12:38 AM – Little Havana – Versailles Cuban Bakery
I have been sitting here for 10 minutes. Waiters and busboys are milling about. This is prime time for late night Cuban food.
I did not expect such a trying evening at one of Miami's most beloved cultural institutions. I arrived in a dignified and half sober state, along with the stalwarts of my retinue, at a cool 12:28 AM.
The hostess asked for the number in my party, assuming I was too inebriated to speak Spanish. She was right. I held up four fingers barely above my waist and she proceeded to lead us to the second host area.
A balding man in his 60s motioned us to pass to a far booth table, a desirable set-up albeit a little out of earshot of most servers.
She was nice enough, Jasbleidy, our server. We ejected our orders effortlessly; we had rehearsed our plan of attack on the Uber ride over.
We are an experienced crew, all of us Miami-raised and blazed in the 305. We know how important it is to be ready to order all drinks, appetizers, entrees, desserts, side dishes, and sauces at once to ensure maximum efficiency. Any self-respecting Versailles server can handle the deluge of items and special instructions without batting an eye. Jasbleidy didn't blink, and don't you think for a second she wrote anything down.
Everything was going according to plan. The stage had been set.
But then, the clock started ticking. When are they going to give us our complimentary bread?
5 MINUTES HAVE PASSED
Every second counts. The longer between our order and eventual first plate, the less time left for the complimentary bread to arrive.
Are they bluffing us? Sure, we are mostly second-generation Cubans immigrants, and one Venezuelan, but he was raised in West Hialeah. We know what is owed to us.
A quick glance at an adjacent table proved that there was plenty of bread to go around.
I was jonesing for the crispy stuff. Pressed and toasted, basted in oil, garlic and 60 years of diaspora, this bread is the one of legend.
In my youth, I encountered a Cuban restaurant with enough disdain for my adolescent patronage that they would withhold the complimentary bread until they were sure I was going to place a substantial order. But we are at Versailles. This isn't West Kendall bush-league, this is Little Havana. This is Versailles. THE Versailles. The mother-ship, tested but never bested and still the heavyweight champeen of the Cuban restaurant world.
Our table water glasses came without hesitation. I am slowly freezing in my chair under the air conditioning, drinking chlorinated H20 just so that I have something to do.
With every return trip of the busboy, my heart flutters with anticipation of complimentary bread, only to be greeted by another clumsy refill of my glass of water. Every drop of ice cubes feels like a dagger in my heart.
8 MINUTES HAVE PASSED
They hate me because I am a liberal. The ironic fashion sense of my group and blatant use of English for conversation has created an air thick with resentment.
I sat a prisoner to their courtesy, in the no man's land between order and entree.
Our idle conversation gives way to a mute dialogue of insult and dejection. No chitchat can fill the void in our minds, souls, or bread plates.
10 MINUTES HAVE PASSED
This is the end. Jasbleidy has forsaken us. We've been sold down the river by one of our own.
My surprise becomes shock that rises to anger then slides into depression and quietly sighs into acceptance. This is grief.
The party is silent. We await our appetizers like the judged await the gallows.
Hanging our heads in shame, we don't see Jasbleidy striding towards our table. Jasbleidy the Noble. Jasbleidy the Proud. First of her name, the emerald goddess in gold trim. Jasbleidy carrying the ark of the covenant and it's crispy brown tablets.
The complimentary bread is here. Rejoice and be glad. We are saved. Ring the church bells and wake the children. We will see tomorrow and it will be glorious and gluten filled.