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Neck Bones Anniversary Anchovy Sauce

3 Oct

Last year, around this time, on the first anniversary of the launch of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I celebrated with a batch of Neck Bones Tomato Sauce, the recipe I shared on these pages (Neck Bones Anniversary Tomato Sauce). I don’t really consider myself a man of tradition, but when it comes to food, and eating, maybe I am. So to follow tradition, on this, the second anniversary of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I have celebrated with another pasta sauce. This one is meatless, but to compensate any lack of flavor, doused heavily with that favorite little fish; the anchovy.

Speaking of traditions, the origin of my romance with the anchovy began with a Christmas Eve tradition. One of the seven fishes (Seven Fishes for Seven Dishes), prepared for that Italian feast in our family was the anchovy. My grandmother was the chef and when I was young, the featured pasta was spaghetti with anchovies.

But anchovy love doesn’t come easily or immediately. The sight, smell and taste of the little brown oily and spiny fillets could cause a child to retch. I wanted no part of it and I wasn’t alone. My brothers felt the same way and instead, on Christmas Eve, we had our spaghetti with just butter and Parmesan cheese.

Soon after experiencing puberty, our taste buds became more open minded and, though anchovies were still a tough sell, we graduated to the milder, white clam sauce. There was now a seafood alternative to coat the spaghetti with.

I can’t pinpoint the actual date when I converted, but it was sometime in early adulthood. Soon I was actually adding a few of those fillets into my white clam sauce. There was definitely something about that stinky fishy fish that was working magic in my mouth. Friends looked at me in horror when I began to, voluntarily, decorate my slices of pizza with the fillets. It wasn’t long before, given the choice on Christmas Eve, I would take the anchovy sauce before the white clam.

The romance was on and grows stronger with each year. There is no chance I eat spaghetti with anchovies just on Christmas Eve. It’s now a treat I prepare every couple of months—and a simple, inexpensive one at that.

I’m sure many of you might have a prejudice against the anchovy stemming from early encounters when, like me, your sense of taste just wasn’t ready for such an assault of flavor. Try to move past that prejudice and give the little fish another chance. And here, to lead you on to the path of anchovy righteousness is my recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovies.

Some of the ingredients for spaghetti with anchovies.

Ingredients

1 small bottle of anchovies in olive oil.*

½ cup of olive oil

4-5 good-sized cloves of garlic, chopped into large pieces**

½ tsp of dried red pepper flakes or a few slices of fresh chili pepper (for this one I used a fresh chili from the garden)

2 tbs of chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup of dry white wine or water

1lb of spaghetti

*Anchovies come in several forms. There are the tins or bottles in olive oil, or they can be bought packed in salt. The anchovies packed in salt are the most desired, but also the most expensive and most work. The salt packed anchovies need to be rinsed under cold water and then cleaned of the tail and whatever guts might still be attached. Sounds disgusting, but worth the effort in the long run. For this recipe, however, I used imported Italian anchovies from a jar and they’ll do just fine. The anchovies found in the tins work too, but are not quite up to the quality you will find in the jar or salt packed.

What I used.

**The finer you chop or mince garlic, the stronger the taste. For this dish, which already is overflowing with flavor from the anchovies and red pepper, I like a milder taste from the garlic so I keep the pieces coarsely chopped, rather than fine.

Breaking up the anchovies.

In a skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame. Add the garlic, but do not brown. Toss in the red pepper, cook for a minute and then add the anchovies. There will be sizzling. Stir the anchovies around the oil, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Add the white wine or water and lower the heat. Once the sauce simmers, stir again until the anchovies have melted into the liquid forming a brown, almost gravy-like sauce. It should look a little like the Piedmontese specialty bagna cauda. Taste and if it is too strong, add more water or wine.

The sauce is now ready for serving.

Cook the spaghetti al dente, drain, and then add the sauce, topping with the fresh parsley. If you are an anchovy fanatic, like my father, you might want to also add a few extra uncooked fillets on top of your bowl.

Though the pasta police prohibit grated parmigiano  Reggiano or Romano cheese on seafood sauces, if you choose to indulge, you have my word that I won’t report you.

Spaghetti with anchovy sauce

Coppertoned Eggplant

14 Aug

I don’t know what is more abundant, the summer eggplant crop or the recipes on what to do with all of them. And here I am joining the fray with one of my own.

This one is not unfamiliar. It’s the summer version of eggplant parmigiana. The difference between the summer and non-summer is that the eggplant is  grilled as opposed to the traditional egg-dipped, breaded and then fried (though my non-summer version is baked, never fried, but that’s another story).

 Ingredients

2 medium to large eggplants-sliced into ½  inch rounds*.

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella

½ cup of grated parmigiana or pecorino cheese

4-6 cups of marinara sauce (recipe below**)

6 fresh basil leaves

Salt and crushed red pepper to taste.

*You could peel the eggplant if the tough skin bothers you. I peel them when I am making eggplant parmigiana in the oven. But I think charring the skins adds to the summery flavor of this dish.

After slicing the eggplants, sprinkle with salt (Kosher or sea salt preferred) and coat with olive oil.

If using a gas grill, turn it on and warm it up. Using a charcoal grill is a bit trickier, but the results will be more satisfying. The eggplant will gain a smoky flavor that can’t be replicated with the gas grill. The problem is trying to keep the eggplants from falling through the cooking grate as a sacrifice to the charcoal gods. You’ll need one of those vegetable and/or fish baskets to go over the original grate. I have yet to find one I really like so I tend to cook vegetables on the gas grill. And even when grilling on a gas grill, I usually lose a few through the grates no matter how careful I am.

Grill the eggplant until it has that nice, even Coppertone tan. Tan lines, in this case, are more than acceptable. The char lines from the grill grate add to the beauty of the eggplant’s appearance.

Tan lines accepted.

Remove the eggplant from the grill and let them cool while you put the parmigiana together.

Copptertoned eggplant

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a 9 inch, by 13 inch baking dish, (or something similar) spread about a cup and a half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Arrange the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, add another half cup of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle half of mozzarella over all.

Building the parmigiana

Add another layer of eggplant slices and repeat with the sauce and mozzarella. Continue until you have used all the eggplant. Make sure you’ve saved some sauce and mozzarella to coat the top of the last layer.

Scatter the fresh basil leaves evenly over the sauce and mozzarella and then sprinkle the parmigiana cheese over all.

Put the dish in the oven and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

 

Coppertoned eggplant parmigiana

 

**Simple marinara Sauce recipe

1 28 ounce can of good Italian whole peeled tomatoes

3 tbs olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped. (The finer the slice or chop, the more garlicky the flavor).

¼ tsp of crushed red pepper

4-6 fresh basil leaves

Salt to taste

 

Empty the tomatoes in a bowl and crush with your hands.

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and heat to medium-high.

Add the garlic and cook until very slightly browned.

Toss in the tomatoes.

Add the crushed red pepper and basil and a moderate sprinkling of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Marinara sauce can be made well ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen and then thawed when needed.

How to Eat a Mango

10 Jul

I’ve often wondered,

how to eat this fruit.

It has an odd shape,

kind of like an egg with a loop.

It’s sweet and the flesh is juicy,

and  good for you too.

But how do you eat it

without getting quite messy?

If the fruit is soft and pliant to grope,

like what you might find in a ripe cantaloupe.

That means it is ripe and ready to eat.

The problem is, how to do it neat?

I hear there are over 1,000 varieties of mangoes around.

But where I live only a few types are to be found.

What I see in stores and on street carts,

come from places like Mexico, Salvador, Peru and Brazil.

Warm, tropical lands,

where there is no chill.

They  have names like “champagne,”

“Ataulfo,” “Tommy Atkins,” “Kent,” and more.

I’m sure there is a difference,

though this mango novice can’t tell for sure.

Ataulfo mangoes

On an island far away,

I once ate a Julie,

mango that is.

It was sweet and luscious.

I still can’t believe,

something so delicious,

could come from a tree.

Once peeled, the nectar quickly

flowed from within.

That Julie made such a mess,

a beach towel was needed,

to clean up my chin.

Three Julies

The mangoes from Haiti

are long and light green.

This fruit’s flavor is special,

the taste, a mango fan’s dream.

But there are drawbacks, I’m afraid.

It costs a little more,

and eating it most certainly can be a chore.

The Haitian

You can peel the tough skin with a knife.

Pull it down and try to slice.

Be careful before you start chewing,

The juices might spurt.

Don’t be slow.

Stay alert.

Oh my, how the bright orange flesh stains so.

No doubt, your nice white shirt, will soon be aglow.

Put away the knife,

and give up on the slice.

Just suck through the flesh,

right to the big stone.

This chore is one, you need to handle alone.

The temptations are many.

You might want to bite.

You’ll soon learn, that won’t be right.

Like a thatch of thorns that have you entangled,

your teeth will be riddled with tough fibers at every angle.

To dislodge requires little cost.

All you’ll need is plenty of time,

and two packs of dental floss.

Some say the best way to eat a mango

is one where you cut into the flesh;

a criss cross pattern.

that looks like a mesh.

Turn the skin upside down,

with gentle firmness, you’ll press.

The pieces will fall into a bowl or dish.

Eat with a toothpick, fork or chopstick.

No fuss.

No mess.

The criss cross method.

Like the many varieties of mango,

the choices of how to eat one are plenty.

And while I waste my time,

with these ridiculous rhymes,

I’m sure the list will grow.

Suck, nibble, bite or chew?

Who am I to tell you what to do?

How to eat a mango.

really, is up to you.

A Recipe for the 4th of July: 2012

3 Jul

Last year at this time I posted a recipe for the 4th of July. It was for the simple grilled hot dog on a bun: A Recipe for the 4th of July.  This year I am adding a side dish that complements the tube steak like no other: Barbecued baked (that aren’t baked) beans.

Like I do in so much of my limited cooking, I choose the easy path to the hard. I like to cut corners. I admit to being lazy at times. But I try to do it without sacrificing too much flavor or quality.

As I’ve discussed in the previous posts I’ve called  The Fazool Trilogy, The quality of most beans from a can as compared to dried, is, in my estimation, minimal.  And that miniscule difference just does not justify the extra time and effort in soaking and then cooking the beans. So I cut that process out. Just make sure you drain and rinse the canned beans in cold water before using them.

I’m lazy, but not this lazy.

Some might say if you are going to be lazy, go all the way. Just buy a can of pre-made baked beans. And to be honest, there are one or two that aren’t too far off in taste. Nothing a little doctoring won’t shore up. But by doing it the way I’ve chosen, you can control the flavor; the sweetness, salt content, and even add a few tricks of your own into it.

For my version of barbecued baked beans you will need the following:

2 15 or 16 ounce cans of small white beans*

2 strips of bacon, diced

1 medium onion, chopped.

2 tbs molasses

2 tbs brown sugar

1 cup of ketchup

1 tbs of yellow mustard (the cheap, glow in the dark kind).

1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp of apple cider vinegar

2 cups of water

Dash or two of hot sauce.

Salt and pepper to taste

*The traditional bean of choice for baked beans is the Navy bean. Some recipes call for the “Great Northern” bean while others prefer the pinto bean. Any of the above, as long as they are about pebble size, will suffice and absorb the flavors of the barbecue sauce.

Rinse the beans in cold water and strain.

Rinsing the beans.

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon until the fat renders.

Add the onion and fry in the bacon fat for about five minutes or until softened.

Softening the onions in the bacon fat.

Pour in the water and deglaze the bottom of the pan.

Add the ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar.

The liquid ingredients getting ready for the arrival of the beans.

Stir and bring to a boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

Add the beans.

Cooking down the beans.

Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about a half hour or 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is cooked off and thickened to what resembles a barbecue sauce.

Drop in a few dashes of hot sauce.

Stir again and serve.

The baked beans not only are one of my favorite side dishes for a barbecue, they also make a delicious topping to a Fourth of  July hot dog.

The Fazool Trilogy: Part Three

9 May

Of the Italian-American all star bean trio I have written about in the Fazool Trilogy, it is this dish that most refer to when they speak in that slang my high school Italian teacher reviled, “fazool.”

And in honor of my high school Italian teacher’s pet name for me, “pigrone” or lazybones, I’ve titled my version of pasta e fagioli accordingly.

It’s not just because I was a lazy student  in my high school Italian class that I’ve named the dish this way but because, by using canned beans instead of dried, which require soaking and then cooking on their own, I’ve cut a huge corner in preparation. I’m all for cutting corners in cooking if the results are pretty much negligible either way. And in my experience, I find little difference between taking the time to soak the dried beans instead of using canned. Certainly not enough to warrant the extra time and effort.

Unlike pasta e ceci, and pasta lenticchie, my grandmother did not make pasta e fagioli much for me. I remember her serving heaping bowls of it to my grandfather at lunch when he would come in from gardening, construction, house painting; whatever  handy work he was doing at the time. I don’t recall my brothers and I being forced fed what my grandfather ate heartily. Maybe she assumed that we would totally reject the concept of the pale cannellini bean and rather have a tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And looking back now, that’s a shame. As a result, I came to my appreciation of pasta e fagioli later in life.

When they say “fazool” this is what they mean.

My grandmother, I do know, made pasta e fagioli with the legume of choice for the dish, the cannellini bean. I have known Italians, however, who swear by the kidney bean when making their “fazool.” To me that changes the dish completely, but who am I to judge anyone on their fagioli preference?

All of the bean dishes in the Fazool Trilogy are unique and not just because of the type of bean. The first in the Trilogy, Pasta e Ceci, is more like a pasta dish; the pasta being the dominant part of the dish with the chick peas folded into the pasta.

In the Fazool Trilogy: Part Two, Pasta e Lenticchie, the lentils are the main attraction while the strands of broken spaghetti fill out and balance the dish by adding much needed starch to the heftiness of the lentils.

Pasta e fagioli, at least the way I like to make it, is more like a soup, or stew, than the other two. And because it has a more liquid consistency, unlike the others, I add a little meat flavoring, chopped smoked ham or pancetta. If you want to keep it meatless, you won’t lose much; the same can be said with adding meat to the other two in the Trilogy.

What follows below is my pretty standard, and hopefully not too difficult, recipe.

Lazybones Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients

1 tbs of olive oil

2 cans of cannellini beans, (15-16 ounces) drained and rinsed.

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 celery rib, chopped fine

1 medium carrot chopped fine

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

3 to 4 cups of chicken broth (beef broth works too)

2 cups water

1 tsp salt

1 28 ounce can of diced or chopped tomatoes with juices (I like pieces of tomato in my broth, so I usually go with diced or chopped; sometimes crushed is just puree)

3 ounces smoked ham, pancetta, or bacon (I prefer the first two to bacon just because bacon’s strong flavor influences the dish more than I like, but it still works. For this batch I’ve used smoked ham).

1 secret ingredient (that’s not so secret anymore, to find out what it is, refer to The Fazool Trilogy: Part Two.)

Secret ingredient

8 ounces of a small pasta shape (I like ditalini, but small shells, elbows, and tubetini also work).

¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Grated Parmesan cheese

The pasta of Pasta Fagioli

Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven or wide bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
Add the ham, pancetta or bacon and cook until it browns lightly, around 5 minutes.

Chopped smoked ham

Stir in the onions, celery, and carrots, until they are softened. Around 7 minutes.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano, stir for about 1 minute.

Pour in tomatoes and the secret ingredient that’s not so secret anymore and bring to a boil.

Pasta e Fagioli minus the pasta and the fagioli.

Add the broth, water, 1 teaspoon salt, beans, and bring to a boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

Drop the pasta into the pot and cook until it is a minute from being al dente. Timing depends on the pasta shape and brand; check the package. (Beware of overcooking the pasta; you don’t want mush).

Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, ladle into bowls, and add the desired amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Pasta e Fagioli

Like the others in the Trilogy, Pasta e Fagioli is best served with a crusty bread and a green salad.

Thus concludes the Fazool Trilogy, however, I am always open to suggestions and ideas on how this series can be continued and transformed into epic status. So please don’t hesitate to comment with your fazool insight.

The Fazool Trilogy: Part Two

30 Mar

Part Two of the Fazool Trilogy features a dish that I have never seen on a restaurant menu anywhere. And I wonder why? Thankfully, my grandmother, known in the family as “Nanny,”  introduced me to the tiny legume and the hearty, almost meat-like broth it made when cooked and then combined with broken bits of spaghetti.

When I would call to say I was coming over for lunch, she would say, “I’ll make lentichhie. Or ceci.” (Pasta e Ceci). The pasta part was a given.  She would serve a big bowl  with her homemade loaf bread and a salad; the lunch would fortify me easily until dinner.

As I have said, there were never any written recipes.  And back when I was younger, I didn’t really pay attention to what went into Nanny’s meals. It was the end result that was my only concern.

So now  I’ve tried my best to recreate her simple, Calabrese dishes. There always, however, seems to be something missing. I can never exactly duplicate what I remember. Still, I get close enough to continue trying.

Pasta e Lenticchie

1lb bag of dried lentils (Some use the fancy French lentils, but fancy was not in Nanny’s vocabulary;. She used, and so do I, the basic green, most inexpensive lentils).

1 onion-diced

2 garlic cloves-minced

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

6-8 cups chicken broth or water, or a combination of both. (The more liquid, the soupier the dish, which, in this case, is not a bad thing. It just depends on your mood and taste).

1 cup plum tomatoes, chopped, juice retained.

½ lb of spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces (you can also use tubetti, ditalini, or small elbows)

4 tbs olive oil

Salt and pepper

Grated pecorino Romano or Parmesean  Reggiano.

1 secret ingredient (the picture of which, you will find below).*

Name that ingredient.

Rinse the lentils in cold water a few times to remove any dirt or grit.

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.

Sauté the onions until soft; about five minutes over medium heat.

Add the garlic and thyme for another one to two minutes.

Toss in the lentils and sauté for about a minute.

Pour in the chicken broth/water and the tomatoes.

Add the bay leaf.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until the lentils are soft, but not mushy.

You can add the spaghetti and cook it with the lentils, but I prefer to cook them separately.

So, in another pot, boil water and add the spaghetti pieces. Cook until al dente, drain, but reserve a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid.

Add the spaghetti pieces and the remains of the pasta cooking liquid to the lentils.

Stir, and cook for another minute or two.

Scoop into bowls.

Top with grated cheese and a little chopped parsely.

Enjoy with crusty bread and a salad

Pasta e lenticchie

*You correctly guessed the secret ingredient as a parmesean Reggiano rind. I  really don’t know what the rind adds to the dish; many include one when they make Sunday sauce and pasta e fagioli (Part Three of the Trilogy  to come).  If nothing else, the rind imparts a salty, aged flavor to the creation that maybe is just in our heads. Or maybe not. If you have one lying around, toss it in. It won’t hurt the dish.

And the Answer is…

26 Mar

On Friday I posted the image below and challenged all of you to Name That Place.

I’m happy to report that I received a number of correct answers.

They knew that at this place, you would also see this magnificent vaulted tiled ceiling.

And that the place is known for these:

Where if you, god forbid, missed your train.

You could happily pass the time, slurping on this.

Oyster pan roast

At the 99-year old, Grand Central Oyster Bar.

Congratulations to all those who guessed correctly.  Stay tuned for another installment of Name That Place next month right here on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries.

The Fazool Trilogy: Part One

1 Mar

I had an Italian teacher in high school who was about four and a half feet tall. She had gray-hair she wore in a strict conservative bun and dressed like a Sicilian widow. She was no-nonsense in class and compensated for her diminutive size by never hesitating to come down hard and loud on a slacker. Her pet word for me was “pigrone,” or lazybones. She was also a stickler for classic, traditional Italian; no dialect, and definitely no Italian-American slang was tolerated. Whenever she heard the hated, vulgar misuse of her native Italian, she would spew venomously: “It’s fagioli. Not ‘fazooool.’ It’s capicola, not ‘gabagool!’ And this was way before Soprano’s speak made the slang even more popular.

Just getting some sun while waiting for an order of gabagool.

I don’t know where my teacher is now, but I hope she doesn’t mind too much that I’ve titled this series, The Fazool Trilogy. I promise I’ll never utter such an abomination in public.  What follows is part one of the trilogy.

Pasta e Ceci a la Nanny

After my grandfather died, I would try, whenever my schedule permitted, to visit my grandmother for lunch. If it wasn’t a Sunday, when lunch was red sauce, polpette and other meats, the lunch would usually include some sort of pasta and bean combination. My grandmother, we called Nanny, knew that I loved her pasta e ceci (pasta with chick peas); one of the few in the family, besides my grandfather, who did.

So a big hearty bowl would be waiting for me which I would devour much to my Nanny’s pleasure. Nothing made her happier than having the food she prepared devoured.

Now Nanny is also gone and with it the recipes that were in her head alone…she never wrote any down.

Over the years I’ve done my best to re-create her dishes, including pasta e ceci.

The recipe that follows is my version and incorporates the lazybones label I earned in my high school Italian class. I cut a few little corners, but the result, I found, really hasn’t suffered.

This is what you’ll need.

1 15 ounce can of chick peas, preferably Italian*

1 garlic clove, sliced thin

½ cup of chopped onion

½ tsp of dried oregano

¼ teaspoon of dried hot red pepper flakes

¼ cup of olive oil

¾ pound of dried pasta (medium shells, pipette, or any other medium-sized cut)

½ cup of grated parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino Romano.

Salt to taste.

Chopped parsley for garnish

*Where I’ve cut a huge corner is using canned chick peas instead of dried. I’ve done the bean soaking thing and though it is slightly more economical, I find it not only time consuming, but sometimes, for whatever reason, you end up with beans that never soften. And maybe it’s my unsophisticated palate, but I really don’t notice a major difference in bean quality or taste; certainly not enough to justify the effort. Though some canned beans are better than others, but I’m not naming names.

Drain the beans and rinse with cold water.

Heat the olive oil on a medium flame and then add the onion. Sauté for about three minutes or until the onion softens. Add the garlic and cook for about two more minutes. Toss in the oregano and red pepper flakes and toast for one minute. Add the beans and a quarter cup of water.

Simmer all on low.

Pipette: the preferred pasta cut for ceci.

Meanwhile, boil a big pasta pot full of water. When it boils add salt and the pasta. Cook until al dente or a minute less and then add the pasta to the saucepan with the chick peas. Scoop in about three tablespoons of the pasta water to the chick peas and cook together for about another minute or so. Toss in a quarter cup of the grated cheese, mix, pour into a big bowl and garnish with the parsley.

There should be enough to feed four adults. Sprinkle more cheese into your individual bowl if desired. Serve with a salad and a hard crusty bread. Devour heartily

Pasta e ceci a la Nanny

Neckbones’ Fried Chicken Diary: Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken edition

27 Feb

February 14, 2012, approximately 5:30pm. 2841 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, near 151st St.

Seven-year old son and I enter the cozy confines of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken. A woman is eating said chicken at one of the few tables in the otherwise deserted restaurant.

“Be right with you, baby,”she says to me.

“Take your time,” I say, as my eyes gaze glassily over the pieces of fried chicken in the warming tray behind the counter. And then I wander to other visible offerings; the short ribs, baked barbecue chicken, oxtails, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, corn bread, turkey wings, pork chops, and pig feet.

While I tell myself to control the watering that is beginning in my mouth, my son has his eyes riveted on the television that is playing a 1990’s “Law & Order” rerun.

The woman is now behind the counter. “Buffet or dinner?” she asks.

“Um dinner,” I respond and then immediately realize my mistake.

“To go or to stay?” She quickly inquires as she holds a styrofoam take out container ready.

“No, I just need 12 pieces of chicken to go.”

“You need 12 pieces?” Her expression suddenly changes; the stress on it evident. “Did you call?”

“No…” I stammer, realizing now that there might be a problem. “I…is Charles here?”

“Charles? No, Charles went to the bank,” she replies brusquely.

“You need to call in advance if you want 12 pieces,” she says, now glaring at me.

“I’ve never called before. Charles has always had the chicken for me,” I respond lamely.

I don’t see any rule there about having to order 12 pieces of chicken in advance.

I hear her huff. “Hey, Joe Buck,*” she calls to someone behind her. “Joe Buck!” she calls again when she doesn’t get a response.

“Can’t expect to get 12 pieces unless you call,” she scoffs and then calls the man’s name once more.

“I’m in the bathroom,” comes the muffled reply.

“Get on out here,” she hollers. “We need chicken.”

Finally a tall man in a white apron appears from the back. “Man wants 12 pieces,” she says to him. “I tell him he got to call in advance.”

Joe Buck looks at me disinterestedly. “Okay, I guess I’m about to make some chicken,” he says calmly.

I look at the pieces that are in the warming tray. Clearly, there are more than 12. Will she not sell them to me because they have been sitting for a long time and the quality is below their standards? Or is there another reason? I keep silent, not wanting to risk a permanent ban from Charles very fine establishment.

“It’s gonna take 25 minutes,” the woman barks to me.

Again I look at the pieces of cooked chicken. And then turn to my son.

“You want to wait?” I ask him.

His face darkens. I know the look. Tears will come next.

“Let me see what I can do,” I hear her say. I turn to the counter. She is playing with the cooked chicken with a pair of tongs. “What pieces you like?” She asks.

“Doesn’t matter. But an assortment would be nice,” I add, hoping I haven’t pushed it.

She then begins to take pieces out and assemble them in separate Styrofoam containers. When she has put together four sets of three pieces there are just a couple of pieces left in the tray, but Joe Buck has more cooking in the big pan.

Recognize this?

“I hope nobody comes in wanting fried chicken,” she says to herself.

I order sides of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread.

She totals up what I owe, piece by piece.  From what I can tell as she rapidly adds up the pieces on the old fashioned cash register, a breast cost more than a leg, and a thigh is cheaper than a wing, but she worked too fast for me to figure any of it out.

I pay her and thank her for her help. She takes my money. “Thank you, baby,” she says with the same smile she had when I walked in.

And then my son and I leave with our family’s Valentine Day’s dinner.

*I did not want to use the cook’s real name in fear of impinging on his privacy, thus here I called him Joe Buck.

Name That Place

24 Feb

This picture says it all. In fact, without what you see in the picture, the name of the place would be different. And now I think I’ve given it away.

Good luck and as usual, leave your answers in the comments section. The answer will be revealed on Monday along with a story about my most recent visit there.

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