Archive | December, 2011

The Ham Hock Hangover Cure

30 Dec

Start with a pound of black eyed peas.

Chop up a few cloves of garlic and a large onion.

Take a good-sized ham hock, it’s restorative powers never factually documented, yet hotly debated among nutrition professionals, and add it and all the other  ingredients to a big pot.

Sprinkle in at least six dashes of hot sauce.

Cover with water and cook over very low heat for about eight hours.

While the peas cook, enjoy your beverage of choice, be it alcoholic or not. By the time a headache or general malaise ensues, the peas should be cooked and the meat easily shredded from the bone. Consume even if you feel like you might retch.  Eat with rice and greens.

While you eat, try not to dwell on the mistakes you made the previous year and direct your positive thoughts to the 365 days ahead, beginning with the most delicious Ham Hock Hangover Cure in front of you.

Seven Fishes for Seven Dishes

22 Dec

The day before Christmas, it’s no meat for me,

Even though I’m a non-believer,

on Christmas Eve,

I only eat from the sea.

The feast should have seven dishes

of fishes that day.

No one really knows why,

it’s just what they say.

Here then are the fishes,

in no particular order.

For the feast,

I present to you.

On my own fingers I counted,

To make sure it’s true.

They call it squid, but it’s calamari we know.

Cook it fast or cook it slow.

Any other way,

and it’s a no go.

Stuff  with breadcrumbs, parsley and nuts.

Enjoy the stuffed squid,

but don’t eat too much.

There’s six more dishes to go,

before you bust.


It comes from a snail, is what I’ve heard,

this thing called scungilli;

I know, it’s a funny word.

Italian Escargot?

The French shake their heads

and say, ‘oh no!”

Boil until it’s tender, and then chop it

real fine.

Add to a salad,

and maybe drizzle with lime.

Long and slithery,

it looks like a snake.

With dark beady eyes,

this fish is not for everyone’s taste.

We call it eel.

In Italian it’s  capitone.

Its flesh is oily,

its look surreal.

Be careful there are bones.

You don’t want to choke,

especially while giving the

Christmas Eve toast.

Chop into pieces,

then fry or grill.

With garlic and vinegar,

this eel will thrill.

When the faint of heart see it coming,

they shriek and wail,

‘cause it’s got a slimy body and a prickly tail.

It’s a small fish, the little anchovy,

but the flavor it packs,

makes up for any good looks it lacks.

Dissolve in hot olive oil with garlic, of course.

Add some peperoncini,

and a little broth.

Pour over spaghettini

and you’ll be one of the first,

to line up at the trough.

Four dishes done, three more to go.

The feast of seven fishes,

can become quite a show.

Along the way,

things could get bumpy,

causing anxiety and stress;

a chef could get jumpy.

Time to bring out the fish,

the one that no one complains.

The reliable flounder,

it causes no pain.

Bake it with butter or oil, some

lemon and herbs.

Its mild mellow flavor,

will take the edge off,

will ease the nerves.

It comes in all sizes, this mollusk of grey.

But I like the small ones;

what they call vongole.

Clean them and make sure the sand is all gone.

Add to a pot with oil, garlic and white wine.

When they open just a bit,

they will release their magical brine.

Eat them from the shell or over


Either way, you can’t go wrong,

with a clam this teeny.

Oh it smells something fierce,

this fish called baccala,

Just wait till you see it;

it looks even worse.

In a pot or bathtub,

soak it for days.

Change the water

a few times or more.

Yes it’s hard work;

it can be a chore.

Do it until that fish;

the one that smells,

grows larger,

until it swells.

Steam or bake,

soon the tender flesh will flake.

With onions and garlic,

what a delicious dish

this hideous monster makes.

Its appeal is so huge,

There’s even a poem called,


The feast over;

all seven fishes you’ve tried.

But now your mercury level is high.

No fear, everything will be okay,

because Christmas comes the very next day.

There will be more food.

Another big feast.

And this one, I’m sure,

will include juicy red meat.

Pizza Unleavened

20 Dec

Eddie’s Pizza
2048 Hillside Ave
New Hyde Park, NY

I didn’t know when I walked into Eddie’s Pizza on Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park that the place was some sort of Happy Days throwback. Gerry was at the bar, alone, sipping vodka and watching ESPN. The bar area was dimly lit. There were framed photos on the walls of Long Island celebrities like Boomer Esiason and a poster of the HBO series “Entourage.” The bartender was certainly a throwback; big frosted blonde hair, brassy nicotine ravaged voice and kiddingly friendly in that old school way.

And when I pulled up to the bar next to Gerry, she said, “What’ll you have, hun?”

For the first time in the almost ten years we have been convening, we were in Nassau County. This was Rick’s pick and he had taken us to the area where he grew up. Where, as he told us later, he and a few other friends, known as the Valley Stream “Fat Boys,” would cruise the strip malls in search of whatever place would satisfy their insatiable food cravings. That meant usually diners, but also, according to Rick, included Eddie’s Pizza.

Rick was stuck in the inevitable traffic on the LIE and Eugene was a late scratch, but Zio and Mike from Yonkers made it and after we all had a drink at the bar, moved to a table in a much more brightly lit area surrounded by posters from 1950’s teen rebel movies like Elvis’s “King Creole,” “Rock Around the Clock,” with Alan Freed, and of course, “Rebel Without a Cause.”

There were two televisions tuned to ESPN, but the sound was muted replaced by a stream of oldies. At first the music was just background noise, but soon it became intrusive not because it was too loud, but because there was something just not right with it. We were familiar with the songs, but they were off—remakes of the originals but meant to sound exactly like the original.

Though Rick was the man we needed at Eddie’s, we couldn’t wait much longer and ordered appetizers and by the time the sweet potato gnocchi and fried calamari ravioli arrived, so did Rick. The gnocchi was a nice balance of sweet and salty, but the fried calamari ravioli was an enigma. It was something deep fried stuffed with something else that had a briny, seafood flavor, more like the stuffing of a baked clam than anything reminiscent of calamari. We ate it anyway.

Our waitress, a brunette version of the bartender, suggested three pies. “They’re thin crust,” she said. “Kind of pizza on a matzoh.” The connotation was not the most appealing but we tried one tomato cheese pie, another white clam and a third tomato with anchovies. All three were regular-sized pies as opposed to the restaurant’s famous “bar pies” which were really just smaller, individual-sized pied that were said to fit perfectly on the bar. While we waited, glancing occasionally at the televisions, the music began to take over.

The “matzoh” crust of Eddie’s.

“Johnny Angel,” was the title of the female weeper about a teen rebel’s early death. Who was the singer?

“Lesley Gore?” Mike from Yonkers offered.

“No, not Lesley Gore,” Zio, the senior in our group, said adamantly.

“Connie Francis?” I tried.

Zio shook his head again.

Where was Eugene and his usually useless oldies’ knowledge when we needed him?

“I think it’s Shelly Fabares, but it’s not really her,” Zio said.

Yes,Zio, it was Shelly Fabares.

The pizzas arrived. The clams on the white pie were a bit tough, but the clam juice flowed through the grooves of the cheese which I thought was a good thing. The anchovies on the tomato pie gave it much needed flavor while the standard tomato and cheese pie was a disappointment.

We could hear “The Great Pretender,” playing in the background.

“That’s not the Platters,” Gerry said.

“That’s someone singing ‘The Great Pretender,’ I said. “Pretending to be the Platters.”

I poked at the matzoh-like crust to see if it would break. It didn’t. The sauce held to it. At the moment I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad. There was one clam slice remaining. No one wanted it. Not even Zio.

The waitress returned with espresso. There were lemon peels with each demitasse cup. Zio was impressed. “They never give lemon peels anymore,” he noted. “You gotta always ask.”

At Eddie’s you don’t have to ask for lemon with your espresso.

“Here we always bring them,” the waitress said proudly.

“But what do you do with it?” Zio wanted to know as he tried to squeeze the thick peel, hoping to extract some juice from it.

“You rub it around the rim,” she said. And this she proceeded to do, working over his shoulder to show him and then spilling half his espresso. She returned with another espresso, but after two super-sized diet Cokes, more caffeine was something Zio did not need.

“Come Go With Me,” a doo wop made famous by the Dell Vikings played, but this wasn’t the Dell Vikings.  Zio was listening closely.

“The scream’s off,” he muttered in disgust. “They couldn’t even get the scream right. Let’s get out of here.”

So went our Long Island strip mall experience at Eddie’s Pizza, Home of the Bar Pie.

And the Answer Is…

19 Dec

Where you will find this model replica of Al Capone along with a shrine to gangsterism.

And where they sell rabbits and calf brains.

You will also find this.

Broccoli rabe

And this.

Dried peppers, fruits and vegetables.

Here inside this place.

Known as the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, in the Bronx.

Thank you all for playing and showing off your New York foodie creds. Keep your eyes open for a new edition of Name that Place in 2012.

Name That Place: Christmas Bonus Edition

16 Dec

This one is so easy, I’m a little embarrassed to actually be posting it.  But in the spirit of the season;  a time of tenuous comfort and forced joy, I am offering this bonus round of Name That Place.

There’s obviously a gangster theme going on here. Is that supposed to be Al Capone? Or is it supposed to be this guy?

Either way, it’s just another sad stereotype of the Italian as gangster.

Ooops, I just gave away a hint, as if you need it. Where is this tribute to gangsterism? I won’t use the “M” word to describe what is depicted because my Poppy from Calabria always said there was no such thing.

Since I’m in such a giving mood, I’ll add a few more photos of what you might find at this place.

You can buy calf brains there.

And even fresh coniglio, also known as rabbit.

Is it a meat market? One with a statue of a gangster? Am I confusing you now? I certainly hope so, but doubt it.  No, from what I’ve revealed here, I might as well just wrap this gift up and put it under the tree for you.

As always, leave your answers in the comment section below. The place will be revealed here on Monday.

A Certifiable Czech

13 Dec

Zlata Praha
28-48 31st Street
Astoria, Queens

“Polish cuisine,” Mike from Yonkers wrote in his email to our group alerting us of his Astoria-located choice called Zlata Praha, and what he thought they served there. “Unlike most of you, I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure with that part of the world.”

He was obviously absent when, years ago, we traveled to Greenpoint to the Old Poland Bakery and endured silent glares from the waitstaff and local clientele as we devoured enormous platters of kielbasa, pierogies, and boiled beef for next to nothing.  But after a quick visit to Zlata Praha’s website, I noticed the proclamation that the restaurant was the city’s number one destination for Czech and Slovak cuisine. Mike from Yonkers was going to have the pleasure of dining on food from that part of the world, though in this case, just a little bit west and south of Poland.

Walking past the bar area where pictures of Czech and Slovak celebrities; hockey players, tennis stars, unknown singers and actors adorned the walls, Zio and I entered the empty dining room where only the rumbling from the N and R trains on the elevated track above 31st Street intruded on the silence. We were shown to a table with table cloths and cloth napkins tucked ornately into stemmed wine glasses. A stuffed deer head smoking a pipe peered over the room.

Some of Zlata Praha’s rustic decor.

Zio noticed that there was an outdoor garden. It was a pleasant evening; we hadn’t dined “al fresco” in many years, possibly since we ate in the back garden of Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Bibs in the Bronx where we were surrounded by a junkyard and serenaded by a nearby boom box. So despite what Zio, showing off his expertise in such things, pointed out was a decorative rock that really was camouflaging rat poison, and with the distinct smell of fresh bug spray in the air, we decided to eat outside.

I was thirsty and the Pilsner Urquell displays were enticing, but our smiling waitress, instead, recommended her favorite Czech beer called Staropramen. I figured she knew her stuff and went with her choice. She returned with a thick, cold mug of what was a full bodied, rich colored brew that was better even than the very good Pilsner Urquell.

We sipped the beer and pondered the typically hearty Eastern European items on the menu; schnitzels, sauerbraten, goulash, pierogies, potato pancakes, and assorted dumplings.

Of the cold appetizers, a selection of head cheese was debated roundly between us. “I’d get it,” Mike from Yonkers said boldly, but he was the only one that would dare attempt to penetrate the gelatinous mix of animal body parts that was an acquired taste none of us had the desire to acquire.

A no to the head cheese.

The head cheese was nixed, instead replaced by an order of the comparatively tame herring in cream sauce. We rounded out the appetizers with a sampling of potato pancakes, dense and bland, the accompanying apple sauce very much needed and a kielbasa, Czech-style, which tasted just like the Polish counterpart with mustard, ketchup, and fresh horseradish that was minus the accustomed zing.

While we waited for our entrees, we listened to Zio complain about his current residence on a rustic Connecticut lake. “I gotta get outta there. There are canoes,” he moaned and shook his head.

Before we could make sense of his objection to canoes, the entrees arrived. The ever smiling waitress placed a plate in front of me with a Frisbee-sized, flattened piece of pork fried in potato pancake batter while Rick, sitting next to me, was the recipient of half a duck that looked like it had been cooked with a blow torch. He offered samples for all. I declined, but Gerry took a bite. “Very good,” he proclaimed. “Good and gamey.”

“Definitely gamey,” Rick sighed.

I sawed through the wiener schnitzel cutting off portions for all who wanted a taste. I was more than happy to share the pork that could have used a generous portion of Tabasco to spice it up. I was more protective, however, of the very good potato salad that accompanied the meat.

Wiener Schnitzel: serrated steak knife mandatory.

Trying not to be negative and suppress the unusually good spirits he was in; the prospect of a trip to Italy within days will do that, Eugene mentioned that the sauerbraten he ordered “didn’t have much meat,” under the brown, soup like gravy it was immersed in. Mike from Yonkers had the same gripe about his goulash and agreed to help Zio with his order of chicken paprikash that was supposed to be red with paprika but had a goulash/sauerbraten-like dull brown tinge.  Gerry, however,  is generally easy to satisfy and he plowed through his order of spaetzle with feta cheese without objection.

Sauebraten or goulash?

Zio and Mike from Yonkers were the only ones who could manage the large portion of apple strudel topped by whipped cream and ice cream after that leaden meal. And the more I sat there after all that food, the nearby rat poison and the smell of bug spray still evident, the more I wanted out of Zlata Praha no matter how enjoyable the company and food was.

I signaled to the waitress and asked her for the check. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the moment she was waiting for. Her ever present smile was now glowing “Here I am,” she said and stood there, waiting for my response.

The food and beer had obviously dulled my thought process. Gerry nudged me with a grin. “Get it,” he said. She was still standing there smiling and I still didn’t get it.

And then the Czech went to get the check and I finally got it.

The Jamaican Beef Patty Gospels

9 Dec

As seen in the People’s Choice Kitchen.

And the beef patties were good too.

Biryani Joy

6 Dec

Rawal Ravail
641 Lydig Avenue

A little bit of Pakistan in the Bronx

The din from the uptown/downtown 2 and 5 trains on the elevated tracks above White Plains Road was really nothing more than background noise to the constant cacophony that resonated in the frantic Morris Park section of the Bronx where Gerry had summoned us. It was our third straight session in that borough proving that the Bronx could hold its own with Queens and Brooklyn in ethnic food diversity. This time we were to sample Pakistani food; strictly Halal; meaning no pork and no alcohol.

Located next to the Islamabad Deli, an uplifting message on the Rawal’s window read: “Everyone brings joy to this restaurant. Some when they enter and others when they leave. Thank you. Management.”

Forced joy is not one of my strong points, but I told myself to at least make the effort. The lone person inside the restaurant—a young man wiping down a table—didn’t even notice me or my joy as I entered. Compared to the frenzy outside, even with the babble in Urdu coming from the gigantic flat screen television tuned to a Pakistani television station, inside it was calm.

The news from Pakistan was from what I could translate, not good.

No one else had yet arrived and due to a last minute work engagement where pork might be served and alcohol most definitely would be, Rick had already bowed out. Soon the others arrived including Eugene, who was daringly dressed in short pants.

Rawal’s only menus were of the take-out variety and we quickly discovered, pretty much useless. The dour owner begrudgingly had our group come with him to the steam table where he could explain what was available that day. There he pointed to each tray where there were various curries; chicken, goat, and kidney/liver, two vegetable dishes, three solitary small grilled fish, a tray of bright red chicken tikka, and another of chopped grilled chicken. He lifted up the rice containers; two biryanis and one with plain white basmati rice.

The process was more complicated than it should have been. To make things easier, we had him fix each of us a platter with a sampling of some of the dishes. And this he did with not a trace of joy.

Rawal Ravail’s steam blurred steam table.

Within a few minutes, a female server in traditional Pakistani dress, brought us a plate of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, chilies, and a raita dressing. Soon, the man in charge returned, accompanied by his female helper with our individual plates and five, Frisbee-sized loaves of nan bread. Each curry, goat, chicken, and liver and kidney, were fiery. Even the channa (chick pea) and cabbage curry was hot. The only respite from the spice was the rice and bread. All the curries were delicious, but, with the exception of the unique texture of the kidney and liver, very much alike and, crowded on our platters, they bled together making them somewhat indistinguishable.

Channa and cabbage and…biryani

Despite the heat, we quickly devoured our plates with the exception of Mike from Yonkers who was deliberately picking at his liver and kidney, dabbing each forkful into the cooling raita. We tried to be patient and display some level of dining etiquette, but Eugene and I could wait no longer.

While Mike from Yonkers continued to maddeningly play with his liver, we headed toward the entrance of the restaurant where there was a display of sweets including a few that were alarmingly colorful. Among them was a tray of milk where blobs of dough bobbled, a pink rice pudding, an orange coconut pudding, and a carrot orange sweet along with a white, nut-filled sweet. Eugene took a bite of the latter and proclaimed it second only to the “lima bean dessert” we had years ago at a Filipino restaurant in Queens, as the worst dessert he ever tasted.

Dessert offerings.

Zio added that the carroty orange thing had a distinct cardboard taste. Everyone agreed that the orange coconut pudding was the best of the bunch, though Gerry had no complaints about any of them and what no one else would touch further, he piled in front of him to quickly finish off.

The tab; well below our group’s $20 per person allotment left plenty of leeway for a generous tip despite the lackadaisical service. And after handing over our cash to the owner, for the first time that evening a smile was apparent on his face. The message on the window, prophetic, for we indeed, upon our exit, brought joy to the restaurant.

Our tip left the staff of Rawal Ravail extremely joyous.

The Fusion Files: Neighborhood Edition

2 Dec

I’m all for diversity, especially when it comes to food options. But what does it mean when a neighborhood famous for a certain type of food is now accepting of something new and totally different for that neighborhood? Is it a good thing; further evidence of New York’s welcoming melting pot? Or will those foreigners begin to deteriorate the formerly close-knit fabric of that neighborhood.

Case in point: Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, also known as the “Little Italy of the Bronx.”

Between shopping for soppressata at the Calabria Pork Store.

And scamorza at Calandra’s Cheese.

You can now, between these two stores on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, dine on sushi and/or tacos instead of pizza and pasta fagioli.

I don’t know whether to throw up my hands and say “there goes the neighborhood,” or rush into Estrellita Poblana III and try their cecina azada con napales (grilled salted steak with cactus pads).

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