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Man V. Mofongo: The Battle in the Bronx

26 Mar

Caridad & Louie's

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.

It was that kind of winter for Rick.

It was that kind of winter for Rick.

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.

Can't argue about the location, but the other claim???

Can’t argue about the location, but the other claim???

“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.

The Mofongo

The Mofongo

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.

The specialty of the house of Caridad & Louie

Grilled pork chops: The specialty of the house of Caridad & Louie

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


The Mount Vernon Meat Hangover

24 Apr


I woke up with a bloat in my belly. My head was fuzzy and my palms were hot. I slept but was wiped out. I didn’t want to get out of bed. What had I done that put me in this condition? I couldn’t  recall getting drunk or ingesting any narcotic that could have caused this malaise—this funk I was in. I tried to remember—to piece together the events of the previous evening that put me in the place I was now.

I drove from the city to Mount Vernon, a suburb just north of the Bronx where our group was to assemble for another eating expedition. We weren’t  far from the Lincoln Lounge where, in January of 2012 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Adventures in Chow City. The place that Eugene had chosen was called Chalanas. He mentioned in his email that it was Brazilian.

The restaurant had a small parking lot. Haphazardly parked cars clogged the lot and I had to park down the road from the restaurant.

Parking and dining "al fresco" at Chalanas.

Parking and dining “al fresco” at Chalanas.

Zio, Eugene, and Gerry were all in the parking lot when I crossed the street. Mike from Yonkers arrived a few moments later. I noticed he was wearing dark shades. There was consternation on their collective faces.

“Something wrong?” I asked, turning to Eugene who was the engineer of this escapade.

“No, nothing. Why?” he responded,  but neither he or any of the others made a move to enter the restaurant.

“What are we waiting for?” I wondered out loud and began to head toward the entrance when a man whose face was beet red stumbled out stammering in Portuguese. I gave him wide clearance and then pushed the door open.

Beefy decor

Beefy decor

The restaurant was loud with Portuguese chatter. It was happy hour: $1 drafts in small, eight ounce glasses. I ordered one and so did the others with the exception, as usual, of Zio who preferred the chemical nutrition of a Diet Coke with the citrus snap of a wedge of lime. The beers were very cold and surprisingly good.

“What is the name of this beer?” I asked the host, a middle aged Brazilian man with a sly smile.

He blurted out a response to my inquiry, but I couldn’t understand him. His accent was either too heavy, the chatter in the restaurant too loud, or I was already under the influence of something I wasn’t even aware of.

“Shock?” I looked at the others for help. “Did you say Shock beer? Is that a Brazilian beer?” I pointed to the now empty glass.

“Yes,  shock of beer,” He said.

I was even more confused. I think I needed some food. Nobody was helping me here.

“Are you deaf?” Gerry yelled to me. “The man said ‘shot’ of beer.”

I pondered that for a moment. “But I asked him the name of the Brazilian beer?” I looked again at our host.

Now he looked confused. “Brazilian beer?”

“Yes, the Brazilian beer. What is it called?”

“Budweiser,” he said.

“Budweiser.” I mumbled and nodded to myself, staring in disbelief at the foamy dregs that coated my glass. I had never had Budweiser quite like what I just downed.

A "shock" of Budweiser

A “shock” of Budweiser

“Maybe you want to try a shot of Brazilian tequila,” he asked as he noted my empty “shock” glass of beer.

“You mean cachaca?”

He nodded. “Yes, Brazilian tequila.”  Now my head was spinning.

“I’ll have one,” Gerry quickly responded by raising an eager hand.

“Four tequilas?” The host asked.

“Not for me,” I said, shaking my head. Eugene also declined.

Mike from Yonkers took off his sunglasses and let out a weary breath. “I’ll have one,” he said.

Dinner was self service here and I was more than ready to serve myself. Before I could, our host returned with the “tequila.” Gerry and Mike from Yonkers downed the shots quickly.

“That’s the best Brazilian tequila I’ve ever had,” Gerry announced as he staggered to his feet.

The five of us moved into the adjoining room where there was a coal fired grill. Inside the grill were racks on which skewers of meat were assembled; the juices dripping slowly onto the hot coals. We were to decide what we wanted—and how much and the grill master would carve from the meat on the skewers. For some reason the process was a bit overwhelming to me at that moment. Gerry, however, was raring to go.

Brazilian barbecue

Brazilian barbecue

When the grill master asked what we wanted, Gerry, his judgment maybe affected by the Brazilian tequila, blurted out, “Everything.”

The grill master stared.

Mike from Yonkers, also under the influence of the tequila, nodded and handed the grill master a large empty platter. ““Fill it up,” he commanded.



I could only shake my head and retreat to the salad bar where I loaded a platter with greens, rice and beans, “eggs and cheese,” and avocado salad. When I looked back, there were two enormous platters piled high with red meat and another with chicken and sausage.

Our plates were weighed and, apparently, recorded by the cashier: “You pay when you finish,” he said.



We returned to our table and almost immediately a procession of forks began to spear the various cuts of meats on the platters and from there into open mouths. I glanced at the two huge platters of red meat and tried, for just a moment, to determine each of the cuts. Was it really important to distinguish one from the other? Though a bit overly salty, it was good grilled red meat and the way it was presented; piled high in the platters, made it as accessible as munching on potato chips or pretzels. I had originally thought that getting the chicken was superfluous. I was wrong. It was outstanding, kept moist by salty and fatty strips of bacon. I couldn’t stop stuffing pieces into my mouth.

More meat.

More meat.

...and even more meat.

…and even more meat.

A woman came to the table to ask if I wanted a drink. I was thirsty and nodded.

“Beer?” she asked.

“No, I’ll take a caipirinha,” I said, not able to resist the Brazilian specialty while dining in a Brazilian restaurant.

She returned quickly with the drink. The caipirinha’s I’m familiar with and wrote about in the trilogy: A Lime Cut Three Ways (see A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut) usually were served in small, Old Fashioned glasses. This one came in a big plastic cup with a straw. I sucked it down as I continued to stuff my face with the red meat and the chicken, occasionally dipping into the rice, beans and greens to offset the animal protein assault.

The caipirinha

The Chalanas caipirinha

I finished the caipirinha and for some unknown reason asked Zio to take a picture of me. He struggled but the flash went off.

He took another.

I looked at the results. They weren’t good. My palms were suddenly hot. I was thirsty and needed something sweet, but I didn’t want another supersized caipirinha.

Too much meat maybe?

The Brazilian tequila effect

I got to my feet and wandered to the bathroom. When I returned, Eugene told me I owed $20 for the meal.

“That’s all?” I asked.

“And that included the tip,” he added.

I handed over the money.

Gerry disappeared to rush off to another date while Mike from Yonkers, Eugene, Zio and I crossed the street and found ourselves in a Brazilian bakery called Padaminas. The lights were bright in the café and news from Sao Paulo was on the television. Brazilian coffee was probably a good idea, but Brazilian flan was a better one. I took it to a table and stuck a spoon in it. It held the spoon securely upright. I excised the spoon with little effort and then working methodically devoured the astonishing flan.

A flan that holds a spoon.

A flan that holds up a spoon.

Lying in bed the next morning my palms were still hot and my head pounded. I had one caipirinha, granted a very big one, and one small “shock” of Budweiser. They weren’t the cause of my stupor. It was something else. I looked at the pictures on the memory card in my camera including the unfortunate ones Zio took of me. I looked again and then I knew what was ailing me. I had a hangover. But not from the alcohol. The hangover was from an overdose of red meat. I got up, swallowed two aspirin and went back to bed. In a few hours I felt better. The hangover was gone and I was hungry.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

105 W. Lincoln Avenue
Mount Vernon

Neck Bones’ Fat Tuesday Red Beans and Rice

12 Feb

Red Beans

Memorable food moments in film have been well documented. One of my favorites occurs in the 1978 masterpiece from filmmaker Les Blank, Always for Pleasure, the documentary about Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. In the film there is a particularly memorable scene, at least to me, where New Orleans’ native, singer, Irma Thomas recites her recipe on how she makes her red beans and rice. “First you need a large pot…at least five quarts…”

irma thomas

I’ve seen the film numerous times, but only on video and that scene has always made my mouth water. Now if I ever had the pleasure of viewing Always for Pleasure at a screening where the filmmaker was in attendance and employed his gimmicky, yet sadistically ingenious technique of “Smellaround;” the addition of the actual aroma from a big pot of red beans and rice being cooked within the theater itself, the gurgling from my stomach would probably drown out the dialogue from the screen.

Instead, the film motivated me to make red beans and rice according to Irma Thomas’s recipe. I was able to find a copy of the recipe in a 1986 book called Totally Hot! The Ultimate Hot Pepper Cookbook, by Michael Goodwin, Charles Perry, and Naomi Wise (Dolphin Doubleday). The recipe, adapted by Les Blank from Irma Thomas’ recipe is much more complicated than what she recited in the film. Hers was brief and simple. I made Les Blank’s recipe from the book. The result, however, for whatever reason, was a slight disappointment.

Since then I’ve tweaked the recipe borrowing much from it, including an enormous amount of garlic. Irma Thomas suggested using a half head.  Blank, who made another masterpiece in 1980, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, centered around the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, so we know where he stands on the benefits of the “stinking rose,” calls for a full head.


For what I made, I used probably three quarters of a head of garlic, In Blank’s recipe, a smoked ham hock is called for and that is what I used when I made his recipe. Thomas, in the movie suggests  using “seasoning meat of your choice.” My choice for this batch of red beans was Andouille sausage. Also instead of using a big pot on the stove, I switched to a crock pot hoping the consistent, low temperature would produce better results. Beyond those changes, I’ve left much of the other red beans and rice basics intact.

So here, for your Fat Tuesday pleasure is the Neck Bones rendition of Irma Thomas’s version combined with Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure red beans and rice.


2 cups of dried red beans (one pound bag)

6 cups of water

1 lb of Andouille sausage (any other garlicky smoked sausage will work too), sliced.

2 medium onions (about 2 cups worth) chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 ribs of celery, chopped

6 tablespoons of minced garlic (or just mince a head—depending on the size of the head)

1 tablespoon of creole seasoning*

½  teaspoon salt

Cooked white rice

Green onions, a.k.a  scallions for garnish

*If you don’t have creole seasoning, you can add ½ tablespoon each of black pepper and cayenne pepper or more cayenne than black, depending on your spice preference.

Beans soaked overnight

Beans soaked overnight

If you are a reader of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries you know I prefer the easy to the difficult when it comes to my own cooking. Following that philosophy, I rarely use dried beans going the lazy route with canned beans as a substitute. For this recipe, however, I think dried beans are best because of the very long cooking time involved. So soak the beans in water at room temperature overnight and then pour off whatever water remains and rinse them again in cold water.

Put the beans in a crock pot or slow cooker and cover with the water.

Quickly sauté the sausage to cook off a bit of the fat. You don’t need to do this; you can just throw in the sausage and the excess fat will just add more flavor of the beans, But if you want to limit your fat intake somewhat, either sauté it and drain with a slotted spoon, or boil it briefly first and then add to the crock pot.

Andouille sausage

Andouille sausage

Cook the onions, celery, and bell pepper for about three minutes in the grease from the sausage and then, again with a slotted spoon, add it all to the crock pot.

Toss in the minced garlic and the Creole seasoning.

Garlic going in.

Garlic going in.

Turn the crock pot on low and cook for about eight hours until the beans are so soft they meld with the cooking liquid giving it all a creamy consistency.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Serve over cooked white rice and sprinkle with chopped green onions.

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

Enjoy with a cold beer or maybe borrowing from another Fat Tuesday celebration, this one in Brazil, with a cold caipirinha, the recipe for the cocktail can be found here A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut .

And for more pleasure while you eat and drink on this Fat Tuesday, below is the trailer for Always for Pleasure:

Hawkeye, Fonzie, and The Coach Eat at Margie’s

29 Jan


The door opened and, as if someone gave him a swift kick to the buttocks, Zio stumbled into Margie’s Red Rose Diner. Koko, the restaurant’s proprietor, jumped back in shock as Zio’s rotund frame almost fell on top of her. It took a moment for Zio to right himself from his Kramer-like entrance, but longer for Koko’s heart to stop racing from what could have been a very ugly and most likely painful experience if indeed, the heavy load that is Zio did knock her over.

It was a cold, snowy evening and maybe that was the reason for Zio’s misstep. Or it could be just his over-eagerness to finally eat at Margie’s Red Rose Diner. Either way, no damage had been done and Gerry, Zio and I had our pick of any table or seat at the counter we wanted. The restaurant was empty.

Once Koko’s heart settled, she gracefully assumed her role as both hostess and chef of the family-run Margie’s. The restaurant’s namesake, Margie, was Koko’s mother who ran the restaurant for over thirty years before her passing in 2009. After closing to reassess and remodel, Koko and her husband, known as “Poppa,” now run the small Harlem soul food spot continuing in the same, down home tradition Margie fostered.

Margie back in the day.

Margie back in the day.

We looked at the menu which featured “breakfast all day,” but it was dinner time and though sage sausage, fish and grits, banana pancakes, and salmon croquettes were very tempting, we stuck to the “PM” side of the menu.

When asked what he was going to order, Gerry, who was intently perusing the dinner options, mentioned either the turkey wings or the smothered pork chops.

“I really want those smothered pork chops,” Zio announced, making sure he staked his claim on them. And then feeling somewhat guilty for preempting Gerry, added; “it’s okay if we both get it, isn’t it? There are no rules tonight, are there?”

We weren’t on a Chow City assignment. There were no rules.

But Koko, who stood over us as we were deciding, helped settle any possible conflicts. “It’s all family style here. Everyone shares.”

That made it easy. Gerry went with the turkey wings, Zio the smothered pork chops and now it was up to me to decide between the porgies or whiting.

“It’s really whiting?” Zio inquired suspiciously. “It’s not tilapia posing as whiting?”

Koko glared at him. “No, we don’t do like they do downtown.”

That made it easy. I ordered the fried whiting with collard greens and baked macaroni along with a delicacy for me: toasted, buttered white bread.

“I’m gonna do one dish at a time ‘cause everything here is made to order,” Koko told us. “Since you ordered first,” she said, indicating Zio, “I’ll start with the pork chops. You all right with that?”

Even if we had a choice in the matter, we were more than all right with that.

Red roses were everywhere at Margie's.

Red roses were everywhere at Margie’s.

While we waited for the smothered pork chops, to arrive, the television above our table was on to the evening news. The lead story was a report on an epidemic attack of the norovirus, also known as the stomach flu that was sweeping across the United States. While we listened to hysterical warnings of projectile vomiting and extreme diarrhea, as if on cue, the pork chops, fried and then literally smothered in a dark brown gravy arrived. Despite the unappetizing news, we vigorously devoured the tender chops.

Smothered pork chops, candied yams, collard greens.

Smothered pork chops, candied yams, collard greens.

Next to arrive were the turkey wings, the meat falling off the bone, and smothe in the same gravy used for the pork chops. On a cold, snowy night, no one was complaining about too much gravy. The fried whiting completed our family-style trio and received high praise from all for how delicately they were fried. “This is definitely not tilapia,” Zio confirmed rapturously.

Fried whiting, baked macaroni, collard greens and buttered white toast.

Fried whiting, baked macaroni, collard greens and buttered white toast.

“Where you from,” Koko asked as she came over to check on us.

“125th Street,” I told her.

“You come all that way just to eat here,” she said. “That’s sweet of you.”

I thought for a moment. “It’s not like I came from Cleveland.”

“Are you in radio? You have a radio voice,” she asked me.

“I usually mumble,” I told her, “but when I order food I use my deep, clear disc jockey voice to make sure there is no confusion

She laughed and turned to Gerry. “You know, you look like Henry Winkler.”

“The Fonz,” Zio snickered.

Gerry posing as Arthur Fonzarelli

Gerry posing as Arthur Fonzarelli

“And you…” she stared at me. “Hey, Poppa, remember that show ‘Coach,’ what was the name of the coach?”

Poppa came out from the kitchen. Both Koko and her husband were wearing Pittsburgh Steelers’ baseball hats. We knew where their gridiron loyalty lay. He thought for a moment and then said: “Craig T. Nelson.”

“And your voice is like his too,” Koko said.

“The coach? I always thought I was the quarterback,” I said, disappointment obvious in my now mumbling voice. I knew what Craig T. Nelson looked like. He was balding—with a prominent nose. I didn’t see the resemblance, but if Koko thought I looked like Craig T. Nelson, I wasn’t going to argue.

The Coach

The Coach

“And you,” she stared at Zio. “Let me think on it.”

After the dishes were cleared she came back. “I know, the doctor on ‘ M.A.S.H.’”

“Alan Alda?” Zio said.

“Yeah, him,” Koko said.

“How many pounds ago,” Gerry cracked.

Zio posing as a doctor who actually knew how to use chopsticks.

The expert use of the chopsticks are a giveaway that the man above could not possibly be Zio.

We were hoping for dessert, but Margie said she had run out of her homemade lemonade pie.

“Lemonade pie? Wasn’t that in a song?” Gerry asked.

“Judy in the Skies,” Zio said.

Gerry quickly googled the song on his phone.  A You Tube video from the 60’s came up. We watched it and heard the lyrics mentioning lemonade pie.

“John Fred & his Playboys,” Gerry read. “And it’s ‘Judy in Disguise.’”

“I always thought it was Judy in the Skies,” Zio said.

"Judy in Disguise, well that's a-what you areA-lemonade pies, with a brand new car..."

“Judy in Disguise, well that’s a-what you are
A-lemonade pies, with a brand new car…”

We paid the check and took the allotted ten minutes to get coats, gloves, and hats on.

“We’ll be back for lemonade pie,” I said, speaking for all of us.

“You better,” Koko said and then made sure she steered very clear of Zio as he attempted to exit.

Margie's Red Rose Diner

Margie’s Red Rose Diner
275 W. 144th Street

The Happiest of All Hours: Jimmy’s Corner

25 Sep

Jimmy’s Corner
140 W. 44th St

There was a time, during my first decade in New York City, when I would wander the Times Square area. Maybe I would take in a two dollar double feature on 42nd Street. It could be a horror bill like Mark of the Devil: Part Two (“banned in 10 countries”) paired with The Last House on the Left (the original), soft core porn Emmanuelle 2 with The Cheerleaders (“They don’t bring it on, they take it off”), or kung fu epics like Five Deadly Venoms and Drunken Master.

Always plenty of entertainment options on 42nd Street.

There were a few bars in the area including one with an outstanding juke box that played the music of Fela Kuti, not far from where that funky Nigerian band leader was celebrated in a Broadway musical, and had bawdy female bartenders who had tattoos a generation before multiple tattoos became a requirement for a coed to even consider pledging at a Sarah Lawrence sorority.

Always plenty of leg room at the grindhouses.

That bar is long gone—disappeared even before the grindhouses where I watched the abovementioned movies were sanitized. But there is a remnant in Times Square that does remain from that era. Another bar. This one also had a memorable juke box though the music tended more toward soul, jazz, blues and R&B. And after a recent visit, I’m happy to report that the tunes on the jukebox in Jimmy’s Corner are still magnificent.

Some of the tracks from Jimmy’s juke box.

“Cheaper to Keep Her,” by Johnny Taylor was playing when I walked in. Knowing that Jimmy’s can get crowded, I stopped in before the after work rush and had my pick of seats at the bar. Jimmy’s doesn’t have any advertised happy hour and needn’t. The prices for his drinks will always make one happy. What made me happy was the $4 pint of Sam Adams poured for me.

I hadn’t been to Jimmy’s in years and I noticed that, since my last visit, there was probably not an inch of space on the walls and behind the bars that now hadn’t been covered with photos of boxers, fight posters, framed newspaper articles, and anything else to do with the “sweet science,” sports or Jimmy Glenn himself, the owner of Jimmy’s and a former boxing trainer.

Wise words.

That I could actually see the walls was also something that had changed since my last visit. Back in the day, before the smoking ban in bars, the place was so thick with it, only night vision goggles would penetrate the haze and, unlike now, the non-smoker needed to go outside into the cold for a puff of pure Times Square oxygen.

Does DeNiro count as an ex-boxer?

The phone rang over the music while I sipped my beer. “Oh hi Jimmy,” I overheard the bartender say into the phone. Knowing the Jimmy was most likely Jimmy Glenn.

“We’re running out of the Belvedere,” the bartender said. “Only two bottles left.”

Jimmy Glenn is not a bar owner in abstentia. He is a constant presence at the bar. I remember once when a softball team I was playing with had its end of season party at Jimmy’s. We had the narrow back room to ourselves and had food brought in. Jimmy would come back frequently to make sure we had everything we needed; that we were being well taken care of. As I recall, we were.

Jimmy and a playful friend.

“No, it’s quiet,” the bartender said into the phone. “No rush, Jimmy. Take your time. I’ll see you later.” And then he hung up.

I got up and headed to the men’s room. Just outside the door was a framed fading article by Daily News’ columnist Mike Lupica written in 1978. I read the headline and wondered how Spinks (Leon or Michael) could bring hope to Times Square. I didnt’ read the article to find out.


I was almost done with my beer. Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was playing “Blue Ammons” on the juke box.  I drained the pint, gathered my stuff, and thanked the bartender on my way out.

Jimmy’s Corner: 2012

Once outside I walked, maneuvering between neon-ogling tourists, to Broadway.  As I made my way to the subway at 42nd Street, I passed both Mickey and Minnie Mouse and before I entered the station, Cookie Monster was there to wave goodbye.

The Cannoli Dream

13 Mar

I had that dream again. The one where I’m on a lumpy mattress and I smell tomato sauce cooking. It’s almost always the same. There’s this fat guy making the sauce and laughing; singing really, to who, I don’t know. “Why don’t you tell that nice girl you love her? I love you with all a my heart, if I don’t see a you again soon, I’m a gonna die.”

It’s murky, like dreams usually are, but the smell of the sauce is distinctive. There are men in the room with me. I’m young, though; a teenager and these men are serious.

“Come over here, kid. Learn something,” The fat man says, I think to me. “You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday.”

And then he gives out the recipe. “You start out with a little oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes. Then some tomato paste. You fry it, make sure it doesn’t stick. You bring it to a boil and then you shove in your sausage and your meatballs. Add a little bit of wine. A little bit of sugar. And that’s my trick…”

Then one of the serious guys comes over and tells the fat guy to cut the crap; that he has more important things for him to do, which I can’t understand. What could be more important than cooking sauce for 20 guys?

In my dream I am now in different place. It’s quiet, dark, and seems deserted. A man is with me. He carries flowers and smiles nervously. I ask who he is. He says he is a baker and that his bread is the best on Pleasant Avenue. I see that his hands are shaking.

A baker bearing flowers.

The next thing I remember from the dream is that I’m driving around with another group of serious men. We end up in front of some Italian restaurant in the Bronx. I’ve been told it’s supposed to be a “family” place with good food and, for some reason, I should check out the bathroom. I’m eating with strangers and someone asks how the veal is? “It’s the best in the city,” is the muffled response I can barely hear because of the rumbling of the nearby elevated train.

A family place.

Finally, I’m in a sunny garden, but I’m now a little boy. There’s an old man with me. He’s got beautiful tomato plants but he’s spraying them with pesticide. He obviously isn’t organically informed. The old man likes oranges; there are always oranges around him. But he scares me when he puts the peel in his mouth and makes a face like a monster.

I run away and the fat guy who was teaching me how to make tomato sauce is telling me something. I hear him, but I’m not sure I understand.

And then I wake up sweaty and confused. Was I supposed to leave the cannolis and take the gun? Or was I supposed to take the cannolis and leave the gun? I can never get it straight.

March 15, 1972: Happy 40th Godfather.

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