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435 Elizabeth St.
March 19, 2013





Many of us are familiar with the fruit rollup, a leathery fruit preserve whose appeal seemed limited to the children on television who were paid to endorse it. And yet Rolup on Mercer street has something of a cult following. The rolled zucchini starters, despite looking like an alien flattened by a steamroller, are not inedible and in that respect, are amazing; especially since the same cannot be said of the arugula, walnut, and beet salad rolup.

It is a concoction that begs the question, "Who would do this to food? Who hates food? Who likes food that has been harmed in such a way?"

This mystery is actually what lead me to Rolup, and so I must ask the reader to consider this not so much as a restaurant review as an investigation. It has been said that every restaurant review is a mystery story, every food critic a detective. And if it hasn't been said, I'm saying it now.

My server was wearing what appeared to be a leather apron which she informed me was edible and was made of grapes, dragonfruit, and pomegranate and was in fact on the menu. Dumbfounded, I stared at this mottled garment which smelled like grape soda.

"The specials for this evening are a shrimp rolup bisque, a chicken tarragon and potato rolup, and a butternut squash and yogurt rolup with a little bit of--"

"AAAAARGH" I could not suppress my scream of protest, which I suppose means that I blew my cover. Admittedly, I make a very poor investigator, but that doesn't matter. What matters is what I said next:

"AAAAARGH," I yelled again, because the yelling seemed to help, "What is going on here? Why would anyone want to eat this stuff?"

"I don't know!" the server, looking as if someone had suddenly flipped a switch in her head. "When I started here, all the food still had a third dimension. But only a few days after we opened, everything started becoming . . . flatter. And the name of the restaurant changed. And then the only people who started coming in, were people who . . . who hate food."

Looking around, we could see them. People holding long vaccuous conversations in thin voices above the flat food that barely cleared the raised edges of their plates. Steamed watercress rolups, celery rollups, kale rolups - - foods that were really just placeholders for actual food.

"I'll tell you what happened," came a voice from the table next to me. I looked over and saw a well-dressed man, round about the face, maybe about forty, voice weathered by cigars and perhaps fine scotch.

"Once, there were two chefs who fell in love. They were going to open a restaurant together, in the same neighborhood as this one. And then the night before it opened, she walked out. She left him a note, on paper as flat as this scotch pancake rolup in front of me."

"Can I have a bite of that?" I asked. I hadn't seen it on the menu.

"Shut up, I'm telling a story. He opened the restaurant, but he couldn't keep the menu the way it was. Because every time he made the dishes as they were, he felt like crying. He had nowhere to go. So he thought, for a long time, about a time when he was happy. Before her, before the restaurant, before he was even a chef. He thought back to when he was happy, as a child. On a field-trip to the Air and Space museum, a girl in his second grade class shared a fruit rollup with him when he lost his lunch on the bus. That's not a euphemism, he didn't throw up, he actually did lose it. And then he took a rolling pin, and he flattened all the food in the restaurant. But in the process, he flattened something else; his heart."

"Who are you?" I asked, because I am a detective and a master of the art of interrogation.

"Let's just say I'm someone who knows that you can't make a rollup made of human tears," he said.

"No, no, don't say that, you already ended on the perfect note," said the waittress, sitting in between us and finishing off the scotch pancake rollup, "These are good."

"Except it just doesn't make any sense" I said.

"What do you mean?" asked the man, his face reddening.

"You can't just flatten food with a rolling, pin, we're not living in some kind of cartoon world where that's acceptable, although sometimes it certainly seems like it. I mean, there's a whole process with pectin and, I don't know - - aging? Something like that."

"Rolling pin!" screamed a man in a chef's uniform, storming out of the kitchen, "Rolling pin? Who paid you to say rolling pin? You two-bit ham!"

"Oh, shut up Ernesto!" said the formerly distinguished red-faced man, his fists bunched up, "I was going to explain the pectin part to him, but you had to run here and try to micro-manage every last part. That's why you flatten food, Ernesto - - because you can't stand the possiblity of anything standing out!"

"Can I go now?" the server asked, her face crumpled.

"Go! Go!" commanded the chef, "I will explain to Mr. Pontious that some people - - not necessarily food critics - - like fruit leather! It is the perfect food! You can carry it in your wallet, you can put it in a book to hold your place, you can make it into little animal shapes, you can make it into little robot shapes - - "

"You hired these actors to come up with a sob story so that I wouldn't lambast your restaurant in my column?" I asked, "How tragic that the same temper that causes you to flatten every ingredient around you causes you to steamroll over your own allies."

"And you!" I said, pointing my finger towards the hostess and formerly distinguised man. "I thought you two were marvelous and I would love to hear about whatever other performances you might be in."

And I almost saw them in Sunday in the Park with George but I had to review a bakery uptown. I'm sure they were great. Maybe not as great as that scotch pancake rollup thing.

"But the real mystery is why do you even care about my reviews? This place is full of — "

They stared at me, with their perfect styled hair and emotive eyes, and their appetites for not much at all.

"—perfectly nice people," I said, "My review won't matter to them." But Ernesto was in tears.

"Don't you see?" the server said to me, "he cares because your review will be printed on paper, or read on a screen, and both of those things are flat."

Of course.

In the end, I'm not sure what I accomplished, but at least someone was in tears and there was some sort of big reveal. The important thing is that the case of Rolup has been wrapped up, like a rollup. That's what's up.



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