Archive | May, 2013

And the Answer is…

30 May

Old Town

 

But you knew that, didn’t you. Where else would your burger be sent from the kitchen to your table via a dumb waiter?

Dumb waiter contraption

Dumb waiter contraption

The Old Town has been around a lot longer than David Letterman, whose show helped bring it to recent (the last few decades) prominence.

Old Town

Call me old-fashioned, as many do, but I guess even a bar/restaurant that has been around since 1892 is not immune to the allure of self promotion at the expense of a quieter, classy exterior.

Name That Place

29 May

Where am I this time?

Name that Place

 

If you can identify the contraption above, you probably will have no trouble naming the place.

Name That Place

 

Above is another relic from the past, so you know the place must be…old.

Name That Place

 

Men might be familiar with those wooden doors.

Name That PlaceWhile for the ladies, after a couple of drinks it might get dizzying finding relief.

Eating always helps and at this place you will want the burger (with or without a roll).

Name That PlaceOr a hot dog, because it’s just that kind of place.

Name That Place

 

You should be sufficiently armed now to rapidly identify the place in question. As always, leave your answers in the comments sections. The place will be revealed tomorrow.

 

South Bronx Comfort

21 May

Landin

When you read menus or recipes that claim to be classic American comfort food, meatloaf, hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob are the usual suspects. I’m not here to debate what constitutes American comfort food. I am here to report that one of those items usually on the American comfort food list; macaroni and cheese, I recently sampled at a small take-out joint in the South Bronx called Landin Macaroni and Cheese and Pizza. And I can decisively state that what I sampled at Landin, prepared by Mexican chefs, was possibly the most comforting macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had.

Nine options and three sizes.

The Mac and Cheese menu.

At Landin there are nine different macaroni and cheese options that come in three sizes: mini, small, and large. The mini, at $1.50 is the perfect portion if you want to try multiple macaroni and cheeses. And with nine to choose from, you will most certainly want to try more than one. I thought it was my duty to experience the Classic American to see how it might compare to other classic macaroni and cheeses. And it compared superbly. The elbow macaroni was rich with creamy cheddar and American cheese, the top, toasted to a golden brown.

The "Classic American"

The “Classic American”

Since Landin was run by the skilled hands of Mexican Americans, that more than justified my choice of the “Mexican” option.  The combination of pepper jack and muenster cheese along with a few tiny bits of shredded chicken and chopped spicy jalapeno peppers was a revelation.

The devouring of the "Mexican."

The devouring of the “Mexican.”

Eating two portions of macaroni and cheese, even if they were mini seemed decadent enough for me, but I couldn’t resist taking home the “small,” which was big enough to share with a family of four, of the “bacon,” option, mozzarella and muenster with pieces of chopped salty bacon. Again, Landin did not disappoint.

The "small" bacon to go.

The “small” bacon to go.

Oh, and I can’t forget the pastelillos. There they were; glistening under glass; beef, chicken, cheese and spinach. How could I resist? I had a beef and spinach tossed into my bag as well.

Pastelillos

Pastelillos

The damage was totaled on the cash register. All that creamy, delicious starch came to under $10. You really can’t get more comfortable than that.

Today’s Slice: The Broccoli Rabe

10 May

 

 

 

 

In the previous  installment of “Today’s Slice,” here on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I visited Full Moon Pizza on Arthur Avenue for the Spinach and Artichoke Slice ( see Artichoke and Spinach Pizza). In that post I mentioned Cafe al Mercato and the mini pies and square slices they sell from their booth  inside the Arthur Avenue retail market.

Cafe al Mercato

The preferred slice at Cafe al Mercato is, undoubtedly, the broccoli rabe slice. And I’m not alone. When I last visited, the broccoli rabe was piled high on top of the booth counter in anticipation of being applied to many thin, square slices.

mercato

What makes Cafe al Mercato’s broccoli rabe slice so good starts with the broccoli rabe, cooked tender, but not overdone, topped with slivers of fresh mozzarella. All of this is applied to a thin, yet durable, crunchy crust cooked in a traditional “slice” pizza oven as opposed to a fancy, imported wood Neapolitan stove.

Cafe al Mercato

If you have an aversion to broccoli rabe or anything green, the simple, “regular” slice with tomato sauce and mozzarella will bring back memories of “homemade” pizza. And when I say homemade, I mean what my grandmother used to make in an old cookie pan, rolling out the dough, topping with her sauce and adding a few slices of  Polly O Mozzarella. All of it cooked in her basement oven. It wasn’t pizza as we were used to from the pizzeria, but we never complained.

The Cafe al Mercato unbeatable combination.

The unbeatable combination at Cafe al Mercato.

Cafe al Mercato
2344 Arthur Avenue
Bronx

 

 

A Taste of Soul Sticking Food on Seventh Avenue

7 May

Accra

We had just begun to stare at the wide array of exotic dishes offered behind the plexi-glass enclosed steam table when he was on us. He wore dark shades and a dark sport jacket. He shoved menus into our hands while proclaiming Accra, the African restaurant Gerry and I had wandered into, as something unlike any other African restaurant. Here, he said, you could get Ghanaian,  Senegalese, Nigerian, all kinds of African food.

“We even have soul food if you want it,” he said.

The assortment was staggering and we had no idea which dishes matched the very vast menu above the steam table. Gerry pointed to a dark brown stew where the only identifiable food were hard boiled eggs.

Brown stew

Brown stew

“You want a taste? Give him a taste,” the man in the dark shades said to one of the African women behind the counter. She looked at him quizzically, but no taste was forthcoming.

I eyed a rich, forest green vegetable stew. “That’s spinach with meat. Give him a taste,” he said again to the confused woman.

“We have beef, lamb, chicken, fish. No pork here,” he added. I had noticed the “No Pork on my Fork,” sign on the window in front. It was a remnant from the previous establishment: Mookie’s which I included in a post I wrote on this site called A Little Love for the Pig (Please).

Still no love for the pig.

Still no love for the pig.

“We have peanut soup, jollof rice, fufu, dibi with acheke, wakey with beef…” He said, pointing to the trays as we moved down the assembly line of food. “Give them a taste,” he said again, this time to whomever might listen.

But no taste was offered.

There were trays of fish. Some just the heads. Others smaller, fried whole.

“Tilapia,” he said, pointing to the fish heads. “And whiting,” indicating the smaller, fried fish.

Spinach with meat...and tilapia heads.

Spinach with meat…and tilapia heads.

“Black eyed pea fritters,” he said, indicating a mound of fried fritters. “Give them a taste.”

Finally, Gerry and I were handed pieces of the black eyed pea fritters off of small forks. Besides a slight spice tang, they were bland and could use a sauce or condiment as an accompaniment.

Black Eyed Pea Fritters

Black Eyed Pea Fritters

Next to the fritters was a tray that one of the women behind the counter was filling with a pieces of bronzed meat that had just come out of the deep fryer.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Turkey butt,” she said.

“What?” I looked closer. They were small, rounded, bony orbs, fried to a reddish brown. I wasn’t sure if I heard correctly.

“Turkey butt,” she repeated.

I looked for help from the man in the dark shades, but he had disappeared. We were now on our own at Accra.

Turkey butt

Turkey butt

Gerry decided on the dark stew of meats he first noticed along with rice, plantains and the spinach. I tried the sticky okra, jollof rice (a brownish yellow rice with bits of meat), lamb chops and also the spinach.

“Let me cut the chops,” the woman assembling my plate said. She cut them with kitchen shears into smaller pieces.

Lamb chops, spinach, okra, and jollof rice.

Lamb chops, spinach, okra, and jollof rice.

I noticed Gerry had a plastic bottle of homemade ginger beer on his tray.

“I’ll take a ginger beer too,” I said, but when I was handed the plastic bottle what was inside had a reddish tinge to it; a different hue than Gerry’s ginger-colored ginger beer.

“That’s ginger beer?” I asked.

The woman nodded but then a man came out from the kitchen. “Don’t give him that one,” the man said. “That’s the very spicy ginger beer.”

He was assuming that I couldn’t take the heat. That I wasn’t up to the challenge; that my American Caucasian constitution made me physically incapable. I didn’t resent the implication, but neither was I willing to accept it.

“Oh no, I’ll have this one,” I insisted stubbornly.

I took the food and the ginger beer back to a table where Gerry had already planted himself. Before even starting on the mound of food on my plate, I had to sample the ginger beer. I took a small sip. It was as strong as I’ve ever had; almost like drinking a wasabi smoothie. And after starting in on the very spicy okra and spinach dishes, the ginger beer was offering no respite. I had to cave and order a glass of water to put out the fire.

Once the water arrived, I was able to taste the food. Everything was flavorful and lovingly prepared. Even the multiple photos of Congressman Charles Rangel wining and dining with African dignitaries could not diminish my appetite.

Congressman Rangel trying the jollof rice.

Congressman Rangel sampling jollof rice.

Gerry looked around the dining room. “We are the only ones using forks,” he said.

I looked up from my plate to see the few occupied tables with men who, using their hands, were scooping their food into their mouth with pieces of pale fufu, familiar from our trip to Jamaica, Queens and the memorable Maima’s (The Bistro that Serves Fufu and Four Fingers), as their only eating utensil.

Once our plates were clean, I wondered what there might be for dessert. I noticed Accra carried donuts—the same donuts found at a thousand delis and bodegas across the city.

“Not for me,” Gerry said after I suggested it.

Paris Blues then,” I said, indicating the bar two blocks away where the Les Goodson band would be performing soon.

“Now you’re talking,” Gerry said.

Paris Blues 045

As Gerry and I exited the restaurant, moving past the long steam table, the women behind it and the men working in and around the dining room wanted our feedback. We heaped as much praise as we could before we got out of the door and even then, a man wearing an “Accra” baseball cap poked his head out. “Did you enjoy your food?” he asked

We reiterated our praise and said we would be back soon.

“Alright then,” He said with a smile and went back into the restaurant.

Accra Restaurant
2065 Seventh Avenue
Harlem

 

The Sloppy Joe Account

2 May

Back in 1968, when, according to the imagination of television’s Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner,  groups of Mad men were competing for the Heinz ketchup advertising account, the Sloppy Joe was a staple of my suburban diet. Usually it was made from a wet mix in a can or dehydrated in a little packet. All you had to do was add the can of wet to the ground beef and cook it up. With the dry, you added water and tomato paste.  The mess was always served on a hamburger roll. Though pretty much long gone from my menu, the Sloppy Joe taste, slightly sweet, along with the salty ground beef, a touch of acid from the tomatoes, the crunch of onion, the sauce drenching the roll was unique and one I still vividly recall.

As it was in 1968, it is today.

As it was in 1968, it is today.

I hadn’t thought of the Sloppy Joe until I noticed a recipe for it on the back of a plastic Heinz ketchup bottle. That recipe and the iconic condiment: Heinz ketchup, the account of which was bitterly fought over by the fictional Mad men of Mad Men inspired me to revive that childhood classic knowing very well that childhood taste recall doesn’t always live up to the memory hype. My kids now are about the same age I was when my mother made it a monthly regular in our family’s menu. Would they feel the same way about the Sloppy Joe I did? I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t, but who knew?

Nice try, Peg.

“ketchup…not catsup.”

Even without the using dry seasonings or the “Manwich” version, the recipe looked simple, as it should be. But once I began preparations, I noticed a potential problem: the recipe called for one and half cups of ketchup plus two tablespoons of brown sugar. The brown sugar combined with the “high fructose corn syrup” already in the ketchup was going to make this a sweet Sloppy Joe. Maybe it was always too sweet and, as a kid with a serious sweet tooth, I just didn’t realize it. Now as an adult with a somewhat mellower sweet tooth, would the Sloppy Joe be too saccharin for my taste? Should I go with my instincts and alter the recipe eliminating either half or all of the brown sugar. I decided not to do anything and if needed, I would do damage control after the fact.

Recipe courtesy of the H.J Heinz Company.

Recipe courtesy of the H.J Heinz Company.

Making the Sloppy Joe really was about as easy as it gets. I followed the directions, cooking the peppers and onions, adding the beef, skimming off the fat, and then pouring in the ketchup, the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and then cooking it on medium heat for about ten minutes until it thickened.

Just ten minutes and it's done.

Just ten minutes and it’s done.

Finally I tasted it. This was most definitely the Sloppy Joe of my memory, yet a very sweet one. I sprinkled in chili powder and added a few drops of hot sauce. That took the sweetness down a few notches, but not enough. The damage could not be undone. It was just too sweet for my tastes. Next time—and there would be a next time—I planned on either eliminating the ketchup altogether and substituting tomato paste with a teaspoon of brown sugar or maybe combining ketchup and tomato paste but nixing the sugar.

Sloppy Joe spillage.

Sloppy Joe spillage.

But after witnessing both of my boys licking from their fingers what had spilled from their buns, I realized that maybe I was thinking too much of myself. Why should I impose my so-called adult taste on them? Maybe, I thought, I should just leave well enough alone and let them have their own sweet Sloppy Joe memories.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: