Archive | January, 2013

Hawkeye, Fonzie, and The Coach Eat at Margie’s

29 Jan


The door opened and, as if someone gave him a swift kick to the buttocks, Zio stumbled into Margie’s Red Rose Diner. Koko, the restaurant’s proprietor, jumped back in shock as Zio’s rotund frame almost fell on top of her. It took a moment for Zio to right himself from his Kramer-like entrance, but longer for Koko’s heart to stop racing from what could have been a very ugly and most likely painful experience if indeed, the heavy load that is Zio did knock her over.

It was a cold, snowy evening and maybe that was the reason for Zio’s misstep. Or it could be just his over-eagerness to finally eat at Margie’s Red Rose Diner. Either way, no damage had been done and Gerry, Zio and I had our pick of any table or seat at the counter we wanted. The restaurant was empty.

Once Koko’s heart settled, she gracefully assumed her role as both hostess and chef of the family-run Margie’s. The restaurant’s namesake, Margie, was Koko’s mother who ran the restaurant for over thirty years before her passing in 2009. After closing to reassess and remodel, Koko and her husband, known as “Poppa,” now run the small Harlem soul food spot continuing in the same, down home tradition Margie fostered.

Margie back in the day.

Margie back in the day.

We looked at the menu which featured “breakfast all day,” but it was dinner time and though sage sausage, fish and grits, banana pancakes, and salmon croquettes were very tempting, we stuck to the “PM” side of the menu.

When asked what he was going to order, Gerry, who was intently perusing the dinner options, mentioned either the turkey wings or the smothered pork chops.

“I really want those smothered pork chops,” Zio announced, making sure he staked his claim on them. And then feeling somewhat guilty for preempting Gerry, added; “it’s okay if we both get it, isn’t it? There are no rules tonight, are there?”

We weren’t on a Chow City assignment. There were no rules.

But Koko, who stood over us as we were deciding, helped settle any possible conflicts. “It’s all family style here. Everyone shares.”

That made it easy. Gerry went with the turkey wings, Zio the smothered pork chops and now it was up to me to decide between the porgies or whiting.

“It’s really whiting?” Zio inquired suspiciously. “It’s not tilapia posing as whiting?”

Koko glared at him. “No, we don’t do like they do downtown.”

That made it easy. I ordered the fried whiting with collard greens and baked macaroni along with a delicacy for me: toasted, buttered white bread.

“I’m gonna do one dish at a time ‘cause everything here is made to order,” Koko told us. “Since you ordered first,” she said, indicating Zio, “I’ll start with the pork chops. You all right with that?”

Even if we had a choice in the matter, we were more than all right with that.

Red roses were everywhere at Margie's.

Red roses were everywhere at Margie’s.

While we waited for the smothered pork chops, to arrive, the television above our table was on to the evening news. The lead story was a report on an epidemic attack of the norovirus, also known as the stomach flu that was sweeping across the United States. While we listened to hysterical warnings of projectile vomiting and extreme diarrhea, as if on cue, the pork chops, fried and then literally smothered in a dark brown gravy arrived. Despite the unappetizing news, we vigorously devoured the tender chops.

Smothered pork chops, candied yams, collard greens.

Smothered pork chops, candied yams, collard greens.

Next to arrive were the turkey wings, the meat falling off the bone, and smothe in the same gravy used for the pork chops. On a cold, snowy night, no one was complaining about too much gravy. The fried whiting completed our family-style trio and received high praise from all for how delicately they were fried. “This is definitely not tilapia,” Zio confirmed rapturously.

Fried whiting, baked macaroni, collard greens and buttered white toast.

Fried whiting, baked macaroni, collard greens and buttered white toast.

“Where you from,” Koko asked as she came over to check on us.

“125th Street,” I told her.

“You come all that way just to eat here,” she said. “That’s sweet of you.”

I thought for a moment. “It’s not like I came from Cleveland.”

“Are you in radio? You have a radio voice,” she asked me.

“I usually mumble,” I told her, “but when I order food I use my deep, clear disc jockey voice to make sure there is no confusion

She laughed and turned to Gerry. “You know, you look like Henry Winkler.”

“The Fonz,” Zio snickered.

Gerry posing as Arthur Fonzarelli

Gerry posing as Arthur Fonzarelli

“And you…” she stared at me. “Hey, Poppa, remember that show ‘Coach,’ what was the name of the coach?”

Poppa came out from the kitchen. Both Koko and her husband were wearing Pittsburgh Steelers’ baseball hats. We knew where their gridiron loyalty lay. He thought for a moment and then said: “Craig T. Nelson.”

“And your voice is like his too,” Koko said.

“The coach? I always thought I was the quarterback,” I said, disappointment obvious in my now mumbling voice. I knew what Craig T. Nelson looked like. He was balding—with a prominent nose. I didn’t see the resemblance, but if Koko thought I looked like Craig T. Nelson, I wasn’t going to argue.

The Coach

The Coach

“And you,” she stared at Zio. “Let me think on it.”

After the dishes were cleared she came back. “I know, the doctor on ‘ M.A.S.H.’”

“Alan Alda?” Zio said.

“Yeah, him,” Koko said.

“How many pounds ago,” Gerry cracked.

Zio posing as a doctor who actually knew how to use chopsticks.

The expert use of the chopsticks are a giveaway that the man above could not possibly be Zio.

We were hoping for dessert, but Margie said she had run out of her homemade lemonade pie.

“Lemonade pie? Wasn’t that in a song?” Gerry asked.

“Judy in the Skies,” Zio said.

Gerry quickly googled the song on his phone.  A You Tube video from the 60’s came up. We watched it and heard the lyrics mentioning lemonade pie.

“John Fred & his Playboys,” Gerry read. “And it’s ‘Judy in Disguise.’”

“I always thought it was Judy in the Skies,” Zio said.

"Judy in Disguise, well that's a-what you areA-lemonade pies, with a brand new car..."

“Judy in Disguise, well that’s a-what you are
A-lemonade pies, with a brand new car…”

We paid the check and took the allotted ten minutes to get coats, gloves, and hats on.

“We’ll be back for lemonade pie,” I said, speaking for all of us.

“You better,” Koko said and then made sure she steered very clear of Zio as he attempted to exit.

Margie's Red Rose Diner

Margie’s Red Rose Diner
275 W. 144th Street

Rooftop Iced Coffee

25 Jan

Rooftop iced coffee

I heard something on the radio the other day during the hysteria surrounding the frigid snap that recently gripped the northeast. A man was telling the story of how he was working in single digit weather and bought a hot cup of coffee. He had to place the coffee down and go off to handle a chore. He was gone just a few minutes, but when he had returned to his coffee, it had turned to ice.

Now I know it’s been cold out there, but, really, a hot cup of coffee instantly turning to ice? It made me think of the polar opposite; when the temperatures hit three (Fahrenheit) digits and the tall tales about frying eggs on the sidewalk begin to circulate.  The last time that happened, in the summer of 2011, I thought I would test the theory. I dropped an egg on the sweltering rooftop where I live to see how quickly it would fry. The result of that experiment was documented here on Fried Neckbones…and Some Home Fries with the post: Rooftop Fried Eggs.

Since I tried the fried egg theory here, I thought I could do the same with coffee. I started, of course, with a hot cup of coffee.

Rooftop Iced Coffee

I checked the temperature.

Rooftop Fried Egss

Granted, New York  was not in the single digits. I would take the balmy 12 degrees into account.

I brought the hot coffee up to the roof and then got out of the cold.

Rooftop ice coffee

After a half hour I checked on it. The coffee wasn’t frozen. In fact, it was actually lukewarm.

I returned in an hour. The coffee was very cold now, but still no ice.

Rooftop iced coffee

After one more hour, I returned to the roof. And what did I find?

Ice coffee

Iced coffee

And really, what’s more refreshing than a cup of black iced coffee on a 12 degree day?

Now that's refreshing!

So what did we learn from this little exercise? That hot coffee freezes in twelve degree weather in roughly two to three hours? Or more importantly, that the author of this experiment has much too much time on his hands?

The Noodle Cure: Winter Edition

23 Jan

Jin Ramen

The wind was whipping. My gloved fingertips were going numb and my cheeks resembled New York Giants’ Coach Tom Coughlin’s after spending a January Sunday in Green Bay.  Winter had finally come to New York City. Even Zio was complaining. “It’s like North Dakota here this week,” he whined to me in an email. Not that I disagreed.

It was that cold...

It was that cold…

Back when it was sweltering, I posted a piece on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries called The Noodle Cure where I claimed that steaming ramen noodles, in this case from Terakawa Ramen, were an antidote for the excessive heat we were enduring at the time. The thing about ramen is that it has elixir-like components and, at least for me, acts as a curative for, among other things,  just about all ill effects of weather extremes.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Now that the city was under ice and cigarette smoke was indistinguishable from your own breath, I needed that cure desperately. And I found it not very far from my own abode, alongside the elevated tracks of the number 1 train just south of 125th Street.

The view.

The view.

The place, Jin Ramen, was barely visible behind the escalators to the elevated train station. And after taking the noodle cure there and experiencing ramen as good as it gets in not only West Harlem, but possibly all of New York, the only credible reason there were plenty of tables and counter seats available and that there was no line, as there always seem to be at many of the over-hyped ramen joints south of 96th Street, had to be because of its camouflaged location. For that, on this cold day, I was extremely grateful.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

I sat at the counter where I was closer to the fires that sustained the hot broth. The menu at Jin Ramen was minimal, as it should be at a serious ramen joint. A few appetizers like edamame, steamed gyoza, and salads, some of seaweed, others made with tofu were offered along with Sapporo beer on draft and hot and/or cold sake. All were very tempting, but I was there only for the ramen and wasted no time ordering the heartiest on the menu: tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen

It wasn’t long before the steaming bowl was placed in front of me. The broth, its base made from pork bone marrow giving it a creamy texture, was hakata ramen. The noodles were thin, firm and full of flavor. A few slices of tender braised pork belly, the fat on them practically melding with the broth, were included in the ramen along with a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg and a slice of nori.

Pork bellies all in a row.

Pork bellies all in a row.

I worked through the hearty bowl with determination, stopping only to blow my nose into the paper napkins provided. What remained in the bowl, I made sure to slurp down vigorously.  I was positive the noodle cure, if nothing else, would allow for a minimal grace period outside before my skin would once again practically blister, lashed by bitter winds from the nearby Hudson River and where I would have to continue to wiggle my toes to keep the circulation moving on my most extreme of extremities.

Jin Ramen

The number one train rumbled above as I adjusted my hat and put my gloves on. Construction workers on break from redesigning West Harlem for Columbia University huddled around a makeshift fire. As I passed them, I wondered if they knew that just a few paces away, there was something even more comforting and warming than their fire. I wondered if they knew about the Noodle Cure.

Jin Ramen
3183 Broadway (at 125th St)

(Con)Fusion Files

18 Jan

Con Fusion Files

Life is difficult enough without having to decide whether to pair the bibimbap with a Cuban sandwich or go with the chicken salad BLT and the soft tofu soup. But what about the Philly cheesesteak, an inviting pasta, or a nutritious bowl of udon? Not only am I now confused, I’m getting a headache thinking about the eating possibilities here.

Vanquished by Halal Vapors on Homelawn Street

15 Jan

Sagar Chinese

The first sizzling platter flowed through the dining room of Sagar Chinese restaurant soon after our gang of five arrived. The fumes from the platter clouding the dining room and strong enough, if not to set off smoke alarms, to induce a coughing fit from Mike from Yonkers.

Indian Chinese

We were in Jamaica, on an incline of Homelawn street just off bustling Hillside Avenue, a Halal heavy destination we had yet to explore and one of the reasons why I chose Sagar Chinese. The other was the restaurant’s designation as “Desi” Chinese. I had never heard of “Desi” Chinese and my research revealed the designation to mean a combination of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani style Chinese. I, nor anyone in our group, had ever experienced what Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani style Chinese might taste. It was time to find out.

Even the fried chicken...

Even the fried chicken…

...and the heroes on Hillside were Halal.

…and the heroes on Hillside were Halal.

With a month-old baby boy now taking up some of the unused space in his gargantuan New Jersey money pit, sleep-deprived Rick was able to escape his parental chores for a couple of hours and dine with us in Jamaica. The only missing member of our group was Zio, who was reflecting on his life experiences exploring crawl spaces, boiler rooms and other dark, damp places in search of cockroaches and carpenter ants to an audience of undoubtedly rapt listeners.

We all glanced at the menu which featured traditional Chinese dishes; fried rice, General Tso’s (shrimp and chicken), sweet and sour, and that worldwide (minus China) Chinese favorite, chow mein. Along with the traditional, were a few Indo-Pak favorites like pakoras, gobi and “lolly pop chicken;” chicken manipulated into what looked like a lolly pop and presented with the “sucker” covered in aluminum foil. What made Sagar’s menu nontraditional was the melding of East Indian spices with Chinese. And one of those, the masala chow mein, immediately drew my attention.

“It’s Chinese food” Eugene declared. “We’ll order five dishes and share everything.”

No one disputed.

We started with appetizers of paneer pakora and something irresistible sounding on the menu called “chicken cake.” Making sure we choose one main course from each column; seafood, beef, chicken, noodles, and vegetable, we started with Manchurian fish, and given the choice of “dry or gravy,” choose the latter. The masala chow mein that I desired drew a weak, food snob sigh from Gerry, but was agreed to by all the others. From the vegetable column we went with the gobi masala while from the beef, decided to try the Desi Chinese version of sweet and sour. Finally, as other sizzling platters were parading through the dining room, held high by the restaurant’s waiters, the vapors clouding the room and again going right to our throats, we figured we had to try one and ordered the “Sagar sizzling chicken.”

The appetizers arrived first, identical in hue and fried golden. The pakoras were shaped like billiard balls, and after trying one, almost as impenetrable. The chicken cakes were flat round discs of spiced ground chicken and compared to the pakoras, tender as pillows. Each had their own dipping sauce and for the dense pakoras, a necessity.

The resilient paneer pakoras

The resilient paneer pakoras

After devouring the appetizers, the entrees began to make their way to our table with the sweet and sour beef leading the way. Since pork was not an option here, the beef equivalent of sweet and sour was, thankfully, not fried and battered, but sliced and the sauce, not as sticky sweet as the familiar version. The masala chow mein, a bowl of overcooked noodles with a combination of Indian and Chinese spices had a fiery kick and was a pleasant surprise, while the gobi masala in a spicy gravy that was identical to the gravy in the Manchurian fish, astounded Eugene.

Masala Chow Mein

Masala Chow Mein

“I don’t usually like cauliflower,” Eugene admitted. “But this is the best cauliflower I’ve ever had.”

Knowing Eugene’s limited background in cauliflower, we weren’t sure how much stock to put in his praise of the dish, but none of us had any complaints about it either.

Gobi Masala

Gobi Masala

We could hear the sizzling from behind the restaurant’s counter and soon the platter of smoking chicken arrived at our table. Mike from Yonkers began to cough uncontrollably. I covered my mouth and tried to push my seat a few inches away from Mike’s. I stubbornly refused getting vaccinated for the flu despite the slightly better than even 62 percent prevention rate of the vaccine. I thought my own odds in not getting sick might be just as good if I kept my distance from the hacking Mike from Yonkers, even if his cough was brought on by the Sagar Sizzzling Chicken and not the flu.

Once the smoke cleared, we dug in and made quick work of the dish, a platter of sliced white meat chicken and assorted vegetables in the familiar brown sauce accented by the presence of a few Indian spices.

The vapors.

The vapors.

While the dishes were cleared an extended East Indian family arrived, and took a large table at the other end of the restaurant. I noticed they ordered the loly pop chicken and, after we paid our tab; hitting the $20 mark exactly, numerous sizzling platters, the vapors flowing from them, made their way to their large table.

Mike from Yonkers began to cough again. Rick cleared his throat. Gerry rubbed his eyes. I could feel the burn of the fumes in my throat. “We’re about to be asphyxiated,” Mike from Yonkers hoarsely muttered.

"Time to go."

“Time to go.”

“Yeah, it’s time to go,” I said, standing up. And though the Desi Chinese experience was, overall a very good one, respirator masks would have been appreciated.

Sagar Chinese
87-47 Homelawn St

Neck Bones’ Condiment Hall of Fame: Pickapeppa Sauce

11 Jan







The New York Times listed this year’s baseball Hall of Fame inductees in their paper yesterday. The page was a blank. No one received over 75 percent of the vote necessary to gain entry. To compensate for the lack of 2013 baseball Hall of Famers, I’m creating my own Hall of Fame, but not for baseball players. Mine will be for the most deserving condiments on the planet. And they don’t need over 75 percent of anyone else’s vote. For now, I’m the only judge for this award, and I swear I won’t hold it against a condiment if they might be, or once were, pumped with steroids or anything else chemical or artificial. I know in the world of condiments, there is no such thing as a level playing field.

So, the inaugural inductee to the Neck Bones Condiment Hall of Fame is that Jamaican treasure: Pickapeppa  Sauce.

Pickappa Sauce

Pickapeppa originated in 1921 and still is produced in Jamaica, in a place called Shooter’s Hill. I once drove past the Pickapeppa factory many years ago, but foolishly didn’t stop to wander the facilities to learn how such a unique sauce is concocted. So I can only go on what it says on the label of the bottle which tells me that the ingredients include mangoes, tamarind, tomatoes, onions, sugar cane vinegar, raisins, and “spices.” And then, like good Jamaican rum, the sauce is aged in oak barrels for a year before it is sold to the public.

In Jamaica, Pickapeppa became famous as an accompaniment to cream cheese. I can honestly declare that I have never contemplated topping a bagel and cream cheese with Pickapeppa sauce, but maybe I’m missing something.  Pickapeppa is also commonly used an added ingredient to marinades for barbecues, a baste for fish or meat, and stirred into gravies for a tangy kick. I’ve used it as a dip for samosas , tempuras, and fried fish, to lively up a dull or dry piece of meat, or sprinkled on scrambled eggs.

On the website; there are a number of recipes including one for a Creole bloody mary that looked intriguing. In fact, I’ve heard that the sauce has become a favorite new source for  creative Caribbean mixologists.

As a tribute to Pickapeppa, I cooked up one of the recipes on the website: Pickapeppa Pulled Chicken. I’ve tweaked it somewhat, but otherwise, I present it here, pretty much intact.


2-3lbs of skinless chicken breasts, rib intact

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped.

3 ounces, or three quarters of a 5 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa Sauce*

1 tbs of Jerk sauce (I used Walkerswood, another candidate for a future edition of the Neck Bones Hall of Fame)

3 dashes of hot sauce.

2/3s  of a 12 ounce bottle of ginger beer.

*The website’s recipe calls for a 15 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa sauce to be used. I’ve never seen a bottle larger than the traditional 5 ounce bottle, so I’m not sure if it was a typo or not. Either way, Three ounces of the rich sauce seemed more than enough for me.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Combine the Pickapeppa Sauce, jerk sauce, hot sauce, and olive oil in a small bowl and mix.

Coat the chicken breasts with the sauce and let sit at room temperature for a half hour.


Add the chopped onions and garlic to a crock pot or slow cooker and then pour in 2/3s of a bottle of the ginger beer. You could toss in the whole bottle, but I saved a third to use in a well deserved Dark  & Stormy that I figured would be the perfect pairing with the pulled chicken.

Ginger beer going in.

Ginger beer going in.

Add the chicken breasts, cover and cook on low for four to six hours.

In the crock pot.

In the crock pot.

Pickapeppa pulled chicken

Pickapeppa pulled chicken six hours later

When done, shred the chicken breasts, be careful to remove any bones, and add in a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to moisten. Serve on rolls or not, and top with any remaining Pickapeppa sauce you might have.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

If you have any personal tributes to Pickapeppa on this, it’s Hall of Fame induction day, please don’t hesitate to include them in the comments section below.



Today’s Special

9 Jan



Maybe it’s just me, but if I’m getting a Mama Halim, I want it larze (sic).

And the Answer is…

7 Jan

On Friday I presented you with multiple photos of a restaurant and challenged you to Name That Place.  To revisit the photos, you can click here: Name That Place, or you can scroll down these pages.

I’m relieved to report that one well traveled eater was able to correctly Name That Place as:

Cafe Edison


That’s right, the Cafe Edison, also known as the “Polish Tea Room;” its nickname derived when a patron, of which there were many from the nearby theaters; playwrights, directors,actors,  producers, and stage hands, deemed the decor and food superior to the much more expensive and haughty Russian Tea Room.

Cafe Edison

228 W. 47th Street

See if the you can get goulash and noodles, cup of soup and a beverage for $16.95 at the Russian Tea  Room.

See if the you can get goulash and noodles, cup of soup and a beverage for $16.95 at the Russian Tea Room.

If the matzoh ball soup I had at the Cafe Edison wasn’t the “greatest soup in the history of soup”, as proclaimed by the New York Times, then it was certainly in the top 50.

Cafe Edison

But at the Cafe Edison, those who know don’t flock to it just for the outstanding soup. These sandwiches are pretty good too.

Cafe Edison

I had one on my recent visit but it wasn’t roast beef, corned beef, brisket, salami, or pastrami.  For bonus points, I wondered if any of the food obsessed out there could identify what type of sandwich I ordered. Here’s a look again:

Cafe Edison

Now that you know I was dining at the Cafe Edison, perhaps you will realize that what I was about to enjoy a generously stuffed vegetarian chopped liver sandwich on rye.

That concludes this edition of Name That Place. Be on the lookout for another serious challenge in the near future.




Name that Place

4 Jan

It’s a new year. The previous year wasn’t one of the better ones in these parts. So to get the new year off on a positive and giving note, I’m offering what is, I hope, a no-brainer, slam dunk of a Name That Place.

Now, granted, at first glance this entry might appear to be a toughie, but I’m going to include here a number of photo hints that I hope will help you, without too much difficulty, identify the name of the place.

Let’s start here.

name (19)

This should get you off to a rousing start and maybe, with just the picture above,you will be able to identify the place in question. If not,  go to the two photo below for more help.

name (9)

What type of place would have such classical grandeur?

name (12)


Believe it or not, a place that serves this.


And this.

name (17)

Bonus points to whomever can identify the sandwich above, a specialty of the place in question.

Finally, I offer this one last quip of a  photo taken in the same restaurant where there are elegant chandeliers and wall etchings, soup and a sandwich, and where no large luggage is allowed inside.


name (22)

Good luck and leave your answers in the comments section below. The place will be revealed on Monday.

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