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Papa’s Karaoke in the Kitchen Blues

23 Nov

papas

“Are you ready to sing,” Beth, the hostess of Papa’s Kitchen asked me as I entered the empty, yet cozy Filipino restaurant on Woodside Avenue in Queens.

I was the first to arrive and her question to me caught me off guard. Zio had chosen this restaurant but with no mention of singing—or worse karaoke singing.

“Sing?” I shook my head. “No, but I am ready to eat.”

“Oh but you have to sing too,” she insisted

What had Zio gotten us into? I was debating whether to take off my jacket and stay or rush back to my car, but Eugene, Mike from Yonkers and Zio arrived before I could leave, thwarting my escape.

I glared at Zio. “Are you ready to sing?” I asked him. He saw the microphone. He saw the television with the Karaoke, both Filipino and English hits, strolling down. “What the…” was his startled response.

Eugene and I kept our heads safely down as we scanned the menu. Zio hesitated. Unbelievably, he was actually contemplating the karaoke thing.

“What about ‘My Way’?” Beth suggested. “Elvis or Sinatra.”

“I don’t know. Do you have ‘Get a Job’ by the Silhouettes?”  Zio asked for some bizarre reason.

Beth checked the seemingly endless scroll of possible songs, but couldn’t find the doo wop hit.

“What do you recommend to eat?” I interrupted hoping to get Beth off the karaoke obsession and onto what our task at hand was.

She ignored me and continued to press us into singing. Zio, displaying weakness of character, capitulated. He took the microphone.

“My Way?” Beth asked.

He nodded. What followed sounded like the vocal emissions of a man in serious bowel discomfort. My appetite was waning as rapidly as Zio’s sorry vocal chords. The end was definitely “near” and we all, thankfully, faced the “final curtain” on Zio’s rendition of “My Way.”

IMG_5259

“Can we please now order some food,” I barked.

“Who’s next?” Beth inquired, again totally ignoring my plea.

Finally, Eugene and Mike from Yonkers stepped in and Beth had no choice but to give us advice on what to order.

“Let’s start with Dynamite?” Mike from Yonkers asked.

Whatever dynamite was, it was listed as one of the appetizers and we wanted it.

What appeared soon after were thin crispy fried rolls stuffed with jalapeno and vegetables, served with a sweet, garlic chili sauce. And we ate them on plates adorned with banana leaves.

Papa's Kitchen

Dynamite!

Along with Dynamite, we settled on lechon kawali, deep fried pork belly, sitaw kalabasa, beans and pumpkin in coconut milk, the bicoli express, pork loin sliced in a stew of coconut milk and lastly, pancit palabok. When I asked about the pancit palabok, Beth mentioned that the noodle dish was more for Filipino tastes. Whatever she meant by that just confirmed our insistence in ordering the dish.

While we waited for our entrees, Beth once again tried to enlist our usually stoic group from the scourge that is karaoke. And once again, one of us succumbed. This time it was Eugene with a screechy, nails on the blackboard, rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” Making it even more painful, was the accompanying video, a series of shirtless, buff Filipino men dancing and gesturing to languid, seemingly very bored, females.

Papa's Kitchen

Relax folks, it’s only a microphone.

The deep fried pork belly arrived to quell our collective indigestion from the Karaoke debacle and the addition of a pungent liver sauce was a more than welcome condiment to the crisped fatty meat.

Lechon Kawali

Lechon kawali

After sampling the pancit palabok, rice vermicelli noodles coated in aromatic sauce of fermented shrimp paste and garlic we understood Beth’s hesitance in recommending the dish to those not familiar with such funky exotica. To us, however, it was a revelation. The same, however, could not be said for the uninspired bicoli express, a stew of overcooked pork in a mild coconut milk broth. A similar, but much more flavorful coconut milk broth was the base for the sitaw kalabasa and the result was much more satisfying.

Pancit Palabok with sitaw kalabasa in the background.

Pancit palabok with sitaw kalabasa in the background.

“Now that you are finished eating, what songs will you be singing,” Beth asked hopefully.

There was only one song left and it was sung by Eugene. Without the aid of the microphone, Eugene smiled and sang those two precious words: “Check please.”

 

Papa’s Kitchen

65-40 Woodside Avenue

Woodside, Queens

Uni and Ovaltine

17 Mar

Cutting Board

I was in the rest room of the Cutting Board, on Bayard Street in Chinatown staring at the cheery murals in front of me when I heard Zio’s voice.  I got to the restaurant before Zio and he must have come in just behind me because now I could hear him speaking loudly from our table.

“I waved to him a few times: no response!” he said incredulously.

Was he referring to me?

I cleaned up and headed back to our table. He looked at me.

“What?” I wondered.

“You just ignore me on the street?” Zio asked.

“What are you talking about? I didn’t see you.”

“I waved to you a few times. Looked right at you. It was like I wasn’t even there.”

“Did you call out my name? Did you say hello?” I asked.

“No…but how could you not see me?”

It was another frigid night. Chinatown’s sidewalks were even narrower and difficult to navigate on this evening; dark overstuffed plastic garbage bags piled on top of, and next to gray mountains of ice that had not yet melted from the winter’s multiple storms crowded the sidewalks. I had my head down and was walking with a purpose. I was hungry. I just wanted to get out of the cold and to our destination.  Even if my head were up, I would not have noticed Zio. His rotund physique, stuffed into a dark down coat, rendered him camouflage amongst the garbage bags on the street.

But I didn’t tell him that. “Why would I be looking?” I said instead.

He just shook his head and stared down at the menu. Something we all decided to do.

Some of the happiness inside the Cutting Board rest room.

Some of the happiness inside the Cutting Board rest room

.The Cutting Board was my choice and picked because it was, according to my research, an odd amalgam of cuisines with a heavy Asian accent. Here you had your choice of Western starters like chicken wings, chicken tenders, and fried calamari, or the Asian standards; bbq spare ribs, edamame, and shrimp toast. And then there were the blending of cuisines like the Cajun fries with seaweed, the Caesar salad with pork katsu, or even the pasta with uni.

“What’s uni,” Eugene inquired.

For a man who had been dining with our group for 12 years, eating just about every type of ethnic food offered in the Tri State region, Eugene’s lack of food knowledge was disconcerting.

“Sea urchin,” Gerry told him.

“What’s sea urchin?”

“That spiny mollusk you don’t want to step on in the ocean,” I said.

“You eat that?”

“You scoop out the creamy stuff inside…” I tried to explain but wasn’t doing a good job of it.

“What’s it taste like?”

Eugene’s food curiosity was as impressive as his food ignorance. One canceled out the other in my opinion.

No one at our table could really define the taste of uni. It was more about its consistency.

Undaunted, Eugene put his menu down. “I’ll have the spaghetti with the sea urchin,” he told the waiter.

Spaghetti with sea urchin

Spaghetti with sea urchin

On the menu was something I had not seen before in a Chinese restaurant much less any other restaurant called “creamy rice.” Could it be a bastardization of Italian risotto? The idea was enough to convince me to give it a shot and I chose mine with “fatty beef.” Also intrigued by the concept, Mike from Yonkers tried the creamy rice with grilled chicken, which the waiter mentioned was one of the more popular items on the menu.

Gerry veered toward the “rice” section of the menu and zeroed in on the “classic beef in curry sauce.”

And then the waiter was hovering over Zio.

“Oh, um, I’ll have a fish sandwich,” Zio said and then added: “With Ovaltine.”

The waiter left and I stared at Zio. This time it was my turn to be incredulous. “You could have had the pork katsu spaghetti” I said. “You could have had the juicy bobo burger. You could have had the kimchee beef udon. But you chose a fish sandwich? Why?”

He just shook his head. “I…don’t know…” he muttered.

“All right, listen, if you’re good I’ll let you try my fatty beef,” I said. “And you don’t even have to give me a bite of your  fish sandwich. But I definitely want a sip of that Ovaltine.”

Cajun fries and clams

Cajun fries and clams

We started with a bowl of clams steamed in light red tomato, wine sauce that was good enough to soak up with a loaf of crusty bread.  Unfortunately all we were given was one thin slice of garlic bread. Along with the clams were the thinly sliced, tender barbecue ox tongues and a side of Cajun fries salted with dried seaweed.

Barbecued Ox Tongue

Barbecued Ox Tongue

Also arriving was Zio’s Ovaltine. The promised sip was offered to me. It had that same, bland taste with just a teasing hint of chocolate I remembered the last time I sipped an Ovaltine; probably 40 or more years ago. I chased the Ovaltine with a gulp of Sapporo beer and returned the paper cup to Zio.

Zio's beverage of choice

Zio’s beverage of choice

Our main dishes came soon after we devoured the starters with Eugene’s spaghetti with sea urchin the first to arrive. In the menu the sauce was described as a “pink creamy.” What appeared in front of Eugene had more of a yellowish hue to it. He shared with all. The spaghetti was,  as if I expected otherwise, overdone, the saltiness of the sauce the only indication that there was uni in it. Maybe it melded with a light tomato sauce to form the creamy, yellow consistency? Either way, Eugene was pleased and that was really all that mattered.

The creamy rice with the fatty beef that I was hoping would resemble Italian risotto was closer to Campbell’s tomato rice soup with thinly sliced chipped beef as a topping. But I didn’t hold that against it. The dish was hearty and comforting and Zio, who I shared some with, agreed.

Creamy rice with fatty beef

Creamy rice with fatty beef

The comfort level increased when Gerry’s classic beef curry arrived. More a diner/comfort food concoction than anything purely Asian, the beef was ground and the curry sauce strong flavored like the kind you might have found in a curry dish prepared in the UK decades ago. Topping the dish was an egg over easy and a side of potato salad.  And all of that for only six dollars. You really couldn’t get much more comforting.

Beef curry-Cutting Board style

Beef curry-Cutting Board style

Finally Zio’s fried fish sandwich arrived and was no different than any other fried fish sandwich you might find in a thousand restaurants and delis throughout the city. Zio made sure to apply tartar sauce.

Tartar sauce fish sandwich

Tartar sauce fish sandwich

Eugene had cleaned his plate of spaghetti and uni and nothing remained of either my creamy rice with fatty beef or Gerry’s classic beef curry. We all looked toward Mike from Yonkers.

“Some things never change,” Eugene said as he watched and  waited while Mike from Yonkers deliberately and methodically ate his creamy rice with chicken.

“I like to savor my food,” Mike from Yonkers said in response to he always being the last to finish.

“We do too,” I said. “We just savor it with much more urgency.”

With that, Mike from Yonkers shoveled down  the last kernels of creamy rice and the five of us left the warmth of the Cutting Board for the icy streets of Chinatown.

Cutting Board
53 Bayard Street
Chinatown

Cantonese Cappuccino

1 Jul

Cafe Hong Kong

Cafe Hong Kong

I was the first to arrive at Café Hong Kong in Chinatown on a steamy evening when the cramped sidewalks of Bayard Street were overflowing with black plastic garbage bags, their stench signifying the true arrival of summer.  Rick had again passed on his appointed pick for our group, this time giving us a week’s notice instead of a day. Because of the semi-abrupt announcement, I suggested we convene at Café Hong Kong and resume our scheduled picks with Rick again attempting to commit to our next dinner, followed by Mike from Yonkers.

Café Hong Kong was packed when I arrived, but a table was put together for the five of us. When I sat down alone, a harried waiter immediately inquired if “my friends were coming.” I told them that they were. He quickly returned with tea.

“They coming now,” he asked again anxiously not daring to experience the ownership’s wrath by holding a table when other paying customers were waiting.

“As far as I know, they are on their way,” I said and then sent out urgent texts to Zio and Gerry to find out their whereabouts.

“Where are you?” Zio inquired via text. “I didn’t read the emails.”

I cursed under my breath. Zio had informed us that he had a commitment on the Lower East Side on the same day we had chosen. The Chinatown location of Café Hong Kong was picked in an effort to accommodate him. And he didn’t read the emails. Thankfully, Gerry responded that he was close and would arrive very soon.

While I waited, I flipped through the menu noticing immediately, the curious section titled “baked rice/spaghetti.” Also offered were bizarre—at least for Chinese food—options Chinese such as ham and egg sandwich, bacon and egg sandwich, and borsch (sic) soup. This was a “café,” however so allowances were made and along with Hong Kong-style milk tea, cappuccino, lattes, and macchiatos were on the full espresso bar menu.

When Gerry and Eugene arrived, our table was proclaimed legitimate and I was no longer harassed by the equally beleaguered waiter. Mike from Yonkers informed Gerry that he would be coming from the train and might be late. We were hungry and instead of waiting, ordered a soup, fish with bean curd, an appetizer, sweet and sour fish filet, and pickled sour radish.

Just as the reddish orange, sweet and sour fried fish filet, complete with the familiar pineapple chunks, arrived, Mike from Yonkers made his sweaty entrance.  The hot soup came next, administered by a more patient waiter into four smaller bowls. The soup dampening Mike’s shirt even further and his perspiration creeping alarmingly close to my food. After a few sips of the soup, fragrant with ginger, the broth refreshingly light and with chunks of fish and tofu, I no longer cared about Mike from Yonker’s sweat.

Soup for a hot summer's day.

Soup for a hot summer’s day.

What to order from the vast menu was our next business. Gerry warned me about the “baked” dishes when I asked if I should dare try one. “I don’t know—baked pasta?” he said dubiously. But I couldn’t resist. Where else could I have pasta, baked no less, in a Hong Kong-style café unless I ventured to Hong Kong and that was not happening anytime soon? I couldn’t, however, even though I was sorely tempted, choose the baked pasta Bolognese. Instead I decided on the baked beef stew. Eugene also picked from the baked section going with the coconut chicken. Sticking to more familiar and traditional Cantonese dishes, Gerry went with the salt and pepper squid while Mike from Yonkers decided on the fish filet bean curd casserole. Sautéed Chinese broccoli with garlic completed our order.

While we waited for our dishes to arrive, I noticed that there was a missed call from Zio. The sautéed Chinese broccoli came first. I quickly snapped a picture of the dark green, perfectly steamed broccoli on my phone camera and sent it to Zio. And then the enormous bowl of baked beef stew, the tomato sauce congealed on top of the spaghetti from the baking process. The baked coconut chicken also had a semi-hard topping, a few burn marks speckling the white exterior.

Chinese broccoli

Chinese broccoli

Just as I sent Zio more of the pictures to remind him of what he was missing at Café Hong Kong, his rotund frame appeared in front of us, and to all of our surprise, with the Colonel in tow. There was no room at our table and Zio and the Colonel grabbed an adjacent table. I muttered a quick hello and then tasted the sweet and sour “tomato” sauce that was drowning the overcooked spaghetti. Complete with thick layers of gelatinous fat over morsels of beef along with chunks of bland tomatoes, even a few tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if offered, could not rescue this dish, Worse was Eugene’s coconut chicken featuring the same overcooked pasta with a white, sweet coconut cream Alfredo sauce, pieces of what seemed like canned carrots and peas, and chunks of chicken. The creation was like a Paula Deen nightmare. And you really can’t get much scarier than that.

Sweet and sour Chef Boy Ar Dee.

Sweet and sour Chef Boy Ar Dee.

Gerry’s salt and pepper squid was good, but not up to nearby Great New York Noodletown’s standards while the fish and bean curd casserole Mike from Yonkers ordered was a true winner. I realized that ordering the baked pasta at Café Hong Kong was like going to a burger joint and then ordering linguini with clam sauce. I should have known better and had no one to blame but myself.

The winner: fish and bean curd casserole.

The winner: fish and bean curd casserole.

As we were leaving, Zio and the Colonel were about to order the coconut chicken. Despite the unfortunate baked beef stew experience, I was in a benevolent mood and warned him off it, instead I gestured to the beef stew; making it his penance for not reading his emails. We said our goodbyes and went to cleanse our palates at the nearby Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

“Why didn’t you warn me about that spaghetti slop,” Zio wrote in a text the next day. “It was worse than Chef Boy Ar Dee. Sickingly sweet with globs of fat and tired pale tomatoes. You’re killing me!”

Coconut Chicken

Coconut Chicken

“You should be grateful,” I wrote back. “I saved you from the coconut chicken.”

“Thanks for that,” he replied.

Cafe Hong Kong
51 Bayard St.
Chinatown

Today’s Special: The Super Sloppy Joe

22 Feb

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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.

Super?

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.

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.”

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bizarre Eats of Chow City: Boneless Chicken Wings

6 Jun

In this, the second installment of The Bizarre Eats of Chow City, I seek out and sample the strange phenomena known as the boneless chicken wing.

I had heard about them. I knew that they existed, but never really gave them much thought.  Recently, however, I would pass a placard near my home advertising them.  I could no longer hide behind my prejudices and fears. I needed to walk the walk, before I could attempt to talk the talk. It was time I summoned the courage to actually try the boneless chicken wing.

Years ago,  McDonald’s was pushing a boneless spare rib sandwich they called the “McRib.” I wondered about it just as I wondered about the boneless chicken wing, but never dared try one. The McRib was resurrected briefly a couple of years ago on a limited basis and still, I would not try it. For me, it is hard enough to walk into a McDonald’s much less order something so bizarre, so exotic as a boneless spare rib sandwich.  I just couldn’t do it. I scoffed at the concept; repulsed that the mega corporation would stoop so low as to remove what makes the meat on the spare rib so delectable; the rib itself, just to convenience the already very lazy consumer. I was taking a very hard line and really, intolerant stance.

Bizarre Foods, Mickey D’s style.

I think I have mellowed somewhat over the years. And for the sake of journalistic integrity, I now will take culinary risks to root out the truth. Thus, though the McRib is no longer available, the boneless chicken wing is.

There were plenty of sports’ bars and chicken wing joints I knew of that now offered the “boneless” chicken wing along with the traditional, two or three jointed wing whose tiny bones I had so many times plucked clean; the sauce, be it Buffalo, barbecue, jerk, happily licked and sucked from my greasy fingers. That tactile thrill, I knew would be gone, but that did not deter me. That a nearby Applebee’s advertised them out front made my quest an easy one. And that I would not attempt this folly alone; I had three very willing volunteers who agreed to take a break from their elementary and middle school studies to assist me on this project.

The place where they serve the boneless chicken wing.

I called my local Applebee’s and after being placed on hold for what seemed like a very long time, I was able to put in an order of the boneless chicken wings. I had a choice of  bleu cheese or Ranch dressing to accompany the “wings.” I choose the bleu cheese. Along with my three volunteers,  we entered Applebee’s.  I made sure not to stare at the diners and their  multi-colored drinks, the overflowing baskets of fries, and frisbee-sized burgers.  My order was ready. We paid, and then quickly exited the bustling restaurant.

Once home. I opened up the styrofoam container revealing the reddish-brown, oddly shaped, “wings.”

1310-1490 calories

I gave myself and each of the volunteers including an added volunteer, my wife who showed none of the same fear or repulsion I had to the laboratory altered concoction that came in the styrofoam container, one “wing” each. We all sampled.

The younger of the student volunteers at first complained that they were too spicy. After a few sips of limeade and then another few bites, they no longer minded the spice and wanted another.

“It’s a composite chicken wing,” my wife said, referring to the composite Little League baseball bat we had heard so much about from the oldest of the student volunteers.

Composite baseball bat

And they were a composite. Unlike the traditional chicken wing, these “wings” you could eat with a fork if you wanted. They were chicken “tenders” shaped into something resembling a chicken wing, breaded, and fried in the manner of the Buffalo chicken wing.

Composite chicken “wing”

“Can we have another,” all of the volunteers asked.

They each got another. There were two left. The oldest student volunteer, even though he already ate a big sandwich, eyed them covetously.  The youngest did not want a third. The oldest grabbed it. The “wings” were quickly devoured.

“Let’s get them again,” one of the students said. “They’re really good.”

I didn’t agree. To me, they were dry and had a chemical taste. And the loss of being able to really handle the wing with your fingers, making sure the bones were plucked clean, detracted just too much from the chicken wing experience. But if nothing else, this experiment taught me to once again restrain myself from imposing my personal preferences on others. If  the people want a chicken wing without bones, who am I to deny them that right?

Neckbones Presents: The Bizarre Eats of Chow City

16 May

We each have our own definition of what might be bizarre when it comes to what we eat. To some, llama hoof in black bean sauce might seem bizarre, but to others, that is sustenance

Here in the city where I dwell, there is ample evidence of peculiar, even exotic, eats. In this new segment of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I intend to wander the city streets, mostly aimlessly, searching for the unusual, the weird and wacky.

Weird—wacky—odd; these are all subjective terms when referring to food. What I think is bizarre, or downright disgusting, others might thoroughly enjoy, and even indulge in regularly. So I promise not to judge. I pledge to do my best to respect my fellow man’s questionable taste in food stuffs. If I slip and begin to preach or moralize on the food choices of others, please don’t hesitate to call me on it. Sometimes I just need to be reminded.

The Hawaiian

In my decades of devouring pizza, I have heard tell of an unusual slice called “The Hawaiian.” I have even seen it on display at various pizzerias; the pineapple being the prominent ingredient sitting, unappealingly, on top of the crust surrounding by cheese and ham, the combination repellent to my pizza snob sensibilities.

I knew that in pursuing the bizarre foods of New York there would be challenges. I now needed to search out a slice of Hawaiian and summon the courage to actually sample it.

My first stop was 2 Bros’ Pizza, a chain of 99 cent-slice pizzerias, They advertised the “Hawaiian,” on a display menu. I perused the pre-made cold pies on display but saw none with the customary pineapple.

“Do you have the Hawaiian?” I asked the African man behind the counter.

“The what?”

“The Hawaiian,” I said again, this time pointing to the reference on the list of pies.

He went to the same display of pies I had inspected and returned shaking his head. “No, we don’t have the Hawaiian today.”

“Will you be making any?”

“Not today,” he said.

“Ever?” I inquired hopefully.

“Yes, maybe tomorrow we make it.”

I thanked him for his help and exited.

My next stop was a Chilean-run pizzeria I knew of on the Upper West Side called Freddie & Peppers. I have had their pizza in the past and knew they usually offered very unusual combinations of slices. They just might have the Hawaiian.

I checked out the pre-made pies behind their counter but again, didn’t see any with pineapple. On their menu, there was a mention of a “Hawaiian.”

I asked the South American man behind the counter if he had the Hawaiian.

He looked perplexed. “No, we don’t have that,” he said.

I could tell from his look and the way he responded, that the Hawaiian was not something they made very often or at all anymore. I didn’t press it further or suggest that maybe it would be a good idea to remove it from their menu so as not to disappoint a driven man on a ridiculous quest.

Finally, I stopped at Maria’s Pizzeria further uptown. I double-parked and peered in. On the window was a menu. I saw it there listed as The Hawaiiana.

I ran inside. There it was: a slice adorned with pieces of ham, mozzarella, and, of course, pineapple.

I quickly ordered it and took it home for a family sampling.

The Hawaiian

After reheating it, I cut the slice into pieces, one each for the 8 and 12-year old, another for my discerning wife, and a piece for myself.

The 8-year old looked at it, made a face and shook his head.

“Try it,” I said.

“I don’t want to,” he said. This is from a boy who will eat eel and now calls Part One of the Fazool Trilogy Pasta e Ceci one of his favorite pasta dishes.

“It’s just pineapple.”

He shook his head and left the kitchen.

The 12-year old didn’t hesitate, but he rarely hesitates on anything pizza-related. He ate it heartily. “What do you think?” I asked.

His mouth full, he gave me the thumb’s up.

“Would you order it?”

“No, never,” he said after swallowing.

I nodded.

He eyed his brother’s uneaten piece. “Can I have his?”

I said he could and he stuffed it down.

Now the more mature palates sampled.

“It tastes like it came from a can,” my wife said.

She was right. The pineapple had a metallic flavor to it and its sweetness overpowered the ham and cheese. Though I could find no visual evidence of tomato sauce, there was a hint of it in the slice. How it got there, I don’t know.

The Hawaiian was edible…at least to all of us but the 8-yar old. No one gagged. And we all swallowed what we chewed. Still, I wondered, what would motivate a chef to think to put slices of canned pineapple on a pizza? Did he/she think the sweet would meld with the salty? Maybe some people just need a little sugar on their pizza? And if they do, who am I to deny them that gratification.

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