; I believed that I had to be eighteen years old for restaurant work.
We were given red sport jackets and met the wait staff, who instructed us in our tasks: setting and clearing tables, keeping patrons’ water glasses filled, warming and slicing bread for the tables, and swapping empty ashtrays for full ones. The others were a colorful lot; they included George Gates, a medical student with wavy blond hair, Pete Esposito, a grizzled restaurant veteran reminiscent of the actor Sam Elliott, and Tashin, a trim, balding man with a dark moustache who’d fled his native Yugoslavia for political reasons. Tashin was always upbeat. When he addressed you, he called you “Buddy”, which, because of his accent, sounded like “Body” This made it seem as if you were speaking with Bela Lugosi. Lastly, there was Linda, a tall, sturdy German woman with graying hair. She was married to one of the chefs, a tall, laconic Midwesterner whom she called Klaus, although I think he was really named Tom. They had a blond eight year old son whom Linda called Booba; I’m certain that wasn’t his name, either. As they were busy working and he had no one to play with, he was constantly underfoot. They lived above the restaurant, as did George’s brother, Billy, who was the captain. Billy spoke at a fast clip; he asserted that he could drink 100 beers on a hot day and not become intoxicated because he simply sweated them out.
We prepared for the lunch crowd, setting tables and vacuuming. We made “set-ups”, a set of silverware for a single diner wrapped in a properly folded napkin. The restaurant looked different than when I had dined there; it was daylight, and the lights were on full. The sounds of diners’ clinking glasses, clattering utensils, and polite conversational tones were replaced by the easy banter of the staff. At twelve o’clock, one or two waiters and a busboy would stay to work the lunch shift, when only a few tables would be occupied; the dinner seatings, however, were almost always booked.
After the lunch shift ended, I was free until the 5:00 dinner setup. There was a new face, a waiter named Tony, a balding, bespectacled linebacker who locomoted noiselessly between the dining room and the kitchen, where he had the undying admiration of Pete, another cook who was George and Billy’s brother. Tony barked out the diners’ appetizer and entrée requests while preparing their salads. Pete, a kind soul in perpetual need of a shave, would coo, “Tony, you’re the cham-pyon!” I don’t recall Pete or anyone else ever getting a response from Tony. One night, I swerved to avoid being barreled into by him, saying, “I’ll get out of your way, Tony.” He replied, “You’d damn well better get out of my way.” I later learned that since Tony had two other jobs, he was exempted from the lunch setup and the lunch shift. Perhaps that explained his demeanor as well.