The Un American African Place

27 Sep

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.

I doubt the Iron Horse ever had the pleasure of dining on Senegalese cuisine.

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.

The Champs-Elysees of the Bronx: The Grand Concourse.

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.

Grilled tilapia

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.

The scene of the “crime.”

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.

4 Responses to “The Un American African Place”

  1. Kathleen September 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Well I note they have an “A” in the window!

  2. BSS September 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    In this case, an A can mean many things.


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