Archive | September, 2013

Pizza Interloper on Arthur Avenue

27 Sep

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, once a prominently exclusive Italian/American neighborhood, has over the past couple of decades, opened its welcoming arms to immigrants from other countries, in particular Albanians.

Arthur Avenue: where pizza and bureks live in harmony.

Arthur Avenue: where pizza and bureks live in harmony.

You will also now find Mexican and Japanese restaurants nestled side by side and close to both an Italian cheese store and a dried sausage place where they co-exist peacefully.


But Arthur Avenue can be fickle about newcomers. Several years ago, McDonald’s made an attempt to infiltrate the block. Thankfully they were soundly rejected.

No love for McDonald's on Arthur Avenue.

No love for McDonald’s on Arthur Avenue.

And then a legendary downtown seafood joint, Umberto’s Clam House;  it’s legend born from the graphic and gruesome blood and tomato sauce murder of a famous mobster, tried to make it in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue on the site of what once was a live poultry store.

Tourists came, but no mobsters.

Tourists came, but no mobsters.

Umberto’s tenure on Arthur Avenue was longer than McDonald’s, but whether it was just because most people can’t name the mobster who was gunned down at the original Umberto’s it was so long ago, or that the ghosts of thousands of butchered chickens have cursed the location, it is now gone, replaced by a “Mediterranean” restaurant.

So today, with so many very good, established pizza options on the block…








Cafe al Mercato

Cafe al Mercato

…should Arthur Avenue accept this new interloper from downtown?


Can another pizzeria survive on this glutenous stretch of landscape?  Will the display of co-allegiance to the Garden State forever diminish the reputation of this fabled establishment? And finally, will the restrictive and somewhat haughty “no slices” policy be amended to reflect the open door sensibilities of the neighborhood?

Only time will tell.





Who is Tito Rad?

18 Sep

Tito Rad's

Rick was waiting in his vehicle on Queens Boulevard a few minutes before we were to convene at a Filipino restaurant curiously named Tito Rad’s. He was deep in text mode when I roused him from his stupor by banging on his side window. Startled, he juggled the cell phone before cradling it safely back into his hands after he noticed that it was only me and not a potential carjacker.

After missing practically six months of our eating adventures, Rick had been shamed back into circulation. Not that he was complaining especially after glancing at the menu inside Tito Rad’s that featured, among other Filipino dishes, grilled tuna jaw. We were at our capacity of six for the first time in a very long time and I planned accordingly, making sure I reserved a table.  When we entered, the table we were directed to offered us a view of picturesque Queens Boulevard where there were police flyers on every post detailing an assault that took place in the very early morning hours just a few days earlier. It was still daylight when we entered so none of us were concerned with our physical well being. Our concern was what to order from the intriguing menu.

Once we were all in attendance, the hostess, who I will call “Sadie,” came over and in a soft, melodic voice announced that she was there to help us through the menu. To give us anything we might want—that she was very happy and honored that we had chosen Tito Rad’s. And then she looked at Eugene. “Where are all of you from,” she asked.

“White Plains, New York,” was his gruff response.

“Yonkers,” offered Mike from….Yonkers.

“Astoria,” Zio said.

Gerry, sitting across from Eugene and close to where Sadie was standing, mumbled incoherently. He had no desire to divulge his living information and before Rick or me, who were at the opposite end of the table could answer, Sadie was on to something else.

“I just like to know who is in my restaurant and where they are from,” she continued as we tried to be polite and listen to her while also taking peeks at the menu. We were hungry and anxious to order.

“I say that because we once were robbed and the other day there was an incident just across the street in the park,” she said, referring to the police flyers, her soft melodic voice turning now into an monotonous drone.

As she went on describing the robbery that occurred several years ago, I had decided on appetizers for our group.

“And we also had, you know, one of those house invasions, so you need to keep your eyes open…”

I couldn’t wait any longer. “I think we know what we want to start with,” I said, abruptly cutting her off.

Sadie, taking no offense at my interruption, departed and sent over a waitress with a t-shirt that read: “Got Tuna Belly.”

We started with the ukoy, fried bean sprouts, lumpiang Shanghai, Filipino egg rolls, and an order of barbecued pork on skewers. Gerry whispered to the waitress that he wanted another appetizer, but wouldn’t tell any of us what it was he ordered.

Filipino chitterlings

Filipino chitterlings

The appetizers came out quickly and even when it became known that Gerry’s order, chicaron bulaklak, fried pork intestines, also known as Filipino chitterlings, no one protested and dipped in the house vinegar sauce, was a nice start to the meal. The same, however, couldn’t be said about the lumpiang Shanghai. The egg rolls were dry, stuffed with an unidentifiable meat saved only when drenched in the accompanying sweet and sour sauce. Thankfully the tender, succulent barbecued pork was there to offset the onslaught of fried appetizers.

Lumpiang Shanghai

Lumpiang Shanghai

The entree options were vast and the choices many, but I quickly chose a Filipino standard, beef adobo, while Gerry went with my second choice, kare kare, oxtail in a peanut sauce, and Zio, also preferring beef, ordered the beef kaldereta, a supposedly spicy version of beef stew. Eugene is a coconut milk aficionado and ordered the manok sa gata, chicken with ginger in coconut milk.

Getting inspiration from our waitresses’ shirt, Mike from Yonkers chose the tuna belly also cooked in coconut milk and Rick, maybe because Mike from Yonkers already chose a tuna body part, passed on the tuna jaw and decided instead on the grilled Pampano, also known as “butterfish.”

While our appetizers were cleared, Sadie returned to ask how we liked the food so far. We, of course, told her we liked it very much.

“I am here to help,” she repeated. “Anything you need us to do to make you enjoy your meal here we will do.”

The restaurant was busy; all the tables occupied with Filipino couples and families. It looked like business was good at Tito Rad’s yet Sadie was working us hard. The appearance of our entrees saved us from more “small” talk from Sadie. I quickly dug into the slow cooked moist beef adobo, tangy from the vinegar sauce and then sampled Zio’s beef stew, also tender and falling apart, the peppers and olives giving it a Latin flavor that is typical of Filipino cuisine but minus the spice advertised.

Beef kaldereta

Beef kaldereta

“This is the best thing I’ve ever had,” Eugene said of the beef adobo after tasting it. We weren’t sure if he meant the beef adobo was the best of what we ordered that night or the best thing he had ever eaten. No one bothered to ask him to clarify his proclamation.

After tasting Eugene’s chicken in coconut sauce, I can safely say that it was not the best thing I’ve ever eaten…and not even close to the best thing on our table that night, but I never announced that. The oxtails in the kare kare were lean and the meat easily separated from bone and tendon, but the peanut butter sauce was just too bland for me. The addition of very pungent shrimp paste helped liven up the dish.

Kare kare

Kare kare

The tuna belly and pompano came out last. Anticipation was high. Zio took a piece of the tuna belly as did I. I chewed. He chewed. I looked at him. He looked at me. He shook his head. “This is bluefish,” he said in an uncharacteristically loud voice. “There is no way this is tuna belly.”

“It does taste rather fishy for tuna,” I said.

“I’m telling you, it’s bluefish…”

“Okay, don’t make a federal case out of it,” I said, noticing that Sadie was approaching and not wanting Zio to possibly upset our very good-natured host with his bold accusation.

Tuna belly or...

Tuna belly or…

The Pampano was—butterfish and grilled simply. Rick making sure, as he always does, to dig out the tender cheeks for himself.

“I hope you liked our food,” Sadie said as she stood by our table, her tone never wavering. “We always want to make sure our customers like our food. We are appreciative that you have come here today and hope that you will come again soon…”

Zio nudged my leg under the table. I got the implicit message.

“What do you suggest we get for dessert?” I quickly interrupted her.

“Well that’s a good question, it depends on what you like…”

Zio gave me another look.

”I think he might want to try the halo halo,” I said, indicating Eugene.

Halo halo is part of the now 11-year lore of Adventures of Chow City. Back in the first year of our group’s existence, we gathered at a Filipino restaurant not far from where we were on this day called Ihawan, and for dessert, Eugene sampled the halo halo (see The Beans of Halo Halo). At almost every meal since that one at Ihawan, he has made it a point to state that the halo halo was the worst thing he’s ever eaten—as opposed to the beef adobo, which we learned today was the best.

“How can you put lima beans in a dessert?”  he wondered incredulously.

Maybe sensing Eugene’s aversion, Sadie did not suggest the halo halo instead indicated that the “Tito’s Delight,” a sampling of three desserts, the avocado shake, and the fried sweet banana with ice cream would be a good choice for us.

Eugene was skeptical—especially about the avocado shake.

“In our country, we eat avocado like a fruit,” Sadie explained.

Avocado shake

Avocado shake

And in a shake it was remarkable; the best of the three desserts brought to our table. There was no halo halo revulsion, but the fried banana did get Zio to remark that it looked identical to the unfortunate lumpiang Shanghai.

“Who is Tito Rad?” Mike from Yonkers asked Sadie as we were reaching into our wallets to pay.

“Oh, one of those names is my nickname,” she answered coyly.

“Which one?” Eugene inquired.

“Well my friends know,” she said, a sly smile on her face.  “But I don’t know you well enough to tell you.”

None of us pressed her on it, instead we handed her the check with our money and thanked her for her attentive service.

“I just hope you enjoyed our food. We really do try to accommodate all your needs. Anything you request we can adjust….”

But we were gone before she could finish.

Tito Rad’s
4912 Queens Boulevard

And the Answer is…

16 Sep





IMG_4227And more melons.

Melon BurgerEqual a “Melon” burger


J.G. Melon


On Friday you were challenged with trying to Name That Place. I thought the photo hints gave away this 40-plus year old Upper East Side institution. But I was wrong. You were stumped.

And what of that famous burger? Where does it rank on your New York burger meter?


Name That Place

13 Sep

After a summer hiatus, the game which tests your New York food knowledge returns. In this “back to school,” edition, I’ve started the season off with an easy one. Take a look at the photos below. It shouldn’t take you long to identify this New York legend.

IMG_4226Here, with condiments in place, you can enjoy your meal over a green-checked tablecloth.

IMG_4227The art work on the walls has a distinctively fruity theme to it. Could it be that this place is noted for their…cantaloupes?


Was Dustin Hoffman insisting that Meryl Streep pay the tab here or was he just complaining about the green-checked tablecloths when they dined at this place many years ago?

With those images, you should have no problem identifying this place. As always, leave your answers in the comments section below. The place will be revealed on Monday.



Tomato Sauce in the Raw

11 Sep



Every August or September, Goomba Joe, who I wrote about in these pages regarding his meatballs (Goomba Joe’s Polpette), would invite my family up to his apartment for dinner where one of the courses would undoubtedly be what he called “pasta crudo,” or tomato sauce in the raw. He had a small terrace where, with limited sun, he grew enough tomatoes for a few batches of this uncooked tomato sauce.

Goomba Joe is sadly gone, though now my family has a spacious sunny terrace where, using planters, we can usually grow enough tomatoes for more than just a few batches of pasta crudo. This year because of, let’s see, a cool spring, too much rain, a brutally hot early July followed by a cool August, culminating with an invasion of  tomato hornworms—or any other excuse I can come up with—the terrace tomato crop has been paltry . As of this writing, however, they are making a strong late season comeback and their bounty has yielded enough for at least one good batch of pasta crudo.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

There really isn’t much to making uncooked tomato sauce. If your tomatoes are ripe, in season summer tomatoes, you can’t go wrong.  The sauce is not exclusive to pasta. It can be used as an Italian salsa or, even better, slathered on crusty bread as a bruschetta topping.

The ingredients are few:

3-4 baseball-sized ripe (but not overripe) tomatoes, chopped

1-2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic*

¾ cup of basil torn into pieces

½ cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of sea salt

Crushed red pepper to taste

Parmesean Reggiano to taste

1lb of fusilli, rotini, or spaghetti


chopped tomatoes

Put the chopped tomatoes into a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic).

Add all the other ingredients and mix delicately with a spoon.

Let the sauce sit or “macerate” for at least one hour. The tomato sauce can sit at room temperature for up to eight hours, any longer I recommend refrigerating and then pulling them out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.

Tomatoes and basil

Meanwhile cook one pound of pasta. For this, I used fusilli, but spaghetti works well too.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add the sauce, mixing well.

Sprinkle generously with grated Parmesean Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

*If you have an aversion to raw garlic even though it has softened during the maceration process from the salt and the acid from the tomatoes, slice or chop it into bigger pieces before adding it to the sauce and then remove it just before serving. Why you would do this, I don’t know.







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