Archive | American classic RSS feed for this section

Poultry Panic Postponed

1 Feb

chickwings

This past week panic gripped the nation when rumors of a chicken wing scarcity went viral. Was it a conspiracy to jack up prices on the eve of the greatest consumption of chicken wings: Super Bowl weekend? Would we have to settle for the abomination that is the “boneless” chicken wing as a substitute? Today, a country’s fears were allayed when it was reported that there will not be a chicken wing drought for Super Bowl weekend. That the estimation by the National Chicken Council that approximately 1.23 billion chicken wings will be consumed this weekend should be realized.

“There will be no shortage,” said Tom Super, National Chicken Council spokesman. “They might be a little more expensive. But there is and will be plenty to go around.”

broccoli rabe

A few weeks earlier, another headline made me quaver with fear. This one read: “Broccoli Rabe Shortage Ravages Philadelphia.” I don’t live in Philadelphia but if there is a shortage of broccoli rabe just a ninety minute drive away, then it must be here in New York as well.

Upon reading the news, I quickly checked my local market. The  whopping $4.99 per pound for what was available of the bitter leafy treasure confirmed that the ravaging had spread to New York and beyond.

The distressing news reports above were preceded by another in September of last year when, those who care about such things, myself included, were alarmed by what was predicted to be a shortage of bacon.

baconOn their website,Time asked: “Start Hoarding Now: A Global Bacon Shortage Is Coming?” This of course, sent thousands, no millions into panic and premature grief over the possibility of converting to turkey bacon.

A week later, however, Fox News refuted the reports with a headline of their own: “Bacon shortage may be hogwash, but prices will still rise”

So all is well in the world. Chickens will still have wings. The B in a BLT will not be from a cow or turkey.  And in Philadelphia they will never substitute a roast pork and broccoli rabe hoagie with sauteed spinach. They all just might be “a little more expensive.”

 

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

29 Jan

margies

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
Harlem

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?

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.

 

 

 

A China y Latina Christmas Carol

21 Dec

IMG_3050

I woke with a start when I heard the honking of a car horn. It had been awhile since I’d heard car alarms. Maybe they got wise to the uselessness of them and didn’t bother making them anymore. Whatever, the one out my window was pretty loud.

I looked around the room. I didn’t know where I was or what time it could be. Outside the window, the sky was dark grey. How long had I been sleeping? I was confused.

Soon it came back to me. I remembered taking a nap after devouring three tacos; two lengua and one spicy chorizo. I washed them down with a big glass of cold horchata. The lunch had immediately made me drowsy and my belly wasn’t feeling quite right. Could the horchata been spiked with tequila or mescal? Was the lengua spoiled?

I sucked down a double espresso in hopes of reviving my energy. There was Christmas shopping to get done. There was baccala to soak. I had no time for a nap. But it was no use.

It was daytime when I lay down and now the sky was dark. How long was I out? I was still trying to get my bearings.

As the sleep slowly drifted from my eyes, I noticed a wisp of haze at the foot of my bed. I immediately panicked. Did I leave something on the stove? I sniffed. No, it wasn’t smoke. I sniffed again. There was the distinct odor of grease—one made by overcooked lard. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell—at least not to me. I was drawn to it.

I pulled myself closer to the wisp and it quickly enveloped me The haze was so thick I couldn’t see through it. What the hell? I had to still be dreaming. Either that or I was on some sort of drug trip. But I hadn’t taken any drugs. Just the tacos and horchata.

I don’t remember putting on a coat and hat. I don’t remember getting on the subway. But there I was at a place I hadn’t been in many years: a restaurant called Dinastia China or La Dinastia or derogatorily referred to by one particular hater as La Di Nasty. It was the first restaurant I dined in when I moved to New York in the final quarter of the previous century.

The wisp was by my side. I looked around me and noticed the hot dog joint on the corner of 72nd and Broadway and the subway station across the street. Beyond that it was too dark to see anything. A decorative Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was in the window of the restaurant. I peered through the glass. The counters with the stools in the front were exactly as they were decades ago. There were liquor bottles behind the counter and a cash register.

Rudolph was the lone window decoration.

Rudolph was the lone window decoration.

I pushed the door open. Nat King Cole was singing “The Christmas Song” from the restaurant’s loudspeakers as I entered. The front wall was decorated with autographed photos of celebrities I had never heard of. Next to them was a calendar. I glanced at it and then looked again. That date couldn’t be right. It was an ancient December date I was looking at. Not 2012. I was suddenly chilled.

I turned to the wisp by my side. It just hovered there. Doing nothing. Saying nothing. But I noticed now that the greasy lard odor was gone replaced by the enticing smell of grilled red meat. It moved forward and as if I were a hound on a scent, I followed.

There were a number of waiters in white button down shirts scurrying about. None of them stopped to ask me if I wanted a table. I hadn’t been to Dinastia China since the last century, but I remembered that as soon as I would enter, a waiter, menu in hand, would appear and immediately escort me to a table. Choice tables were always available. Reservations were never necessary. In fact, they were probably discouraged.

I slowly moved past the front area into the dining room. To my right was the commander’s station just as I remembered it. A cluttered desk with a big microphone facing toward the front entrance. One of the waiters was there now and barking orders into it. From the microphone, I knew the orders were relayed to the kitchen and the chef.

The Commander's Station

The Commander’s Station

“Ropa vieja, arroz amarillo, frijoles rojo, platano frito, wonton soup,” I heard him say.

I didn’t speak Spanish, but I was proficient in China y Latina restaurant speak and knew that the order was for shredded beef, yellow rice and red beans, fried plantains, and wonton soup. Despite the leaden effect of the tacos I feasted on earlier, my mouth, I realized, was beginning to water slightly. The order passed on to the kitchen was one of my favorites. It was what I ordered countless times at Dinastia.

There were a few solitary men and women sitting at tables in the expansive dining room. Their heads were down and there were huge platters of rice, beans, beef stew, fried chicken and other Dinastia specialties in front of them. None of them bothered to look up from their food as the wisp and I moved through the room.

The dining room that time forgot.

The dining room that time forgot.

I followed the wisp, despite it’s delicious smell, reluctantly now, sensing I should stay back. That what it was drawing me to I should not see. Frank Sinatra suddenly began to sing over the loudspeakers.

     Oh by gosh, by golly,

     It’s time for mistletoe and holly

A waiter juggling three plates; a big platter of chuletas asadas (center cut pork chops), separate bowls of black beans and yellow rice, and another plate cluttered with fried plantains whisked by me as if I did not exist. I turned and followed the waiter’s progress as he deposited the overflowing plates in front of an older, heavy-set woman, a copy of the New York Post spread out in front of her.

Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents
                                Countrysides covered in snow

 The wisp spun around and around me forcing me to look away from those juicy pork chops and to follow it forward. And then there at a table in the back, near the familiar rest rooms, was another lone diner. I hesitated. I could only see the back of the diners’ head. It was a man and he was hunched over his food. The wisp prodded me closer.

Oh by gosh, by jingle
               It’s time for carols and Kris Kringle

I looked at the table. It was a mess. A disgusting mess. There were pieces of yellow rice scattered on the glass top of the table along with a stray black bean or two, napkins were all over the place. Some of the broth from what was left of a bowl of wonton soup spilled onto the table.

"it was a disgusting mess"

“it was a disgusting mess”

I couldn’t look anymore. I wanted to turn away, but the wisp would not let me. The aroma of fresh baked baguettes that now came from it forced me closer.

There was more. I could see crumbs from the dried noodles. Just a few broken pieces remained in the wooden bowl. There was even a lone noodle that had drowned in the accompanying duck sauce.

Overeating…

And there were bones…fish bones. It was a king fish—serrucho—and it was pan fried. I could see the brown, burnt bits of garlic and the fried pepper strips. There were a few red blots of hot sauce on what was left of the fish. And then I noticed that some of the tender white flesh still clung to the big center bone. Who would waste such a treat?

merry greetings…

Again I tried to turn around and get out of there. I could see no more, but the wisp blocked my way. I smelled fried chicken and was paralyzed.

     From relatives you don’t know

  I looked again at the table and knew I had to see who would create such a mess. At first I noticed the fingers. They were slick with grease. And then I saw the distinctive swirl of light brown hair on top of his head. And I heard myself gasp.

I turned to the wisp in shock.”How can this be? So…young…yet…such a slob.”

The greasy fingers reached into the duck sauce and fished out the drowned noodle.

“Please,” I pleaded. “Please don’t let me look at anymore. I can’t watch. Don’t make me watch. Please…”

   Oh by gosh, by golly

    It’s time for mistletoe and holly

 I wasn’t sure if I was crying or not. If I was, the waiters didn’t care. They just continued to go about their business as if I was invisible.

Fancy ties and granny’s pies,

       An folks stealing a kiss or two

      As they whisper

 I shut my eyes tight. I wanted to cover my ears.

   “Merry Christmas”

   to you

When I opened my eyes, I was just outside the same restaurant. I looked around. There was no wisp by my side. I sniffed. No baguette, grilled beef, fried chicken, or lard grease odor anywhere. I heard a car honk. It wasn’t a car alarm. Just a normal impatient honk. I turned toward Broadway. The hot dog joint was there on the corner, but beyond the subway station I could see a gleaming glass high rise with a Bank of America branch and a Trader Joe’s market.

dinastia 002

I looked into the window of the restaurant. Rudolph was where it was before. The tacos and horchata drink I had for lunch seemed to have been properly digested. I was now ravenous.

I pushed through the doors and walked briskly through the bar area glancing quickly at the photos of the unknown celebrities but making sure not to look at the calendar.

As I approached the Commander’s Station, a waiter met me, laminated menu in hand. I looked past him at the mostly empty tables. There was a family sitting at one of the big, center table and a policeman and policewoman in uniform at another. The other tables were empty.

“Table?” the waiter asked me.

I looked at him. He looked at me. I nodded.

“Just one?”

“Just one,” I said and he led me to a table.

Rod Stewart was singing a cover of the great Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” as I sat.

China

China

After devouring a meal of wonton soup, accompanied by dried noodles and duck sauce, followed by the serrucho ajillo (king fish with garlic and peppers), yellow rice and black beans, I wiped my fingers clean.

y Latina

y Latina

“Coffee?”my waiter asked.

“No, just the check,” I said.

A few moments later he returned with the check and a rolled up magazine, or something like that.

“What’s this?” I asked as I opened it up. It was a calendar with the restaurant’s name on it. I glanced at the date.

I looked up at him. “2013,” he said with a knowing smile.

As I gathered my belongings and headed out with the calendar in hand, he turned to me as he wiped the table clean. “And I see you next year.”

“Yes,” I said with a nod. “You will.”

dinastia 024

Santa’s Got Soul (Courtesy of Picasso)

30 Nov

Harlem’s Picasso that is.

Harlem's Picasso

The master himself putting the finishing touches on his seasonal creation.

Harlem Picasso

And below, a few glimpses of the Christmas collection at Jacob Restaurant.

Jacob Restaurant

Jacob Restaurant

The artist's signature confirms the work's authenticity.

Note the artist’s signature confirming the work’s authenticity.

So there is really no need to brave the midtown crowds for a peek at the windows of Sak’s or Lord & Taylor’s when you can come uptown to Harlem and not only admire Picasso’s work, but eat real good too.

And the Answer is…

19 Nov

On Friday I posted the photo below and challenged you to Name That Place.

I thought it was a “gift” to all of you, it would be that easy to identify. But maybe we all aren’t up on our city history as we should be. No one was able to identify the place in question. No one knew that the “gift” had to do with the history of the place.

There just aren’t that many saloons in this town anymore where a starving writer can create in a “nurturing atmosphere.”

It seems Ludwig Bemelman did a lot of writing in saloons. He has a bar named after him about sixty blocks north in the Carlyle Hotel, while  back on 18th Street, O’ Henry got his own “Way.”

 

The Happiest of All Hours: Jimmy’s Corner

25 Sep

Jimmy’s Corner
140 W. 44th St

There was a time, during my first decade in New York City, when I would wander the Times Square area. Maybe I would take in a two dollar double feature on 42nd Street. It could be a horror bill like Mark of the Devil: Part Two (“banned in 10 countries”) paired with The Last House on the Left (the original), soft core porn Emmanuelle 2 with The Cheerleaders (“They don’t bring it on, they take it off”), or kung fu epics like Five Deadly Venoms and Drunken Master.

Always plenty of entertainment options on 42nd Street.

There were a few bars in the area including one with an outstanding juke box that played the music of Fela Kuti, not far from where that funky Nigerian band leader was celebrated in a Broadway musical, and had bawdy female bartenders who had tattoos a generation before multiple tattoos became a requirement for a coed to even consider pledging at a Sarah Lawrence sorority.

Always plenty of leg room at the grindhouses.

That bar is long gone—disappeared even before the grindhouses where I watched the abovementioned movies were sanitized. But there is a remnant in Times Square that does remain from that era. Another bar. This one also had a memorable juke box though the music tended more toward soul, jazz, blues and R&B. And after a recent visit, I’m happy to report that the tunes on the jukebox in Jimmy’s Corner are still magnificent.

Some of the tracks from Jimmy’s juke box.

“Cheaper to Keep Her,” by Johnny Taylor was playing when I walked in. Knowing that Jimmy’s can get crowded, I stopped in before the after work rush and had my pick of seats at the bar. Jimmy’s doesn’t have any advertised happy hour and needn’t. The prices for his drinks will always make one happy. What made me happy was the $4 pint of Sam Adams poured for me.

I hadn’t been to Jimmy’s in years and I noticed that, since my last visit, there was probably not an inch of space on the walls and behind the bars that now hadn’t been covered with photos of boxers, fight posters, framed newspaper articles, and anything else to do with the “sweet science,” sports or Jimmy Glenn himself, the owner of Jimmy’s and a former boxing trainer.

Wise words.

That I could actually see the walls was also something that had changed since my last visit. Back in the day, before the smoking ban in bars, the place was so thick with it, only night vision goggles would penetrate the haze and, unlike now, the non-smoker needed to go outside into the cold for a puff of pure Times Square oxygen.

Does DeNiro count as an ex-boxer?

The phone rang over the music while I sipped my beer. “Oh hi Jimmy,” I overheard the bartender say into the phone. Knowing the Jimmy was most likely Jimmy Glenn.

“We’re running out of the Belvedere,” the bartender said. “Only two bottles left.”

Jimmy Glenn is not a bar owner in abstentia. He is a constant presence at the bar. I remember once when a softball team I was playing with had its end of season party at Jimmy’s. We had the narrow back room to ourselves and had food brought in. Jimmy would come back frequently to make sure we had everything we needed; that we were being well taken care of. As I recall, we were.

Jimmy and a playful friend.

“No, it’s quiet,” the bartender said into the phone. “No rush, Jimmy. Take your time. I’ll see you later.” And then he hung up.

I got up and headed to the men’s room. Just outside the door was a framed fading article by Daily News’ columnist Mike Lupica written in 1978. I read the headline and wondered how Spinks (Leon or Michael) could bring hope to Times Square. I didnt’ read the article to find out.

Hope?

I was almost done with my beer. Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was playing “Blue Ammons” on the juke box.  I drained the pint, gathered my stuff, and thanked the bartender on my way out.

Jimmy’s Corner: 2012

Once outside I walked, maneuvering between neon-ogling tourists, to Broadway.  As I made my way to the subway at 42nd Street, I passed both Mickey and Minnie Mouse and before I entered the station, Cookie Monster was there to wave goodbye.

The Uptown Burger Deluxe

21 Sep

There was a time when the type of beef used in making a basic diner/coffee shop burger was never disclosed. We didn’t know if the diner ground the meat or not. We didn’t know if they made the patties themselves or if they were pre-made. The beef patty—or should I say the slab of chopped beef—was tossed onto a hot griddle, or, in some cases, a grill, and cooked until done. “How do you want it cooked?” was never asked.

Once done, some cheese (for a few coins more) was melted onto the meat. The patty was then was put onto a bun with a leaf of iceberg lettuce, and a slice of tasteless, out-of-season tomato. In various instances, a pickle and grilled or raw onions were also added to the bun. The burger was assembled onto a plate surrounded by French fries. This was the prototypical “Burger Deluxe” found at countless diners, luncheonettes, and coffee shops when I first moved to New York. And I ate at a lot of them.

Many food folks these days, when given their weekly—or monthly—burger allowance, would rather spend it at a place where the beef is derived from animals that eat only grass, never consume hormones or supplements, and are treated with the utmost kindness before being slaughtered. And I can’t blame them. In most instances I would rather travel to a shack, bistro, or joint for a high quality, organic, grass fed, humane, rare or bare, juicy five napkin burger. But sometimes nostalgia gets the better of me and I just can’t help myself. That’s when I yearn for the “burger deluxe.” And, thankfully, they are still out there.

There’s a soul classic called Across 110th Street, by the great Bobby Womack. And north of that street, from river to river, is where you will have your pick of a mini-chain of diners called  Jimbo’s Hamburger Palace. At Jimbo’s, the “burger deluxe” is a mainstay on the menu.

Jimbo’s Hamburger Palace at 284 Lenox Avenue

Jumbo’s on 116th Street, not to be confused with Jimbo’s, and how could you?

To satisfy my nostalgia craving, I found myself at the Jimbo’s on Lenox Avenue across from Harlem Hospital. I sat at the pristine counter and, not bothering with  pondering the sandwich wraps, gyros, or delicious breakfast options, went directly to the cheeseburger deluxe. The waitress who took my order did not ask me how I wanted it cooked. She didn’t even ask what type of cheese I wanted. She only asked if I wanted everything on it which I assumed were the various vegetable condiments. I said I did.

From my seat I watched as a generous patty/slab of meat was tossed onto the hot griddle and then covered with a bowl to steam heat it through.

It wasn’t long before the cheese was added—a thin slice of bright orange American. The bun was assembled by another cook, a slather of mayo, iceberg lettuce, a few grilled onions and two slices of an under-ripe tomato.

It took enormous self control, but I was able to keep my mouth shut.

The fries were frozen, dumped into a deep fryer and then scattered around the burger. Ketchup came in a red squeeze bottle. I decorated the burger and the fries with it. Though if I had been asked, I would have said “medium rare,” in regards to how I wanted it cook, but really, it didn’t matter. The meat was cooked the way a burger deluxe should be cooked; juices running from it dampening the bun, the ketchup, tomato, and thin layer of mayonnaise all melding together to form a perfect hot mess.

The fries, however, were another story. Maybe my memory of past burger deluxe experiences have dimmed so much I forgot how tasteless the fries were. Or maybe it’s just that I doused them so thoroughly with ketchup it never really mattered how they tasted. How could fries like these make a burger deluxe? And then I realized that of course they did. That the starchy blandness of the frozen French fries bolstered the already intense flavor of the meat—they were the perfect accompaniment.

Deluxe!

 

 

New Year’s Penicillin

18 Sep

I have found myself spending much of my time in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx lately. Usually I’m sitting at a small ball field just next to the Major Deegan Expressway watching baseball with the incessant hum of traffic as background noise. But the other day I took a break between games and wandered around the bustling enclave around Broadway and 231st Street under the tracks of the number 1 train.

In a neighborhood where Spanish is the predominate language heard on the streets and rice and beans joints the typical cuisine, I was surprised to notice a Kosher deli named Loeser’s squeezed amongst the Latin-tinged outlets. I took a closer look at the deli and on its window  accolades such as the “best pastrami in NYC” were plastered along with the proclamation of a 50th Anniversary. So even though the aroma of rotisserie chicken from one of the said rice and beans joints was seriously tempting me, I felt I had to pay tribute to a place with such fierce survival skills.

The man behind the counter was the same man in many of the pictures on the wall posing with family and luminaries from the Bronx. His name was Fredy.

“How about some pastrami,” he said when I entered the barren, narrow time warp of a deli.

I looked around. Much of the signage was ancient. The evening was cool. The summer was turning to a crisp autumn.

I noticed the “Jewish penicillin” sign. “I’ll take the chicken soup,” I said.

“And pastrami?”

“No, just the soup.”

“Potato salad?”

I shook my head.

Maybe some potato pancakes or stuffed cabbage?

“No thanks.”

“What about a knish?”

I thought for a moment.

“Okay, a knish,” I said.

“You want mustard?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll slice it into the knish,” Fredy said. “Take a seat.”

The soup was brought to me in a plastic take out container with a few slices of rye bread. The knish came on a separate paper plate.

I sipped at the hot soup, moistening the rye bread in the broth before eating it. No one came into the deli while I was eating. Fredy was busy preparing a large turkey dinner, pouring brown gravy over it.

After finishing the soup, I wrapped up the knish, paid Fredy and then returned to the cacophony on 231st street and beyond. I caught a whiff of the intoxicating aroma of the rotisserie chicken from the rice and beans joint before it was overpowered by exhaust from a city bus. The hum of traffic on the Deegan had gone up a few decibels. It was getting dark and cooler. The game was about the start and the lights I noticed were on; the small field now illuminated. I sat and took out the knish.  It was still warm. I bit into it. The potato filling was moist and, just as Fredy promised, there was a smear of spicy deli mustard at its core.

Loeser’s Deli
214 W. 231st St
Bronx

%d bloggers like this: