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The Case for Polish Vodka

28 Mar


Who do those Russians think they are meddling in our affairs? They fixed the election for their comrade Trump and now they are trying to disrupt all of Europe with their hacking and spying. Enough is enough, I say. No more borscht. No more blinis. No more Baltika beer. And most importantly, no more Russian vodka. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the sake of patriotism. I plan on doing my part by boycotting one of my favorite beverages. That means no Caucasians(white Russians), no martini’s with Stoli, and worst of all, no shots of lemon infused Russian vodka at the incomparable Russian Samovar. But I can only sacrifice so much, so instead of the Russian stuff, there is always our friends’ from Poland. They wouldn’t dare try to influence our elections. They have no aims to dominate the world. And they love America. In return, we love them. And now I plan to love their vodka.

I’m not sure Gerry shared my reasoning. Though he might not have been as passionate about my anti-Russian fervor, the prospect of a meal cooked by Polish grandmothers in the old-school cafeteria called Pyza, located a block from the liquor store on Nassau Avenue in gentrifying Greenpoint Brooklyn, was incentive enough for him to make the trip from Westchester.


And he wasn’t complaining when he also agreed to accompany me to the Greenpoint Wine and Liquor store on Nassau Avenue where there was the opportunity to purchase budget priced but underrated Polish vodka. The store had a huge selection of vodkas including many Russians. There was Stoli. There was Imperia. There was Russian Standard and there were other, pricey Russian vodkas. There was no Putinka, however, the vodka named after the man behind the current mess we are in. Before we knew he was influencing our elections, I once bought a bottle of Putinka vodka and wrote about it in these pages  where I discussed the bizarre commingling of what was known as the a “vodka pizza” (On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka).   Now, if I ever dare to order a slice of vodka pizza I’ll need to ask the pizza maker if Russian vodka was used in preparation. If so, it’s a no go.


Soft vodka named after a hard man

At the liquor store I now defiantly bypassed the Russian stuff  and grabbed a bottle of Wyobrowa and another of Stravinsky while Gerry nabbed a Lukosowa.


The menu at Pyza

With our vodka stash in hand, we headed down the block to Pyza. The inexpensive meals were posted on the restaurant’s menu on the wall near the cashier. Both of us decided that the Polish plate, a combination of goodies such as pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, and potato pancakes, would give us a representative sampling of what grandma was cooking back in that kitchen. And we were not disappointed. Could there be a heartier food to line our stomachs while navigating the snow mounds that remained from the previous week’s blizzard? The only negative was that we couldn’t crack open the bottles just purchased and wash down the meal with a shot of the clear Polish stuff.


Two Polish plates

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The Perfect Manhattan Fantasy Found in Westchester

16 Aug


When Mike from Yonkers alerted our group that his pick was a place called Fantasy Cuisine, my sometimes depraved mind immediately pictured an exotic food buffet where you dined among dirty books, x-rated videos and adult peep show booths. What a concept! Alas, it was just a fleeting word association and the fantasy cuisine in question was Chinese, Szechuan to be specific.

The restaurant was not far from another of Mike from Yonkers’ picks, Saigonese (, in the heavily populated Asian district of Central Avenue in Westchester’s Hartsdale. Upon entering the stand alone restaurant, I noted the faux waterfall, stemmed water glasses and neatly folded, albeit paper, napkins on the tables. “Mike is in trouble with this one,” Zio mumbled as both of us made our way to our table which was also equipped with do-it-yourself hotpot controls.


Elegance in Westchester

When the waiter arrived to take our drinks’ orders, maybe to help him weather whatever abuse we were going to heap on him, Mike from Yonkers splurged for a $12 “Perfect Manhattan” while the rest of us ordered Taiwanese beer.

“Do you know I have a friend who went to Italy and everywhere he went he tried to order chicken parmigiana,” Eugene announced to all of us as we were sipping our beverages. “It’s a disgrace. An embarrassment…you go to Italy and order chicken parmigiana…” Was Eugene just making conversation or was he delivering a social statement about the ugly American? No one knew and we were hungry so didn’t really care.

The menu at Fantasy Cuisine compartmentalized standard Szechuan dishes into “styles.” From among the styles that were arranged from non-spicy to spicy to very spicy, you could order your choice of meat; chicken, fish, beef or shrimp. This was supposed to make ordering from what are usually text book-sized menus much easier. I, however, veered totally form the “Classic Sichuan Dish” style menu to order twice cooked pork belly.  The others went with the various styles; Gerry ordering fish “dry pepper style,” Mike from Yonkers, chicken “dry pot style,” and Zio, beef “red soup style.”


Fish “Dry Pepper Style”

When the waiter came to Eugene, he too eschewed the various styles and decided on the house fried rice with chicken.

“You’re not ordering from one of the Szechuan styles,” I asked Eugene.

He shook his head. “There’s too much stuff in those.”

“What do you mean by stuff?” I wanted to know.

“Mushrooms,” he replied bluntly.

“What’s the matter, you scared of mushrooms?” Gerry teased knowing Eugene’s well documented aversion to fungi.

I looked at him seriously. “We come to a Szechuan restaurant in Hartsdale and you order fried rice?” It’s a disgrace…an embarrassment.” And then I stopped because the appetizers Mike from Yonkers chose were beginning to arrive on our table including summer rolls that, after a bite, would not be worth ordering in any season. The Dan Dan noodles that followed, usually a barometer to judge quality Szechuan came next and after we all sampled them, the barometer at Fantasy Cuisine was pointing down.


These Dan Dan noodles were no fantasy.

But you can forgive a restaurant for its appetizer missteps. The entrees, with the exception of Eugene’s predictably pedestrian fried rice with chicken, were all top notch though Zio’s trough-like bowl of beef in “red soup style” being the exception, not as spicy as we were used to for authentic Szechuan.  The thinly sliced pork belly was tender and combined with smoked tofu, garlic stems and scallions in a salty black bean sauce was as good as I’ve had while Gerry’s “dry pot style” fish also worthy of any Szechuan joint I’ve been to south of Yonkers.


Pork belly so good it was cooked twice

No one could forgive Zio for barely making a dent in the humongous bowl in front of him and after a while he gave up, telling the waiter he would bring the remains home. Mike from Yonkers, on the other hand, had no excuse; he was on the same pace as Zio but with half the food and even more unforgivably, had barely made a dent in the Perfect Manhattan.


Zio’s feeding trough of beef “red soup style.”

Noticing our probing stares, Mike from Yonkers quickly downed the drink but leaving the maraschino cherry at the bottom of the glass. “All right,” he said a smile on his face and smacking his lips. Whether it was a Perfect Manhattan or not, the man from Yonkers, who now lives in Rockland County looked satisfied.


The not so perfect Manhattan

“Are Perfect Manhattan’s allowed in the food group,” Eugene questioned, but before anyone could answer we were out the door.

Fantasy Cuisine

20 N. Central Ave.

Hartsdale, NY


Salsa (on the rocks) with Chips

21 May

Green Chile Vodka

I could add this new, Green Chile vodka from St. George Spirits of Alameda, California into a Bloody Mary.  I could make a vodka-rita, substituting the St. George Green Chile vodka for tequila. Or I could use it in a peppered martini…but in this case no chilies would be needed. This unique non-GMO based spirit is infused with a combination of peppers including jalapeno, habanero, Serrano, and red and yellow bell peppers giving it a distinctive, green chile flavor with a subtle, yet noticeable bite. Lime peels and cilantro are also part of the process—after all this is a spiked salsa (minus the tomatoes)—we are talking about.

I, however, choose not to do anything to this vodka. I intend on savoring the smooth, clean fresh pepper flavor on the rocks with nothing more than a squeeze of lime.

And maybe accompanied by a bowl of tortilla chips.

St. George's Green Chile Vodka

Neckbones’ Rum Diary: The Polar Vortex Rum Route

27 Jan

Polar Vortex rum

We had been informed by those who know about such things that a Polar Vortex had descended on the city.  All I knew that it was very cold as I emerged from my car on barren 134th Street just off the Bruckner Boulevard. I was in what is known as the “Mott Haven” section of the Bronx. I know it as the south Bronx.

The wind was howling as I pushed open the non-descript heavy steel door and made my way up two flights to the world headquarters of the Tirado Distillery. I could hear music playing behind a closed door—disco from the 1970’s. I knocked. The music stopped. Dr. Renee Hernandez, the owner of, according to Dr. Hernandez, the Bronx’s first distillery since prohibition, was expecting me.

The Tirado Distillery sign

The Tirado Distillery door sign

The heat was on in the brightly lit room where folding tables and chairs held samples of the products made at the Tirado Distillery, but I was still cold. I was more familiar with rum among palm trees and sugar cane fields; often being whisked beach side to warm weather distilleries. Now, however, I was exploring that same spirit on grimy city streets within the grips of a polar vortex. I tried to keep an open mind as Dr. Hernandez offered me tasting sips of his products. I started with the corn whiskey.

“It’s organic,” Dr. Hernandez told me. “We get the corn from farms upstate.”

I winced at the taste, not that it was bad , but that I wasn’t quite ready for the bracing jolt it gave me.

“Bronx moonshine,” Dr. Hernandez called it. “It goes great in a ‘sex on the beach,’” he said.

I looked at him. He had to go and mention the beach?

I next tried the black rum. It was hearty; heavy-bodied in the style of what is known as Navy rums.

“I like to mix it with passion fruit juice,” Dr. Hernandez told me and I couldn’t argue. It needed something to cut its denseness.

“Where do you get your molasses for the rum,” I inquired. “Puerto Rico? The Dominican Republic? Jamaica?”

“New Jersey,” he answered.

I nodded, but said nothing.

“From International Molasses,” he added.

I understood but didn’t inquire further as to where New Jersey’s International Molasses got their molasses.

Finally I sampled the distillery’s “Maple Delight,” a blend of whiskey with a hint of local New York maple sugar. Surprisingly smooth, the Maple Delight was my favorite in the Tirado Distillery repertoire.

The sips had taken the chill off and Dr. Hernandez took me into the production facility down the hall which featured rows of plastic buckets used for fermentation, a few small stainless steel stills and boxes of empty bottles ready to be filled and labeled. From the loft-like facility, you could see the flickering lights of Manhattan.

Tirado's fermentation tanks.

Tirado’s fermentation tanks.

“We only produce around 300 bottles a year and concentrate on making our products clean and smooth. You won’t get a hangover from our rum or whiskey.” Dr. Hernandez proudly proclaimed.

I thanked him for the personalized tour and made my way back out into the cold. I got into my car and turned up the heat. The last time I made the rum rounds was on the island of Martinique. There are eleven rum distilleries on that French Caribbean island and the local tourist board promotes visiting them with what they call “la route des rhums.” Here in frigid New York, after Tirado Distillery, I had two more to visit. Would my escapade qualify as a route des rhums?

One of the distillery's on Martinique "route des rhums."

One of the distillery’s on Martinique’s “route des rhums.”

My next stop was Brooklyn and I soon found myself in an industrial, truck-crammed area similar to Mott Haven. I was in Williamsburg—or was it Bushwick—searching for my destination TNE (The Nobel Experiment)NYC, the distillery that makes another New York-produced rum called Owney’s. And I soon found it—the TNE NYC painted in big bold black letters above a graffiti-strewn steel door.

The door to TNE's headquarters.

The door to TNE’s headquarters.

On one of my tropical, beach-centric rum assignments many years ago I met Owen Tulloch, the master blender for J. Wray & Nephew’s Appleton Estate rums in Jamaica. At the time, the esteemed Mr. Tulloch was grooming his young associate, Joy Spence, in both the scientific and the sensory ways of blending fine rums. Soon after we met, Mr. Tulloch retired and Ms Spence became the spirit industry’s first female master blender.

Now, almost twenty years later, many miles north of the Caribbean during—I have to say it again— a polar vortex, I was greeted by Bridget Firtle, the CEO and founder of TNE who is not only another female master blender of fine rum, but one who also operates every physical aspect of the rum making process as well as distribution. The Noble Experiment is literally a one-woman show.

What can you say about a young, up and coming Wall Street and hedge fund mover and shaker who gives up that potentially very lucrative, yet soulless career for one that , albeit risky, actually enriches others’ (speaking of my own) lives by following her passion and creating a beloved (by me) hand-crafted spirit in her polar vortex-challenged hometown? That is what Bridget Firtle has done and some might think that maybe inhaling too many alcoholic vapors might have compromised her career choice decision while others, me included, applaud her for chasing her dream.

The Noble Experiment, so named as a nod to one of the terms associated with Prohibition when rum running was the rage, was housed in an open, airy room where towering mashing tanks and copper pot stills glittered in the natural light that poured through the big windows. The machinery looked imposing to me, but Ms. Firtle learned to handle them all expertly enough to churn out 23,000 bottles in her initial 2012 batch, and to also earn Owney’s Rum, named in another nod to the Prohibition Era after notorious bootlegger, Cotton Club owner, and gangster, Owney Madden, a silver medal at the 2013 New York International Spirit’s Competition.

Some of the machinery at the TNE Distillery run by Bridgit Firtle.

Some of the machinery at the TNE Distillery run by Bridget Firtle.

Fortified with sugar cane molasses from Florida and Louisiana and made with that same coveted New York water that is credited with making New York bagels and pizza so good, Owney’s is a smooth white rum. The sip offered me at the handsome wood burnished bar in the lobby of the distillery reflected that distinctive water; clean enough to enjoy on the rocks with a wedge of lime or, even better, as the soul of a classic daiquiri. Firtle’s own experiment is not only noble, but very impressive and though Wall Street might be the “poorer” for losing her talents, the New York rum establishment, such as it is, is much richer for it.

Polar Vortex Rum

I wasn’t far from the next stop in my urban rum route, also in Brooklyn, and even though I found my way to Red Hook, I wasn’t really sure exactly where I was going and what I was going to see. My interest was in Cacao Prieto rum, but did that mean I needed to go to the Widow Jane bourbon factory that was associated with Cacao Prieto, which was also, as its name connotes, a chocolate making enterprise. I noticed the colorful mural of workers harvesting sugar cane on the wall of a warehouse. I knew I had to be close and then around the corner saw the old brick building with the prominent “Cacao Prieto” sign on it. I was where I wanted to be. At least I thought I was.

Harvesting sugar can in Red Hook during a Polar Vortex.

Harvesting sugar cane in Red Hook during a Polar Vortex.

The doors were locked but a sign on it left a phone number to call to gain entry or to “knock loudly.” I knocked loudly. A man in worker coveralls opened up. I told him what my interest was. Another man, bearded and heavily tattooed with a roguish, Captain Jack Sparrow smile, introduced himself as Vince Oleson. “I’m a distiller,” he said.

A distiller at a rum distillery could certainly help me. And Mr. Oleson did. He took me past the American and French oak barrels, copper pot stills, through a small yard where live chickens roamed, and then to the fermentation tanks in a back room.  Oleson told me how the rum was made from organic sugar cane from Daniel Preston’s, the owner and founder of Cacao Prieto, family’s farm in the Dominican Republic where the cacao for the artisanal chocolate made at Cacao Prieto also came from. He explained how the water used was from the “Widow Jane” mine in the Catskills and packed with minerals adding even more depth to the finished product, and how the cacao beans were actually fermented with the white rum to create their signature and unique “Don Rafael Cacao Rum,” and “Don Esteban Cacao liqueur.”

I did a lot of nodding as Oleson schooled me in the Red Hook rum making process. It all sounded almost too impressive. No one ever emphasized the water during my various other Caribbean rum tours. No one blended organic cacao with organic sugar cane in Martinique, Jamaica, Barbados or any of the other rum-making islands I’d visited. But this was Brooklyn, home of the artisanal food movement: I should have known.

Polar Vortex Rum

After the tour, Oleson set me up at their tasting bar with samplings of a number Cacao Prieto’s rums including a small batch produced of what they call Widow Jane Rye rum, or rum aged in the oak barrels formerly used to age the company’s rye. The result was a subtle smoky flavor from the rye. “With this you could make a rum sazerac,” I said.

“Now that’s a great idea,” Oleson replied, again with the rougish, Jack Sparrow smile.

After that sip I was full of great ideas and it got even better when I sampled Cacao Prieto’s Don Rafael Cacao rum; the company’s smooth white rum infused with their own rich chocolate. But this wasn’t just chocolate, this was “cacao,” and the flavor was both intense and clean. Finally I sipped the white rum. Like Owney’s, it’s was fresh, fortified by that mineral-rich New York water and would work just fine on the rocks or in a lightly flavored drink like a daiquiri or even a French Caribbean Ti Punch.

The Cacao Prieto Tasting Bar.

The Cacao Prieto Tasting Bar.

I let Mr. Oleson get back to work. There were rums to distill. My self guided route des rhums was over and I was stuck in traffic on the BQE. The windshield of my car was beginning to ice and I turned on the defroster. Now that my hometown had its own burgeoning rum making industry did I really need to travel all the way to those lush, warm tropical islands to experience what had been lacking here? As I pondered that question, there was more blather on the radio about the polar vortex.  By the time I crossed the Kosciusko Bridge into Queens, I pondered it no more.

On the Polar Vortex rum route.

The scenic Polar Vortex rum route.

Tirado Distillery
755 W. 134th St.
The Bronx

The Noble Experiment
23 Meadow Street,

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn

Ti’ Time

5 Apr

Ti’ (pronounced “tea”) time for me is usually just before dinner. Drinking a Ti’ helps spur my appetite, or that’s how I justify it. It’s what is called an aperitif. In the French Caribbean they don’t bother to justify spurring their appetites; Ti’ time is before just about every meal, including breakfast. The Ti’ in question is actually called Ti’ punch, with Ti’ meaning tiny or “petit” in Creole.

Ti' Punch ingredients

Ti’ Punch ingredients

I’ve heard it said that big gifts come in small packages. The Ti’ punch is a good example of that.  This little cocktail packs a hefty punch and might do a little more than spur your appetite if you aren’t careful.

The main ingredient for a Ti’ punch is Rhum Agricole Blanc from one of the French Caribbean Islands. Most accessible here in the States are the rums from Martinique. And I wrote about some of those in my post Neckbones Rum Diary: The J.M Incident. If you can get your hands on white rum from Guadeloupe or Haiti, I’m sure they will more than suffice in this recipe

Next you will need a small Old Fashioned or rocks glass.

To the glass you will add a few ice cubes. Not too many and if you prefer none at all, that’s fine too.

Take a thin wedge of lime, squeeze it lightly and drop it into the glass.

Fill a demitasse spoon, if you have one, with cane sugar syrup (brown only please). If you don’t have the demitasse spoon, drop in a quarter or half a teaspoon instead, depending on how sweet you like your drink.

In goes the syrup

In goes the syrup

Finally, pour two to three ounces of the Rhum Agricole Blance into the glass. Give it a mix with the spoon, or better yet, a little tropical mixer.

...and finally the rum.

…and finally the rum.

How fast you would like to drink it is up to you. I don’t like to savor it too long, but neither do I like to down it like a shot. Somewhere in between is the desired rate of consumption.

Stir it and drink.

Stir it and drink.

The only bad thing about Ti’ time is that it doesn’t last very long—unless you choose to take it into overtime.

The Happiest of All Hours: WXOU Radio

27 Feb

WXOUWhen I was a kid, I used to listen to the transistor radio at night and pull in AM radio stations from as far away as St. Louis and Detroit. I knew then that the stations west of the Mississippi River began their call letters with a K and conversely with a W east of the river, where I was from. I knew this because at night, when the stations’ signals were clearest, I could hear St. Louis Blues hockey games and in the summer, Jack Buck calling St. Louis Cardinal baseball games from KMOX in St. Louis.

I found out later, the early 1990’s to be precise, that there was a KCOU in Columbia, Missouri that is the University of Missouri’s flagship radio station. I know this because on the Upper West Side there  was a no-frills, some might say, dive bar called KCOU. Maybe the owners of KCOU went to the University of Missouri. I didn’t know and I never asked. It was just the name of a place I would go to early and often; mainly for the bar’s happy hour which began, I believe, at four in the afternoon and lasted until eight at night. The happy hour featured a two-for-one deal on anything you wanted—there were no restrictions as many bars institute now where the two-for-one deal applies only for “well” drinks made with the house booze, usually far from top shelf.


At KCOU my preferred cocktail at the time was a Stoli on the rocks with a wedge of lemon. And the bartenders, who of course I became very friendly with, would not skimp on the pour, generously filling the four ounce glass to the rim. Along with the drinks, big bowls of salted peanuts or mixed nuts were complimentary. On many nights those bowls of nuts, which were replenished whenever emptied, would serve as my evening meal.

The cocktail of choice at KCOU.

The cocktail of choice at KCOU.

The bar had an eclectic juke box and was usually very quiet at least until eight when the imploding frat scene that was taking over the stretch of Amsterdam Avenue where KCOU was located would begin to infiltrate the space. By then, after too many two-for-ones, it was lights out for me anyway.

To my dismay, the frat scene implosion eventually forced KCOU out of its Amsterdam Avenue location. But I quickly learned that there was a sister “radio” bar named WXOU on Hudson Street, diagonally across from the legendary White Horse Tavern.

Though a subway schlep from where I lived uptown prevented WXOU from replicating KCOU’s home away from home status, I would make my way downtown often enough to enjoy the similar happy hour atmosphere at the cozier WXOU. The bar had the same two-for-one policy and even the complimentary bowl of nuts in the identical white bowls that I was familiar with from KCOU. The juke box was, I was happy to see, almost a carbon copy of the uptown version. The major difference was that WXOU was much more popular than its late uptown brother. In the West Village, the happy hour at WXOU was a hit; the chances of a frat implosion on this stretch of Hudson Street was remote.

Once upon a time at a dive named...

Once upon a time at a dive named…

After probably a decade long absence, I returned to WXOU recently and discovered, happily, that it was pretty much exactly as I remembered it. The posters for the movies “Stranger than Paradise,” and “Once Upon A Time in America,” were in the same spots they were when I last visited. Same with the picture of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the portrait of Jackie Robinson. The WXOU radio clock still stood where it did before; in the back of the bar near the restrooms. I flipped through the juke box selections. They were still top notch.

Jackie Robinson was still there.

There were changes, however. The happy hour, which I noticed now began at three, was no longer two-for-one. Pints of draft beers were a mere four dollars and, like it had at pretty much every drinking establishment, the beer list expanded to include microbrews and beers from Belgium that I never knew existed back during my “two-for-one” period.

I ordered a Spaten, a German beer from the bartender, a female with multiple colorful tattoos on her forearms. Along with the beer, I was given a bowl of nuts. Upon further inspection, the bowl of nuts included some of that other crunchy, salty stuff; pretzel pieces, honey coated almonds, mini-crackers, and those salty sesame sticks.

Spaten and nuts

Spaten and nuts

I sipped the beer and stared at the “All Cash. No Red Bull” sign above the bar. It was still daylight outside and from my perch at the bar I watched the activity on Hudson Street. Fathers, more than mothers, I noticed were accompanying their young children home from what must be a nearby school.


I finished the pint—and then another. The Animals were on the juke box: “We’ve Gotta Get out of this Place.” I was in no rush to leave this place, but I gathered my belongings and collected what remained of my money on the bar, minus a tip.  The last thing I did before I left was to grab a handful of the crunchy salty stuff from the white bowl and while walking out, tossed a few  into my mouth.

The view from my perch.

The view from my perch.

WXOU Radio Bar
558 Hudson Street

Neck Bones’ Condiment Hall of Fame: Pickapeppa Sauce

11 Jan







The New York Times listed this year’s baseball Hall of Fame inductees in their paper yesterday. The page was a blank. No one received over 75 percent of the vote necessary to gain entry. To compensate for the lack of 2013 baseball Hall of Famers, I’m creating my own Hall of Fame, but not for baseball players. Mine will be for the most deserving condiments on the planet. And they don’t need over 75 percent of anyone else’s vote. For now, I’m the only judge for this award, and I swear I won’t hold it against a condiment if they might be, or once were, pumped with steroids or anything else chemical or artificial. I know in the world of condiments, there is no such thing as a level playing field.

So, the inaugural inductee to the Neck Bones Condiment Hall of Fame is that Jamaican treasure: Pickapeppa  Sauce.

Pickappa Sauce

Pickapeppa originated in 1921 and still is produced in Jamaica, in a place called Shooter’s Hill. I once drove past the Pickapeppa factory many years ago, but foolishly didn’t stop to wander the facilities to learn how such a unique sauce is concocted. So I can only go on what it says on the label of the bottle which tells me that the ingredients include mangoes, tamarind, tomatoes, onions, sugar cane vinegar, raisins, and “spices.” And then, like good Jamaican rum, the sauce is aged in oak barrels for a year before it is sold to the public.

In Jamaica, Pickapeppa became famous as an accompaniment to cream cheese. I can honestly declare that I have never contemplated topping a bagel and cream cheese with Pickapeppa sauce, but maybe I’m missing something.  Pickapeppa is also commonly used an added ingredient to marinades for barbecues, a baste for fish or meat, and stirred into gravies for a tangy kick. I’ve used it as a dip for samosas , tempuras, and fried fish, to lively up a dull or dry piece of meat, or sprinkled on scrambled eggs.

On the website; there are a number of recipes including one for a Creole bloody mary that looked intriguing. In fact, I’ve heard that the sauce has become a favorite new source for  creative Caribbean mixologists.

As a tribute to Pickapeppa, I cooked up one of the recipes on the website: Pickapeppa Pulled Chicken. I’ve tweaked it somewhat, but otherwise, I present it here, pretty much intact.


2-3lbs of skinless chicken breasts, rib intact

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped.

3 ounces, or three quarters of a 5 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa Sauce*

1 tbs of Jerk sauce (I used Walkerswood, another candidate for a future edition of the Neck Bones Hall of Fame)

3 dashes of hot sauce.

2/3s  of a 12 ounce bottle of ginger beer.

*The website’s recipe calls for a 15 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa sauce to be used. I’ve never seen a bottle larger than the traditional 5 ounce bottle, so I’m not sure if it was a typo or not. Either way, Three ounces of the rich sauce seemed more than enough for me.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Combine the Pickapeppa Sauce, jerk sauce, hot sauce, and olive oil in a small bowl and mix.

Coat the chicken breasts with the sauce and let sit at room temperature for a half hour.


Add the chopped onions and garlic to a crock pot or slow cooker and then pour in 2/3s of a bottle of the ginger beer. You could toss in the whole bottle, but I saved a third to use in a well deserved Dark  & Stormy that I figured would be the perfect pairing with the pulled chicken.

Ginger beer going in.

Ginger beer going in.

Add the chicken breasts, cover and cook on low for four to six hours.

In the crock pot.

In the crock pot.

Pickapeppa pulled chicken

Pickapeppa pulled chicken six hours later

When done, shred the chicken breasts, be careful to remove any bones, and add in a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to moisten. Serve on rolls or not, and top with any remaining Pickapeppa sauce you might have.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

If you have any personal tributes to Pickapeppa on this, it’s Hall of Fame induction day, please don’t hesitate to include them in the comments section below.



The Happiest of All Hours: Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

12 Dec

winnie's 018

I’m not one to partake in karaoke. In fact, I don’t recall ever being present during karaoke hours at a bar or club, though maybe I have been. I’ve probably actually gone out of my way to avoid karaoke and if a local pub I had been frequenting began to institute karaoke sessions, that pub would most likely be crossed off my list. Thankfully, it’s a long list.

My feeling is that I would rather put my dime (a figure of speech) in the juke box and hear the real deal than listen to amateurs obliterate the same tune.

I know it’s a cranky attitude to have. Why should I care if people have fun making fools of themselves? I don’t really. I truly believe there is place in this world for karaoke. There’s also a place for restaurants where you need to make a reservation a month in advance. It’s just that neither are my kind of place.

But though at times I’m intractable, I can make exceptions and recently I found myself sitting at the bar at Winnie’s, a Chinatown institution best known for its wild karaoke nights. Of course, I was at Winnie’s during the Happiest Hour, which, for me, is much earlier than the 8pm starting time for karaoke.

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

Instead of listening to inebriated folks doing their best to cover already bad pop hits, the place was practically empty and the only sound was from the “People’s Court” on television.


While I sipped my very cold $6.50 Tsingtao, two hapless couples were haggling over an altercation that occurred because of a faulty refrigerator bought on Craig’s List. Though the beer tasted good, I began to think that maybe even an amateur with a microphone might be a better listening alternative than to the drek coming from Winnie’s only TV.

I finished the beer but didn’t order another. The dispute had not yet been resolved on the People’s Court, but I wasn’t sticking around for the verdict. Outside there was a drizzle and across the street people were huddled under cover within the atrium of Columbus Park. Winnie’s was surrounded by court houses and the next time I’m summoned for jury duty, I’ll know where to go to relieve the agony of fulfilling my civic responsibility.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

For now, though my stay inside Winnie’s was brief, I figured I could extend the happiest of hours. In a way, I might actually discover “double happiness.” After all, I was in Chinatown. The possibilities were endless.

Double Happiness at Winnie's.

Double Happiness at Winnie’s.

Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

104 Bayard St


On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka

27 Nov

I’m a purist in many ways. With few exceptions, I don’t like fusion—unless I’m creating the fusion. When given the choice, as I always am, tap water works for me at a restaurant. I scoff at all the sauces presented to compliment a broiled or grilled piece of prime meat that should need no compliment.  I don’t buy flavored seltzers. If I want lemon or lime, I can easily add my own to plain seltzer.

And the same can be said for vodka. Who needs cranberry flavored seltzer when a splash of cranberry juice will suffice? That is, unless I’m in the outstanding Russian Samovar, sitting at the bar and trying to decide which of their house made infused vodkas I should order. Maybe start with a shot of ginger followed by the coriander? See, there are exceptions. I’m not totally unmovable on this.

The Russian Samovar Collection

The state of today’s pizza, I’m afraid, has been a serious blow to my purist sensibilities. You enter a pizzeria now and the cold, congealed varieties presented under Plexiglas counters are staggering. The pies are covered with everything from broccoli to kale, from barbecued shrimp to Buffalo chicken strips.

I like my pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella; preferably more of the former and lighter on the latter. I have been known to throw on some anchovies to improve a mediocre pie. Beyond that, I have no interest in sausage, pepperoni, meatball, mushrooms or any of the usual toppings.

Adding to the ever-growing assortment of pizzas is pizza with “vodka” sauce—the spin on penne a la vodka. I know pizza with vodka sauce is not a new phenomenon. I guess I just put it out of my mind,  desperately trying to deny its existence despite it’s increasing popularity.

I’ve made penne a la vodka myself. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I use cheap, local canned tomatoes. Who cares about the quality of the tomatoes if I’m adding cream to it—and vodka? And when I go into my vodka stash just to have it fuse with the sorry canned tomatoes and cream I cringe. It’s one thing to waste a few splashes of red wine in a sauce, it’s quite another to use some of the precious Russian clear stuff.

Well, not always Russian. Sometimes it might be Swedish, Danish, or even from some place in Texas.

Penne a la vodka is an amiable and infrequent diversion. It’s like the undercard of a heavyweight bout; the opening act for standouts like Neck Bones Tomato Sauce  or  Neck Bones Anchovy Sauce, pesto, or the perennial champ: marinara sauce.

So why would I ever be interested in the undercard of a topping for pizza? I wouldn’t. Or I thought I wouldn’t until recently. The lure was drawing me in. Was I missing something here? And how could I comment on something I’d never experienced?

The sign said it all: “Home of the famous vodka sauce.” There was even a banner flapping in the wind above Spring Street advertising “vodka pizza.” The place was called Pomodoro and apparently vodka sauce was their trademark. If I were ever going to experience a slice of pizza with vodka sauce, I would guess this would be the place.

I surveyed the countless array of already made pies under the Plexiglas counter for the vodka pie, but my eyes, inexperienced at least regarding vodka pizza, could not identify one.

I asked the man behind the counter for a slice of vodka. He took out a pie that looked like any other “regular” pie and cut out a slice which he threw into the oven to heat. A few moments later it was presented to me.

Vodka slice from Pomodoro

My normal reflex whenever eating a slice of pizza is to grab for the red pepper flakes and sprinkle generously over the slice. I did the same here not knowing that the vodka pizza was already spicy.

The slice was coated with chunks of very good, albeit spicy, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella while the only negative was that the crust was a little on the thick side for my taste. It was a more than commendable slice. Still, I was puzzled. I admit to being a vodka pizza virgin, but was this what a slice of vodka pizza tasted like? It didn’t taste anything like my penne a la vodka. Where was the vodka in the vodka slice?

So they called it something other than what it really was. It didn’t matter. I liked the pizza and brought a few slices home to give it another shot. This time I thought maybe, instead of beer, my usual accompaniment to pizza, I would accompany the vodka slice with vodka.

For the occasion I had a Russian named Putinka in my refrigerator. An apparent tribute to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the Putinka also billed itself as “soft,” vodka, whatever that meant. Was soft vodka the equivalent to light beer? I hoped not. And really, would the former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB want a vodka named after him that was billed as “soft?”

Soft vodka

Either way, I reheated the vodka slice and poured a shot of Putinka over ice. I sipped and then took a bite. The vodka, soft or not, gave me the familiar and comforting burn that, I discovered, paired brilliantly with the so-called vodka pizza.

I finished the vodka and the pizza a bit too quickly and then realized something that should have been obvious to me—something that conformed to my purist sensibilities. There was no need to search out a pre-made vodka sauce pizza where, most likely, the vodka sauce wouldn’t be up to your own standards. Just like adding your own flavor to your pure vodka, you could do the same with this pizza. All you needed was a warm slice of pizza and a cold Russian in the refrigerator.

51 Spring Street

Name That Place

16 Nov

After a difficult couple of weeks here in New York, I thought another entry of that  semi-regular game, Name That Place, played here on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries might lighten the mood.

The photo below should immediately set off whatever bells, whistles or sparks within the cognitive memories of all you dedicated, cocktail-loving gentleman, and ladies too, who call New York home.

This one is so easy, I would be insulting you if I added another photo or offered more hints. Take it as a post-Hurricane, pre-Thanksgiving gift to all my followers. I am always grateful for your support.

As always, reply with your answers in the comments section here. The name of the place will be revealed on Monday.

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