Archive | September, 2012

Name That Place

28 Sep

Now that we have turned the page on summer and everyone is back to school, work, and other serious stuff, I felt it was time to resume the game that appears semi-frequently here on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, the ever popular: Name That Place.

And I’m going to get right down to it. Even though all of you might be a little rusty from the summer off, I’m not giving out any cupcakes.  Get this one right and you go right into the top echelon, the “most definitely knows his/her stuff” column of New York City foodie knowledge rankings.

Take a look at the photo below.

In what eating establishment(s) might you find the bizarre image above?

Because I know I’ve started you off with a rough one, I’ll add another photo which may help you or just add to your frustration.

From the looks of the photo above, someone couldn’t wait to bite into that perfectly formed slab of fried meat,  a specialty of the place(s) I challenge you to name.

As always, read my words carefully, there might be other hints hidden there. Or there might not.

Tune in here on Monday where the identities will be revealed.

The Happiest of All Hours: Jimmy’s Corner

25 Sep

Jimmy’s Corner
140 W. 44th St

There was a time, during my first decade in New York City, when I would wander the Times Square area. Maybe I would take in a two dollar double feature on 42nd Street. It could be a horror bill like Mark of the Devil: Part Two (“banned in 10 countries”) paired with The Last House on the Left (the original), soft core porn Emmanuelle 2 with The Cheerleaders (“They don’t bring it on, they take it off”), or kung fu epics like Five Deadly Venoms and Drunken Master.

Always plenty of entertainment options on 42nd Street.

There were a few bars in the area including one with an outstanding juke box that played the music of Fela Kuti, not far from where that funky Nigerian band leader was celebrated in a Broadway musical, and had bawdy female bartenders who had tattoos a generation before multiple tattoos became a requirement for a coed to even consider pledging at a Sarah Lawrence sorority.

Always plenty of leg room at the grindhouses.

That bar is long gone—disappeared even before the grindhouses where I watched the abovementioned movies were sanitized. But there is a remnant in Times Square that does remain from that era. Another bar. This one also had a memorable juke box though the music tended more toward soul, jazz, blues and R&B. And after a recent visit, I’m happy to report that the tunes on the jukebox in Jimmy’s Corner are still magnificent.

Some of the tracks from Jimmy’s juke box.

“Cheaper to Keep Her,” by Johnny Taylor was playing when I walked in. Knowing that Jimmy’s can get crowded, I stopped in before the after work rush and had my pick of seats at the bar. Jimmy’s doesn’t have any advertised happy hour and needn’t. The prices for his drinks will always make one happy. What made me happy was the $4 pint of Sam Adams poured for me.

I hadn’t been to Jimmy’s in years and I noticed that, since my last visit, there was probably not an inch of space on the walls and behind the bars that now hadn’t been covered with photos of boxers, fight posters, framed newspaper articles, and anything else to do with the “sweet science,” sports or Jimmy Glenn himself, the owner of Jimmy’s and a former boxing trainer.

Wise words.

That I could actually see the walls was also something that had changed since my last visit. Back in the day, before the smoking ban in bars, the place was so thick with it, only night vision goggles would penetrate the haze and, unlike now, the non-smoker needed to go outside into the cold for a puff of pure Times Square oxygen.

Does DeNiro count as an ex-boxer?

The phone rang over the music while I sipped my beer. “Oh hi Jimmy,” I overheard the bartender say into the phone. Knowing the Jimmy was most likely Jimmy Glenn.

“We’re running out of the Belvedere,” the bartender said. “Only two bottles left.”

Jimmy Glenn is not a bar owner in abstentia. He is a constant presence at the bar. I remember once when a softball team I was playing with had its end of season party at Jimmy’s. We had the narrow back room to ourselves and had food brought in. Jimmy would come back frequently to make sure we had everything we needed; that we were being well taken care of. As I recall, we were.

Jimmy and a playful friend.

“No, it’s quiet,” the bartender said into the phone. “No rush, Jimmy. Take your time. I’ll see you later.” And then he hung up.

I got up and headed to the men’s room. Just outside the door was a framed fading article by Daily News’ columnist Mike Lupica written in 1978. I read the headline and wondered how Spinks (Leon or Michael) could bring hope to Times Square. I didnt’ read the article to find out.

Hope?

I was almost done with my beer. Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was playing “Blue Ammons” on the juke box.  I drained the pint, gathered my stuff, and thanked the bartender on my way out.

Jimmy’s Corner: 2012

Once outside I walked, maneuvering between neon-ogling tourists, to Broadway.  As I made my way to the subway at 42nd Street, I passed both Mickey and Minnie Mouse and before I entered the station, Cookie Monster was there to wave goodbye.

The Uptown Burger Deluxe

21 Sep

There was a time when the type of beef used in making a basic diner/coffee shop burger was never disclosed. We didn’t know if the diner ground the meat or not. We didn’t know if they made the patties themselves or if they were pre-made. The beef patty—or should I say the slab of chopped beef—was tossed onto a hot griddle, or, in some cases, a grill, and cooked until done. “How do you want it cooked?” was never asked.

Once done, some cheese (for a few coins more) was melted onto the meat. The patty was then was put onto a bun with a leaf of iceberg lettuce, and a slice of tasteless, out-of-season tomato. In various instances, a pickle and grilled or raw onions were also added to the bun. The burger was assembled onto a plate surrounded by French fries. This was the prototypical “Burger Deluxe” found at countless diners, luncheonettes, and coffee shops when I first moved to New York. And I ate at a lot of them.

Many food folks these days, when given their weekly—or monthly—burger allowance, would rather spend it at a place where the beef is derived from animals that eat only grass, never consume hormones or supplements, and are treated with the utmost kindness before being slaughtered. And I can’t blame them. In most instances I would rather travel to a shack, bistro, or joint for a high quality, organic, grass fed, humane, rare or bare, juicy five napkin burger. But sometimes nostalgia gets the better of me and I just can’t help myself. That’s when I yearn for the “burger deluxe.” And, thankfully, they are still out there.

There’s a soul classic called Across 110th Street, by the great Bobby Womack. And north of that street, from river to river, is where you will have your pick of a mini-chain of diners called  Jimbo’s Hamburger Palace. At Jimbo’s, the “burger deluxe” is a mainstay on the menu.

Jimbo’s Hamburger Palace at 284 Lenox Avenue

Jumbo’s on 116th Street, not to be confused with Jimbo’s, and how could you?

To satisfy my nostalgia craving, I found myself at the Jimbo’s on Lenox Avenue across from Harlem Hospital. I sat at the pristine counter and, not bothering with  pondering the sandwich wraps, gyros, or delicious breakfast options, went directly to the cheeseburger deluxe. The waitress who took my order did not ask me how I wanted it cooked. She didn’t even ask what type of cheese I wanted. She only asked if I wanted everything on it which I assumed were the various vegetable condiments. I said I did.

From my seat I watched as a generous patty/slab of meat was tossed onto the hot griddle and then covered with a bowl to steam heat it through.

It wasn’t long before the cheese was added—a thin slice of bright orange American. The bun was assembled by another cook, a slather of mayo, iceberg lettuce, a few grilled onions and two slices of an under-ripe tomato.

It took enormous self control, but I was able to keep my mouth shut.

The fries were frozen, dumped into a deep fryer and then scattered around the burger. Ketchup came in a red squeeze bottle. I decorated the burger and the fries with it. Though if I had been asked, I would have said “medium rare,” in regards to how I wanted it cook, but really, it didn’t matter. The meat was cooked the way a burger deluxe should be cooked; juices running from it dampening the bun, the ketchup, tomato, and thin layer of mayonnaise all melding together to form a perfect hot mess.

The fries, however, were another story. Maybe my memory of past burger deluxe experiences have dimmed so much I forgot how tasteless the fries were. Or maybe it’s just that I doused them so thoroughly with ketchup it never really mattered how they tasted. How could fries like these make a burger deluxe? And then I realized that of course they did. That the starchy blandness of the frozen French fries bolstered the already intense flavor of the meat—they were the perfect accompaniment.

Deluxe!

 

 

New Year’s Penicillin

18 Sep

I have found myself spending much of my time in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx lately. Usually I’m sitting at a small ball field just next to the Major Deegan Expressway watching baseball with the incessant hum of traffic as background noise. But the other day I took a break between games and wandered around the bustling enclave around Broadway and 231st Street under the tracks of the number 1 train.

In a neighborhood where Spanish is the predominate language heard on the streets and rice and beans joints the typical cuisine, I was surprised to notice a Kosher deli named Loeser’s squeezed amongst the Latin-tinged outlets. I took a closer look at the deli and on its window  accolades such as the “best pastrami in NYC” were plastered along with the proclamation of a 50th Anniversary. So even though the aroma of rotisserie chicken from one of the said rice and beans joints was seriously tempting me, I felt I had to pay tribute to a place with such fierce survival skills.

The man behind the counter was the same man in many of the pictures on the wall posing with family and luminaries from the Bronx. His name was Fredy.

“How about some pastrami,” he said when I entered the barren, narrow time warp of a deli.

I looked around. Much of the signage was ancient. The evening was cool. The summer was turning to a crisp autumn.

I noticed the “Jewish penicillin” sign. “I’ll take the chicken soup,” I said.

“And pastrami?”

“No, just the soup.”

“Potato salad?”

I shook my head.

Maybe some potato pancakes or stuffed cabbage?

“No thanks.”

“What about a knish?”

I thought for a moment.

“Okay, a knish,” I said.

“You want mustard?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll slice it into the knish,” Fredy said. “Take a seat.”

The soup was brought to me in a plastic take out container with a few slices of rye bread. The knish came on a separate paper plate.

I sipped at the hot soup, moistening the rye bread in the broth before eating it. No one came into the deli while I was eating. Fredy was busy preparing a large turkey dinner, pouring brown gravy over it.

After finishing the soup, I wrapped up the knish, paid Fredy and then returned to the cacophony on 231st street and beyond. I caught a whiff of the intoxicating aroma of the rotisserie chicken from the rice and beans joint before it was overpowered by exhaust from a city bus. The hum of traffic on the Deegan had gone up a few decibels. It was getting dark and cooler. The game was about the start and the lights I noticed were on; the small field now illuminated. I sat and took out the knish.  It was still warm. I bit into it. The potato filling was moist and, just as Fredy promised, there was a smear of spicy deli mustard at its core.

Loeser’s Deli
214 W. 231st St
Bronx

Big D’s Gift to the Big Apple

14 Sep

Here in New York we can get ribs that claim influences from cities  from Memphis to Kansas City. We can get chicken fried like they do in Kentucky and Maryland.   But there’s only one thing we can get from the Big D that we can’t from any other place. Something so unique; so tasty it will even let you forgive that city for hoisting “America’s Team” on the country.

We forgive you Jerry.

J J you can keep the Cowboys as Dallas’s team as long New York gets  to keep Dallas  BBQ .

And it’s not the bbq that makes Dallas BBQ the institution that it has become in New York.

Scan those starters. Bypass the “Crispy Shrimp, ” the “new” “Angry Shrimp,” the “Crabcakes, and stop right there on number4; at the dish that immortalized Dallas BBQ forever.  The magnificent mountain that is the “Onion Loaf.”

That right there is what I’m talking about.

Start picking the mound apart with your fingers. Get your hands greasy. Don’t worry, moist towelettes are thoughtfully provided by management. Ketchup? No need.

Go ahead, finish it all. Sure you’ll pay for your indulgence within moments after scooping up the last sweet greasy strip of deep fried onion, but the discomfort you might feel will be quickly forgotten. Give it a few days and you’ll be jonesing for your next Dallas BBQ onion loaf (best in NYC)  fix.

 

 

 

 

 

The Poor Man’s Pupusas of Port Chester

11 Sep

El Tesoro II

14 South Main St.
Port Chester

When Gerry sent out the email revealing his choice for our most recent adventure, there were doubts among us of its authenticity. His first obviously mock pick, for some reason known only to Gerry, was a fictional restaurant in Brewster, Massachusetts. Even Zio, who has been slow, as he is on most things, in recognizing Gerry’s much too subtle sense of humor, knew that we weren’t schlepping five hours to Cape Cod for dinner.

A few days later, Gerry came up with another destination. This one, El Tesoro II, in Port Chester, New York, I knew was genuine. Zio, however, had his doubts. He responded in an email writing the following: “I take it this is one of Gerry’s confusing attempts at humor. If I can’t get there with my senior metro card I will be relaxed about sitting this one out.”

Port Chester is approximately 24 miles from Manhattan. Gerry has had us put on the mileage before; taking us to Yonkers, Valhalla, White Plains, Fort Lee, Jersey City, and, worst of all, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. When it’s Gerry’s pick, we come to expect to battle the rush hour traffic leaving the city. Apparently, Zio wasn’t going to take it anymore, yet when the day arrived, his attitude changed and he not only agreed to travel to Port Chester, but to chauffeur me up there with him.

Rick, however, who lives roughly 77 miles from Port Chester, was a game day drop out. Attributing his cancellation to a late work-related meeting, Rick needed no excuse. He was more than justified in bowing out—Gerry’s cruel joke could be taken only so far.

Zio and I expected a long haul up to Port Chester but as it turned out during this rush hour, there was no rush. The roads were surprisingly clear and we made it to the stark streets of Port Chester several minutes before the scheduled meeting time.

Those few minutes gave Zio and I time to take a look at the nearby eating offerings of Port Chester. Besides El Tesoro II, which claimed two Central American countries; Guatemala and Salvador as the cuisines featured, there were a couple of Peruvian diners, a chili dog dive, and, across the street where a monstrous, correctional facility-like mall stood, there was an Applebee’s and a Buffalo Wild Wings.

Two of Port Chester’s inviting eateries.

We passed a window where numerous colorful parrots frolicked at the Bird House of Westchester, and then entered El Tesoro. There were birds inside the tropically adorned restaurant as well, but these were chickens and they were stuffed.

One of the several stuffed hens at El Tesoro.

Our waitress, who Eugene, executing one of his lamer lines, asked if she claimed Italian heritage, revealed that she was, in fact, not from Guatemala or Salvador, but that she was from Honduras. And if there was a difference in the cuisines of the three Central American countries, she wasn’t telling us.

Guatemala or Salvador? Which is it?

From the Salvador-labeled section of the menu were the well-known pupusas which we celebrated many years ago at a restaurant in Washington Heights that still survives called: La Cabana Salvadorena.  (See Pupusa Love). As I vaguely recall, the pupusas were worth loving there and we had to try a few at El Tesoro.

No love for the pupusas of El Tesoro.

Also from the Salvador starters section were the tamales while, representing Guatemala, were the rellenitos, which Gerry bravely ordered. Our waitress described them as platanos (plantains) stuffed with beans. What she didn’t say what that the rellenito was of the sweet variety, deep fried and then sprinkled with granulated sugar? Even with the presence of the beans, you really just wanted to take the thing and dunk it in your coffee; it was that sweet.

Maybe Dunkin Donuts should consider adding the rellenito to their doughnut menu?

Eugene ordered the garanchas; tiny tortillas topped with beef, cheese and the Guatemalan version of pico de gallo, which, after sampling one, did not live up to the more familiar Mexican version.

Garanchas

As we proceeded to sample the food, what we tasted, unfortunately were mediocre replicas of the major influences from the north (Mexico) and the south (South America).

The carne guisada I ordered, familiar to me at other Latin restaurants as beef stew, was, here, more like ropa vieja; shredded beef in a very bland tomato sauce.

“It’s mushy,” Zio commented about the tamale. “I like Mexican tamales better.” The tamale was dense with corn masa and stuffed with pork but Zio’s description was accurate. It was mushy.

Salvadorian tamale

Mike from Yonkers did not expect potatoes added to the rice in his pollo saltado, the Guatemalan attempt at the Peruvian specialty. “Too much starch,” he said and, in a rare display, put his fork down well before his usual meticulous cleaning his plate.

Pollo Saltado

Zio had ordered the pollo frito in what the menu described as “our secret seasoning.” He offered a wing and/or leg of the chicken to any takers, but there were none. “The fried chicken was really dry,” he confessed to me on the way back to the city.

I’m not sure what was expected of the chile relleno Gerry ordered, but again, what I tasted of it was a poor man’s version of the Mexican dish. The flavor, or lack therof, just not what any of us were accustomed to.

Things weren’t all lackluster at El Tesoro. The Famosa beers were cold and delicious. The service was cheery. Even the incessant screeching of a toddler added life to the otherwise drab Port Chester experience and, not that it was what I was seeking, made me feel right at home.

Fusion Files: The Not So Well Being Edition

7 Sep

It’s my somber duty to report that the well being of Dino’s Well Being Fusion Deli & Cafe is not very good.

But Dino’s unfortunate demise had nothing to do with its diverse menu where you could order a “chicken Seasor wrap” the “deluxe udon,” or the “bibimbab,” paired with a “fried shrimp po boy.”

Fusion options like those documented at Dino’s are irresistible and certainly well intentioned to boost one’s well being. There had to be another reason why Dino’s went kaput. And I discovered it when a man, who noticed me taking a picture of the Well Being Cafe, came up to me and, with a sad, but knowing smile on his face, shook his head and said: “That place is spooked.”

Sometimes if a place is spooked, no matter how much well being it has, it’s just got no chance.

Today’s Special: Back to School Edition

4 Sep

I’ve got a doctorate from this school.

My diploma.

Sadly the best schools close for the season.

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