It’s been downgraded to a lechonera.
Time to remove the plywood and roast some pork.
I hope all my friends and followers are safe and moving forward post-hurricane.
I was taking pictures of the scaffold-shrouded exterior of Paris Blues when a man’s head popped out of the door.
“Come on in,” the man said to me.
“I plan to,” I responded.
And after taking a few more pictures, I walked into the dark bar.
I took a seat and noticed a third person hunched at the end of the bar near the door sleeping comfortably.
It had been several years since I’d been to Paris Blues, but not much had changed inside except for the small stage where, at the time I walked in, another man was fiddling with a drum set.
Live music was new—at least to me. The man who had gestured me inside was now behind the bar. He mumbled something about the other man up on the stage with the drum set.
“Taught him everything he knows about drums,” the bartender, who told me his name was Jer, short for Jerry, said.
“You play?” I asked.
“Used to,” he said.
The younger man up on the stage snorted and soon their conversation turned to the Jets.
“They lost because they were playing scared,” the younger man said.
“No, they weren’t scared,” Jer said, ‘They lost, that’s all.” And that effectively ended the conversation.
A super-sized television set behind the stage that I knew had not been there when I visited last was on to a late afternoon rerun of Bonanza.
The beer options, according to Jer, included Budweiser, Corona, “Heiny,” and Sugar Hill. I was in Harlem. I thought it only fitting to choose the latter.
After serving me the beer, Jer moved around the bar and roused the sleeping man who silently got up and went outside.
Paris Blues, Jer told me, had been open for 43 years.
“How many of those have you been working here?” I asked.
“’bout 30 or so,” he answered.
I really didn’t know why it had taken me so long to return to Paris Blues. Trombonist Frank Lacey, who I once saw perform with trumpet player, Roy Hargrove on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was scheduled to perform later that evening.
“You get lots of tourists here?” I asked as I sipped more of my beer.
Jer nodded. “Japanese, Germans, busloads of ‘em. They’ll be in here tonight.”
On the television, a rainmaker had brought rain to the Ponderosa and a little girl was healed of a television sickness. The Cartwright men all smiled at the end and then the familiar theme song played.
I finished my beer and thanked Jer.
“Come on back,” he said as I was leaving.
I told him I would.
The man who had been sleeping inside was sitting on a bench outside the bar. I nodded at him and headed down the street. It was beginning to rain in Harlem. After about a block, I turned around. I could see the man on the bench slowly get up from his seat. I watched for a moment as he walked back into Paris Blues.
2021 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd
The man in the red nylon sweat suit smoking a cigarette saw me peering into Cheung Wong Kitchen as I waited for Zio to waddle over from a half block away. I could see a bubbling cauldron of congee through one window while in the other hung roast ducks and chickens.
“This place is the best,” the man said to me as Zio joined me. “For five bucks, you’ll eat like a king.”
There were only a few tables inside the small, somewhat dingy restaurant and most were occupied. One big round table was empty except for a carton of green beans that were about to be trimmed for cooking. It was starting to rain. There were other places we could go that had more space and maybe better, more comfortable accommodations.
I looked at Zio. He was thinking the same thing I was. We were on Allen Street in Chinatown, a few blocks east of Canal; comfort and space just were not the point.
“Let’s go in,” he said resolutely.
The lone waitress placed two settings on the round table where she was also trimming the green beans. We glanced at the menu. There were traditional Cantonese items on one side of the menu; chicken with black bean sauce, roast pork lo mein, sweet and sour shrimp, etc—most priced more than five dollars.
The other side of the menu, however, were the “discounted” items—the dishes for royalty, which in this case included Zio and I. There was congee, noodle soups, Hong Kong style lo mein, and a two page spread of “rice plates.”
I zeroed in quickly on the rice plates and was intrigued by something called “double favor” on rice. I’m very used to misspellings on menus and never hold that against a restaurant. I see no correlation between a few spelling mistakes and good food. I assumed here that “favor” was meant to mean “flavor.” Still, when the waitress came over to take our order I had to ask.
“Double favor is chicken and duck, or pork and beef,” she said, in, frankly, very good English.
I understood her answer to mean that it was a choice of two meats on rice. So I had to make a decision. The soy sauce chicken that I saw hanging in the window looked tempting. I paired it with what is usually an old reliable at a Cantonese place: roast pork.
Zio bypassed the meat and decided on fish stew with curry sauce on the rice.
I suggested to Zio that we should try something else on the menu. The additional item would increase our budget to around $7 as opposed to $5, but I didn’t think Zio would care as long as it involved more food for him.
And as I suspected, he endorsed my suggestion of beef stew with wonton noodle soup. But there was a stipulation.
“Shouldn’t we just spring and get one each. It’s only $5.50.” he whined, thinking I was being even cheaper with my money than I normally am and worrying that maybe it wouldn’t be enough for our collective king-sized appetites.
I told him to look around at some of the bowls others in the restaurant were slurping from.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “One should be enough.”
And it was more than enough. The big bowl was brimming with fat encased beef in a rich meaty broth, thick with noodles and small tender pieces of winter melon.
While we ate the soup, the waitress took a few more minutes at our table to continue trimming the beans and then left, returning quickly, even before we could finish the soup, with our rice platters.
The chicken and pork were chopped into slices and arranged neatly over the rice. Both were served at room temperature; the chicken incredibly moist and easily pulled from the bone and cartilage, while the pork tasted almost like jerky, but subtly sweet from the hoisin sauce. This favor, or should I say flavor, was addictive.
I worked through the mound of food in front of me methodically, matched only by Zio’s devotion to the chunks of white fish, fried and smothered in a yellow curry sauce.
Eventually it was all gone with the exception of a few spoonfuls of broth from the beef stew soup. Our check came. We ate $7 worth of food each. If $5 was enough for a king, what did the additional two dollars make the two of us if not kings? The man in the red nylon sweat suit was no longer outside to ask.
Cheung Wong Kitchen Inc
38A Allen Street
As I said in these pages about a month ago (New Year’s Penicillin), I’ve been spending a lot of time just off the 230th Street exit of the Major Deegan, sitting on crooked aluminum bleacher seats watching baseball on a small field. The field borders the Deegan and the hum of traffic is a constant.
In between games or while waiting for the games to begin, I’ve become very familiar with the Kingsbridge neighborhood that surrounds the field. A café con leche at Malecon Restaurant has become a weekly treat and as I reported here, I “discovered” a 50 year old Kosher deli named Loeser’s where the penicillin includes chicken broth, noodles, or maybe a matzoh ball.
More recently, as I waited for the games to begin, I happened on another place. Just a few paces from the 50th police precinct and across the street from the Nice Guys Car Wash, I found a small, shed of a diner called Christos Gyro & Souvlaki.
Christos, I learned, has been at its tiny location on Kingsbridge Road the past eight years—at least that was what the owner, Christopher, a.k.a Christos, said to me as he also proudly handed me a laminated Daily News article about his restaurant where that newspaper rated his gyro the best in the city.
The weather was changing. An Indian summer day was quickly turning into a brisk autumn one. I’d have to take the Daily News’ word on the gyro. I wanted something else. I didn’t need New Year’s penicillin, but the close Greek equivalent would do very well.
“You want the avgolemono?” Christos asked.
“Yes I do,” was my definitive response.
“Moussaka,” I said, not caring that I might miss the beginning of the game.
“Very good choice.”
The bowl of the yellow-tinged, lemon chicken soup was steaming. Spherical dots of orzo floated within along with slivers of chicken. The distinct citrus snap of lemon meshed magically with the hearty, comforting chicken broth.
I crumbled a few saltines into the bowl and slurped. It wasn’t long before the bowl was empty.
Moussaka awaited, paired with a simple Greek salad, pita bread and a generous bowl of tzatziki. I dipped the pita into the creamy, garlicky yogurt…and then I double dipped.
The half inch of béchamel sauce on top of the ground beef and eggplant was airy, the filling scented with cinnamon. I alternated between bites of the moussaka and dips of the tzatziki until all was gone.
Christos came to clear my table. “You did good,” he said.
“I know,” I answered, happy to have made him proud.
As I waited to pay, I noticed a tray of baklava and remembered reading in the Daily News piece that Christos’ wife made them fresh daily. I pointed to it. Christos’ son was working the cashier—Christo’s was most certainly a family affair. “To go?” he asked.
I nodded and took the bagged baklava back to the ball field. I devoured it watching baseball on the bleacher seats while like a continuous loop, the music of the Major Deegan played on and on.
“I was going to pick a Bolivian place,” Eugene said, “but I thought you guys didn’t want me to.”
We had been to Latin restaurants the past three outings, so when Eugene mentioned the unnamed Bolivian place as a potential destination, we gently suggested another cuisine. Eugene took our suggestion to heart and came up with an alternate pick.
“Why, out of the thousands of falafel joints in this town, did you decide on Amir’s?” I asked wondering about the logic of Eugene’s choice of Amir’s where, on this night, just four of us were assembled. I should have known, however, that logic never factors into Eugene’s decisions. This is a man, a native of the New York suburb of White Plains, who always goes out of his way to root against all New York teams; a man who claims allegiance to other teams, most from Boston, but really gets his sports’ jollies more from a New York team’s defeat than one of his own teams’ victory.
That there were only four of us at Amir’s was probably a good thing. The small, eat in/take out place would have been a challenge for our usual brawny six. And it was probably better that Zio spend his wedding anniversary with The Colonel rather than dining on something he could get at a street cart closer to his love nest in Astoria. The question was, would what he could get at the street cart in Astoria, or at any of the other countless falafel places in the city compare to Amir’s?
After our brief outing; ordering from the typically middle eastern falafel menu; falafel, hummus, babaganoush, along with what now are called “proteins” on many menus meaning meats; shawarma beef, chicken, and kebabs, the verdict, sadly, was yes. Though Amir’s falafels were relatively light, not drenched with oil, slightly sweet, and above average on the unofficial falafel meter, they were no more distinguishable than Mahoud’s, Ahmad’s, or any other above average falafel joint in the city, of which there are hundreds.
The “protein” that Rick tried, a shawarma beef sandwich in pita, was not worthy of veering from the falafel while the “popeye,” a spinach pie Gerry bravely ordered, had an outer shell that to penetrate required the muscles of the cartoon character of the same name.
After our falafel experience, we strolled down Broadway, congested heavily with Columbia students. We again pressed Eugene on his choice. “I don’t know. I pick a neighborhood that I’ve never been to and then I find a place there. What’s the name of this neighborhood anyway?”
“I think it’s Morningside Heights,” Rick offered.
“The Upper West Side,” I said.
“It’s nice here,” Eugene added, successful in veering the conversation to real estate and away from falafel.
We muttered collectively and though the meal was not as satisfying as we are used too, took solace in knowing that there was Bolivian food sometime in our future.
Last year, around this time, on the first anniversary of the launch of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I celebrated with a batch of Neck Bones Tomato Sauce, the recipe I shared on these pages (Neck Bones Anniversary Tomato Sauce). I don’t really consider myself a man of tradition, but when it comes to food, and eating, maybe I am. So to follow tradition, on this, the second anniversary of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I have celebrated with another pasta sauce. This one is meatless, but to compensate any lack of flavor, doused heavily with that favorite little fish; the anchovy.
Speaking of traditions, the origin of my romance with the anchovy began with a Christmas Eve tradition. One of the seven fishes (Seven Fishes for Seven Dishes), prepared for that Italian feast in our family was the anchovy. My grandmother was the chef and when I was young, the featured pasta was spaghetti with anchovies.
But anchovy love doesn’t come easily or immediately. The sight, smell and taste of the little brown oily and spiny fillets could cause a child to retch. I wanted no part of it and I wasn’t alone. My brothers felt the same way and instead, on Christmas Eve, we had our spaghetti with just butter and Parmesan cheese.
Soon after experiencing puberty, our taste buds became more open minded and, though anchovies were still a tough sell, we graduated to the milder, white clam sauce. There was now a seafood alternative to coat the spaghetti with.
I can’t pinpoint the actual date when I converted, but it was sometime in early adulthood. Soon I was actually adding a few of those fillets into my white clam sauce. There was definitely something about that stinky fishy fish that was working magic in my mouth. Friends looked at me in horror when I began to, voluntarily, decorate my slices of pizza with the fillets. It wasn’t long before, given the choice on Christmas Eve, I would take the anchovy sauce before the white clam.
The romance was on and grows stronger with each year. There is no chance I eat spaghetti with anchovies just on Christmas Eve. It’s now a treat I prepare every couple of months—and a simple, inexpensive one at that.
I’m sure many of you might have a prejudice against the anchovy stemming from early encounters when, like me, your sense of taste just wasn’t ready for such an assault of flavor. Try to move past that prejudice and give the little fish another chance. And here, to lead you on to the path of anchovy righteousness is my recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovies.
1 small bottle of anchovies in olive oil.*
½ cup of olive oil
4-5 good-sized cloves of garlic, chopped into large pieces**
½ tsp of dried red pepper flakes or a few slices of fresh chili pepper (for this one I used a fresh chili from the garden)
2 tbs of chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup of dry white wine or water
1lb of spaghetti
*Anchovies come in several forms. There are the tins or bottles in olive oil, or they can be bought packed in salt. The anchovies packed in salt are the most desired, but also the most expensive and most work. The salt packed anchovies need to be rinsed under cold water and then cleaned of the tail and whatever guts might still be attached. Sounds disgusting, but worth the effort in the long run. For this recipe, however, I used imported Italian anchovies from a jar and they’ll do just fine. The anchovies found in the tins work too, but are not quite up to the quality you will find in the jar or salt packed.
**The finer you chop or mince garlic, the stronger the taste. For this dish, which already is overflowing with flavor from the anchovies and red pepper, I like a milder taste from the garlic so I keep the pieces coarsely chopped, rather than fine.
In a skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame. Add the garlic, but do not brown. Toss in the red pepper, cook for a minute and then add the anchovies. There will be sizzling. Stir the anchovies around the oil, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Add the white wine or water and lower the heat. Once the sauce simmers, stir again until the anchovies have melted into the liquid forming a brown, almost gravy-like sauce. It should look a little like the Piedmontese specialty bagna cauda. Taste and if it is too strong, add more water or wine.
Cook the spaghetti al dente, drain, and then add the sauce, topping with the fresh parsley. If you are an anchovy fanatic, like my father, you might want to also add a few extra uncooked fillets on top of your bowl.
Though the pasta police prohibit grated parmigiano Reggiano or Romano cheese on seafood sauces, if you choose to indulge, you have my word that I won’t report you.
On Friday I presented these two images and challenged you to name the place where you would find them.
The first image was correctly identified as a pig’s snout. But beyond that, no one could identify the place where the pig snout and the delicious dish above could be found.
As I said in Friday’s post, there are sometimes hints in my words. They were in there, but really, not much help at all. The hint was in this sentence. “In what eating establishment(s) might you find the bizarre image above?” Now how would you know that the pig’s snout image was in, technically, two eating establishments?
This establishment where the pork cutlet above was prepared:
The food court (emporium) known as Food Gallery 32.
Where international means, predominately Korean, with some Japanese and Chinese thrown in including the Red Mango frozen yogurt chain, Jin Jja Roo, for Korean noodle and rice dishes, O-de-Ppang for Japanese rice bowls, and,
Food Gallery 32
11 West 32nd Street.