When restaurants across the country shut down for dine-in service earlier this year, most of us just resigned ourselves to sub-par takeout and tried getting creative in the kitchen. But, as it turns out, the chipmunk population in Atlanta, Ga. actually made out like bandits during that interim. At least, Thelonious Munk did.
Faced with closed restaurants and not much to do, food writer Angela Hansberger got way more creative than any of us claimed we did during quarantine. Instead of teaching herself to sew or "finally starting that novel," Hansberger opened her own restaurant in her backyard. It just happened to be quite miniature and cater only to one guest.
Her uncle had sent her a teeny tiny picnic table in April, meant to be attached to a tree for squirrels to hang out on. Before she had even set it up, though, a chipmunk had settled himself at the table, ready for a meal. "I gave him some nuts I had leftover from a holiday pie and he ate them. The next morning I did the same. He came every day, sometimes sitting at the empty table waiting for me," Hansberger told TODAY Food.
It wasn’t long before Hansberger had her new hobby sorted out. She started setting the table for Thelonious every day, the presentation only growing in detail. Placemats, vases and white tablecloths are now the norm for the chipmunk’s everyday meal, with the set-up becoming more elaborate if Hansberger has a theme night in mind -- sushi, for example.
"I thought about the restaurants I missed and made tiny tablescapes in homage to them," she continued. "I missed ramen and sushi. I missed having a cocktail at a bar and talking with the bartender. I soon added a bar with barstools which I could change into a ramen bar or a sushi bar."
Thelonious has also enjoyed BBQ, a beer garden and Italian night; Hansberger has done her research on what would delight the chipmunk the most, and her tiny meals are fit for a king. She’s created almond-raspberry "pizza," walnut "burgers and fries," egg white tacos and more.
"I watch like a new parent introducing foods to a baby, cataloging likes and dislikes. Google be damned, Thelonious doesn’t dig mushrooms, fresh or dried, crimini or enoki (I tried). He loves blueberries and hates peanuts and yellow bell peppers. He pushes cabbage to the side," she wrote in an essay about her little restaurant for Bon Appetit.
Munk, named so because Hansberger was listening to jazz music while prepping one of his mini meals, is a good patron, too, leaving gratuity for Hansberger’s service. "Early on, he left this wad of things -- leaves and flowers. He brought it to the table, ate the food I left and left the tiny bundle like a tip."
Besides his table for one, the chipmunk has also enjoyed a Hansberger-created campsite, voting booth and jazz bar. He’s a cultured little ‘munk.
"My husband helps me craft things out of scraps around the house. He made the BBQ smoker and built the bar. He made tiny rubber boots the other day when it was raining," Hansberger said.
And what did all of you do with your quarantine time?
For all the fun and games these chipmunk chronicles are, Hansberger is glad her porch restaurant is bringing a little joy to the world, but also hopes to encourage her followers to support the restaurant industry. Let us all feast like Thelonious Munk once again!