Tag Archives: music

Papa’s Karaoke in the Kitchen Blues

23 Nov

papas

“Are you ready to sing,” Beth, the hostess of Papa’s Kitchen asked me as I entered the empty, yet cozy Filipino restaurant on Woodside Avenue in Queens.

I was the first to arrive and her question to me caught me off guard. Zio had chosen this restaurant but with no mention of singing—or worse karaoke singing.

“Sing?” I shook my head. “No, but I am ready to eat.”

“Oh but you have to sing too,” she insisted

What had Zio gotten us into? I was debating whether to take off my jacket and stay or rush back to my car, but Eugene, Mike from Yonkers and Zio arrived before I could leave, thwarting my escape.

I glared at Zio. “Are you ready to sing?” I asked him. He saw the microphone. He saw the television with the Karaoke, both Filipino and English hits, strolling down. “What the…” was his startled response.

Eugene and I kept our heads safely down as we scanned the menu. Zio hesitated. Unbelievably, he was actually contemplating the karaoke thing.

“What about ‘My Way’?” Beth suggested. “Elvis or Sinatra.”

“I don’t know. Do you have ‘Get a Job’ by the Silhouettes?”  Zio asked for some bizarre reason.

Beth checked the seemingly endless scroll of possible songs, but couldn’t find the doo wop hit.

“What do you recommend to eat?” I interrupted hoping to get Beth off the karaoke obsession and onto what our task at hand was.

She ignored me and continued to press us into singing. Zio, displaying weakness of character, capitulated. He took the microphone.

“My Way?” Beth asked.

He nodded. What followed sounded like the vocal emissions of a man in serious bowel discomfort. My appetite was waning as rapidly as Zio’s sorry vocal chords. The end was definitely “near” and we all, thankfully, faced the “final curtain” on Zio’s rendition of “My Way.”

IMG_5259

“Can we please now order some food,” I barked.

“Who’s next?” Beth inquired, again totally ignoring my plea.

Finally, Eugene and Mike from Yonkers stepped in and Beth had no choice but to give us advice on what to order.

“Let’s start with Dynamite?” Mike from Yonkers asked.

Whatever dynamite was, it was listed as one of the appetizers and we wanted it.

What appeared soon after were thin crispy fried rolls stuffed with jalapeno and vegetables, served with a sweet, garlic chili sauce. And we ate them on plates adorned with banana leaves.

Papa's Kitchen

Dynamite!

Along with Dynamite, we settled on lechon kawali, deep fried pork belly, sitaw kalabasa, beans and pumpkin in coconut milk, the bicoli express, pork loin sliced in a stew of coconut milk and lastly, pancit palabok. When I asked about the pancit palabok, Beth mentioned that the noodle dish was more for Filipino tastes. Whatever she meant by that just confirmed our insistence in ordering the dish.

While we waited for our entrees, Beth once again tried to enlist our usually stoic group from the scourge that is karaoke. And once again, one of us succumbed. This time it was Eugene with a screechy, nails on the blackboard, rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” Making it even more painful, was the accompanying video, a series of shirtless, buff Filipino men dancing and gesturing to languid, seemingly very bored, females.

Papa's Kitchen

Relax folks, it’s only a microphone.

The deep fried pork belly arrived to quell our collective indigestion from the Karaoke debacle and the addition of a pungent liver sauce was a more than welcome condiment to the crisped fatty meat.

Lechon Kawali

Lechon kawali

After sampling the pancit palabok, rice vermicelli noodles coated in aromatic sauce of fermented shrimp paste and garlic we understood Beth’s hesitance in recommending the dish to those not familiar with such funky exotica. To us, however, it was a revelation. The same, however, could not be said for the uninspired bicoli express, a stew of overcooked pork in a mild coconut milk broth. A similar, but much more flavorful coconut milk broth was the base for the sitaw kalabasa and the result was much more satisfying.

Pancit Palabok with sitaw kalabasa in the background.

Pancit palabok with sitaw kalabasa in the background.

“Now that you are finished eating, what songs will you be singing,” Beth asked hopefully.

There was only one song left and it was sung by Eugene. Without the aid of the microphone, Eugene smiled and sang those two precious words: “Check please.”

 

Papa’s Kitchen

65-40 Woodside Avenue

Woodside, Queens

Luigi’s Prima Pasta & Pizza

12 Mar

(A menu inspired by the music of Louis Prima)

Chef Luigi

Chef Luigi

Welcome to Luigi’s Prima Pizza & Pasta where we serve the best in Italian-American cuisine. Come to our lively, festive restaurant where our beautiful hostess Felicia will show you to your table. Felicia, from Calabria, speaks no English, so Felicia…no capicia. But if you have any questions on the menu, Angelina, the waitress (at the pitzzeria) will be glad to answer them.

All dishes are prepared home-style and created from recipes evolved from Chef Luigi’s grandparents from the “old country.”

Here is a sample of Luigi’s award-winning menu.

Antipasto

Minestron’

Pasta fazool

Zooma Zooma Baccala (served  room temperature in a salad with hot cherry peppers)

Ol’ Fashion Salami

Brooklyn Pastrami

Cucuzza*

*”Cucuzza grows in Italy, they love it on the farm. Something like zucchini flavored with Italian charm”

 

Pizza

Tomatoes and fresh Mozzarella*

Sausage

Meatball

Fresh Garlic

Anchovies

Mushrooms

*Extra mozzarella, the way my cucuzza likes it, add $1.

 

Pasta

Lasagne

Ravioli (Luigi’s specialty)*

*Comes with one meatball. Extras are $2 each.

 

Primo

Cutlets Parmigiana  (chicken, veal or pork)

Steak Pizzaiola

Chicken Cacciatore

Virginia Ham (on the bone)

 

Sweets

Bananas (unless we run out and then, yes, we have no bananas)

Banana splits*

Spumoni

*A glass of ice water free with every banana split order.

 

Enjoy Yourself at Luigi’s!

 

Louis Prima’s Food  Discography

Angelina

Banana Split for my Baby

Closest to the Bone

Enjoy Yourself

I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead (You Rascal, You)

My Cucuzza

Pennies From Heaven

Please Don’t Squeeza the Bananas

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Zooma Zooma

The Happiest of All Hours: Bronx Beer Hall

12 Nov

Bronx Beer Hall

“Happy hour is two for one,” the bartender, a woman in a black “Bronx Beer Hall” t-shirt told us as we settled into chairs at the bar in the relatively quiet Arthur Avenue Retail Market where the Bronx Beer Hall was located.

Despite the calm inside, Eugene was having trouble hearing. “Whats’ that?” he asked the bartender while bending over the bar, his hand cupped over his ear in a feeble attempt to hear her.

I was with the Westchester contingent; Gerry and Eugene of the Adventures in Chow City group for a pre-meal drink before one of our interim dinners at a restaurant a block up on 187th Street.

“She said it’s two-for-one,” I said to Eugene in a voice loud and clear enough so he could hear me.

“Buy one beer and you get the second free,” the bartender, who we later learned was a senior at nearby Fordham University, explained.

I was very familiar with the happy hour concept as was Gerry and, I’m sure, so was Eugene. Maybe it was the cavernous indoor market that made it hard for Eugene to hear. Or maybe it was just that he was old and nature was taking its course. I wasn’t far behind him in age, but I could hear the bartender clearly as well as the falsetto singing voice of Anthony Gourdine, also known as “Little Anthony,” as “I’m on the Outside (Looking In),” played in the background.

 

 

The beers on tap were mostly Bronx-made, which made me, even without tasting one, very happy. Some were made by the Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company while others were from the City Island Beer Company.

One of the day’s specials was the “Kingsbridge Kolsch” made by the Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company. I was given a sample and immediately after tasting the fragrant icy blonde I ordered a pint. “I’ll have one of those also,” Eugene told the bartender.

“Big Apple Cider,” Gerry said to her, also one of the blackboard specials.

“Cider?” I had never known Gerry to order cider, hard or not.

“It’s supposed to be good for gout,” he said.

I didn’t want to know more than that.

Kingsbridge Kolsch

Kingsbridge Kolsch

The beer was cold and delicious. We chatted with the bartender who, with the exception of only two other customers, had only our group to attend to.

“You get a lot of Fordham students in here?” I asked knowing the proximity to the Fordham campus and recalling my own now very distant college days and how loyal I was to the two-for-one institutions near my university.

She shook her head with a smile. “No, we are the only place around here that actually cards them.”

“You didn’t card us,” Eugene said, feigning outrage.

She smiled at his quip and then said, “We get people who come in here shopping. A lot of old people. Seniors…you know.”

Gerry looked at me. I looked at him. Was she going there to be funny or did she not know any better. Either way there was no need to dwell further on the Bronx Beer Hall demographic. My beer was empty. It was time for the second of the two for one.

I glanced at the t-shirts for sale in the t-shirt booth next to the bar. Most were Italian-themed with stereotypical slogans like “fuhgeddaboudit” and “Leave the gun, take the cannolis.” There was a whiff of tobacco coming from the adjacent cigar factory, La Casa Grande Tobacco Company. Our bartender wanted to know if we were interested in food from Mike’s Deli, one of the most popular spots within the market. We declined, telling her we were eating at a nearby restaurant.

Witty t-shirts for sale.

Witty t-shirts for sale.

While we sipped the delicious Bronx beers, Eugene began reminiscing about the “old days,” back in White Plains and if we knew so and so who was once very pretty but, “you should see her now.”  And then he started talking about his recent 40th high school reunion including listing off several names of people unable to attend due to the fact that they were no longer alive.

I drained my second pint while over the loudspeakers in the now almost deserted market, the Crests were singing “Trouble in Paradise.” Another two-for-one round of Kingsbridge Kolsch was a temptation. I hadn’t eaten; more beer on an empty stomach would be a serious mistake.

Beer among the sausages.

Beer among the sausages.

“Where’s the bathroom in this place,” Eugene wondered out loud.

“I was gonna ask the same question,” Gerry said.

I looked at my empty glass; only a thin foamy head remained on the bottom of it. If I have learned anything over the years, it was to know my limitations.

“Follow me” I said

And that was that.

The Bronx Beer Hall
Arthur Avenue Retail Market
2344 Arthur Avenue
Bronx

 

 

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.

WXOU

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.

WXOU

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’ 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.

Garlic

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.

Ingredients:

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:

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.

winnie's

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

Chinatown

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.

Hope?

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.

How to Eat a Mango

10 Jul

I’ve often wondered,

how to eat this fruit.

It has an odd shape,

kind of like an egg with a loop.

It’s sweet and the flesh is juicy,

and  good for you too.

But how do you eat it

without getting quite messy?

If the fruit is soft and pliant to grope,

like what you might find in a ripe cantaloupe.

That means it is ripe and ready to eat.

The problem is, how to do it neat?

I hear there are over 1,000 varieties of mangoes around.

But where I live only a few types are to be found.

What I see in stores and on street carts,

come from places like Mexico, Salvador, Peru and Brazil.

Warm, tropical lands,

where there is no chill.

They  have names like “champagne,”

“Ataulfo,” “Tommy Atkins,” “Kent,” and more.

I’m sure there is a difference,

though this mango novice can’t tell for sure.

Ataulfo mangoes

On an island far away,

I once ate a Julie,

mango that is.

It was sweet and luscious.

I still can’t believe,

something so delicious,

could come from a tree.

Once peeled, the nectar quickly

flowed from within.

That Julie made such a mess,

a beach towel was needed,

to clean up my chin.

Three Julies

The mangoes from Haiti

are long and light green.

This fruit’s flavor is special,

the taste, a mango fan’s dream.

But there are drawbacks, I’m afraid.

It costs a little more,

and eating it most certainly can be a chore.

The Haitian

You can peel the tough skin with a knife.

Pull it down and try to slice.

Be careful before you start chewing,

The juices might spurt.

Don’t be slow.

Stay alert.

Oh my, how the bright orange flesh stains so.

No doubt, your nice white shirt, will soon be aglow.

Put away the knife,

and give up on the slice.

Just suck through the flesh,

right to the big stone.

This chore is one, you need to handle alone.

The temptations are many.

You might want to bite.

You’ll soon learn, that won’t be right.

Like a thatch of thorns that have you entangled,

your teeth will be riddled with tough fibers at every angle.

To dislodge requires little cost.

All you’ll need is plenty of time,

and two packs of dental floss.

Some say the best way to eat a mango

is one where you cut into the flesh;

a criss cross pattern.

that looks like a mesh.

Turn the skin upside down,

with gentle firmness, you’ll press.

The pieces will fall into a bowl or dish.

Eat with a toothpick, fork or chopstick.

No fuss.

No mess.

The criss cross method.

Like the many varieties of mango,

the choices of how to eat one are plenty.

And while I waste my time,

with these ridiculous rhymes,

I’m sure the list will grow.

Suck, nibble, bite or chew?

Who am I to tell you what to do?

How to eat a mango.

really, is up to you.

Lechonera Encanto

8 Jun

Lechonera La Isla
256 E. 125th Street

Last year, around this time, when I started seeing the Puerto Rican flags streaming from car antennas, out of apartment windows, and draped across uptown streets, I immediately thought of the Cuchy Frito man, specifically, Cal Tjader’s rendition and the celebration of all pig parts fried Cuchy Frito Man.

I am seeing those same flags again now. And this year, instead of Cal Tjader and cuchifritos, I thought I would celebrate La Isla del Encanto by stopping by my local lechonera, Lechonera La Isla, for a taste of pernil, roast pork shoulder.

Plenty of room at the lechonera.

La Lechonera La Isla was quiet when I walked in; the few stools of the small restaurant counter were empty. There was beef stew available along with oxtails and roast chicken. And there were a few slabs of pernil that had been roasted to sweet oblivion.

The day’s remains soon to be devoured.

“When do you close,” I asked the young man who was chopping the pernil into pieces for me.

“When we run out of food,” he replied, his cleaver slamming into the very dense crackling of the pig skin. “Basically, my Mom cooks everything in the morning and when it’s gone, I can go home.”

I was lucky;  he hadn’t gone home.

Trying not to be too bold, I peered into the kitchen hoping to catch a glimpse of Mom at work. But from what I could see, the kitchen was dark and quiet. Apparently Mom had gone home.

Sawing through the good stuff.

He layered a generous portion of pork on top of rice and red beans. An accompaniment of a homemade hot sauce; onions marinated in scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar set my mouth happily on fire while a drizzle of a tangy mojo (garlic sauce) just added to the gathering of fiery flavors now imbedded there.

Roast pork and rice and beans.

The traffic on 125th Street heading towards the Triorough (now known as the RFK) Bridge was bumper to bumper. Instead of Cuban-born Celia Cruz whose picture was adorned on the busy walls of the lechonera, or Tito Puente, who I once saw on 86th Street just after performing at the parade, sitting in the shade being fanned by a group of elderly ladies, the only sounds I heard while gnawing through the delicious cracklings, was that of honking horns. I really didn’t mind, the food provided all the music I needed.

A smile from Celia Cruz to help the pernil go down.

 

The Neckbones’ Valentine’s Card

14 Feb

While Hallmark, FTD, Kay Jewelers,  and others try to sell you on Valentine’s Day. When restaurants push overpriced and mediocre prix fixe Valentine’s dinners on you, I am reminded of the simple yet profound words of blues great, and alto saxophonist, Eddie “Clean Head” Vinson.

That there’s no need for caviar.

When “old  kidney stew is fine. ”

“You can save your money, and keep your peace of mind.”

But the man himself can tell it much better than I.

01 – Kidney Stew Blues

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