Archive | August, 2012

A Medley of Lobster Rolls

29 Aug

When you are on vacation in Cape Cod, there is always the possibility of a rainy day. And that strikes fear into the hearts of parents who dread the prospect of having to entertain their children in cozy cottage confines.

Besides resorting to making another Cape Codder  (see Vodka Amongst the Cranberries), there is another option. To escape the hysteria from cabin fever, volunteer, grudgingly at first, to drive out into the deluge in search of lunch. When you do, you will soon be greeted, as I was, by a number of lobster roll options. Lobster rolls, of course, will, not only get the family to temporarily forget about the rainy day blues but your stature within the family will be elevated to hero status.

First you notice the $7.99 option at a small market. And then just down the road, there is the $8.49 offering at a deli. But you remember the $10 lobster rolls you had the previous year on the Cape and there was certainly nothing wrong with those. The choices have you in a quandary and you almost drive off the road.

I’ll take two specials, please.

Being the decisive man you are, however, you know what you have to do. You pull into the market and order two of the $7.99 offerings. Dodging the raindrops, you get back into your car and drive down to the deli where two young men with thick Russian accents brag that their lobsters rolls are the best on the Cape. “You’ve sold me,” you tell them.

Finally, you return to the seafood shack where you went the previous year and order two of the reliable $10 lobster rolls—just in case the Russians were wrong.

Your bounty now in three separate bags, you have delicious incentive to return to the madness that is a Cape Cod cottage on a rainy day.

Preventing any skirmishes, you cut the lobster rolls in half so everyone can taste one of each.

The least expensive, $7.99 option*, despite the added bonus of the hot dog roll being toasted, got the fewest accolades.

The toasted bun lobster roll from Nauset Market.

The $8.49** lobster roll, though bursting with meat and light on the mayonnaise, was not, the Russian opinion aside, “the best lobster roll on the Cape. It was, however, very good.

The Russians didn’t say that there would be anything “green” in the “best lobster roll on the Cape.” Not that I’m complaining.

The clear winner was the priciest at $10***, but the added two dollars resulted in a lobster roll bursting with meat and though a tad heavy on the mayonnaise,  the best of the three.

A bit heavy on the mayo, but made up for by the abundance of fresh lobster meat.

By the time the lobster rolls are consumed, the rain will have stopped. The doors will open and the soothing and constant sound of a basketball clanging against a backboard will replace the inside board game bickering. Before long it will be time to ponder a pre-dinner Cape Codder.

*Nauset Market, 5030 State Highway, Eastham, MA

**Maurice’s Market, 80 State Highway, Wellfleet, MA

***Young’s Fish Market, Rock Harbor Rd, Orleans, MA

Vodka Amongst the Cranberries

23 Aug

The Cape Codder

I have no insecurities about imbibing a cocktail with a pinkish hue. Not if the pink comes from a substantial splash of cranberry juice—the dark red of the juice turning pink when mixing with the spirit of choice: vodka. And especially if that vodka is a gift from our Russian allies. Add a few ice cubes and a slice of lime and after a few sips, any doubts I might have had about my manhood and those stone age stereotypes regarding “girlie” cocktails immediately disappear.

Still, there are times when vodka and cranberry juice taste better than others. And it has nothing to do with the vodka or the juice.


It has to do with where you drink it.

Children’s Menu: Circa 2012

22 Aug

Why do children have all the good choices?

Coppertoned Eggplant

14 Aug

I don’t know what is more abundant, the summer eggplant crop or the recipes on what to do with all of them. And here I am joining the fray with one of my own.

This one is not unfamiliar. It’s the summer version of eggplant parmigiana. The difference between the summer and non-summer is that the eggplant is  grilled as opposed to the traditional egg-dipped, breaded and then fried (though my non-summer version is baked, never fried, but that’s another story).


2 medium to large eggplants-sliced into ½  inch rounds*.

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella

½ cup of grated parmigiana or pecorino cheese

4-6 cups of marinara sauce (recipe below**)

6 fresh basil leaves

Salt and crushed red pepper to taste.

*You could peel the eggplant if the tough skin bothers you. I peel them when I am making eggplant parmigiana in the oven. But I think charring the skins adds to the summery flavor of this dish.

After slicing the eggplants, sprinkle with salt (Kosher or sea salt preferred) and coat with olive oil.

If using a gas grill, turn it on and warm it up. Using a charcoal grill is a bit trickier, but the results will be more satisfying. The eggplant will gain a smoky flavor that can’t be replicated with the gas grill. The problem is trying to keep the eggplants from falling through the cooking grate as a sacrifice to the charcoal gods. You’ll need one of those vegetable and/or fish baskets to go over the original grate. I have yet to find one I really like so I tend to cook vegetables on the gas grill. And even when grilling on a gas grill, I usually lose a few through the grates no matter how careful I am.

Grill the eggplant until it has that nice, even Coppertone tan. Tan lines, in this case, are more than acceptable. The char lines from the grill grate add to the beauty of the eggplant’s appearance.

Tan lines accepted.

Remove the eggplant from the grill and let them cool while you put the parmigiana together.

Copptertoned eggplant

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a 9 inch, by 13 inch baking dish, (or something similar) spread about a cup and a half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Arrange the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, add another half cup of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle half of mozzarella over all.

Building the parmigiana

Add another layer of eggplant slices and repeat with the sauce and mozzarella. Continue until you have used all the eggplant. Make sure you’ve saved some sauce and mozzarella to coat the top of the last layer.

Scatter the fresh basil leaves evenly over the sauce and mozzarella and then sprinkle the parmigiana cheese over all.

Put the dish in the oven and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and serve warm.


Coppertoned eggplant parmigiana


**Simple marinara Sauce recipe

1 28 ounce can of good Italian whole peeled tomatoes

3 tbs olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped. (The finer the slice or chop, the more garlicky the flavor).

¼ tsp of crushed red pepper

4-6 fresh basil leaves

Salt to taste


Empty the tomatoes in a bowl and crush with your hands.

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and heat to medium-high.

Add the garlic and cook until very slightly browned.

Toss in the tomatoes.

Add the crushed red pepper and basil and a moderate sprinkling of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Marinara sauce can be made well ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen and then thawed when needed.

Red Sauce Revisited

8 Aug


2335 Arthur Avenue

The Bronx

There was a restaurant in the Bronx. It was a small, red sauce Italian joint that didn’t take reservations. You couldn’t pay with a credit card either. And there was no menu. When seats opened up, you squeezed into a table, oftentimes sharing with an extended family from Jersey who remembered the place from the “old days.” One of the two waiters would come over. Usually it was the one who was missing a thumb.  “Whaddya want?” He would brusquely ask before you were even settled.

“Whaddya got?” was the usual response.

“We got baked clams, stuffed artichoke, veal marsala, veal francese, chicken scarpariello. We got steak, linguini and calamari. We got mussels, ziti marinara, rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe. We got zuppa di pesce. We got steak…” And it went on and on. The menu recited.

“Do you have veal chops.”

“Veal chops?” The waiter who was missing a thumb stared dully. “Lemme check.”

He would disappear into the kitchen.

A few moments later he would reappear. “Yeah, we got ‘em. You start with a salad?”

Of course we would.

Wine was served in juice glasses poured from an over sized jug behind the small bar.

The salad came. Our group shared the large platter of iceberg lettuce redolent with red wine vinegar, speckled with onions, out of season tomatoes, and a smattering of provolone cheese.

The place was filling up. It was cold outside and no one wanted to wait in the cold. The bar area was packed. There were people overhanging our table. Our stuffed artichokes came. The eyes of those waiting were upon us…and the artichokes. We didn’t care. Let them wait.

“Hey, can we get a piece of your bread while we wait?” a wise guy snickered, his hand moving to our bread basket.

“Don’t be an idiot, Ralph,” the woman with him with the big hair and overpowering perfume spat back at him.

“Hey, this is a family place. We’re all family. What’s wrong with breaking bread with brothers?”

“Jerk off,” she muttered, rolling her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said sympathetically to us while her companion continued to grin like an idiot.

We polished off the artichokes easily, soaking up the olive oil dampened breadcrumbs with the crusty bread from the aforementioned bread basket. Butter never accompanied it—unless someone with no class or dignity stooped so low as to request it.

An enormous platter of linguini with calamari in a rich red sauce came next along with two dinosaur-sized veal chops with grilled onions and peppers. The calamari was fork tender; the sauce tangy with tomato and red wine. The veal chop was cooked to medium rare perfection; a slight char on the outside; the juices running from it with every forkful.

We finished everything.

The waiter minus one thumb returned. “Anything else? Some espresso?”

We needed the espresso to revive us after all that food. Clear glasses with stove-top espresso appeared along with a bottle of sambuca. The coffee and the liqueur combining to act as a jolting digestif.

“We’ll take the check,” we said to our waiter the next time he scurried past.

I would watch as he conferred with the bartender who wrote down something on a small scratch pad and handed it back to the waiter.

“$65,” the waiter said, not showing us what he held in his hand. There were no words on the piece of paper from what I could see; just check marks and cross outs, like a sloppy tic tac toe game.

We had no complaints. We paid and left a generous tip. Gathering our stuff we pushed through the overflowing crowd that was now ready to pounce on the seats we just deserted.

That was a long time ago. During the restaurant’s glory years. But nothing stays the same. The crowds got more unruly. One time a strange hand even reached into the bread basket. They soon opened up another room upstairs to handle the overflow. The platters got a little smaller, the calamari was not as tender, the red sauce not so special, and the number barked by a waiter—the one missing a thumb retired to the Jersey shore—kept going up. And up. It was time to say goodbye. Or at least take a leave of absence.

The divorce lasted almost twenty years. But I was ready to reunite. To make amends. To give Dominick’s, the red sauce joint in the Bronx, another chance. And what better way to experience nostalgia than with two old friends who I spent many an evening with at the same tables over twenty years ago.

But before entering, I noticed something unusual, at least for Dominick’s. It was a menu. A big one. And it was on prominent display right next to the entrance. I scanned it. There were even prices attached to the Italian-American classics I was very familiar with.

The Menu on the door.

I was a few minutes early. I ordered a drink at the bar and marveled at how deserted the small dining room was. Only a couple of the tables were occupied.

I sipped my drink and tried to recall if I was with Gerry or Paulie D, the two friends I was waiting for, the time Mayor Ed Koch and his entourage were hustled immediately to a large table. There was no waiting for hizzoner.

And, on this day, when my friends arrived there was no wait for the three of us either. Maybe change is good, I thought.

Paulie D, who I hadn’t seen for probably as long as it had been since I had been to Dominick’s, was the impetus for this reunion. He, also after a long hiatus, had returned to Dominick’s recently and relayed to Gerry that it was as good as ever. Gerry, a founding member of the Chow City group, whose adventures have been and continue to be chronicled on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, passed the word to me and our dinner was arranged. Not only could I catch up with Paulie D, but I would also see if my youthful infatuation with Bronx red sauce stood the test of time.

A waiter approached us at the bar. Despite his complete lack of hair and that he was now wearing glasses, I recognized him from the “old days.” He had both thumbs and unlike his former colleague, did more than grunt when taking our orders. He shook my hand. “Good to see you again,” the waiter, whose name was Patsy, said as he looked into my eyes as if I were a still a regular.

We shared a long table and ordered more drinks. Wine, I was surprised to see, was served now in a stemmed glass. I handled it gingerly.

“So what are we gonna have?” Patsy asked, leaning over the table. There might have been a menu on display outside the restaurant, but we weren’t getting any table side. That was encouraging.

No one said anything.  But I, for one, had to hear it. So I opened my mouth. “Whaddya got?” I asked.

And then the recitation began: “We got mussels, baked clams, calamari. We got veal marsala, veal francese. We got chicken scarpariello. We got steak…”

“What about stuffed peppers?” Paulie D inquired.

Patsy nodded.

“Chicken francese?” Gerry asked.

“Sure, we can make it.”

“And ziti marinara,” Paulie D added.

“Anything else?”

I looked at Gerry and then at Paulie D.

“Let’s get the mussels,” Gerry said.

I thanked Gerry for not neglecting them.

“You gonna start with a salad?” Patsy asked, but he really didn’t have to.

“You gonna have salad?”

And then Patsy, who wrote none of our order down, departed.

Bread was brought to the table; crusty pane di casa, probably from Addeo’s bakery across the street. I noticed that along with the bread, there was a small plate with individual plastic packets of butter. And we didn’t even have to ask for it. I had to rethink my earlier belief about change.  Maybe it wasn’t as good as I originally thought.

The salad was as I remembered it: iceberg lettuce, onions, a few unripe tomatoes, and slices of provolone all in a vinegary dressing. The platter was just enough for the three of us.

Next to arrive were the peppers. On the plate were two extra large bell peppers stuffed with seasoned ground beef and smothered with a chunky tomato sauce.

Paulie D, who, before we ordered, reminded us that he was a “picky eater.”  In Paulie D’s case, that meant no seafood, no chicken on the bone, not even steak. But stuffed peppers were fair game and knowing Gerry and I would be eating the mussels, we left most of the peppers to him. Paulie D did himself proud; devouring one of the monsters effortlessly.

The remains of a stuffed pepper…smothered in a red sauce with a little penne.

The big platter of mussels took up most of the room at our table. Gerry and I worked methodically through the mound, plucking the sweet tiny bodies from their shells and swirling them in the garlicky, wine infused marinara sauce.

When the ziti arrived, penne on this night, I piled a few of the mussels on top of it, creating my own makeshift “ziti” and mussels.

Mussels…marinara of course.

Even the lemon-tinged chicken francese was soon swimming in red sauce, but I didn’t’ care.

There was bread left over. I broke off a piece and soaked it the soup of sauce that remained on my plate. And then I did it again—until all the sauce on my plate was gone.

Patsy returned. “You want espresso? Coffee?”

I thought for a moment. In the “old days” I could still fall asleep after a late night espresso. No more. And I wasn’t alone. None of us needed coffee.

Patsy conferred with the bartender and returned with the scratch pad scribbled with the unintelligible tic tac toe scrawl.

“$120,” he said to us.

I quickly tried to calculate what the rate of inflation of Italian red sauce joints in the Bronx might be since Ed Koch was the Mayor. The challenge being too much for my red sauce inebriated brain, I gave up that idea quickly and just decided to pay my share without thinking any more on it.

We rose and headed for the exit. The busboys quickly cleared our mess, but there was no urgent demand for our table.

Patsy waited by the door. “Hope to see you soon, gentlemen,” he said, seemingly looking me in the eye. There were no questions asked about my long absence. Even if I was totally wrong, and Patsy’s heartfelt greeting and hand shake were all just an act to suck me back to Dominick’s and its addictive red sauce, which I noticed was now sold in local grocery stores by the jar, I tried not to believe it. In my somewhat twisted, ego maniacal mind I sensed that maybe my presence was missed at this place.

Outside, Arthur Avenue was as quiet as Dominick’s was inside.

“It’s Monday,” Paulie D said. “That’s the secret. Come on a Monday and you’ll have the place to yourself.”

I’d have to remember that, I told myself.

Pig Prejudice Redux

3 Aug

It’s tough to be a pig in Harlem as evidenced by A Little Love for the Pig (Please) and Pig Prejudice Revisited, 

Despite the chill, the mighty swine abides.

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