When Mike from Yonkers sent out his email declaring Caridad & Louie’s the destination for our group, he prefaced it by stating: “I hope we didn’t frequent this place. (I have an odd feeling we have),” we could forgive him for his confusion. Even though he insisted his bride to be was doing all the work in preparation for his upcoming wedding and that he was just an innocent bystander, the overwhelming effects of that momentous day were obviously taking a toll on his psyche. We assured him that odd feeling was wrong. In our 13 years of scouring the boroughs (Staten Island excluded), Westchester and New Jersey, we had yet to visit Caridad & Louie’s (est. 1970) located on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx very close to our last group’s get together, The Dumplin’ Shop The Little Shop of Dumplins.
But something about that east Bronx location was a jinx for Zio. With his intentions set on joining us, a text blared on my phone just as we were assembling: “Sorry, I will never be there in time. Stuck on the BQE. Going home.” I received a similar text when we convened at The Dumplin’ Shop.
When I informed Zio that Rick, who due to the harsh winter had not been able to escape his caretaking duties at the Overlook Hotel that was his house in Atlantic Highlands, was actually going to be in attendance but a little late, it still didn’t matter. “It’s out of my control,” he wrote, the disgust obvious in his text tone, leaving us to wonder why he was on the BQE in the first place.
We were seated in one of Caridad & Louie’s two massive dining rooms. The restaurant was sparsely filled, the bar area and second dining room was dark, but the steam table take out section was bustling. Claiming the “Best of Two Worlds,” Caridad & Louie’s advertised itself as Latin/Italian. But one look at the hefty colorful menu with photographs of some of the dishes displayed, the Italians in our group, not to mention the Jew and the African American, would not dare order from Italian food section.
“I hear the grilled pork chops are good here,” Eugene announced.
“I heard that too,” Mike from Yonkers added.
So when they waiter came for our order, both Eugene and Mike from Yonkers chose… “bacalao.”
“Do you know what bacalao is?” I asked Eugene.
“Codfish,” was his reply. “Also known as baccala.”
The waiter looked at me. “Since these two gentlemen have recommended the grilled pork chops, that is what I will have.”
Gerry also went with pork chops, but chose the fried variety while Rick ordered the pernil (roasted pork).
We couldn’t resist an order of mofongo de chicharron de cerdo, smashed plantains with pork cracklings to start. When it arrived we each broke off a chunk of the mountain of mofongo. “Remember, Mike, there are five of us,” Gerry said to the voracious Mike from Yonkers who had been known to devour a dish meant for sharing leaving one of us without even a scrap.
After a few bites of the mofongo, I wondered if I had broke off a piece of one of my teeth.
“No, that’s just a piece of the cracklings,” Gerry said.
“What happens when a crackling cracks a tooth?” I wondered out loud.
Before we could finish the dense mofongo, our platters arrived, all were momentous in size and all were accompanied by rice and beans.
The pork chops, though just a bit dry, were worthy of their previous accolades, but it was Rick’s pernil, tender, garlicky and with a nice charred skin on some of the pieces, that was the highlight.
We were all finished except Mike from Yonkers.“How is the bacalao?” I asked him as I watched his unique method of spreading the codfish stew onto the rice as if he were coating a cracker with it.
“It’s good,” he said, “but the rest is coming home with me.”
Our group looked at each other. Mike from Yonkers was a notoriously deliberate eater, yet, as I’ve indicated here, a prodigious one, but here, at Caridad & Louie’s, to quote a once popular television program, “In the battle of Man Vs. Food, on this day: food won.”
Caridad & Louie’s
1660 Gun Hill Road