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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

Seduced by Singaporean Snacks on Sticks

7 Jun

Bamboo Tori

When Rick chose to continue with his fading softball career instead of taking on his obligation to provide our greedy and needy group with a food destination, we were in a temporary quandary. Though I would have preferred he hadn’t left us in such a precarious situation, I understood his decision. I did the same thing—for about ten years—before realizing only a visit to a “clinic” in Miami could help regain my youthful form in the field and power at the plate.

Eugene also deserted us when he announced, shocking all of us, that his girlfriend’s superiors had actually invited him to attend her retirement party. And he thought it wise that he not decline the invitation. We could not disagree.

We were four and though Mike from Yonkers was next in line to choose, we were given a unique opportunity. A fan of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, and believe me, their numbers are just not that many, had reached out to me and remarkably, considering he had never met our motley crew, wanted us to assemble at his own eating establishment.

Now just because a restaurateur shows me some love doesn’t mean I’m an easy mark. I have my ethical standards and not just anyone who heaps praise on my work will get equal treatment on my very humble blog.  Jonny, however, the Indonesian born, Singaporean raised co-founder and chef of Bamboo Tori, made a strong case for our attendance. As I said above, any restaurant that would blindly consider allowing our group to convene at their tables has already displayed remarkable valor. Another reason that we considered the offer was that we had not yet been to a Japanese yakitori place, not to mention one that, Jonny explained was also heavily influenced by the Singaporean snacks served on sticks he recalled growing up there. Finally, Bamboo Tori was located in Greenwich Village, a place bustling with restaurants but typically not one where our group’s frugal criteria could be fulfilled. We would be dining in virgin territory.

On its website, Bamboo Tori bills itself as specializing in Japanese yakitori, and though I’ve had yakitori, the traditional Japanese featuring the funky chicken body parts excepted, the concept here, Jonny explained was different. Jonny and his partners Christophe, from Belgium, and Hendy from Haiti, wanted to make yakitori more accessible; meaning chicken hearts, butts, necks, and gizzards were not on their menu. After an exploratory eating trip to Singapore, the partners wanted to create at their venture more of what can be found served as street snacks there.

Mike from Yonkers, Gerry, Zio and I squeezed onto a hard bench in the slender, take-out mostly, restaurant as Jonny presented us with a selection of meats on sticks. Behind a glass front, there was a conveyor belt like machine where meats were put on their sticks and rotated around a hot fire while intermittently being dipped into a marinade. Passersby stared raptly at the mesmerizing process from the street.

The yakitori machine in action.

The yakitori machine in action.

Our first sample box of skewers included one stick each of asparagus bacon, chicken thigh, pork belly, and pork meatballs. Cooked to juicy perfection, each was coated with a bronze grilled yakitori glaze that Jonny informed me was provided by a close friend of his father’s, a Japanese chef of Hilton Hotels Indonesia.

The pork meatballs, made with ground pork, ginger and parsley had Gerry gushing and after a final tally, the consensus was that they were the standout among many standouts.

Pork meatballs

Pork meatballs

The next box included beef tri-tips, beef meatballs, chicken breast, and chicken thigh with scallions. And we made sure that every bit of meat was removed off each stick even if it meant scraping them with our teeth.

Finally, proving that Bamboo Tori can also satisfy the vegetarian, we tried skewers grilled with eggplant, zucchini, and grape tomatoes. From two seats down and over the din of the busy restaurant, I could hear Gerry gush again as he devoured the grilled veggies.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

The final taste was a steamed pork bun stuffed with the aforementioned pork meatballs. The tiny sandwich epitomizing the term: street snack.

The used stick dispensary was stuffed with our skewers. We were done. We thanked Jonny and his partners for their service; very glad that we were introduced to their brand of yakitori, the trip to the heart of darkness known as Greenwich Village well worth it.

Steamed bun sandwich

Steamed bun sandwich

“How’d you come up with that name, ‘Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries’ anyway,” Jonny asked as I was leaving. “It’s cool.”

I explained how I thought the title of the Willie Bobo song as well as the tune itself was as good a representative of what I wanted to achieve in the website as I could find.

“I never heard of it,” Jonny said. And why would a man in his twenties be familiar with a Latin Soul tune recorded in 1966? “But I’m gonna check it out.”

The next day I sent him the link below to better help him check it out.



Bamboo Tori
106 University Place



The Mount Vernon Meat Hangover

24 Apr


I woke up with a bloat in my belly. My head was fuzzy and my palms were hot. I slept but was wiped out. I didn’t want to get out of bed. What had I done that put me in this condition? I couldn’t  recall getting drunk or ingesting any narcotic that could have caused this malaise—this funk I was in. I tried to remember—to piece together the events of the previous evening that put me in the place I was now.

I drove from the city to Mount Vernon, a suburb just north of the Bronx where our group was to assemble for another eating expedition. We weren’t  far from the Lincoln Lounge where, in January of 2012 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Adventures in Chow City. The place that Eugene had chosen was called Chalanas. He mentioned in his email that it was Brazilian.

The restaurant had a small parking lot. Haphazardly parked cars clogged the lot and I had to park down the road from the restaurant.

Parking and dining "al fresco" at Chalanas.

Parking and dining “al fresco” at Chalanas.

Zio, Eugene, and Gerry were all in the parking lot when I crossed the street. Mike from Yonkers arrived a few moments later. I noticed he was wearing dark shades. There was consternation on their collective faces.

“Something wrong?” I asked, turning to Eugene who was the engineer of this escapade.

“No, nothing. Why?” he responded,  but neither he or any of the others made a move to enter the restaurant.

“What are we waiting for?” I wondered out loud and began to head toward the entrance when a man whose face was beet red stumbled out stammering in Portuguese. I gave him wide clearance and then pushed the door open.

Beefy decor

Beefy decor

The restaurant was loud with Portuguese chatter. It was happy hour: $1 drafts in small, eight ounce glasses. I ordered one and so did the others with the exception, as usual, of Zio who preferred the chemical nutrition of a Diet Coke with the citrus snap of a wedge of lime. The beers were very cold and surprisingly good.

“What is the name of this beer?” I asked the host, a middle aged Brazilian man with a sly smile.

He blurted out a response to my inquiry, but I couldn’t understand him. His accent was either too heavy, the chatter in the restaurant too loud, or I was already under the influence of something I wasn’t even aware of.

“Shock?” I looked at the others for help. “Did you say Shock beer? Is that a Brazilian beer?” I pointed to the now empty glass.

“Yes,  shock of beer,” He said.

I was even more confused. I think I needed some food. Nobody was helping me here.

“Are you deaf?” Gerry yelled to me. “The man said ‘shot’ of beer.”

I pondered that for a moment. “But I asked him the name of the Brazilian beer?” I looked again at our host.

Now he looked confused. “Brazilian beer?”

“Yes, the Brazilian beer. What is it called?”

“Budweiser,” he said.

“Budweiser.” I mumbled and nodded to myself, staring in disbelief at the foamy dregs that coated my glass. I had never had Budweiser quite like what I just downed.

A "shock" of Budweiser

A “shock” of Budweiser

“Maybe you want to try a shot of Brazilian tequila,” he asked as he noted my empty “shock” glass of beer.

“You mean cachaca?”

He nodded. “Yes, Brazilian tequila.”  Now my head was spinning.

“I’ll have one,” Gerry quickly responded by raising an eager hand.

“Four tequilas?” The host asked.

“Not for me,” I said, shaking my head. Eugene also declined.

Mike from Yonkers took off his sunglasses and let out a weary breath. “I’ll have one,” he said.

Dinner was self service here and I was more than ready to serve myself. Before I could, our host returned with the “tequila.” Gerry and Mike from Yonkers downed the shots quickly.

“That’s the best Brazilian tequila I’ve ever had,” Gerry announced as he staggered to his feet.

The five of us moved into the adjoining room where there was a coal fired grill. Inside the grill were racks on which skewers of meat were assembled; the juices dripping slowly onto the hot coals. We were to decide what we wanted—and how much and the grill master would carve from the meat on the skewers. For some reason the process was a bit overwhelming to me at that moment. Gerry, however, was raring to go.

Brazilian barbecue

Brazilian barbecue

When the grill master asked what we wanted, Gerry, his judgment maybe affected by the Brazilian tequila, blurted out, “Everything.”

The grill master stared.

Mike from Yonkers, also under the influence of the tequila, nodded and handed the grill master a large empty platter. ““Fill it up,” he commanded.



I could only shake my head and retreat to the salad bar where I loaded a platter with greens, rice and beans, “eggs and cheese,” and avocado salad. When I looked back, there were two enormous platters piled high with red meat and another with chicken and sausage.

Our plates were weighed and, apparently, recorded by the cashier: “You pay when you finish,” he said.



We returned to our table and almost immediately a procession of forks began to spear the various cuts of meats on the platters and from there into open mouths. I glanced at the two huge platters of red meat and tried, for just a moment, to determine each of the cuts. Was it really important to distinguish one from the other? Though a bit overly salty, it was good grilled red meat and the way it was presented; piled high in the platters, made it as accessible as munching on potato chips or pretzels. I had originally thought that getting the chicken was superfluous. I was wrong. It was outstanding, kept moist by salty and fatty strips of bacon. I couldn’t stop stuffing pieces into my mouth.

More meat.

More meat.

...and even more meat.

…and even more meat.

A woman came to the table to ask if I wanted a drink. I was thirsty and nodded.

“Beer?” she asked.

“No, I’ll take a caipirinha,” I said, not able to resist the Brazilian specialty while dining in a Brazilian restaurant.

She returned quickly with the drink. The caipirinha’s I’m familiar with and wrote about in the trilogy: A Lime Cut Three Ways (see A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut) usually were served in small, Old Fashioned glasses. This one came in a big plastic cup with a straw. I sucked it down as I continued to stuff my face with the red meat and the chicken, occasionally dipping into the rice, beans and greens to offset the animal protein assault.

The caipirinha

The Chalanas caipirinha

I finished the caipirinha and for some unknown reason asked Zio to take a picture of me. He struggled but the flash went off.

He took another.

I looked at the results. They weren’t good. My palms were suddenly hot. I was thirsty and needed something sweet, but I didn’t want another supersized caipirinha.

Too much meat maybe?

The Brazilian tequila effect

I got to my feet and wandered to the bathroom. When I returned, Eugene told me I owed $20 for the meal.

“That’s all?” I asked.

“And that included the tip,” he added.

I handed over the money.

Gerry disappeared to rush off to another date while Mike from Yonkers, Eugene, Zio and I crossed the street and found ourselves in a Brazilian bakery called Padaminas. The lights were bright in the café and news from Sao Paulo was on the television. Brazilian coffee was probably a good idea, but Brazilian flan was a better one. I took it to a table and stuck a spoon in it. It held the spoon securely upright. I excised the spoon with little effort and then working methodically devoured the astonishing flan.

A flan that holds a spoon.

A flan that holds up a spoon.

Lying in bed the next morning my palms were still hot and my head pounded. I had one caipirinha, granted a very big one, and one small “shock” of Budweiser. They weren’t the cause of my stupor. It was something else. I looked at the pictures on the memory card in my camera including the unfortunate ones Zio took of me. I looked again and then I knew what was ailing me. I had a hangover. But not from the alcohol. The hangover was from an overdose of red meat. I got up, swallowed two aspirin and went back to bed. In a few hours I felt better. The hangover was gone and I was hungry.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

105 W. Lincoln Avenue
Mount Vernon

The Big Kahuna in El Barrio

10 Apr


Lately Hawaii has been on my mind. And I can’t really pinpoint why.  In the past, I’ve really had no desire to visit our 50th State. Despite its obvious attractions, I have always been content to travel to the much closer, more exotic (in my mind) Caribbean than the Hawaiian Islands. Still Hawaii has been on my radar as a place I really should get to at some point in my life.

The closest I’ve come to Hawaii was a few years ago when a screenplay I wrote won a “Gold Kahuna” award at the Honolulu Film Festival. I had to admit, being considered a Kahuna in anything was quite an honor and the festival organizers said there would be a presentation. There was, however, a stipulation. I would have to travel 5,000 miles at my own expense to accept it personally. Even a Kahuna has his limitations and I decided to accept the award via email.

Gold Kahuna

Now I find myself with an itch to see the Islands. Maybe the cold winter finally caught up to me and images of green, lush, volcanic hills, waterfalls, crystal blue waters, and swaying palms has brought on the itch. Maybe that HGTV show Hawaii Life, which I’ve come to watch regularly has enticed me. Or maybe it’s because there is a cuisine particular to Hawaii that I have never tried. I’ve never been to India, Thailand, or Brazil for that matter, yet I have had their food here in New York. But Hawaiian food? Never. New York, it seems, is a Hawaiian food free zone.

Driving up First Avenue in East Harlem,( also known as Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio), not long ago, I noticed a sign for a restaurant called Makana that advertised Japanese and Hawaiian BBQ. Here, finally was a chance to lose my Hawaiian food virginity. I looked forward to my first time and despite my Kahuna credentials, hoped the experience would be a gentle one.


I went into the tiny, take-out mostly, restaurant not knowing what to expect and really not expecting much. The majority of the menu featured Japanese staples including a very long sushi list. I skipped past them and  paid attention to the items with asterisks next to them including Hawaiian BBQ beef, fried mahi mahi (“Hawaii’s favorite fish”), Kalua pork (“Another Hawaiian favorite,”) and “Loco Moco”, hamburger patties with a fried egg and covered with “special” brown gray(“A local Island favorite!”) It was the food with the asterisks I wanted.

BBQ chicken

BBQ chicken

I started with the Hawaiian bbq chicken; chunks of boneless chicken thighs heavily marinated in a sweet soy sauce. The chicken came with sides of salad, cabbage, macaroni salad, and rice with a layer of the same sweet sauce under it. While I ate, I noticed that there was something called “spam musabi;” soy marinated spam wrapped in seaweed, kind of like spam sushi, listed up on the illustrated menu behind the counter. I was tempted, but thought that when and if I ever get to Hawaii, that’s when I’ll take a chance on spam musabi.


Next I sampled the Kalua pork, pieces of tender, smoky shredded pork mixed with cabbage and lightly seasoned with that sweet soy sauce. I know pork is big in Spanish Harlem and have had my share of lechon including the addictive portions served at Lechonera La Isla ( see Lechonera Encanto). But this pork was different and had me fantasizing of a big pig slow cooked underground, Luau-style.

Kalua pork

Kalua pork

The bbq beef fried noodles, called fried saimin, were described as “Japanese-style” on the menu, but I never had anything like this at a Japanese restaurant before. The noodles, I thought, were more like thin, Chinese noodles—the sauce again of the sweet soy variety, the beef, thin round slices marinated in  the same sauce. I knew the sauce was redundant to all of the dishes I sampled, but I wasn’t complaining. It was what I was coming to identify with whatever this thing called Hawaiian food was.

Bbq beef fried saimin

Bbq beef fried saimin

In the appetizers section of the menu, I noticed ahi poke offered. I’ve never had poke, ahi or otherwise, but I thought it better, like the spam, that I wait until I’m in Honolulu, Maui, or the Big Island and the tuna is fresh out of the warm Pacific waters before I try it. But then again that might be a very long wait.

2245 1st Avenue
East Harlem

Today’s Special: The Super Sloppy Joe

22 Feb


I’ve been criticized by some since I’ve started this site for endorsing unhealthy eating habits and foods. Of course I deny this vehemently. All the vegetables, starches, fish, fowl, meats, and all their byproducts I’ve covered here over the years are maybe not the best choices, but certainly not the worst. Most of the restaurants discussed in these electronic pages serve food prepared lovingly by moms and pops from recipes handed down from generation to generation. What could be bad about that?

But to satisfy the few who do think I should at least give a nod to what is considered healthy food, I offer today’s special, a self proclaimed super food.

Some of the menu choices at the super food establishment I entered were wraps and salads, burgers made from either “100 percent grass-fed bison” or “homemade veggie burgers,” “power plates,” like the “lumberjack,” a chicken breast with roasted vegetables over brown rice with either lentil or chili soup, and entrees like quinoa turkey meatloaf, tofu stir fry.

My body not used to super food components, I was wary of a harsh reaction to them. I did not want to suffer a health food overdose. So after a long deliberation, remembering happily the sloppy Joe’s of my youth, I choose the “bison sloppy Joe.”

I was expecting this.

I was expecting this.

It came out very quickly. Encased in a cardboard-like whole wheat wrap. I was hungry and quickly tore it in half and took a bite. The let down was immediate. The taste memory in my brain was bitterly disappointed. This was nothing like the Manwich I remembered so fondly. There were black beans, cannellini and kidney beans inside along with brown rice and a scant amount of undressed cole slaw. If there was a barbecue sauce as advertised, I couldn’t taste it.

I got this.

I got this.

My mouth needed lubricating after the very dry, bland bite—the only flavor was from the unfortunate gaminess of the bison. I reached for my bottle of water and drank half of it.

I got this.


For me to continue, I had to find something to give the wrap flavor. I asked for sauce and was given a green, cilantro/jalapeno hot sauce. I doused the wrap liberally with the sauce and almost miraculously it became edible.

Maybe it was the perceived goodness of the ingredients, or maybe I was just getting used to the unfamiliar, healthy taste of the wrap, as I worked on the second half of the wrap I was beginning to actually like what I was eating. I did, however, need the rest of my bottle of water to wash it down

Green hot sauce helped.

Green hot sauce helped.

I can’t really testify to the health benefits of the super food sloppy Joe wrap as opposed to, maybe, the pepper and egg hero at Parisi’s (The Hero of Mott Street ). Only our nutritionists know what constitutes a super food, and they seem to change that definition hourly. So though I have no proof to the superior nutritional qualities of what mom and pop prepare, I will continue to patronize their establishments and keep the faith that oxtail stew or ox tongue and tripe among other things will one day appear on that super food list.

Big D’s Gift to the Big Apple

14 Sep

Here in New York we can get ribs that claim influences from cities  from Memphis to Kansas City. We can get chicken fried like they do in Kentucky and Maryland.   But there’s only one thing we can get from the Big D that we can’t from any other place. Something so unique; so tasty it will even let you forgive that city for hoisting “America’s Team” on the country.

We forgive you Jerry.

J J you can keep the Cowboys as Dallas’s team as long New York gets  to keep Dallas  BBQ .

And it’s not the bbq that makes Dallas BBQ the institution that it has become in New York.

Scan those starters. Bypass the “Crispy Shrimp, ” the “new” “Angry Shrimp,” the “Crabcakes, and stop right there on number4; at the dish that immortalized Dallas BBQ forever.  The magnificent mountain that is the “Onion Loaf.”

That right there is what I’m talking about.

Start picking the mound apart with your fingers. Get your hands greasy. Don’t worry, moist towelettes are thoughtfully provided by management. Ketchup? No need.

Go ahead, finish it all. Sure you’ll pay for your indulgence within moments after scooping up the last sweet greasy strip of deep fried onion, but the discomfort you might feel will be quickly forgotten. Give it a few days and you’ll be jonesing for your next Dallas BBQ onion loaf (best in NYC)  fix.






Busted A** Chicken

28 Jan

I’m cold. I don’t know about you, but I’m damn cold. This winter has been—well, let’s tell it like it is: it’s been hell and that ridiculous groundhog hasn’t even shown up yet. I’m desperate for some heat and you know what they say about desperate times. So in my desperation I’m resorting to warming up my mind, if nothing else, with a hot recipe. Something to get me thinking about sweat, sun, and cold beer. Anyway, where I’m going with this is lighting a cyberfire on a Weber, and cooking up a busted a** chicken. There are other, maybe more politically correct names for it such as “beer can chicken” or “beer up the butt chicken,” but I think my terminology best encompasses the overall experience, both in preparing and eating the bird.

This is my own, award-winning, recipe of busted a** chicken. Yes, I did win an award: third place in the chicken category of the 2002 Jamaican Jerk-Style/Southern Barbecue Cook-Off in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I’m surprised you never read about it. The prize was cash money and, for any doubters, a hand-carved wooden map of the island of Jamaica (see photo below). At the festival, the judge was a Southerner named Rocky and one of my fellow winners was the legendary (in the barbecue world) Big Bob Gibson himself. But enough self promotion and name dropping. Here is the recipe:

My 3rd place trophy


1 good-sized chicken (around 4 pounds)

1- 12 ounce can of beer (cheap beer preferred: Schaefer, Miller High Life, or Pabst)

For the rub:

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons paprika

Mix up the dry rub ingredients. Clean out the chicken, removing any spare giblets or body parts that might be in the cavity. Wash and pat dry with paper towels. Massage the rub into the bird’s flesh and inside the cavity, under the wings and legs making sure it’s properly coated. Let the chicken sit for a half hour or so while you prepare the grill.

Fill up a starter chimney with hardwood charcoal and light it up. If your charcoal is fresh and dry it should take no more than twenty minutes to be glowing hot. While the charcoal is firing up, go get the beer. Make that two beers: one for the chicken the other for you. For the beer you’re going to use for the chicken, open it up and take a few sips until you’ve drunk about an inch of it. If you’ve got an old school can opener make a few extra incisions into the top of the can. If you don’t, you can poke a few holes in the top with a screwdriver or a nail. Whatever it takes to create more openings.

The beer of choice.

When the charcoal is ready, pull off the grate to the grill and pour in the hot coals. Using a garden trowel or barbecue tongs, stack the coals to one side of the grill. Put the grate back on.

Now it’s time to do the deed. Holding the chicken upright, cavity facing down, slowly impale the chicken on the beer can about two-thirds down onto the can. Place the now busted a** chicken on the grill on the side opposite the hot coals; what they call the “indirect” method. Put the top on the grill keeping the air vents open slightly.

While the chicken cooks, open up the other beer, find a very comfortable seat, and put on some music. Right now, I’m thinking maybe Jack McDuff’s The Honeydripper or Soul Summit with McDuff and the two Boss tenors, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. You’d think country would work too, but I’m a city boy. No country for me with the possible exception of the late Charlie Rich and a few others, also now deceased. After about an hour or maybe a beer or two, check on the chicken. Really there’s not much to do there unless the coals are dying down. If they are, you’ll need to add about ten or twelve hot coals to the grill. The whole process shouldn’t take more than two or two and a half hours.

Music to cook busted a** chicken by.

The bird should have a nice dark brown tan by now. Using sturdy tongs, carefully remove it from the grill. Much of the beer in the can should have evaporated; the vapors from those hops and barley seeping into the flesh of the chicken keeping it moist and adding a hint of malt flavor. Still there might be some hot beer left in the can and you don’t want to drop it and have that spill onto you. That would definitely dampen a very relaxing few hours. Let the chicken stand about 15 minutes before carving. If you’re industrious you might want to make up some cole slaw or a pot of greens to go with the chicken. Enjoy.

Red Stripe: Yes. Lite: Never. And you’re asking a lot of the chicken with a tall boy. Needless to say, this one was not a winner.

Alright now. I feel better already just getting that out. They’re saying we might get an inch or two of snow tomorrow. Enjoy the weekend and I’ll return on Tuesday with another Adventures in Chow City.

Southern (Bronx) BBQ

18 Jan

Before our venture to the South Bronx and Uncle Sal’s, our group had a date at an African restaurant in Harlem called La Marmite. As I vaguely recall, only two or three of us showed up for whatever reason and I never summarized our experience there. We made up for it when we all were in attendance at Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew. It was early summer and our dinner there became memorable for many reasons, but probably most of all because it was the only one , in the over two years we had been doing this, where we got to dine “al fresco.”

Uncle Sal’s: circa 2004

Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew

After our previous debacle, when only the devoted few got to experience the delectable offerings served at the Senegalese restaurant, La Marmite, the group was now more than ready to reconvene en masse. Even Charlie, who will be relocating to the hinterlands of Emmaus, Pennsylvania with his wife, and soon to be born first child, was present as we made our way to East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx for a taste of Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew (formerly known as Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Bibs). We were enticed to this barren stretch of the Bronx just off the Cross Bronx Expressway with the promise of barbecue ribs created by a Sicilian immigrant and his Puerto Rican in-laws. Who could imagine what the end result of that amalgamation of ethnicities would result in? But the possibilities were very promising and incentive enough to make the journey.

Eugene and Gerry, the first to arrive, were a bit concerned when they entered the storefront and only noticed a few small tables. Their worries quickly dissipated when the boisterous Uncle Sal greeted them and directed them to a “backyard” where there were two large picnic tables surrounded by assorted junk; boxes, rusting industrial equipment, and a badly damaged fig tree. Still, on this warm June evening, what could be better than dining “al fresco” on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, the sounds of firecrackers in the air, and security cameras reassuringly eying the premises.

We were all present except Rick, who called Uncle Sal to say he was running very late. We did our best to accommodate our comrade by ordering an assortment of selected appetizers while we waited for him to arrive. Uncle Sal recommended the mozzarella sticks, fried ravioli, and chicken wings. None of these fast food offerings really excited us, but we couldn’t disappoint Uncle Sal.

We sat outside in the Bronx evening, sipping beers and listening to a boom box set up on a wobbly table outside waiting what seemed like an interminable time for the appetizers to arrive. When they finally did arrive, we quickly devoured the tasteless deep fried mozzarella, zucchini, and ravioli, and then estimating how long it took for the appetizers to arrive, decided we better get Sal going on main courses. The ribs, of course, were why we came here and we ordered a rack of both the “special cut” and the baby back ribs. The difference, explained Sal, was really just the size; the baby back being the smaller ribs. Besides the ribs, the menu here was vast including pizza, pasta, tacos, and Spanish food. Sal was pushing the shrimp scampi that was “not on the menu,” so we obliged him his Italian heritage and ordered it along with a philly cheesesteak sandwich, and, as a nod to his Latino in-laws, an order of fried pork chops with yellow rice and beans.



It was dark now and one bright bulb lit up the backyard. Sal had switched the radio station appropriately from hip hop to blues. Rick ambled in just in time to salvage a few remaining, now cold zucchini sticks. As the fried food sat heavily in our stomachs, the main courses arrived and despite the density of the appetizers, we had no problems picking apart Sal’s very good ribs, slathered in a not too sweet, subtly tangy sauce. The cheesesteak, cut into six pieces, was also a winner but the scampi, Sal’s praises notwithstanding, tasted like the kind of shrimp scampi you might get at a barbecue joint. Finally, we divvied up the pork chops, sampling some of the rice and beans and the “sides” like corn, cole slaw, and corn bread.

Once we finished, Sal came out, a cigar in his mouth, a rum and coke in his hand, and a satisfied smile on his face, to sit and regale us with stories about his life in Sicily—how he came to America when he was 16, and about his adventures in operating the restaurant. Eugene and Zio were a rapt audience, especially when it came to the stories concerning the health department and health code violations. Sal, unfortunately, does not deliver his ribs to Manhattan, but knowing they are attainable just off the Cross Bronx Expressway might make for a pleasant way to sit out a traffic jam on that cursed thoroughfare.

What’s left of Uncle Sal today.

I never did make it back to Uncle Sal’s before he closed. I recently drove to the still restaurant-remote area of East Tremont in the Bronx to see what had replaced Uncle Sal’s. In its place was a restaurant called Manny’s, specializing in Latin American “cuisine.” I went inside to see what else had changed. Instead of the deli-like interior, there was a full bar. I asked the bartender what happened to Uncle Sal’s. “He left a long time ago,” she said. “But he still own the building.” On the awning next to Manny’s, I noticed the Protective Security Service, Inc, and on the side of the awning “Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew, Inc.” I guess security services have much more appeal in the East Tremont section of the Bronx than do Uncle Sal’s ribs.

BBQ in the ‘Burbs

14 Dec

Our first out-of-town odyssey with Gerry was our venture just across the bridge to Fort Lee and the Korean, Masil House (see archives for November 9). When his turn to pick came up again, he took us further, a continuing theme for Gerry, when we traveled to Westchester for the not very exotic, though maybe it is for Westchester, barbecue. Here is what we experienced in the in Valhalla, New York in the fall of 2003.

Southbound Bar-B-Que




It was a bit confusing to begin with. We were heading north looking for the Southbound Barb-B-Que. And north, in this case wasn’t the Bronx, it was Westchester, Valhalla to be precise, conveniently Gerry’s hometown as well as the final resting place of Babe Ruth. Rick had obliged to haul those of us who lived in the city in his all-wheel turbo Ram out of the bright lights and into the dark roads of Westchester. Gerry is a bit of a barbecue aficionado, so we all very much anticipated his choice despite the schlep out of New York City’s environs. Using my increasingly fading memory of Westchester and the vague directions Gerry gave me, we were able to find the restaurant without too much trouble. Stepping out of the “Ram,” I sniffed. There was nothing yet. . .nothing to indicate that we were in very close proximity to a self-proclaimed “butt kickin’ rib joint.”  But as we got closer two huge exhaust ventilators were spewing the reassuringly familiar perfume of smoking meat.

The restaurant was painfully bright especially after navigating the black streets of Westchester. Gerry and Eugene were already present and so was our table for six. All of the other tables were occupied making Southbound Bar-B-Que one of the most popular of places we have experienced. Could there have been a little blurb in the New Yorker? Or was it that this was the real deal? Service started off slow, but the delay was more than compensated by very cold mugs of beer, endless baskets of freshly-made potato chips that kept arriving on our table, and recollections by Eugene about his first experience watching ESPN at the former incarnation of Southbound Bar-B-Que, a German restaurant named Franzl’s.

Southbound Bar-B-Que’s former incarnation.

As is the case with most barbecue joints, the menu was not very extensive. Ribs were the advertised specialty and available in a half or  full rack. The other typical barbecue items were pulled pork, smoked chicken, sausage, and beef brisket. With the exception of the chicken, we ordered everything, including two full racks of ribs. Then there were the sides; corn bread, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, corn, and “freedom” fries because the place would have been empty if they used the other F* word to define their fries.

David Wells and his bad back was not good for the Yankees or my appetite.

Our food began to arrive around the first pitch of Game 5 of the World Series. And by the time David Wells left the game because of a bad back, the Valhalla chapter of the Hells Angels had entered the restaurant and took seats directly behind us. But neither the intimidating presence of the Angels nor the unwelcome David Wells’ situation deterred us from devouring the variety of smoked meats placed in front of us. The ribs, though spiced a bit blandly, were cooked perfectly, and the pulled pork was a true winner as was the beef brisket. The sides were nothing more than adequate; the corn bread a bit sweet and the macaroni and cheese unmemorable. The sauces were also a disappointment; all were overly sweet for my palate and the desserts good but indistinguishable. But I guess, despite the shortcomings, ribs cooked very closely to perfection in, of all places, Westchester, is a triumph in itself. I just hope the close proximity to barbecue doesn’t make Gerry complacent and limit his excellent efforts in that very same department.

I’m not sure when Southbound Barb-B-Que closed, but Gerry assures me it’s been gone a long time and that the food, after several visits following ours, went downhill very quickly. So, according to Gerry, its demise was no loss to him. The Yankees lost the World Series a few days later; David Wells’ injury pretty much doomed them and it wasn’t until six years later when they got back to the Series.

*The F word in the fall of 2003 was “French” for French fries. This was during the ridiculous hysteria during the lead up to the Iraq invasion when the French and their anti-invasion stance was vilified by Rupert Murdoch’s minions.

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