Part of an occasional series about Globe reporter Fluto Shinzawa’s culinary experiences on the hockey beat.
There are few places livelier than Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The kitchen staff shows more hustle than a fourth-line center. The hostess is trying to juggle a handful of reservations while putting on her best smile. The tables are full of friends and families having a good time.
This is when the solo business traveler has to swallow his pride.
I usually have zero issues with dining alone. Give me a clean table, a good menu, and something to read, and I’m good to go. But even I feel like a loser – not a stretch by any means – when I’m flying solo at peak dining rush hour. All eyes go toward the one-top with either sympathy or scorn, usually the latter.
There are times, however, when dining alone works in your favor. When I arrived at Zingerman’s, people were waiting outside. A table for myself would be a 30-minute wait. Couples were being asked to cool it for 45 minutes.
The way in would be via the bar.
I hovered behind a couple with a to-go bag, doing everything possible – coughing, sweating, sighing – to encourage them to hit the road. The vulture act worked. The two left for a more sterile environment. I had turned a wait of 30 minutes into three, tops.
I’m sure there were some who snickered at my solo presence. It’s at such times that I tell myself that these people don’t know who I am and I’ll never see them again. It doesn’t matter what they think, as long as I’m eating well and choosing a better alternative to room service or takeout. At restaurants like Zingerman’s, the chow is worth a little discomfort.
A mini-Caesar salad was more cheese and garlicky dressing than Romaine leaves.
An entrée of chicken fried steak was very good. Breading, frying, and dousing a hunk of meat with gravy is an excellent method of turning an otherwise chewy chunk of beef into satisfying fare. Anson Mills grits were soft and creamy, quite nice with some shreds of Cabot (either Vermont Sharp or Seriously Sharp, to my taste) sprinkled on top. A side of kale was nice and vinegary.
I tucked everything away and sprinted out of Zingerman’s happy and full. I’m a fast eater, so my fellow diners probably didn’t even have time to notice the chump eating alone on a Friday night.