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Guyanese-Style Gizzards Found in the Bronx

12 Apr

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Like a laser directed drone strike, Gerry’s eyes found their target on the menu of the Coconut Palm Bar & Grill  under “chicken gizzards.” There was no talking him down. No dissuading him from taking the risk. It was gizzards he wanted. It was gizzards he was most definitely going to get.

“Jerk chicken wings?”  I offered.

“Sure,” Gerry said.

“What about the chicken dumplings?” I asked, hoping another appetizer would deter him from the gizzards. “She said they were one of the most popular items on the menu.” The she, being the illustrated woman of a waitress we had—her arms decorated in multi-colored tattoos.

“Sounds good,” Gerry said.

“So we’re set?”

“Mmmhmmm as long as we get the gizzards.”

So the gizzards were ordered…along with chicken dumplings and jerk chicken wings. And while Mike from Yonkers and Gerry sipped 12 year old, Macallan Scotch, certainly a first for our frugal food group,  and with soca coming from the sound system and a cricket match on the television, we scoured the menu for our entrees.

We were in the Bronx, under the 6 train tracks in the Castle Hill section of the borough at what was advertised as a Guyanese & West Indian restaurant. Near the bar, I noticed that the Coconut Palm offered “Pepper Pot,” a piquant Guyanese stew of meat parts cooked slowly in a syrup made from cassava called “cassareep.” I’ve had the Grenadian version in Grenada but never had a pepper pot in the Bronx. I was excited by the prospect.

“I’ll have to ask him when he gets back,” the waitress told me when I asked if there really was pepper pot available.

Who she had to ask was the owner of the Coconut Palm and I waited a long time for “him” to come back to learn that, no, there was no pepper pot. But there was “cook up rice,” a mix of rice, beans, chicken pieces; the Guyanese/Caribbean version of fried rice which I promptly ordered.

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Cook up rice

The gizzards arrived on our table, cooked crispy and coated in the light curry spice known as bunjal. Gerry wasted no time getting to them and Zio, also a renowned gizzard man, wasn’t far behind. The jerk chicken wings were tender and, as I expected, not quite as spicy as the authentic Jamaican jerk found on that island. Rounding out the trio of appetizers, the chicken dumplings were more reminiscent of fried wontons than anything Caribbean and were served with a sweet soy sauce.

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The gizzards

Displaying the East Indian influence on Guyanese food, the entrees of salt fish and stewed red snapper, ordered by Gerry and Eugene respectively, came with dhal, a soupy lentil condiment. Zio’s jerk chicken was the extended version of the chicken wings we already experienced, but his came with rice.

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Dhal

“Rice a Roni,” Zio muttered as the bright orange rice with peas was placed in front of him.

Mike from Yonkers was complaining as well. “There are too many bones,” he kept telling us as he gnawed through the “bunjal duck” he ordered, that was prepared in the same lighter version of a curry that the gizzards were.

I had no complaints about my cook up rice; it was what I expected and Mike from Yonkers’ loss was my gain as there were many tiny pieced of duck for me to pick through long after he had given up.

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Stewed snapper

Twelve year old Scotch aside, the Coconut Palm Bar and Grill easily fit into our meager budget and though there were gizzards, orange-colored rice, and numerous tiny duck bones to work around, the food just always seems better when eaten under the elevated subway tracks.

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Chicken dumplings

Coconut Palm Bar & Grll

2407 Westchester Ave

Bronx

A Feeding Tree Grows in the Bronx

5 Feb

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The snow was melting rapidly from a “historic” storm named Jonas. But there were still dirty gray mounds around the esplanade of Yankee Stadium, which happened to be just a block from where Mike from Yonkers summoned us. While Eugene was on his annual pre Super Bowl cruise; this time far away in the South Pacific, we were going to dream of warmer climes dining on Jamaican food at a place called The Feeding Tree.

Zio, Gerry and Mike from Yonkers were all present in the bright, spacious Feeding Tree dining room when I arrived. The menu featured familiar Jamaican fare: patties, jerk, curried goat, brown stew fish, oxtails, and escovitch fish. And like other Jamaican restaurants, eating after a certain hour of the day can be risky—the pickings usually scarce.

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“Jerk salmon,” Mike from Yonkers said to our waitress. “I’m going gluten free today,” he added as if any of us cared.

“Snapper,” she replied.

“Salmon,” he said again.

“We are out of salmon,” she informed him.

“Then I’ll take the jerk snapper,” he said with no remorse.

“Do you have patties,” I inquired.

“Patties are gone,” she said.

“Jerk shrimp?”

She nodded and we ordered six jerk shrimp as an appetizer.

“What about fish escovitch?”

She shook her head. “We have brown stew fish.”

I ordered it…as if I had a choice.

Zio looked at the waitress. “I’m easy,” he said. “Jerk chicken.” She must have liked that Zio was easy because she offered him a shy smile.

Hoping for the same result, Gerry said: “I’m easy too. Oxtail stew.” But the smile was gone and so was our waitress with our orders.

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Jerk shrimp

While we pondered what specialties Eugene was encountering on the all-you-can-eat buffet line of his cruise boat, a stranger approached our table unexpectedly apologizing for being late. We looked up and discovered that the stranger was no stranger at all, but our long absent eating companion Rick, who made the trip to the Bronx all the way from his money pit in New Jersey.

Thankfully, Zio had already devoured the spicy jerk shrimp that had been in his mouth for a millisecond before Rick’s arrival. None of us wanted to do the Heimlich maneuver on him unless absolutely necessary. We all quickly recovered from the shock of seeing Rick who had surprised us by his unannounced presence.

“I figured it best that I just show up. Better to walk the walk than the opposite,” he said.

“Yeah, you just came today because you knew Eugene wouldn’t be here to flog you,” Gerry said.

Our waitress returned with our food before Rick had a chance to order. “What’s easiest?” he asked. Rick wanted to be easy also.

She pointed to the oxtail stew that was in front of Gerry. “I’ll have it,” Rick said and a few moments later there were oxtails in front of him. There was also a brown stew snapper in front of me—and in front of Mike from Yonkers even though he ordered the jerk snapper. Last but of course not least, Zio’s jerk chicken arrived covered in a spicy jerk gravy rather than the dry jerk rub I am more familiar with. All the dishes were accompanied by a mound of rice and peas and cabbage.

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Oxtail Stew

The snapper, drenched in a rich brown gravy and adorned with onions and carrots was moist and full of flavor and with just enough of a spice bite. I did my best to keep the picked apart bones on my plate rather than scattered around the table while Mike from Yonkers didn’t seem to care that he piled his fish carcass on the table instead on his plate forcing our waitress to have to deal with all those bones with her bare hands. All the dishes were “browned” not that there was anything wrong with that.

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Brown stew snapper

After calculating what we owed and coming in just under our $20 budget, we wandered out onto Gerard Avenue. The lights on the hulking Yankee Stadium proclaimed that there were tickets available for the upcoming season. I wasn’t ready to splurge for Yankee tickets just yet, but when and if I did, an order of jerked or browned something would be a much better alternative to an overpriced hot dog.

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No game today

The Feeding Tree

892 Gerard Avenue

The Bronx

The Little Shop of Dumplins

29 Jan

 

The Dumplin Shop

Eugene, Mike from Yonkers, Gerry and I were gathered around the bar in the adjoining cluttered dining room of the mostly take-out, Jamaican fish joint,  the Dumplin Shop.  Located just off the entrance to the New England Thruway in the Baychester section of the Bronx, the Dumplin Shop was an oasis in an otherwise food challenged wasteland. Each of us was nursing cold beers as we waited for Zio’s arrival to complete our party and proceed in ordering.

Plenty of beverage choices in the dining room of the Dumplin Shop.

Plenty of beverage choices in the dining room of the Dumplin Shop.

While Eugene was happily informing us of all the snowstorms he would be missing during his impending annual Punta Cana all-inclusive escape, my cell phone buzzed with a text from Zio. “I am still on the #5 stagecoach but I am coming,” he wrote.

Why is he taking a train all the way from Astoria we all wondered? Why didn’t he drive?

“You are insane,” I replied tersely.

“I’m hungry,” Eugene bellowed. “Do we have to wait?”

I texted Zio again. “You close?”

“Next  stop is 219th St,” he replied. That would be the stop he needed to get off and then walk the few blocks to 222nd Street and the restaurant.

“Alright, he’s close,” I told everyone as we continued to drink our beers and discuss deflated footballs. “He should be here soon.”

My phone buzzed. “Now 233rd.” It read.

“Uh oh,” I muttered. “He missed the stop or the train he was on was an express.”

“That’s it. We’re eating.” Eugene pronounced as he made his way into the take-out  part of the restaurant.

“Can I at least blame the Colonel,” I texted to Zio as we got in line at the counter.

“Of course, she took the car,” he quickly responded.

The woman behind the counter explained that at a restaurant called the Dumplin Shop they were out of dumplings…at least the boiled variety. They were also out of ackee and saltfish. And callaloo and saltfish. And the fish soup was gone too.

Some of what was left at the Dumplin Shop.

Some of what was left at the Dumplin Shop.

“See, I told you they would run out of stuff,” I said to Gerry. When he had informed me of his choice and asked my opinion, I mentioned that my only worry was that, based on experience, Jamaican take-out places tend to do a brisk lunch business and run out of many items by dinner

Still, they had snapper. They had porgy. They had oxtails if we wanted them— and chicken in brown gravy too. I ordered the porgy with rice and peas while Mike from Yonkers and Eugene opted for snapper. Gerry sweet-talked his way into a side of callaloo and we asked for a side of (fried) dumplings for the table.

We went back to the bar and our beers to wait for the food. There was another text from Zio. “Men I think I’m goin home,” it read.

I offered to drive him back into the city to a more convenient train to Astoria if he could get to the restaurant.

Zio's final response.

Zio’s final response.

It was just as well. Our food was ready and by the time Zio would have arrived they might have been out of porgy and snapper as well as ackee, saltfish and boiled dumplings.

As is the tradition at Jamaican take-out places, the food was served in a Styrofoam container; the porgy laying comfortably on a bed of rice and peas adorned with steamed cabbage and other spices. The porgy was meaty and moist and was a messy adventure devouring it without also swallowing any of its many bones.

Porgy served in a Styrofoam container.

Porgy served in a Styrofoam container.

A box of dumplings came out. They were fried and dense, but a good offset to the fish and beer.  We waited for Mike from Yonkers to cleanly excise flesh from bone on his snapper before heading out into the cold.

The hum from the traffic on the New England Thruway was the pre-dominant sound as we walked to our cars. Driving onto the Thruway, I wondered if the sign of the Dumplin Shop was visible from the highway. A vision of the sign while stuck in traffic or on the way back to the city from New England or Westchester would be like a welcoming beacon and a serious temptation to pull off the road for “the best fried fish and dumplings.” As long as the Dumplin Shop still had those dumplings.

The Dumpling Shop

 

The Dumplin Shop

1530 E. 222nd St

Bronx

Rum and Roti in Parts Unknown

27 Oct

Melanie's Roti

“Why isn’t The Bronx a city?” Eugene inquired as we sat around a table in Melanie’s Roti & Grill Restaurant on Castle Hill Avenue.

“It’s a borough,” Gerry explained.

“Yeah, but what’s a borough? Why isn’t it just another city? What is it with these boroughs? I mean, when I think of New York I think of Manhattan. That’s New York. The Bronx? Brooklyn? Boroughs? What’s that all about?”’

Zio, could only hear fragments of Eugene’s proclamations, but enough to test his patience. “Would you shut up already about the boroughs!” he yelled, his face contorted in rage.

Not long before I chose Melanie’s Roti & Grill Restaurant, CNN aired a program hosted by food and travel media celebrity, Anthony Bourdain called “Parts Unknown,” where the unknown part in this episode, at least to Bourdain, was the Bronx. After twelve years of foraging restaurants in New York, including all the boroughs that so perplex Eugene there were no more unknown parts in the city for our Chow City group. We’d been to almost all of them—and the Bronx, because it had long been neglected in the city’s food sphere has always been a particular focus for our group.

In the Bronx, our group uncovered ethnic joints where we’ve had, among other things, pizza, African, Vietnamese, Thai, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Mexican, Barbecue, and Caribbean. The variety of food choices in the Bronx is almost equal to what can be found the city’s food epicenter, another one of those boroughs lamented by Eugene: Queens.

It was happy hour at Melanie’s and I got happy with a Heineken.

“They have Ron Zacapa 23 here,” Mike from Yonkers announced to all but especially to Gerry referring to the aged rum from Guatemala .

“I might have one or two of those,” Gerry said.

At Melanie’s the happy hour lasted from 4pm until 8. We were comfortably under the deadline.

“We are in a Guyanese place. Why not order an El Dorado 21 year old instead,” I suggested.

“Maybe I’ll have one of those too,” Gerry said with a sly smile.

Old rum for an old man

Old rum for an old man

That it was happy hour was a bonus, but we were at Melanie’s for the food.

It had been several years since we dined on Guyanese food and this one, located in the heart of a Latin neighborhood in the Bronx, seemed an anomaly until I noticed another “roti” restaurant a block from Melanie’s. Apparently there was a West Indian/Guyanese enclave within the enclave. Why should I be surprised? This was the Bronx after all.

With Mike from Yonkers’ insistence, and not that we protested, we started with an order of fried shark for the table along with a plate of channa, spiced and salted chick peas. The shark, also salty and fried into chunks went well with my Heineken.

Channa

Channa

The Guyanese like to offer westernized variations of Chinese food in their restaurants; lo mein, chow mein  and fried rice were available at Melanie’s. Though I would never order chow mein in a Chinese restaurant, I couldn’t resist trying it at Melanie’s and had what was called the “mix.”

“You want everything in it?” Our waitress and bartender inquired.

“I want it all,” I said without hesitation.

Guyanese chow mein with the works

Guyanese chow mein with the works

Though Guyana was a long way from Jamaica, the birthplace of jerk chicken, like all of the Caribbean, jerk has become a staple in that region and both Eugene and Zio ordered it at Melanie’s while Gerry, disappointed that there was no more goat available that day to have with his curry, substituted duck in its place. Mike from Yonkers also was intrigued by the duck, among other things, and chose the bunjal duck with Indian dhal and basmati rice.

“Oh and I can I have one of those roti things,” Eugene said, not knowing that roti was an Indian soft, flat bread wrapped into a narrow roll even though we knew he had had it before at one or two of our food choices throughout the years.

The portions were enormous; the mix in my chow mein included shrimp, beef, roast pork, duck, jerk chicken and vegetables. The noodles, as I expected were soggy but the vegetables crisp enough to compensate. The only real disappointment was the lack of spice from the jerk chicken, but the accompanying hot sauce more than made up for the lack of heat.

Duck curry

Duck curry

While we rapidly consumed our platters, Mike from Yonkers deliberately dipped his duck in the dhal, scooping a small portion of rice with it, and then wrapping it  into a portion of roti; the tedious process making us wait  until he finally finished before asking for our check. Eugene glared at him.

“Okay, I’m done,” Mike from Yonkers said, throwing up his hands.

On our way out and walking down Castle Hill Avenue with Zio, we passed  a familiar restaurant called Sabrosura.  It was familiar because a couple of years earlier we experienced the splendors of that Dominican/Chinese place and chronicled that experience in these pages( The Place Where They Don’t Count the Shrimp).  And like Sabrusora and so many others, Melanie’s was just another food find in Parts Unknown.

The Bronx

 

Melanie’s Roti & Grill Restaurant

1248 Castle Hill Avenue

The Bronx

Neckbones’ Rum Diary: The Polar Vortex Rum Route

27 Jan

Polar Vortex rum

We had been informed by those who know about such things that a Polar Vortex had descended on the city.  All I knew that it was very cold as I emerged from my car on barren 134th Street just off the Bruckner Boulevard. I was in what is known as the “Mott Haven” section of the Bronx. I know it as the south Bronx.

The wind was howling as I pushed open the non-descript heavy steel door and made my way up two flights to the world headquarters of the Tirado Distillery. I could hear music playing behind a closed door—disco from the 1970’s. I knocked. The music stopped. Dr. Renee Hernandez, the owner of, according to Dr. Hernandez, the Bronx’s first distillery since prohibition, was expecting me.

The Tirado Distillery sign

The Tirado Distillery door sign

The heat was on in the brightly lit room where folding tables and chairs held samples of the products made at the Tirado Distillery, but I was still cold. I was more familiar with rum among palm trees and sugar cane fields; often being whisked beach side to warm weather distilleries. Now, however, I was exploring that same spirit on grimy city streets within the grips of a polar vortex. I tried to keep an open mind as Dr. Hernandez offered me tasting sips of his products. I started with the corn whiskey.

“It’s organic,” Dr. Hernandez told me. “We get the corn from farms upstate.”

I winced at the taste, not that it was bad , but that I wasn’t quite ready for the bracing jolt it gave me.

“Bronx moonshine,” Dr. Hernandez called it. “It goes great in a ‘sex on the beach,’” he said.

I looked at him. He had to go and mention the beach?

I next tried the black rum. It was hearty; heavy-bodied in the style of what is known as Navy rums.

“I like to mix it with passion fruit juice,” Dr. Hernandez told me and I couldn’t argue. It needed something to cut its denseness.

“Where do you get your molasses for the rum,” I inquired. “Puerto Rico? The Dominican Republic? Jamaica?”

“New Jersey,” he answered.

I nodded, but said nothing.

“From International Molasses,” he added.

I understood but didn’t inquire further as to where New Jersey’s International Molasses got their molasses.

Finally I sampled the distillery’s “Maple Delight,” a blend of whiskey with a hint of local New York maple sugar. Surprisingly smooth, the Maple Delight was my favorite in the Tirado Distillery repertoire.

The sips had taken the chill off and Dr. Hernandez took me into the production facility down the hall which featured rows of plastic buckets used for fermentation, a few small stainless steel stills and boxes of empty bottles ready to be filled and labeled. From the loft-like facility, you could see the flickering lights of Manhattan.

Tirado's fermentation tanks.

Tirado’s fermentation tanks.

“We only produce around 300 bottles a year and concentrate on making our products clean and smooth. You won’t get a hangover from our rum or whiskey.” Dr. Hernandez proudly proclaimed.

I thanked him for the personalized tour and made my way back out into the cold. I got into my car and turned up the heat. The last time I made the rum rounds was on the island of Martinique. There are eleven rum distilleries on that French Caribbean island and the local tourist board promotes visiting them with what they call “la route des rhums.” Here in frigid New York, after Tirado Distillery, I had two more to visit. Would my escapade qualify as a route des rhums?

One of the distillery's on Martinique "route des rhums."

One of the distillery’s on Martinique’s “route des rhums.”

My next stop was Brooklyn and I soon found myself in an industrial, truck-crammed area similar to Mott Haven. I was in Williamsburg—or was it Bushwick—searching for my destination TNE (The Nobel Experiment)NYC, the distillery that makes another New York-produced rum called Owney’s. And I soon found it—the TNE NYC painted in big bold black letters above a graffiti-strewn steel door.

The door to TNE's headquarters.

The door to TNE’s headquarters.

On one of my tropical, beach-centric rum assignments many years ago I met Owen Tulloch, the master blender for J. Wray & Nephew’s Appleton Estate rums in Jamaica. At the time, the esteemed Mr. Tulloch was grooming his young associate, Joy Spence, in both the scientific and the sensory ways of blending fine rums. Soon after we met, Mr. Tulloch retired and Ms Spence became the spirit industry’s first female master blender.

Now, almost twenty years later, many miles north of the Caribbean during—I have to say it again— a polar vortex, I was greeted by Bridget Firtle, the CEO and founder of TNE who is not only another female master blender of fine rum, but one who also operates every physical aspect of the rum making process as well as distribution. The Noble Experiment is literally a one-woman show.

What can you say about a young, up and coming Wall Street and hedge fund mover and shaker who gives up that potentially very lucrative, yet soulless career for one that , albeit risky, actually enriches others’ (speaking of my own) lives by following her passion and creating a beloved (by me) hand-crafted spirit in her polar vortex-challenged hometown? That is what Bridget Firtle has done and some might think that maybe inhaling too many alcoholic vapors might have compromised her career choice decision while others, me included, applaud her for chasing her dream.

The Noble Experiment, so named as a nod to one of the terms associated with Prohibition when rum running was the rage, was housed in an open, airy room where towering mashing tanks and copper pot stills glittered in the natural light that poured through the big windows. The machinery looked imposing to me, but Ms. Firtle learned to handle them all expertly enough to churn out 23,000 bottles in her initial 2012 batch, and to also earn Owney’s Rum, named in another nod to the Prohibition Era after notorious bootlegger, Cotton Club owner, and gangster, Owney Madden, a silver medal at the 2013 New York International Spirit’s Competition.

Some of the machinery at the TNE Distillery run by Bridgit Firtle.

Some of the machinery at the TNE Distillery run by Bridget Firtle.

Fortified with sugar cane molasses from Florida and Louisiana and made with that same coveted New York water that is credited with making New York bagels and pizza so good, Owney’s is a smooth white rum. The sip offered me at the handsome wood burnished bar in the lobby of the distillery reflected that distinctive water; clean enough to enjoy on the rocks with a wedge of lime or, even better, as the soul of a classic daiquiri. Firtle’s own experiment is not only noble, but very impressive and though Wall Street might be the “poorer” for losing her talents, the New York rum establishment, such as it is, is much richer for it.

Polar Vortex Rum

I wasn’t far from the next stop in my urban rum route, also in Brooklyn, and even though I found my way to Red Hook, I wasn’t really sure exactly where I was going and what I was going to see. My interest was in Cacao Prieto rum, but did that mean I needed to go to the Widow Jane bourbon factory that was associated with Cacao Prieto, which was also, as its name connotes, a chocolate making enterprise. I noticed the colorful mural of workers harvesting sugar cane on the wall of a warehouse. I knew I had to be close and then around the corner saw the old brick building with the prominent “Cacao Prieto” sign on it. I was where I wanted to be. At least I thought I was.

Harvesting sugar can in Red Hook during a Polar Vortex.

Harvesting sugar cane in Red Hook during a Polar Vortex.

The doors were locked but a sign on it left a phone number to call to gain entry or to “knock loudly.” I knocked loudly. A man in worker coveralls opened up. I told him what my interest was. Another man, bearded and heavily tattooed with a roguish, Captain Jack Sparrow smile, introduced himself as Vince Oleson. “I’m a distiller,” he said.

A distiller at a rum distillery could certainly help me. And Mr. Oleson did. He took me past the American and French oak barrels, copper pot stills, through a small yard where live chickens roamed, and then to the fermentation tanks in a back room.  Oleson told me how the rum was made from organic sugar cane from Daniel Preston’s, the owner and founder of Cacao Prieto, family’s farm in the Dominican Republic where the cacao for the artisanal chocolate made at Cacao Prieto also came from. He explained how the water used was from the “Widow Jane” mine in the Catskills and packed with minerals adding even more depth to the finished product, and how the cacao beans were actually fermented with the white rum to create their signature and unique “Don Rafael Cacao Rum,” and “Don Esteban Cacao liqueur.”

I did a lot of nodding as Oleson schooled me in the Red Hook rum making process. It all sounded almost too impressive. No one ever emphasized the water during my various other Caribbean rum tours. No one blended organic cacao with organic sugar cane in Martinique, Jamaica, Barbados or any of the other rum-making islands I’d visited. But this was Brooklyn, home of the artisanal food movement: I should have known.

Polar Vortex Rum

After the tour, Oleson set me up at their tasting bar with samplings of a number Cacao Prieto’s rums including a small batch produced of what they call Widow Jane Rye rum, or rum aged in the oak barrels formerly used to age the company’s rye. The result was a subtle smoky flavor from the rye. “With this you could make a rum sazerac,” I said.

“Now that’s a great idea,” Oleson replied, again with the rougish, Jack Sparrow smile.

After that sip I was full of great ideas and it got even better when I sampled Cacao Prieto’s Don Rafael Cacao rum; the company’s smooth white rum infused with their own rich chocolate. But this wasn’t just chocolate, this was “cacao,” and the flavor was both intense and clean. Finally I sipped the white rum. Like Owney’s, it’s was fresh, fortified by that mineral-rich New York water and would work just fine on the rocks or in a lightly flavored drink like a daiquiri or even a French Caribbean Ti Punch.

The Cacao Prieto Tasting Bar.

The Cacao Prieto Tasting Bar.

I let Mr. Oleson get back to work. There were rums to distill. My self guided route des rhums was over and I was stuck in traffic on the BQE. The windshield of my car was beginning to ice and I turned on the defroster. Now that my hometown had its own burgeoning rum making industry did I really need to travel all the way to those lush, warm tropical islands to experience what had been lacking here? As I pondered that question, there was more blather on the radio about the polar vortex.  By the time I crossed the Kosciusko Bridge into Queens, I pondered it no more.

On the Polar Vortex rum route.

The scenic Polar Vortex rum route.

Tirado Distillery
755 W. 134th St.
The Bronx
tiradorum.com

The Noble Experiment
23 Meadow Street,
Brooklyn
tneynyc.com

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn
cacaoprieto.com

Jerked Jamaican Justice

2 Aug

Frank's Soup

The kangaroo court was in session. I just wanted to enjoy my meal at Frank’s Soup Bowl in peace, but Eugene insisted on disciplinary action. He was adamant that Rick was in serious violation of the code and ethics of our loosely structured food group. “How can a guy just forget about the dates? What’s this, like the sixth straight he’s missed? He needs some sort of punishment for his actions,” Eugene clamored.

I was picking at the brownstew fish in front of me, doing my best to tune out Eugene’s bellowing. The fish at the tiny Jamaican, take-out mostly place, smothered in a light brown gravy was cooked to tender perfection. When Rick, the day before we were to meet and who was supposed to chose the eating venue, for the second straight time bowed out, Mike from Yonkers stepped in admirably and quickly chose Frank’s Soup Bowl in the Caribbean enclave of Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.

I deftly separated the meat from the bones pulling away the fish’s carcass. I took a bite of the moist meat. “He’s got a baby at home,” I said, in Rick’s defense. “I’ve been there. I know what that can do to short—and long term memory.”

“Oh, stop making excuses for him,” Eugene scoffed.

Brownfish stew

Brownstew fish

I shrugged and concentrated on the fish. Not only was it the second straight abrupt cancellation for Rick, he had been absent for most of 2013’s gatherings.

Zio, conciliatory by nature, after slurping a few spoonfuls of the red bean soup, agreed. “I mean, really, how do you forget? Even I saw the emails.” This from a man who is famous for not reading emails. See our last adventure at  Hong Kong Café ( Cantonese Cappuccino).

Gerry didn’t let the proceedings diminish his enjoyment of the plate of fish escovitch, that Jamaican specialty, steaks of king fish marinated in pickled onions, cabbage, allspice, and peppers. “A lifetime ban?” he suggested semi-seriously but without a bit of rancor.

fish escovite

fish escovitch

“Rick’s a vital part of our group,” I said in his defense. “What would we do without him? Who could replace him?”

“Yeah, but he’s never here, so what’s the difference?” Eugene responded, his mouth still stuffed with jerk chicken. “Oh and by the way, this jerk chicken is excellent.”

Being a jerk aficionado, the chicken, though roasted slowly, the meat moist and pulling clean from the bone, lacked the fire and the smoky flavor found in Jamaican roadside jerk and what I come to associate with the dish.

Frank's jerk chicken

Frank’s jerk chicken

I shook my head. “No a lifetime ban is too severe,” I said.

“A year? Six months. You gotta do something?” Eugene was insistent. “Come on, you’re the commissioner. Don’t let him slide. We have to send a message here.”

Mike from Yonkers thoughtfully added a plate of jerked oxtail, some codfish fritters and sweet plantains to our table. I grabbed an oxtail and sucked the meat from its hard, gelatinous tendon. The richness of the meat helped temper the heavy burden that had been placed on my shoulders.

Oxtails

Oxtails

“We’ve all made mistakes over the years,” I said, trying to get Eugene and the others to see that we should not be so harsh.

“Speaking of mistakes,” Zio said. “Did you see that Uncle George’s in Astoria closed?”

In our early years, Zio brought us to Uncle George’s Greek tavern and he’s had to live down the unfortunate experience ever since.

“Yeah and that place Gerry had us schlep out to in Sheepshead Bay?” Eugene said.

“That Turkish place was good,” Gerry responded.

“Yeah, but we had to go to the ATM after it was so expensive.”

“Who am I to say anything,” Mike from Yonkers replied. “I picked that place in the East Village with the tablecloths and candles. What did I know?”

“You’ll never make that mistake again,” I said wiping my face with one of the countless paper napkins on our table while eating the jerked oxtail with a plastic fork out of an aluminum take-out container. “The point is, no one is perfect. Rick has a lot on his plate these days. Cut him some slack.”

“Sheesh,” Eugene muttered.

“You can’t not penalize him,” Gerry stated.

“But is it fair that he is not here to speak in his own defense?” I asked.

Zio laughed. “That’s the point, he’s not here.”

I nodded. He was right. We were finished at Frank’s Soup Kitchen but I hadn’t come to a resolution concerning Rick. We headed outside to the street. It was a beautiful, cool Summer evening and we lingered outside the restaurant before going our separate ways.

Frank's menu

Frank’s menu

“Well?” Eugene wanted a ruling.

“I’ll think of something,” I said, postponing my decision for the time being.

“You better,” he said. “Step up on this. The integrity of our food group is on the line here.”

Gerry turned to Eugene and raised a bushy eyebrow. “What integrity?”

Frank’s Soup Bowl
3580 Bronxwood Avenue
Bronx

It’s a Floridita Thing

29 Apr

I’ve never been to Cuba, but I hear the place in Havana that Hemingway made famous is a serious tourist trap. Floridita The old writer probably wouldn’t have appreciated having tourists pose next to his bronzed self at the famous restaurant’s bar.

Buy that man a daiquiri.

Buy that man a daiquiri.

Instead, he would better appreciate what can be found in and around my neighborhood in New York. Floridita (4) The options are many here, including pizza. Floridita (6) Maybe a cafe con leche and a slice of tres leche cake…not to mention pastrami and roast beef at the Floridita Bakery. Floridita barI guarantee there are no bronze replicas of Hemingway at this Floridita. But do they make a proper daiquiri?

Since the daiquiri is a Floridita thing, the Floriditas of New York aim to please.              Floridita daiquiriThis daiquiri might not conjure images of raucous nights with that crazy writer in old Havana, but at least you don’t have to travel through Mexico to get it. And they even take credit cards.

Ti’ Time

5 Apr

Ti’ (pronounced “tea”) time for me is usually just before dinner. Drinking a Ti’ helps spur my appetite, or that’s how I justify it. It’s what is called an aperitif. In the French Caribbean they don’t bother to justify spurring their appetites; Ti’ time is before just about every meal, including breakfast. The Ti’ in question is actually called Ti’ punch, with Ti’ meaning tiny or “petit” in Creole.

Ti' Punch ingredients

Ti’ Punch ingredients

I’ve heard it said that big gifts come in small packages. The Ti’ punch is a good example of that.  This little cocktail packs a hefty punch and might do a little more than spur your appetite if you aren’t careful.

The main ingredient for a Ti’ punch is Rhum Agricole Blanc from one of the French Caribbean Islands. Most accessible here in the States are the rums from Martinique. And I wrote about some of those in my post Neckbones Rum Diary: The J.M Incident. If you can get your hands on white rum from Guadeloupe or Haiti, I’m sure they will more than suffice in this recipe

Next you will need a small Old Fashioned or rocks glass.

To the glass you will add a few ice cubes. Not too many and if you prefer none at all, that’s fine too.

Take a thin wedge of lime, squeeze it lightly and drop it into the glass.

Fill a demitasse spoon, if you have one, with cane sugar syrup (brown only please). If you don’t have the demitasse spoon, drop in a quarter or half a teaspoon instead, depending on how sweet you like your drink.

In goes the syrup

In goes the syrup

Finally, pour two to three ounces of the Rhum Agricole Blance into the glass. Give it a mix with the spoon, or better yet, a little tropical mixer.

...and finally the rum.

…and finally the rum.

How fast you would like to drink it is up to you. I don’t like to savor it too long, but neither do I like to down it like a shot. Somewhere in between is the desired rate of consumption.

Stir it and drink.

Stir it and drink.

The only bad thing about Ti’ time is that it doesn’t last very long—unless you choose to take it into overtime.

Neck Bones’ Condiment Hall of Fame: Pickapeppa Sauce

11 Jan

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New York Times listed this year’s baseball Hall of Fame inductees in their paper yesterday. The page was a blank. No one received over 75 percent of the vote necessary to gain entry. To compensate for the lack of 2013 baseball Hall of Famers, I’m creating my own Hall of Fame, but not for baseball players. Mine will be for the most deserving condiments on the planet. And they don’t need over 75 percent of anyone else’s vote. For now, I’m the only judge for this award, and I swear I won’t hold it against a condiment if they might be, or once were, pumped with steroids or anything else chemical or artificial. I know in the world of condiments, there is no such thing as a level playing field.

So, the inaugural inductee to the Neck Bones Condiment Hall of Fame is that Jamaican treasure: Pickapeppa  Sauce.

Pickappa Sauce

Pickapeppa originated in 1921 and still is produced in Jamaica, in a place called Shooter’s Hill. I once drove past the Pickapeppa factory many years ago, but foolishly didn’t stop to wander the facilities to learn how such a unique sauce is concocted. So I can only go on what it says on the label of the bottle which tells me that the ingredients include mangoes, tamarind, tomatoes, onions, sugar cane vinegar, raisins, and “spices.” And then, like good Jamaican rum, the sauce is aged in oak barrels for a year before it is sold to the public.

In Jamaica, Pickapeppa became famous as an accompaniment to cream cheese. I can honestly declare that I have never contemplated topping a bagel and cream cheese with Pickapeppa sauce, but maybe I’m missing something.  Pickapeppa is also commonly used an added ingredient to marinades for barbecues, a baste for fish or meat, and stirred into gravies for a tangy kick. I’ve used it as a dip for samosas , tempuras, and fried fish, to lively up a dull or dry piece of meat, or sprinkled on scrambled eggs.

On the website www.pickapeppa.com; there are a number of recipes including one for a Creole bloody mary that looked intriguing. In fact, I’ve heard that the sauce has become a favorite new source for  creative Caribbean mixologists.

As a tribute to Pickapeppa, I cooked up one of the recipes on the website: Pickapeppa Pulled Chicken. I’ve tweaked it somewhat, but otherwise, I present it here, pretty much intact.

Ingredients:

2-3lbs of skinless chicken breasts, rib intact

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped.

3 ounces, or three quarters of a 5 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa Sauce*

1 tbs of Jerk sauce (I used Walkerswood, another candidate for a future edition of the Neck Bones Hall of Fame)

3 dashes of hot sauce.

2/3s  of a 12 ounce bottle of ginger beer.

*The website’s recipe calls for a 15 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa sauce to be used. I’ve never seen a bottle larger than the traditional 5 ounce bottle, so I’m not sure if it was a typo or not. Either way, Three ounces of the rich sauce seemed more than enough for me.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Combine the Pickapeppa Sauce, jerk sauce, hot sauce, and olive oil in a small bowl and mix.

Coat the chicken breasts with the sauce and let sit at room temperature for a half hour.

Pickapeppa

Add the chopped onions and garlic to a crock pot or slow cooker and then pour in 2/3s of a bottle of the ginger beer. You could toss in the whole bottle, but I saved a third to use in a well deserved Dark  & Stormy that I figured would be the perfect pairing with the pulled chicken.

Ginger beer going in.

Ginger beer going in.

Add the chicken breasts, cover and cook on low for four to six hours.

In the crock pot.

In the crock pot.

Pickapeppa pulled chicken

Pickapeppa pulled chicken six hours later

When done, shred the chicken breasts, be careful to remove any bones, and add in a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to moisten. Serve on rolls or not, and top with any remaining Pickapeppa sauce you might have.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

If you have any personal tributes to Pickapeppa on this, it’s Hall of Fame induction day, please don’t hesitate to include them in the comments section below.

 

 

It’s an Oxtail World…

14 Dec

Ox 003

oxtail5

oxtail6

oxtails (8)

oxtails (10)

Sylvia's and stuff 002

 

oxtail7 (2)

Ox 007

Elsie's

We just live in it.

 

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