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Neckbones’ Calcutta Christmas Carol

23 Dec

Calcutta Wrap & Roll

Gerry, when he announced his pick, called the location we were to visit the “childhood home of our fearless leader.” The fearless leader he was referring to was me and I wasn’t so fearless in anticipation of driving out of the city at rush hour during the Christmas gridlock alert days but it was something I expected knowing Gerry’s sadistic tendencies. So when I knew I would be traveling to Ardsley, normally less than a half hour drive from my city home, and knowing there would be holiday traffic, I gave myself about an hour and a half to get there. I had the pleasure of Zio’s company for the ride out. Our destination was a joint called Calcutta Wrap & Roll, in the small town plaza surrounded on either side by the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway.

Ardsley was my home in the middle years of the last century. In the Leave it to Beaver days of my youth, like the television in our living room, Ardsley was a black and white town, minus the black—or any other color.  I explained all this to the Bronx born Zio as we arrived about a half hour early narrowly escaping the hellish transverses out of Manhattan.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

Since we had extra time, I took Zio past the modest suburban home where I spent my early school years. I noticed there was a Santa Claus with eight tiny reindeer on the roof of the house. All those years anxiously tossing and turning on Christmas Eve on the top bunk of the bunk bed in the room I shared with one of my brothers hoping to hear Santa on our roof, I never did. On this night when I planned to feast on Indian food there he was. And I no longer cared.

I showed Zio the route I would take with neighborhood friends from my house to the very small main street where we would plunder bubble gum dispensers not for money, but for the tasteless balls of bubble gum. I pointed out the small store that was called Big Top where I bought my baseball cards, comic books and my first 45 records, including the one below. Big Top was now a bagel shop.

Across the street from the bagel shop was a Mexican restaurant, a Thai place and Calcutta Wrap & Roll. Even the mention of such exotic cuisines when I lived in this town would have been incomprehensible. Exotic to me when Ardsley was my home was a soft serve chocolate ice cream cone at that local Carvel that was topped with chocolate sauce that hardened over the ice cream called a “brown bonnet.”  The Carvel was still there, though now sharing the space with a Subway sandwich shop. It looked nothing like the grand ice cream parlor I remembered.

Hunger thankfully ended my tour down memory lane and soon our group was seated in Calcutta Wrap & Roll deciding whether to go for the mysore masala dosa “hot!” exclaimed the menu, or the Calcutta lamb roll “house special” of which there were many on the menu. We decided on the latter, much to Zio’s disappointment. For reasons never explained, he had his heart set on that baseball bat-like dosa.

Along with the lamb roll, we ordered the Calcutta vegetable chop—also one of the house specials. The vegetable chop, a sphere of fried potato reminiscent to a extra large tater tot  but with Indian accents.

Vegetable Chop

Vegetable Chop

For my entrée, I chose “Dr. B’s chicken chutpata “hot!” the menu exclaimed but without a mention of who “Dr. B” might be. Eugene stuck to the traditional, though not for Ardsley circa 1964, chicken biryani while Zio wanted his Indian rice with goat meat.  Mike from Yonkers, who had to eat at an unusually, for him, rapid pace due to an appointment he needed to get to, chose the malai kofta, mentioned as “Piyali’s Choice,” again without a hint as to who Piyali was. This offering was garnered a “chef’s special” as opposed to the more mundane house special. Gerry rounded out the ordering by picking the Goan fish curry, which though “hot” was nobody’s special.

“Tilapia or salmon,” the waiter asked, giving Gerry a choice.

Gerry chose the tilapia and soon our food, dished out in plastic take out containers and served on cafeteria trays was in front of us.

Goat Biryani

Goat Biryani

Though the two starters, the lamb roll and the vegetable chop were pedestrian, the entrees were a cut above standard Indian take-out.  Coated in a blood red, “special hot sauce,” Dr. B’s chicken chatpata was the Punjabi equivalent of Buffalo chicken wings. All I needed was a beer and either a blue cheese sauce or at least an order or raita to offset the hot sauce. I had neither.

Dr. B's Chicken Chatpata

Dr. B’s Chicken Chatpata

Gerry’s fish curry was lip numbing and even the biryanis had a bite to them, while “Piyali’s choice,” the malai kofta; paneer with vegetable dumplings in a yellowish-cream sauce would have put out any fire it was that mild.

Piyali's Choice: Malai Kofta

Piyali’s Choice

For what was very good take-out Indian food, the prices were not very Calcutta-like. But we were in Westchester—Ardsley to be exact and real estate doesn’t come cheap in these parts no matter the ethnicity.  As we headed back to the city there remained a tingle on my lips from the heat of the countless chilies consumed and that was a good thing.  My only regret was that we didn’t stop at Carvel for a brown bonnet to help put out the fire…and for old times sake.

The brown bonnet

The brown bonnet

Today’s Special: Back to School Edition

4 Sep

I’ve got a doctorate from this school.

My diploma.

Sadly the best schools close for the season.

Today’s Special(s)

22 Jun

A cold shower.

And an even colder refreshment.

The Iceman neareth

Tamarindo please.

Sweet relief!

A Night of Good Humor

13 Jun

The bells woke up me up.  I could hear them from my open window coming from the street below. I was trying to sleep away the hot day.  I forced myself out of bed. I had to get downstairs fast. I had to get to the bells.

I put on a dirty, ripped tee shirt and slid on my flip flops. I rushed out the door and started down the four flights to the street.

Mrs. Robbins was trudging up the steps. She was in a wrinkled  house dress, holding an ice cream bar in one hand that was melting rapidly.

“You better hurry,” she said. “He’s selling out fast.” As she spoke she tried to catch the red cookie crumbs that were falling from the ice cream bar.

“You got strawberry shortcake?” I said.

“Always,” she replied. “And lucky I got there when I did. Those kids behind me are gonna be disappointed if they want their strawberry shortcake. And I know that geezer Baskin will blame me for eating the last one. Too bad, I say. Let him eat a toasted almond for a change. Nothing wrong with toasted almond. Or chocolate éclair. Now that’s a very fine ice cream bar.”

Mrs. Robbins could go on, but I had no time to listen. I ran down the stairs and out into the dusk. It was still brutally hot. I heard the bells, but they were fading. I wasn’t sure which direction to run.

A truck was slowly moving down the street and then stopped right in front of where I was standing. A man poked his head out. “I got ice cream here,” he said.

I stared at the rainbow colored ice cream cone painted on the side of the truck. “You want a Salty Pimp?” the man asked me, “or how about a Bea Arthur?”

I didn’t know what to say. And there were no bells.

Where you can get a “salty pimp.”

“Okay, maybe next time,” the man said as he drove the truck away.

I listened for the bells again. I could hear them faintly, but soon they were drowned out by something else. That song. It was coming from that other ice cream truck. I covered my ears.  Stop it, I cried to myself. I can’t stand it!

The loud truck parked in front of me. The music blasted. The ice cream head smiled cruelly at me; the source of so many nightmares.

The stuff nightmares are made of.

I ran from it. Ran down the street as far away from the truck as I could get. The song faded. I turned down an alley. There it was. The old white truck. And I could hear the bells.

My flops flipped as I ran faster. I could see the man in the white suit and white hat by the side of the truck. There was a line of boys and girls waiting. I needed to get on that line. I shoved my hands into my pockets. And then I froze. “No,” I cried. “No! No! No!”

I forgot to take two bits for the ice cream. I sat down on a stoop and buried my head in my hands.

“What’s the matter, kid,” a gravely-voiced man asked me. “We all have bad days.”

I looked up. It was Carvel. The last guy I wanted to see.

“Forgot something, did ya?”

I didn’t want to hear it from him. Taunting me with his toasted coconut marshmallow sundae; his brown betty’s. Knowing how loyal I am to the other guy. That I would never betray him.”

Everybody likes ice cream

“Listen, kid, I remember that solid you did for me?”

“What?” I scowled. “What solid?”

“The time you helped me with the dry ice.”

I nodded. Yeah, I remembered. His truck broke down and I helped get his boxes of dry ice to his new store before all his ice cream melted.

“I never forget a solid,” he said.

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a fifty cent piece and flipped it to me. “Go on now. Go get yourself an ice cream.

I looked at the coin and quickly ran down the street. The line of children was gone. The man in the white suit and hat was getting into the passenger seat of his truck. He was leaving, but before he did, I could hear him clang the bells.

I ran right up to him. My face was red, dripping with sweat. He smiled at me. “Just in time, sonny,” he said and then slowly climbed out. “Can’t say there is much left back there though. Not on a hot one like this.”

I walked with him to the side of the truck. He opened the freezer. A wisp of fog drifted from the open door. He reached in. “Hmmm, I thought I had some left,” he said as his hand searched the freezer.

My face contorted. The tears were close. I tried to control them from coming.

“Oh…wait…” He smiled again. “One more. But you’ll have to take whatever it is.”

“I’ll take it,” I said, nodding eagerly. “I don’t care.”

He pulled out the last remaining ice cream bar. My eyes opened wide. So did my mouth. The ice cream was wrapped in blue paper. I knew what it was. The one with the chocolate candy in the center. God is good, I thought.

“Well, well, from that look on your face, I guess it’s your lucky day, sonny boy,” he said.

I gave him the fifty cent piece. He slid it into his changer and then clicked out two dimes for me. I waited a moment.

He looked at me and shrugged. “Sorry, sonny, you ever hear of inflation? The cost of ice cream is going up. Get used to it.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about and really didn’t care. I pocketed the twenty cents and moved away from the truck with my ice cream.

He got back in, started the truck up, and as he drove away, pulled the string to the bells a few times.

I returned to the stoop where I had run into Carvel and sat down. I unwrapped the ice cream and slowly, methodically, started to work on the chocolate icing.

A thing of beauty.

The vanilla ice cream was revealed. I wanted to make it last before I got to the candy, but in the heat, I had to work faster than I liked. The tip of chocolate candy emerged. And then more until the chocolate candy center was totally exposed, clinging fragilely to the stick.


I started to lick it. I knew I had to be careful here. That it was delicate. But I was weak. I couldn’t resist. I took a bite, savoring the cold, rich chocolate. I wanted more and took another, bigger bite. Just as I did, the candy crumbled, pulling away from the stick. I frantically tried to catch it with my hand but only was able to rescue a tiny portion. The rest splattered on the dirty pavement.

I looked down at the glob of chocolate. An army of ants were on it immediately. I still held the stick. I licked it, making sure I cleaned whatever chocolate remained. I stood up, tossed the stick into the garbage.

The sun had gone down but my room was still stifling when I returned. I got back into bed. Tomorrow, they said, was going to be even hotter. I closed my eyes.  I didn’t care. As long as I heard the bells.

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