Cup of vegetable soup.
Four pierogies: two cheese, two potato.
And two slices of buttered challah bread. All for $5.99.
Where am I?
Leave your answers in the comments section. The place will be revealed on Monday.
African American Marayway
218 E. 170th St
As Adam Clayton Powell Blvd merged onto the Macombs Dam Bridge, I could see the glow from the blue lights of the joint Yankee Stadiums on the other side of the Harlem River. While I was stuck in the stop and go traffic on the bridge, I noticed that the lettering on the new stadium was slightly different—more 21st Century, than the old one and wondered how much longer I would actually see the two stadiums side by side.* Once over the river and into the Bronx, I turned onto 161st Street, past Rupert Way, up toward Lou Gehrig Plaza and then north on the Grand Concourse. I was heading to a restaurant chosen by Mike from Yonkers called African American Marayway; the name being a mystery since the cuisine was supposedly Senegalese with no nods to African-American staples.
Just off the Concourse on 170th Street, down a hill where cars were parked at angles, I saw the small, corner restaurant. I parked on a very dark, barren street that in its desolation reminded me of the Bronx is Burning days of the 1970’s and was adjacent to a sloping park which, in the dark, looked more like a pit bull dog run than a park.
Everyone, with the exception again of Rick who was dutifully doing his best to play the game and survive in the crumbling publishing industry environment, were in attendance and seated at one of the restaurant’s three tables. Though it was not an abnormally cold night, the restaurant had no heat and winter jackets were required for dining.
There were no menus and our hostess who was also one of the two female cooks situated safely behind a plexiglass counter, mentioned that she had tilapia. We told her to bring that. . .and anything else she had. Though this was as bare bones an establishment as we had been to, there was a television and it was inexplicably tuned to the NASA network where an operative in Houston droned on about satellite readings. Thankfully a gargantuan whole fish quickly appeared on our table smothered in onions and adorned with lettuce followed by another fish, this one chopped into pieces, accompanied by a variety of roasted root vegetables, and resting on a bed of brown couscous. The two platters sat there—we weren’t sure what to do and then our hostess returned with another platter; this one overflowing with white rice along with a plate of meat, (lamb we soon discovered) onions, and fried plantains.
We were given a glass with utensils in it and expected to eat from the platters communal-style. When it comes to our group, though we are good at sharing; communal just doesn’t work and we requested additional plates. It took a little prodding, but we were soon given two more plates and a stack of aluminum take out containers.
Now that we were free to shovel the food onto our respective “plates” we did so with rapid fire gusto. The tilapia, on the bone, proved somewhat tricky, but, collectively our expert bone filleting fingers made clean work of the fish. Our hostess wasn’t quite finished; she returned with a bowl of what she called “gravy,’ chicken with onions and rich with palm oil that she suggested should accompany the rice and another bowl of “peanut butter;” a stew of goat meat, in a thick peanut and onion sauce.
With the sounds of the Houston NASA technician as background white noise, we worked fast, trying to finish before the food got as cold as we were. Though describing it now, the meal seems like a lot, but at the time, after finishing, it was if we were missing a course or two. And when our hostess told us that for all we ate, we owed a total of $30, almost as cheap as the Old Poland Bakery, the record-setting Polish restaurant we visited in Greenpoint several years ago, the urge to spend and eat more increased. Much of our discussion around the table was about ours and others current economic struggles and as we exited the restaurant, Gerry commented, fittingly, that with places around like African American Marayway, we would never starve.
Gerry’s sentiments, however, didn’t deter us from stopping while we were ahead. We got in our cars and snaked north through the Bronx streets to the Italian-American neighborhood of Arthur Avenue in search of more food. Our destination was to be the famous Egidio Pastry Shop, but it was closed and we settled on one of the neighborhood’s newer establishments, the brightly-lit, garish, Palombo Pastry on the corner of 187th Street and Arthur Avenue.
Having had my daily intake of caffeine I was the only one to defer from an espresso or cappuccino. Instead, I settled on a baba rhum. While waiting for our order, I was anxious to call Rick and tell him of our African American Maraway adventure. Our drinks and pastries arrived and maneuvering around me, the waitress placed the tray at the edge of our table. While in mid-sentence with Rick—trying to describe Maraway’s unique attractions__Eugene was given his cappuccino which, apparently, upset the balance of the tray and three hot espressos tumbled onto my lap, the cups shattering on the floor as my voice turned into a gurgled semi-muffled scream. The café went silent as all eyes were on me. I clicked the phone closed and looked down at the disaster that was now my pants. When I looked up again, Eugene had a sarcastic smile on his face and said. “You should know by now that it’s quite rude to talk on the phone in a restaurant?”
*We visited African American Marayway a few months before the new Yankee Stadium opened and a year before the demolition of the old.
86-10 Whitney Avenue
The snowflakes were falling heavily when I exited the Elmhurst Avenue subway station. On the other side of Broadway was Winnie’s Bar while across the street from the station was the Hong Kong Supermarket. It all looked eerily familiar and when I noticed Taste Good restaurant nestled next to the supermarket, it was like déjà vu all over again. I was in the exact same location when we last convened and dined at Taste Good.
As I navigated the dark, snowy streets to our next destination, chosen by Eugene, the Indonesian Minang Asli, I realized that our previous three restaurants were of the Asian bent, including the Malaysian, Taste Good, the Vietnamese Bronx find, World of Taste Seafood, and the Upper East Side fusion of Korean, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese, Buddha Bbeeq. Not that I was complaining.
Zio was shivering outside the small restaurant when I arrived. Why he was standing outside freezing when there were three very gracious Indonesian women in the otherwise empty restaurant gesturing for him to come in, was beyond me. To escape the cold, I needed no prodding and he followed me in.
A small electric heater struggled to add a little warmth to the chilly, non-descript dining room. We were told we were expected; Eugene had called ahead to reserve a table for what was to be a party of five. Rick had already excused himself on account of a corporate holiday celebration that, incredibly, did not require the guests bring their own bottle. Free food and drinks during these dismal days?* Who could blame him for going with the free stuff despite having to endure the obviously fake giddiness he would most likely encounter?
Zio and I waited for the others to arrive in the cold confines and then, after about fifteen minutes of waiting, Zio blurted, “I’m starving!” We ordered beef stew soup and pempek palembang, also known as deep fried fish cake in a sweet and sour vinegar sauce. Gerry, Eugene, and Mike from Yonkers, who commuted together from Westchester arrived just as one of the three aforementioned waitresses brought soup bowls and what we thought was soup.
In our frozen delirium, not to mention our unabated hunger, we spooned the dish into the bowls and began to eat. I wondered why the soup was cold and then realized that we actually were spooning the fish cakes and sauce into our mouths instead of the soup, which came a few minutes later. Were the three Indonesian women giggling because we had just made fools of ourselves? Maybe so, but our gaffe didn’t faze Zio who continued to slurp at the cold vinegar sauce. I was less concerned about our faux pas when I glanced at Minang Asli’s menu and noticed its proclamation to “leave your manners behind, and eat your heart out.”.
The standard in Indonesian food was set a few years back at nearby Upi Jaya and, despite ultimately developing calluses on our intestinal tracks that have since come in handy when confronting the extreme heat of chili peppers that we so often endure in our adventures, we were initiated to the pleasures of Indonesian cuisine, and most notably, the signature dish, beef rendang. It was the gauge to measure an Indonesian restaurant’s authenticity. Would they prepare the dish in the uncompromising, harshly spiced manner it is meant to be prepared or would they soften the blow; alter it somewhat to appease the Anglo tongue? We unanimously agreed to find out.
Maybe it was because my aforementioned intestinal track had been callused, but Minang Asli’s version of beef rendang seemed a tad milder than the one I remembered at Upi Jaya and only for that reason was it a close second to what we experienced years back.
You never quite know Mike from Yonkers’ reasoning, and when he resolutely put the menu down and said, “Gotta have the brains,” meaning the menu option of beef brains stewed in lemongrass flavored coconut milk, we knew better than to dig any deeper into his already complicated psyche.
Gerry was disappointed the kale leaves were not available, but settled instead on the jackfruit, a starchy, blander and less juicy or tart version of a pineapple. To please Zio we ordered the whole fried red snapper in a lime and soy marinade and added another Indonesian/Malaysian staple; gado gado, a traditional dish of mixed vegetables in a peanut and sweet soy sauce.
The noodles we ordered, a lo-mein-like dish, was a disappointment but not enough to stop us from cleaning the platter. In fact, all that remained on our table was a solitary beef brain—its creamy consistency an acquired taste that, apparently, most of us, including Mike from Yonkers who ordered it, had not acquired.
No one had entered the restaurant during our meal and the owner/chef, her coat on, thanked us for coming and announced that now that we had finished, she could go home.
The food must have brought out Eugene’s reflective nature when, looking up at the television where Snoopy was decorating his dog house with Christmas lights, he sighed. “Imagine,” he said, “us all alone here in Queens, in this Indonesian restaurant with ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas’ on the television.”
We didn’t have much to add to his comment so we slowly gathered our coats and headed out into the cold.
*This was December, 2008, and just months after the Wall Street meltdown of that year.
Even if he is sent to the bullpen, things could be a lot worse for Yankee pitcher, Phil Hughes.
After all, how many relievers have their own neighborhood watering hole named after them?
This was the first very brief Adventures in Chow City post to appear on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries almost a year ago. Today we get the bad news that La Fonda Boricua in East Harlem has closed. A sad day for Friedneckbones. Here is the original post.
La Fonda Boricua
169 E. 106th Street
My wife commented, not too favorably, on the special “tostones” sauce at La Fonda Boricua. Of course she tasted it second hand. And with a flu-stuffed nose. To me that meant the sauce was a true success…as was the rest of the collective meal.
Kudos must go to Rick for experimenting with the chivo (goat) and Gerry, a brave man to eat those chicken gizzards. He deserved that six-pack of Corona Light. I guess the liquor license did not apply to wine. But who’s complaining? At least they finally took our order. Charlie met the match and delivered with an authentic global eatery for under $20. . .including flan…vanilla only.
The Ayala brothers, owners of La Fonda Boricua, are now interested in adding to the art on their wall. I hear they would like to contact the Puerto Rican artist who has scribbled the tiny portraits forming the thumbprint. What they are looking for now is a new theme; a portrait of Zio, in the shape of a big toe, which, coincidentally, resembles his physique, and a mountain of mofongo, slathered with brown gravy, in front of him.
82-18 45th Avenue
Taste Good was chosen by Gerry who usually sends us to the far corners of the tri-state region for better (Indian dosas in Jersey City, authentic Korean barbecue in Ft. Lee) or for worse (tacky Mexican in Yonkers and mediocre barbecue in Valhalla). This time he stuck closer to what Zio refers to as the “epicenter” of our food universe; the corridor around the number 7 train of Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst, where Taste Good was located. But even this time, Gerry’s curse was not totally diminished when the roads close to the restaurant were closed due to a subway shooting. Still, no one was complaining and a few of us, Zio, Rick and myself even had a few extra minutes to browse the next door Hong Kong supermarket where baby bok choy was on sale along with a special on live frogs.
All of us were in attendance including Eugene who displayed no side effects after the defeat of his Red Sox. In fact, he was suspiciously silent on the subject. To prod him, we made sure he was aware of the availability of sting ray on the menu and even our collective eagerness to order it in some preparation would not illicit any type of self-pitying response. Thus is the demeanor of the now jaded Red Sox fan.
The menu was large and our waitress intent on speeding up our ordering. Though her English was shaky, she was not shy about making suggestions, especially in the quantity of our orders. When we suggested an appetizer of nasi lemak, a rice platter served with curried chicken, salty spiced pungent anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs, she wanted to know how many orders. When we asked if one was enough, coupled with two orders of roti canai, an Indian-style pancake served with a chicken curry gravy, and tahu goreng, deep fried bean curd stuffed with bean sprouts and sprinkled with a peanut sauce, she shook her head adamantly and said, “No. Two!”
When I, on name alone, wanted to order the “drunken clams” she shook her head. “This is no good,” she said. “Have this instead,” she said pointing to the clams in “aromatic flavor.” I wasn’t sure, but pretty confident that debating the choices was not an option. With the clams, the aforementioned sizzling aromatic sting ray, hokkien udang mee, a shrimp broth soup with noodles, fish cake, eggs, and greens, and one of our Malaysian favorites, beef rendang, here subtitled cleverly on the menu as “Love Me Tender,” which, of course, when it comes to beef rendang, is the only way to appreciate it, we thought we had enough, even for our crew.
“Not enough,” our waitress barked. Scrambling through the dense menu, the waitress and I collaborated on the choice of char kway teow, rice noodles with shrimp, fish cake, and egg. “Two orders,” she said. At this point she had taken over and all we could do was nod compliantly.
As it turned out, we ordered so much that by the time the last dish, a huge platter that held the sizzling sting ray, arrived Zio was beginning to groan. Mike from Yonkers, who was seated next to me, however, was unfazed by the assembly of dishes. His secret to enduring the onslaught of food could have been his propensity to rise to a semi-standing position while piling portions from each dish onto his already congested plate; the physical act quite possibly serving to allow his stomach to stretch, creating almost unlimited consumption capacity.
Though he made a few disparaging remarks about the rapidity of the service as if he would be happy with more deliberate service, Eugene held no grudges to the sting ray, which was smothered in a spicy, muddy brown sauce, and dug in dutifully.
The clams were seemingly roasted in, as the menu suggested, a golden aromatic paste, and drunken or not, an excellent recommendation. There was so much that when a big bowl of soup arrived, we wondered if we actually ordered it believing that our waitress might have just “thrown it in” thinking we wouldn’t know any better. But in fact, it was the fiery hokkien udang mee and we indeed included it.
Quantity certainly did not detract from the Taste Good’s quality and the restaurant certainly lived up to its confident moniker.
And when all, with the exception of the bottom half of the sting ray had been devoured, Eugene looked at his watch, which he had been doing throughout our meal and then nodded. “All that food eaten in about a hour,” he said. An impressive feat, but from the look on Eugene’s face, we could do better.
1750 Second Ave
New York, NY
Zio was grumpy. He had a six am wake up call courtesy of the newest tenant in his Connecticut refuge, his three-year old grandson. And a morning watching Noggin with little Sammy just added a layer of lethargy to his already foul demeanor. But despite the indignities he endures on a daily basis, his dedication to the cause was too great to let his hardships stop him from the job at hand. Ever since the Uncle George’s debacle many years ago, Zio, when his turn arose, openly sought assistance in picking an appropriately grimy, but authentic eating establishment for our group. Feeling confident, maybe even a little cocky, he tackled his most recent assignment pretty much on his own.
After doing his research, he settled on an Asian-themed barbecue place in the unlikely, for our group, neighborhood of the Upper East Side. According to all internet accounts, Buddha Bbeeq was “good for groups,” but upon entering, the only groups the tiny place could be good for were groups of no more than two. Still, luck was on our side and a couple agreed to move to another table so we could squeeze together a table for four with a smaller table fitting the six of us into the too cozy confines.
Though for Gerry, cozy was a codeword for torturous. In an effort to combat an impending midlife crisis, Gerry solicited the aide of his football-playing son’s personal trainer to reclaim a body ravaged by a variety of vices including cheap beer, vodka, and deep fried chitterlings. To his credit, for a man past his prime, the trainer was working miracles on him. But it seems that on the day we were to meet, he and Mike from Yonkers, who inserted himself as Gerry’s workout partner, were egged on by said sadistic trainer to don boxing gloves and put on a poor man’s “Fight Club” exhibition. The result was an obviously lucky punch by Mike from Yonkers that landed just inside the chest protection gear and finding one of Gerry’s ribs. The doctor’s diagnosis was vague, but Gerry swallowed some codeine-laced Tylenol and showing his grit, joined us never complaining about the tight seating. And what made it worse for Gerry, I’m sure, was seeing Mike from Yonkers bounding in, unscathed from their battle and with barely a nod of remorse for the damage he inflicted.
In the takeout and quick-turnover haven of the Upper East Side, the servers at Buddha Bbeeq were not used to the dallying of our group and their consternation was obvious. In an effort to ease their anxieties, Zio ordered us a few of the restaurant’s smaller dishes including as the menu proclaimed “tasty twists on the ever popular favorite” Japanese sushi rolls. Instead of traditional Japanese sushi, the rolls were prepared “Korean-style” stuffed with barbecued beef, ham and egg, and shrimp salad. They were substantial, but lacking in distinction and the scallion pancakes and dumplings we sampled, including one with beef and kimchee, suffered from the same dilemma.
The bbeq plates offered a variety of globe-trotting Asian styles including the restaurant’s obvious slant, Korean, along with a Thai red curry, teriyaki, Vietnamese lemongrass, and a Hawaiian version “sweetened with pineapple juice” which no one dared order. Rick and Mike from Yonkers, knowing that it’s always best to stick to the closest possible ethnic origins of the restaurant, ordered the “K” bbeeq, Korean barbecue beef over rice while Zio and Eugene were a bit more adventurous trying the peanut lime version, beef for Zio, chicken for Eugene, that came with a thickened unsightly sauce that drenched their respective meats.
I bypassed the barbecue and like Rick and Mike went on the Korean theme with the Korean rice bowl, also known in Korean restaurants as “bim bam bap,” but instead of beef opted for chicken, while Gerry, for possibly the first time ever, admitted that he “wasn’t really very hungry,” and deferred his ordering to me. Thinking a spicy dish would distract him from his throbbing ribs, I ordered him the chili peanut noodles with shrimp.
When the food arrived, no one complained. The portions were large and the meals somewhat flavorful, but, judging from Eugene’s uncharacteristic silence after sampling his dish, we knew our high standards had not been met. In my experience, any efforts at melding various ethnic styles usually results in a watered down version of the original. And that was the case at Buddha BBeeq; the Korean dishes were good, but not as good as you would find in a decent Korean restaurant while the Thai and Vietnamese, again, passable but not nearly at the quality those particular ethnic restaurants usually offer. The best you could say about Buddha BBeeq was that it offered solid Upper East Side takeout. And despite the disappointment, Zio was almost cheerful knowing that, spending a solitary night in his Astoria love nest, he would not have to endure an early morning marathon of “Go Gabba Gabba” and “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”.
*Buddha Bbeeq survives despite the continuous presence of the Second Avenue subway construction project just outside their restaurant.