Eugene, Mike from Yonkers, Gerry and I were gathered around the bar in the adjoining cluttered dining room of the mostly take-out, Jamaican fish joint, the Dumplin Shop. Located just off the entrance to the New England Thruway in the Baychester section of the Bronx, the Dumplin Shop was an oasis in an otherwise food challenged wasteland. Each of us was nursing cold beers as we waited for Zio’s arrival to complete our party and proceed in ordering.
While Eugene was happily informing us of all the snowstorms he would be missing during his impending annual Punta Cana all-inclusive escape, my cell phone buzzed with a text from Zio. “I am still on the #5 stagecoach but I am coming,” he wrote.
Why is he taking a train all the way from Astoria we all wondered? Why didn’t he drive?
“You are insane,” I replied tersely.
“I’m hungry,” Eugene bellowed. “Do we have to wait?”
I texted Zio again. “You close?”
“Next stop is 219th St,” he replied. That would be the stop he needed to get off and then walk the few blocks to 222nd Street and the restaurant.
“Alright, he’s close,” I told everyone as we continued to drink our beers and discuss deflated footballs. “He should be here soon.”
My phone buzzed. “Now 233rd.” It read.
“Uh oh,” I muttered. “He missed the stop or the train he was on was an express.”
“That’s it. We’re eating.” Eugene pronounced as he made his way into the take-out part of the restaurant.
“Can I at least blame the Colonel,” I texted to Zio as we got in line at the counter.
“Of course, she took the car,” he quickly responded.
The woman behind the counter explained that at a restaurant called the Dumplin Shop they were out of dumplings…at least the boiled variety. They were also out of ackee and saltfish. And callaloo and saltfish. And the fish soup was gone too.
“See, I told you they would run out of stuff,” I said to Gerry. When he had informed me of his choice and asked my opinion, I mentioned that my only worry was that, based on experience, Jamaican take-out places tend to do a brisk lunch business and run out of many items by dinner
Still, they had snapper. They had porgy. They had oxtails if we wanted them— and chicken in brown gravy too. I ordered the porgy with rice and peas while Mike from Yonkers and Eugene opted for snapper. Gerry sweet-talked his way into a side of callaloo and we asked for a side of (fried) dumplings for the table.
We went back to the bar and our beers to wait for the food. There was another text from Zio. “Men I think I’m goin home,” it read.
I offered to drive him back into the city to a more convenient train to Astoria if he could get to the restaurant.
It was just as well. Our food was ready and by the time Zio would have arrived they might have been out of porgy and snapper as well as ackee, saltfish and boiled dumplings.
As is the tradition at Jamaican take-out places, the food was served in a Styrofoam container; the porgy laying comfortably on a bed of rice and peas adorned with steamed cabbage and other spices. The porgy was meaty and moist and was a messy adventure devouring it without also swallowing any of its many bones.
A box of dumplings came out. They were fried and dense, but a good offset to the fish and beer. We waited for Mike from Yonkers to cleanly excise flesh from bone on his snapper before heading out into the cold.
The hum from the traffic on the New England Thruway was the pre-dominant sound as we walked to our cars. Driving onto the Thruway, I wondered if the sign of the Dumplin Shop was visible from the highway. A vision of the sign while stuck in traffic or on the way back to the city from New England or Westchester would be like a welcoming beacon and a serious temptation to pull off the road for “the best fried fish and dumplings.” As long as the Dumplin Shop still had those dumplings.
The Dumplin Shop
1530 E. 222nd St