I’m pretty awful when it comes to restaurant dates. I’ll sometimes feel self-conscious sitting at a table too long because I don’t want the waiter to miss out on a more worthwhile tipper. I know my boyfriend’s getting tired of my constantly suggesting Chipotle for dinner, which I do partly because I love Chipotle and partly because we can opt to get it to go and end up eating on his couch. Personally, I prefer that. I don’t have to worry about waiters, or about wearing shoes. I like unwinding and eating at my own pace, but I do sometimes want the restaurant experience — I just wish it were a little more personal. That’s what drew me to the idea of a Feastly meal in the first place.
Sites like Feastly, Traveling Spoon, and Eat with a Local are sort of like Airbnb but for food. Travelers sign up on the site and find a local hosting a dinner party in the city they’re visiting. These underground supper clubs aren’t exactly a new concept in Europe or Asia, but seem to be a growing trend in the states. Feastly hosts welcome the idea of attending an underground supper as a date, too.
“It’s something different, a little offbeat. It shows that you are creative. It’s good to keep things interesting compared to the usual dinner and a movie,” said Pam Brewer, our Feastly host. I liked the idea of enjoying a home-cooked meal in a low-key communal setting. Plus, I was glad to suggest a date idea to my boyfriend that wasn’t Chipotle.
We signed up for a beer and cheese tasting with Pam. As we waited in a nearby Williamsburg park for the dinner party to start — we didn’t want to be the squares who showed up early — we went over some basic concerns. For one thing, was this weird? It was totally weird, right? We’d basically invited ourselves to a stranger’s house. What if we were terrible at small talk? What if he didn’t like the food? (This was a big concern, as he is by far the pickier eater between us.)
“We’re going to learn a lot about each other then,” I said optimistically, and also because this was my suggestion. But honestly, I was worried.
When we talked later, Pam would echo our concerns, but emphasized the positive aspects of the situation. “It’s really interesting, especially early on in a relationship, to see your date in a new setting, interacting with new people a little outside of their comfort zone,” she said. “You can see if they handle it well. It’s very telling.”
I figured this would work well for us. While we’ve been dating for a couple of months, we only recently agreed to go steady and meet each other’s friends. Joining an underground supper club seemed like a reasonable next step.
Inside, we met Gus, the apartment’s owner, and Kevin, a new Feastly guest, as we ate cheese sticks. I quickly discovered that Pam was right: it was a rare opportunity for the two of us to see how the other adapts to a new situation. Because while my boyfriend asked thoughtful and engaged questions throughout the beer tasting, I crumbled into a runny nose of a human being.
Oh, did I forget to mention that I went to Gus’ apartment in the midst of an allergy flare-up? Prior to our meal, we wasted time in a nearby junk store and my dust allergy was in full effect. It was poor planning on my part, because as I sat in a circle of strangers listening intently as Pam spoke about the origins of each cheese, my brain felt impossibly foggy.
As the discussion continued around me, I surreptitiously pulled spare restaurant napkins out of my pocket and blew my nose as quietly as possible (which is to say, not very quietly at all). Breathing normally became an ordeal. My eyes watered. The cheese and beer were good, and Pam and her beer partner Steve were friendly and helpful, but all the while my face reddened with embarrassment. These people didn’t know that I wasn’t actually this gross, and I didn’t want to disgust anyone when I passed along the plate of chevre. But out of nowhere, like a Kleenex angel, Gus appeared with an entire roll of quality-quilted toilet paper, all for me. It was so soft. My poor nose filled with emotion and snot. I don’t think I’d get better service in a restaurant.
I thanked Gus, who later admitted that he noticed my stock of napkins and kindly suggested better allergy medications. My boyfriend gave me a comforting pat on my arm, a signal that he had this under control as he kept conversation going, making jokes with the host and the other guests. Afterwards, he explained that he’d figured out that my stupid allergies were keeping me self-consciously silent, apart from the occasional wheeze. Suddenly, I realized how well we’d been working as a team. When he didn’t like a cheese, I ate the rest. When I was too busy sneezing to finish my glass of beer, he poured the rest into his own. That way, we politely made sure to keep our plates and glasses clean for the next round of tasting.
I learned a lot in the tasting circle — we covered skunk beer, the differences that separate bodega cheese from the real deal, and cheese rinds (which, by the way, are really delicious). But most importantly, I found that beer and cheese aren’t the only pairing that go well together.