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Poultry Panic Postponed

1 Feb


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.”


The Noodle Cure: Winter Edition

23 Jan

Jin Ramen

The wind was whipping. My gloved fingertips were going numb and my cheeks resembled New York Giants’ Coach Tom Coughlin’s after spending a January Sunday in Green Bay.  Winter had finally come to New York City. Even Zio was complaining. “It’s like North Dakota here this week,” he whined to me in an email. Not that I disagreed.

It was that cold...

It was that cold…

Back when it was sweltering, I posted a piece on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries called The Noodle Cure where I claimed that steaming ramen noodles, in this case from Terakawa Ramen, were an antidote for the excessive heat we were enduring at the time. The thing about ramen is that it has elixir-like components and, at least for me, acts as a curative for, among other things,  just about all ill effects of weather extremes.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Now that the city was under ice and cigarette smoke was indistinguishable from your own breath, I needed that cure desperately. And I found it not very far from my own abode, alongside the elevated tracks of the number 1 train just south of 125th Street.

The view.

The view.

The place, Jin Ramen, was barely visible behind the escalators to the elevated train station. And after taking the noodle cure there and experiencing ramen as good as it gets in not only West Harlem, but possibly all of New York, the only credible reason there were plenty of tables and counter seats available and that there was no line, as there always seem to be at many of the over-hyped ramen joints south of 96th Street, had to be because of its camouflaged location. For that, on this cold day, I was extremely grateful.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

I sat at the counter where I was closer to the fires that sustained the hot broth. The menu at Jin Ramen was minimal, as it should be at a serious ramen joint. A few appetizers like edamame, steamed gyoza, and salads, some of seaweed, others made with tofu were offered along with Sapporo beer on draft and hot and/or cold sake. All were very tempting, but I was there only for the ramen and wasted no time ordering the heartiest on the menu: tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen

It wasn’t long before the steaming bowl was placed in front of me. The broth, its base made from pork bone marrow giving it a creamy texture, was hakata ramen. The noodles were thin, firm and full of flavor. A few slices of tender braised pork belly, the fat on them practically melding with the broth, were included in the ramen along with a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg and a slice of nori.

Pork bellies all in a row.

Pork bellies all in a row.

I worked through the hearty bowl with determination, stopping only to blow my nose into the paper napkins provided. What remained in the bowl, I made sure to slurp down vigorously.  I was positive the noodle cure, if nothing else, would allow for a minimal grace period outside before my skin would once again practically blister, lashed by bitter winds from the nearby Hudson River and where I would have to continue to wiggle my toes to keep the circulation moving on my most extreme of extremities.

Jin Ramen

The number one train rumbled above as I adjusted my hat and put my gloves on. Construction workers on break from redesigning West Harlem for Columbia University huddled around a makeshift fire. As I passed them, I wondered if they knew that just a few paces away, there was something even more comforting and warming than their fire. I wondered if they knew about the Noodle Cure.

Jin Ramen
3183 Broadway (at 125th St)

The Happiest of All Hours: Paris Blues

26 Oct

I was taking pictures of the scaffold-shrouded exterior of Paris Blues when a man’s head popped out of the door.

“Come on in,” the man said to me.

“I plan to,” I responded.

And after taking a few more pictures, I walked into the dark bar.

I took a seat and noticed a third person hunched at the end of the bar near the door sleeping comfortably.

It had been several years since I’d been to Paris Blues, but not much had changed inside except for the small stage where, at the time I walked in, another man was fiddling with a drum set.

The stage at Paris Blues

Live music was new—at least to me. The man who had gestured me inside was now behind the bar. He mumbled something about the other man up on the stage with the drum set.

“Taught him everything he knows about drums,” the bartender, who told me his name was Jer, short for Jerry, said.

“You play?” I asked.

“Used to,” he said.

Live music at Paris Blues

The younger man up on the stage snorted and soon their conversation turned to the Jets.

“They lost because they were playing scared,” the younger man said.

“No, they weren’t scared,” Jer said, ‘They lost, that’s all.” And that effectively ended the conversation.

A super-sized television set behind the stage that I knew had not been there when I visited last was on to a late afternoon rerun of  Bonanza.

The beer options, according to Jer, included Budweiser, Corona, “Heiny,” and Sugar Hill. I was in Harlem. I thought it only fitting to choose the latter.

The beer of choice in Harlem

After serving me the beer, Jer moved around the bar and roused the sleeping man who silently got up and went outside.

Paris Blues, Jer told me, had been open for 43 years.

“How many of those have you been working here?” I asked.

“’bout 30 or so,” he answered.

African American icons proudly on display.

I really didn’t know why it had taken me so long to return to Paris Blues. Trombonist Frank Lacey, who I once saw perform with trumpet player, Roy Hargrove on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was scheduled to perform later that evening.

“You get lots of tourists here?” I asked as I sipped more of my beer.

Jer nodded. “Japanese, Germans, busloads of ‘em. They’ll be in here tonight.”

On the television, a rainmaker had brought rain to the Ponderosa and a little girl was healed of a television sickness. The Cartwright men all smiled at the end and then the familiar theme song played.

Happy hour entertainment.

I finished my beer and thanked Jer.

“Come on back,” he said as I was leaving.

I told him I would.

The man who had been sleeping inside was sitting on a bench outside the bar. I nodded at him and headed down the street. It was beginning to rain in Harlem. After about a block, I turned around.  I could see the man on the bench slowly get up from his seat. I watched for a moment as he walked back into Paris Blues.

Paris Blues
2021 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd

The Happiest of All Hours: Malachy’s Donegal Inn Edition

24 May

When I first moved to New York back in the good old dirty days, there was a neighborhood bar that became my local hangout called The Donegal. I frequented the place, on the corner of 72nd and Columbus, with my team after softball games on the Great Lawn, when the Great Lawn was a much used dust bowl, not the fenced-in grass museum it is now.

And since it was close to my apartment, I would also spend time by myself there watching numerous sporting events; the Yankees, boxing, and especially the New York football Giants. This was well before satellite television and when all we in New York got to see on Sunday was either the Giants or the Jets no matter how bad both teams were.

There was a white-haired, bespectacled Irish bartender named Timothy who knew me as a regular and treated me well, buying back frequent rounds for myself or whoever I was with.

The place was dark and dingy; the tables and chairs rickety. There were relics on the walls; photos of old baseball players, movie stars, and other dusty mementos. It was a gathering ground for a number of older gentlemen and a few ladies who still lived at the nearby SRO’s that, at the time, were a big part of the neighborhood. There was food; burgers, fries, eggs, chicken wings, and a few sandwiches. It was a dive, which was, of course, an attraction to me.

Malachy’s Donegal’s fine furnishing, just like I remembered it.

The Donegal also had what we used to call a “big screen” television. The picture, projected from the front, was usually blurry and had a bluish tinge to it. But we liked its unique “bigness.”

I remember watching a Monday Night game where the Giants were playing the Dallas Cowboys that resulted in a close loss for the Giants and then a shoving match with a loud Cowboys’ fan. With respect to the Donegal, we took the shoving outside.

I moved away from New York for awhile and when I returned, the Donegal was not quite the same. Timothy had disappeared. The neighborhood was changing. And I found other dives more appealing. After awhile, I noticed that the Donegal was renamed Malachy’s. I never returned to Malachy’s until recently, when I found myself in the neighborhood during the Happiest of Hours. I wondered if there would be anything I would remember about the place.

Though the name was changed to Malachy’s,  when I returned from my happy hour there , I did a search online for the Donegal and discovered that Malachy’s official name was actually Malachy’s Donegal Inn. So the bond had not  been totally severed.

Malachy’s Donegal Inn

103 W. 72nd St

As soon as I entered, I was pleased to notice that, despite the many years I had been away, not much had changed, with the exception, most prominently, of the numerous flat screen television as opposed to the one “big screen” I remembered. But that was to be expected.

The day’s specials.

There were plenty of seats at the bar and the tables were all empty. A few gentlemen were drinking beer from bottles and talking loudly in the otherwise quiet bar. They reminded me of the patrons I used to know at The Donegal and I wondered if any of the same SRO’s still existed around the now very lofty real estate of West 72nd Street.

From where I sat, I could look up and see The Babe.  It was nice to know he hadn’t moved from his spot in over 25 years.

The Babe surrounded by Christmas lights, circa 1983.

Roberto Clemente was in his same place as well, but the wings’ special was a new and welcome addition.

Gary Cooper and the Brooklyn Dodgers had always been part of the Donegal’s scenery.

As had The Duke.

I ordered the only “exotic” beer I remembered from when I used to visit: a Bass.

Getting $15.50 back from a $20 made me “happy.”

While I drank the cold beer, I overheard the gentlemen at the bar discussing old movies. “Wasn’t Cagney in a picture where he was in AA?” one of the gentlemen asked the others.

No one answered him.

He took a sip from his bottle. “Or was it Alan Hale in that picture?”

“Junior or Senior?” someone asked, but that pretty much ended the discussion.

A man with a cellphone to his ear took the seat next to me. The bartender came over.  The man ordered a beer and asked to look at a menu. After giving him a few moments, the bartender returned.

“What’s good?” the man asked.

“The specials, brisket or the pastrami,” the bartender replied.

“What do you suggest?”

“Apples or oranges,” the bartender said, a look of impatience on his face.

“Pastrami,” The man said. The bartender nodded and took the menu back.

Peanuts or pistachios are always a good go to option when hungry.

A few minutes later, the bartender returned with the man’s sandwich. I glanced at it. The pastrami looked lean, juicy; the sandwich surrounded by fries. I had to admit, it looked damn good.

I finished my beer and thanked the bartender. Just because Malachy’s was no longer The Donegal, was that really a good reason to desert what had been a comfortable refuge for me? Had I been a bit too hasty in my split with the place?

The regret I was feeling as I walked out was cut short by the realization that I could always return, preferably on a Sunday, where along with an unlimited dose of NFL action, I could take full advantage of the 20 cent wing special.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The View From the 26th Floor

3 Feb

It’s Friday and on Sunday the Super Bowl will be played. I could work up a Super Bowl menu for the big game, but why would mine be any more interesting than the half a million others that have been blogged over the last two weeks? I could quip on a history of Super Bowl eats I’ve experienced over the many Roman numeraled years the game has been played, but that would only make me look very old; and do you really care?

  So today I will digress a bit from things food—mostly. Instead I’m sharing something a bit different, at least from a Fried Neck Bones perspective.

Since the Giants and the Patriots clinched their conference titles two weeks ago, the blather has been incessant regarding how this is a “rematch” of the memorable Super Bowl the two teams played four years ago. And, in particular, how the current Giants stretch run practically mirrored what occurred in 2007/08. There have been numerous reminisces of that dramatic game replayed by sports’ writers, fans, and former players.

   Not long after the 2008 Super Bowl, I scribbled an account of my experience watching that game and how, in some ways, it reminded me, on a much different scale, of what occurred when I witnessed a big game thirty years earlier. So here, on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, is my Giants/Patriots Super Bowl story. You see, there really is no escape from it.

On the first Monday of October, 1978, I was in a rickety motel in New Hampshire on a mountain climbing/hiking trip with a friend. Looking back, I still wonder why I would agree to such an endeavor. The trip, however, coincided with the end of the baseball season that year; one that had seen the New York Yankees, my team, come from a 14 and a half point deficit to leap over the rival Boston Red Sox into first place. But on the last day of the season, while I was attempting to enjoy a hiking trip, the Yankees lost and the Red Sox won putting them in a virtual tie. There was to be a one-game playoff at Fenway Park the following afternoon to determine who would win the American League East.

My friend, also a Yankee fan, though a much more avid climber of mountains than I was in a quandary—or maybe he wasn’t. He knew what I was thinking.

“We came here to go climbing,” he said. We were close to the Mount Washington range in New Hampshire where we planned to hike. It was a sunny, crisp day; the foliage in the mountains was glorious. It was the last day of our trip. He looked at me knowing I would be unmoved.

Idyllic Mt. Washington in early October; a perfect day to stay inside and watch baseball.

“Well, I’m not staying in a motel room watching TV on a day like this,” he huffed as he grabbed his gear and headed out.

The television in the motel room was an old color set with rabbit ears. The game was broadcast on local network television and with proper manipulation of the rabbit ears, I was able to pull it in with only minor interference. In the small room I kept the shades drawn; the glare of the sun made it even more difficult to see the screen. I paced and cursed loudly throughout the game. When the Red Sox took the early lead, I was thinking maybe I should have gone mountain climbing sparing myself potential agony. And watching with only my own voice as my companion was torturous.

But in the seventh inning came Bucky Dent’s legendary home run. I let out a thunderous roar. I thought I was alone in the motel—who else would actually be in this fairy tale-themed, Snow White or Rip Van Winkle, I don’t remember which, motel on the first Monday in October? But there was someone here and he (or she) was most likely a Red Sox fan and banging angrily at the walls either, telling me to keep it down or in disgust at what had just unfolded on the field.

Deep to left…Yastrzemski…will not get it…

As the game progressed, I continued to pace the small room, moving from the bathroom and back out again in between pitches. I was talking to myself, occasionally yelling at the blurry screen and when Graig Nettles caught the final out, I hollered. This time there was no banging in return.

Almost thirty years later, on the first Sunday in February of 2008, I was in a luxurious two-bedroom suite on the 26th floor of a sleek Midtown Manhattan hi-rise hotel. There were high definition flat screen televisions in each of the bedrooms and a huge, 40 plus inch screen in the living room area. In little over an hour after I checked  into the hotel, a New York team was scheduled to play a team from New England; the underdog Giants going against the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.

I was at the hotel on assignment for a guide book I write on New York City. Usually I visit the hotels I review alone, but on this occasion I was with my seven-year-old son, L. The previous year, L wept when the Philadelphia Eagles eliminated the Giants in a wild card playoff game on a last second field goal. As I tried to console him, I told him he had officially been initiated into Giant fandom—that as a Giant fan, losses like the one he just experienced become part of your lifeblood. That didn’t make him feel any better.

Two weeks before the Super Bowl, as the Giants and Green Bay played into overtime in the NFC Championship game, I worried that L, watching well past his bedtime, would suffer through a similar result and wondered what kind of toll that might take on his young psyche. But, thankfully, Lawrence Tynes’ field goal eliminated that concern and sent the Giants to the Super Bowl.

Gourmet Super Bowl fare.

I had already scheduled my visit to the hotel well before I had any inclination the Giants would be a participant in the big game. My usual Super Bowl tradition is to gather with a few buddies at a friend’s studio apartment downtown, watch on a 15-inch television, boil hot dogs, drink beer, and consume absurd amounts of Crunch & Munch. But on this year, I wanted something a little different.

I gave L the option of watching the game with his friends at a neighbor’s apartment or coming with me to the hotel. “I want to go with you,” he said.  So we packed L’s clothes and homework for school the next day and checked into the hotel; L layered in a Giants’ #27 “Jacobs” jersey, a “NY” blue and red sweatshirt, and a blue Giants’ winter coat.

We ate pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs from the nearby Carnegie Deli while the seemingly endless pregame show droned on. Finally, after the introductions were made, the National Anthem sung, the game began.

Super Bowl take out.

L watched squirming from my lap to the floor to a chair, incessantly talking—his way of releasing nervous tension. At halftime with the Patriots leading 7-3, he showered and got in his pajamas. His squirming slowed in the third quarter and then he got very angry and teary after the Patriots won a challenge and he used the familiar 7-year-old lament, “that’s not fair.”  I could tell he was getting tired.

He revived a bit early in the fourth quarter, when the Giants scored and took the lead 10-7. But as soon the Patriots got the ball back he began rubbing his eyes and I asked him if he wanted to watch in bed. He nodded, got under the covers and I turned on the television in his bedroom. The Patriots, as I had no doubt they would, immediately moved the ball down the field. I looked in on L; he was turned away from the game. I asked if he wanted me to turn it off so he could sleep. He nodded. I wanted to make sure and asked again. He nodded again.

As I returned to the living room, I wondered if L just wanted to spare himself the heartbreak of a Giant loss or if he really was exhausted. He had gotten up very early that morning, excited about the day, and spent a good portion of it ice skating in Central Park. Looking in on him a few minutes later, he was sleeping soundly.

I retreated back to the big screen, lowering the volume and watching the Patriots score to take the lead 14-10 with two and a half minutes left. I grumbled quietly. Though my son was asleep close by, I was watching one of the biggest games of my life in a hotel room by myself as I did thirty years earlier.

And a scream was  stifled.

When Eli Manning impossibly escaped a sack heaving the ball to David Tyree who caught it off his helmet while falling backwards, I jumped out of my chair, but I caught myself from yelling. Over the past few years, I had learned not to holler loudly at the television with my children around. The few times I have, I either frightened one of them into tears or had them look at me as if I were a lunatic. But on this night, though it wasn’t easy, I was able to restrain myself. I jumped up again and let out a yell I immediately stifled when Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown for the Giants and then glanced into the bedroom. L had not stirred.

A few moments later Tom Brady let go with a final fruitless heave.  The Giants were Super Bowl Champions.  And my son missed it.

The next morning L wandered into my room and woke me up.

“Who won?” he asked with a hopeful, yet wary look on his face.

It was my pleasure to tell him.

The seven-year old is now 11 and has a younger brother who is the same age he was when he watched Super Bowl XLII.  Like the older brother did before him, the younger brother will now squirm and talk incessantly throughout the game. If a call goes against the Giants, he will say “it’s not fair.” And he might cry if the Giants lose. He will be watching with a big group of friends and family, including his father who won’t have to converse with the walls for this big game. The view for Super Bowl XLVI, however, will not be from the 26th floor. But there will be a view.

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