Getting the right food at the right time isn’t always easy.

I did early morning radio for 15 years, and by the time I got off the air at 10am each day, I was ready for lunch. Unfortunately, most places were still serving breakfast, a meal I’d eaten five hours ago, and you couldn’t find a sandwich shop open for another hour or so. Even McDonald’s didn’t start grilling burgers until 10:30am.

On the other hand, you can also get the wrong food at the wrong time.

I said that to a guy I met today at a business meeting. It was lunchtime and we met at a restaurant, where I figured we’d eat and talk, but when he arrived, he said he wasn’t hungry because he’d been to White Castle for breakfast a couple of hours earlier. I thought I’d heard wrong, so I made him repeat it. Sure enough, he’d gotten out of bed, showered, shaved, dressed, gotten in the car, and stopped off for four White Castle hamburgers and a Coke at 9am.

I can see ending a long night of partying at 4am by grabbing some belly bombs, but waking up at a normal time and deciding to start your day that way? I’ve done the former a few times, but never the latter, because it would be like going to the International House of Pancakes for dinner at 6pm — just plain wrong.

Speaking of IHOP, a very long time ago in Hartford, Connecticut, I was on a date with a woman who did not become my wife, and this story may explain why. We’d been to a concert at the Agora Ballroom and then to another bar for a few drinks, and now she was hungry. Unfortunately, Hartford wasn’t exactly an all-night party town in the early 1980s — by 2am, 99.7% of the population had been asleep for at least four hours — so there weren’t many places open and serving food. In fact, there were exactly two options: Denny’s and IHOP. She chose the latter, and I figured we’d each have some pancakes or waffles or eggs or something else breakfast-y.

I ordered a short stack with bacon on the side. She ordered the veal parmesan.

I thought she was kidding. There’s no way IHOP sells veal parmesan, I said. She pointed to it on the back of the laminated menu — the side no one in their right mind ever looks at — and there it was, right next to the hamburgers, chicken strips, and turkey club sandwich. I told her that I was shocked to discover they had those items, but even more surprised that she was ordering one of them. The chef probably couldn’t believe it, either. How often does anyone order veal parmesan at an IHOP? If it happens twice in a year, it must be a record. He likely had to dig into the back corner of the refrigerator to even find the frozen veal parmesan patties — then had to ask someone else how to make them (“Hey, Billy, do these come with hash browns?”)

I sat there in stunned silence. This was a real dilemma for me, because it was a lock that we were going back to her apartment to spend the rest of the night, but despite my physical attraction to this woman, I wasn’t sure I could continue to date someone who would choose this food at this place at this time (not that there’s any time when it’s correct to order veal parmesan at IHOP).

When the food came and I took one glance at the meal she had ordered for herself — it looked just as gross as I’d imagined — I made up my mind. Sex or no sex, a guy has his limits. I just couldn’t be with a woman who didn’t know that:

You don’t go to Red Lobster for steak.
You don’t go to Baskin-Robbins for salad.
You don’t go to Taco Bell for clam chowder.
You don’t go to White Castle for breakfast.

And you certainly don’t go to IHOP for veal parmesan.

Footnote: I just checked IHOP’s website. They don’t sell veal parmesan anymore, but you can get pot roast, a t-bone steak, and grilled tilapia. It’s nice to know that my girlfriend of nearly 3 decades ago now has some variety in her diet.