Tag Archives: real estate

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

24 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachy’s Donegal Inn

103 W. 72nd St

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

The day’s specials.

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

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

The Babe surrounded by Christmas lights, circa 1983.

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

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

As had The Duke.

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

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

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

No one answered him.

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

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

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

“What’s good?” the man asked.

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

“What do you suggest?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Answer Is

11 Jul

What used to be here?


As if you didn’t know that it was…

These I’ll miss.

Name That (Former) Place

8 Jul

The title alone should be enough for all to identify the below place.  I have fond memories of stuffing my face with what was produced at this dearly departed place.  Tell me your answers in the comments section provided here and regale me with your own personal memories. I expect a deluge of responses. And the more the merrier.

What was sold here?

For those who are stumped, the answer will be revealed on Monday.

The Last Days of Fufu on Eighth Avenue

28 Jun

It was early 2007, around the peak of the real estate boom that had overtaken New York City, when we traveled to Harlem to dine at Florence’s Restaurant.  The restaurant was located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard just a few blocks north of 110th Street. I don’t recall that the trendy moniker SoHa, meaning South Harlem, had yet been awarded to that quickly gentrifying neighborhood, but, as I wrote below, all the signs were there that soon this would be a place that would be awarded a trendy moniker.

Florence’s Restaurant

After lengthy and near hysterical deliberations, our disparate group finally agreed to a date. Our choice was a Friday, certainly not ideal for anyone, but the only day all could make it. Rick was saddled with the pick and had to take weekend traffic and restaurant crowds into consideration when choosing the destination. Those considerations eliminated Brooklyn and Staten Island. The Bronx was a possibility, but the Yankees were at home that night. There was always Queens, but Rick wanted a break from that food bounteous borough.  Downtown Manhattan could be risky, so that left Harlem. Rick’s research unveiled a conveniently (convenient to me at least) located African restaurant named Florence’s specializing in home cooking and, as Rick added: “that is if your home is Ghana.”  We expected our full group of six until Friday afternoon when Rick had to suddenly drop out due to a family emergency. Though it was his pick, it was too late to find another destination. We would meet at Florence’s.

What recession?

Walking up Central Park West and past 110th Street when it becomes Frederick Douglass Boulevard, or as it is also known, 8th Avenue, and passing the distinct signs of gentrification; where on every block new apartment buildings are rising and brownstones gutted and ready for renovation; where real estate is now into the multi-millions, there was Florence’s, a tiny and untidy symbol of resistance to change.

When I arrived a few African men were sitting at the Formica-topped tables adorned with cheap plastic table mats decorated with ducklings in bonnets. They were dining on large bowls of stews, using mashed fufu, a yellowish plantain meal formed into a smooth ball, as a utensil and scooping up the stew with it. A television was on to the news and a little boy was laughing and playing with books on the floor of the restaurant near where I was sitting. To capture my attention, the boy began to raise the level of his giggling. The owner, probably the boy’s father, scolded him. The boy went quickly silent.


I was alone but given a table for five until a large group of young tourists staying at a nearby hostel entered. I gave up my table and switched to another, smaller table. I sipped a fiery, homemade ginger beer and tried calling Gerry and Zio wondering when they would arrive, but couldn’t get through to either. I was worried that with the group of tourists that Florence’s might run out of food as small, family-run restaurants like these are apt to do. I didn’t know then, but my worries were unfounded.

Zio waddled in soon after, fedora on head, followed by Gerry who announced that Eugene was out due to a work commitment. Mike from Yonkers completed the group and wasting no time, we perused the very informative menu. When we gave the waiter our usual spiel—that we like to sample the traditional favorites, he genially pointed out a number of Ghanian and Ivorian (Ivory Coast) specialties starting with the aforementioned fufu and groundnut (peanut butter stew). With it we had a choice of beef, chicken, fish, goat, or cow foot. Before I could say “goat,” Zio blurted out “cow foot,” his insistent craving for the gelatinous hooves that would accompany our peanut butter stew went without explanation.

Kelewele: peculiarly mouth-watering.

Our waiter also recommended the fried fish served with banku, fermented cassava dough and rolled into balls, the baked fish, an item called kelewele, sliced plantains seasoned with ginger, chilies, and cloves and fried giving it, according to the menu, “a peculiar mouth-watering flavor.” Lastly, we were steered toward a supposedly popular dish of black-eyed peas called “red red.”

The groundnut stew with cowfoot arrived first along with the mound of fufu. I picked up one of the hooves, found it impenetrable and quickly gave up on it, but Zio determinedly found a way to gnaw the clear gristle surrounding bone. Unlike the Africans, I tried to eat the fufu with fork and knife—a big mistake; it was like cutting through rubber. The banku that accompanied the excellent fried fish was a better option, soft and starchy, a nice compliment to the tangy sauce of the fish. The menu said the baked fish was bluefish, but devoid of that fish’s oily, distinctively strong flavor, it was more likely tilapia. Whatever the species, the fish was moist and full of meat and flavor.

“red red”

The last two dishes to arrive were the “red red,” a bowl of black-eyed peas drenched in an oily crimson-colored sauce that was, despite it’s appearance, rather bland, and the kelewele, plantains fried to a crisp, deep brown color and speckled with chilies and ginger, again not as spicy as it appeared. The four of us finished everything and were shocked at the miniscule bill for all the food we consumed. Had the owners of Florence’s not seen the construction that I saw? Did they look at the overpriced menu of the new, upscale Ethiopian restaurant with the fancy wine list across the street? Were they not aware that the immediate world around them was about to drastically change? I could only hope that they did not.

Brunch and dining “al fresco” where Florence’s once stood.

 But of course it did, though not without a serious bump. Construction in Harlem and elsewhere halted temporarily during the financial crises of 2008 and 2009, but the growth resumed in 2010. I ‘m not sure when Florence’s closed, but it couldn’t have been more than a year after our visit. Where Florence’s once was there is now a wildly popular beer garden called Bier International with “al fresco” seating featuring “brunch.”

Stars Across the River

24 May

Five Star Punjabi Indian
13-05 43rd Avenue
Long Island City

I emerged from the station at 23rd St/Ely Avenue to hear the rumbling of another train above. It was dark, cold and windy. I could see the lights of Manhattan flickering across the river. I really didn’t know where I was going as I made my way down the desolate street toward 43rd Avenue in Long Island City passing warehouses and seemingly empty factories, my eyes on the alert for signs of life; for a tavern, restaurant, deli—anything. Like a welcoming beacon, in the distance I could see bright neon lights. I wasn’t sure what it was. A car wash, maybe—service station—something automobile-related. And then I got closer and could read the lights: “Banquet Hall.”  Peering inside, a slim diner-like dining room  was in disarray and obviously closed. Could this be the Five Star Punjabi Indian Restaurant? Had Zio not done his homework and the restaurant was closed?  But then I saw activity in an adjacent room—a lone diner was eating and I noticed an unused steam tray. The room was brightly lit and just as I was about to enter, Zio emerged from his car. “This can’t be it,” he exclaimed.

But it was. Between the dilapidated “diner” and a vacant “banquet hall” was the Five Star Punjabi Restaurant. The room was nondescript and mainly empty. We were given an ample table to accommodate our group along with menus that were written on decorative swiveling paddles. Gerry, Eugene, and Mike from Yonkers arrived followed soon after by Rick. All were wary and doubtful that they were in the right spot. Zio and I assured them that we were.

Those swiveling menus featured familiar Indian items, pakoras and samosas for appetizers, a variety of breads, assorted tandoori, and an array of vegetarian dishes and curries. The lone diner, an Indian talking quietly through a headphone attachment on his cellphone, was brought a huge platter of tandoori chicken. Rick eyed the platter covetously and immediately put in an order in for the same only to have his hopes just as quickly dashed when the waitress informed him that the Five Star Punjabi Indian restaurant had just run out of tandoori chicken. As an alternative, Rick, with the group’s unanimous approval, opted for the fish tandoori. Though there was nothing on the menu that described what chicken mughlai might be, Zio, for reasons known only to him, was determined to try it. On the other hand, Eugene, after learning that the chicken tikka was both boneless and prepared spicy, was sold on the dish, while Mike from Yonkers went for the tried and true, sag paneer. It was now up to Gerry and I to find something a little bit out of that ordinary that might justify this journey to the wastelands of Long Island City. The best we could come up with was the mutton roganjosh and the goat curry.

Zio’s Ship of the Damned

While the bottles of Taj beer began to crowd the table, Zio regaled us with his adventure on the high seas and his narrow escape from the cruise vessel that carried 2,800 passenger, of which 700 were stricken with a “norovirus” including three that, according to Zio, were “mouldering (sic) in a freezer somewhere in the bowels of the ship.” Zio was particularly graphic in his description going on to tell us that “in the close quarters of the ship’s hold you could hear people retching and gagging. But this still didn’t stop them from clamoring for the next buffet, after all, some of them had not eaten in a half hour.”

Zio was particularly grateful for useful tips from the cruise boat crew.

Despite Zio’s grisly tale, once the food arrived and in absolutely no particular order; the fish tandoori first followed by bread, then the entrees, and lastly, the mixed pakoras we requested as an appetizer, we began to stuff our own faces. And we didn’t stop until the plates were wiped clean with the bread.

 Everyone seemed satisfied with their food, though I’m not sure any of us were ready to award the restaurant five stars. Rick was pleased with the fish tandoori which might actually have been quickly fried in its rub as opposed to slow cooked. Not a bad alternative considering the fish was tilapia and most assuredly would have dried out if slow cooked in a tandoori oven. Gerry, however, was not as enamored with the goat. What was wrong with it, I asked?

    “All I got was bone,” he answered incredulously.

    I shrugged. “Yeah, it can be like that with goat.”

Goat curry: Bones included.

When we visited Five Star Punjabi in early 2007, the condo boom in Long Island City was just beginning.  In the four years since, high rises abound yet the funky Five Star has survived the change…at least for now.

The Pierogies of Old Poland

15 Feb

I had never been to Greenpoint, Brooklyn before our visit to Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant in early 2005. It was an eye-opener in some ways to me. First, it’s not easy to get there from Manhattan via public transportation. The closest train is the G train which has no Manhattan stops. You need to take either the L to Lorimer Street in Williamsburg and switch to the G or take the 7 to Queens where you can connect to the G at 45 Road. Maybe because it’s so inaccessible that it has remained a strong Polish enclave. At least it was that way in 2005 when I visited and wrote what appears below.

Old Poland Bakery: circa 2005

Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant
(Now Northside Bakery)
190 Nassau Avenue,

Rick deliberated long and hard before choosing the Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And the fact that whenever he called the place and asked—in English—about a reservation and to make sure they would be still open when we got there they hung up on him, was either a very good sign or we were in big trouble. But when we arrived, saw the faces that populated the restaurant—yes we were still in New York—and noticed the prices of the food written in magic marker on cardboard, we quickly realized that we might just have hit the mother lode. That this brightly-lit combination bakery and Polish diner was exactly what we all yearned to discover.

Of course there was a television and of course on the television was a Polish station with Polish cartoons and news of the Polish football league. Both were watched silently and intently by men with ample guts, close-cropped hair, ruddy faces and wearing colorful sweaters. Rick and I hoped for some help with the menu and some guidance on what we should order but our request was met with a blank stare and then a shrug by the pretty woman taking orders behind the counter. There was no table service here; you had to go up and pay when you ordered. We decided we should take shifts in ordering. I had the first shift and choose a selection of pierogies; meat, potato, and sauerkraut, and cheese blintzes. Inexplicably, the same pretty woman this time had no difficulty understanding me. While waiting we sampled a variety of Polish beers that, beyond their colorful names and labels, were not worth remembering though they did add a balance to the density of the pierogies. This starter selection of starch was seriously testing our mettle.



The next round—and really the last included something called a “Polish Plate.” With a name like that how could we pass it up? We also agreed on pork tenderloin, lima bean stew, and at Eugene’s unexplained insistence, that old Polish favorite, roast beef. The Polish plate consisted of a variety of Polish favorites like grilled kielbasa, potato pancake, more of those feathery pierogies, and an excellent meatloaf accompanied by pickled beets and red cabbage. The pork tenderloin was cooked perfectly and smothered in a thick, but not overly rich gravy. The surprise favorite of our selections was the lima bean stew, with chunks of smoked sausage and in a dense cabbage broth it was most definitely a hearty meal. The roast beef? Think college cafeteria.

Zio, who in less than a week would become a nonno, braved the bakery section and ordered carrot cake and a chocolate-covered cream puff, that was rivaled only by the sauerkraut filled pierogi in its density-quotient. But food density had yet to thwart Zio.

Though I wouldn’t put the cuisine of Eastern Europe high on my very long list of ethnic food favorites, a visit to Greenpoint where the Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant was located was worth it for the “we’re in another world” factor alone. Not to mention the ridiculously low tab of $11 per person including beers.



But things change. Though still a Polish enclave for sure, gentrification has crept into Greenpoint despite how difficult it is to reach via public transportations. The growth of nearby Williamsburg has extended into Greenpoint with new developments and restorations of single and two-family homes. Old Poland Bakery is now called the Northside Bakery (a Division of Old Poland Foods) and when I recently visited, I noticed that the space had been compressed into half of what I remembered. There is a small food counter and bakery space with now just a few tables. There was a television, and the patrons and women behind the counter were glancing at it, but not Polish news, cartoons, or sports;  instead they were all watching “The View.”

Spleen on a Bun

19 Oct

Rick was the last of us to make a pick during our first go round in this still experimental food group. His choice was a convenient restaurant close to his then apartment in Carroll Gardens called Ferdinando’s Focacceria. This was in 2002 and at the time I had no idea of the burgeoning gentrification and real estate boom that was happening in that neighborhood. I’m not sure Rick was even aware of it even while he was living in the midst of the boom. Looking back, the changing clientele in the restaurant at the time was a tip off though it was really just the start. Within a few years, townhouses that were owned for generations of mostly Italian Americans were being gobbled up for astronomical sums…and still are. The upward creeping prices at the ancient restaurant should have also been an indication. My recording of that meal in the fall of 2002 follows:

Ferdinando’s Focacceria
151 Union Street

The red flags went up soon after I sat down at Ferdinando’s Focacceria Ristorante on Union Street in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn. Just a short walk from Rick’s apartment, Ferdinando’s was his pick, the last of our first go-round at this food adventure thing. The red flags were up because of what I noticed on the restaurant’s ancient (circa 1904) brick walls; plaques with a commendation from Zagat and another with a printed review by Eric Asimov of the New York Times in the $25 and under column he used to write. His review of Ferdinando’s appeared in 1993 when $25 and under went a longer way than $25 and under does now. And anyway, our aim wasn’t $25 and under, it was $20 and under. And commendations from popular guides like Zagat and of course from the Newspaper of Record meant that this was far from an “under the radar” establishment. Okay, so every place we go to can’t be a discovery, but could we at least be not too far off? I guess if you’ve been around since 1904 that’s pretty hard to do.

I’m mainly familiar with Carroll Gardens through Rick and the abundant barbecues he holds in his backyard. Whenever I visited, I’d see the old school Italian-Americans sitting in their rickety lawn chairs in front of their brownstones. These were the people, Rick claimed, who were the clientele of Ferdinando’s and that’s how he sold it. But on this Friday evening, the restaurant was inhabited not by those I used to see sitting on those lawn chairs on summer evenings. The diners at Ferdinando’s were more like the six (myself included) who waddled in from somewhere else. In other words, Ferdinando’s, like the neighborhood, was getting seriously gentrified. So because it had already been discovered by the New York Times and Zagat, and despite what looked like an intriguing menu, I was wary that Ferdinando’s might not pass the somewhat stringent and purposely vague criteria we had set for ourselves.

I confess as never having visited a focacceria and was unsure of what it was. I knew of foccacia and assumed Ferdinando’s specialized in typical focaccia, maybe with a brush of fresh tomato on top, or a sprinkling of olive oil and herbs. Ferdinando’s focaccia wasn’t quite typical. Rick recommended the “panelle” special so we had a few brought to the table. These “focaccia” were more like buns, made with chick pea flour and deep fried; the special was topped with ricotta and grated cheese. We also indulged on other of the smaller Sicilian specialties such as the “arancina,” a rice ball deep fried with chopped meat, peas and sauce, and an incredible “caponatina,” the famed Sicilian eggplant salad. No one, not even the adventurous Zio tried the “vastedda,” a sandwich made with calf’s spleen, ricotta and grated cheese. Zio, however, did not disappoint by quickly and decisively ordering his entrée of “trippa,” tripe stewed in tomato sauce with peas. Eugene was also very resolute when he ordered another Sicilian specialty, pasta con sarde, pasta with sardines, fennel, and pine nuts. Rounding out the orders were Rick with the pedestrian pasta con vongole, Gerry with linguini con seppia (squid in its ink), Charlie with the downright lame, chicken parmigiana and rigatoni, and myself with one of the specials of the day, pasta with baby polpo (octopus). As if that were not quite enough, Rick thought we should also try the calamari ripieni, stuffed calamari with mussels. The beverage of choice for most of us was the Italian beer, Peroni.



We soon finished off our appetizers and, while waiting for our entrees, devoured the endless baskets of fresh unadorned focaccia. Rick had noticed the diners as I had and a bit nervously assured me that whenever he had visited Ferdinando’s in the past, usually for lunch—the restaurant is only open until 9 on Fridays and Saturdays—that the locals; specifically, the old timers, were the only diners, not the gentrified groups we were seeing on this night. By then, though, I was no longer aware of the diners, only the food in front of me. The baby polpo on my linguini was perfectly tender, the sauce, sort of a sweet and sour sauce, maybe a bit too sweet for me. Zio’s “trippa” appeared hearty; the white lining of cow’s intestine swimming in tomato sauce.  And for some reason, with the exception of the courageous Gerry, he had no volunteers for samples. I was curious about Eugene’s pasta con sarde, but by the time I got around to asking for a taste, it was gone; Eugene enthusiastically proclaiming its virtues. Finally came the stuffed calamari and though Zio had previously and rancorously announced that he never ate anything “stuffed,” he relented and tried the calamari, which, filled with bread crumbs, garlic and herbs, he grudgingly acknowledged that it was “damn good for something stuffed.”

With the dry focaccia we cleaned the sauces on all our dishes reserving, incredibly, a bit of room for a cannoli sampling. This simple, classic Italian pastry was also worth noting for its perfection; the shell fresh, the cheese spectacular. Finally finished, our check was brought to the table. In the scrawl on a tiny piece of paper, Rick knew we had gone over our “budget.” Eugene did the math and the damage was $36 per person. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed at first glance. There were empty bottles of Peroni littering our table and drinks do not factor into our price limit, so that reduced the total somewhat. Add in the stuffed calamari extra and we were really only about three or four dollars over the $20 allowance. Rick did not meet the criteria. Not only did he not factor in our gluttony, had he read the Zagat review, he would have known that the total figured within that book was $22. Asimov’s $25 and Under review was another tip. Rick obviously just did not do his research. Not that I, or any of us were complaining

Looking back on our experience at Ferdinando’s, I’m very surprised no one had the courage to try the spleen. I think we were all a little raw at this and did not want to test our limits too much. That changed as the group evolved.  I  did revisit Ferdinando’s. It was probably in 2007 at the height of the real estate boom in Brooklyn. My experience was not as positive; the food not as good as I remembered from the above visit and prices had climbed so much that it was hard to imagine any of the old timers from the neighborhood (if any still remained) spending much time at Ferdinandos…even for lunch. Carroll Gardens was a much different place. Even Rick had fled.

Life Before the GPS

1 Oct

Back in 2002, none of our group had GPS navigational systems yet.  And I’m not even sure if they were around at that time.  For those who drove, getting to our third destination, an African restaurant in the now bustling, and renamed by real estate prospectors “Gold Coast” of Harlem, was comical.  What follows is my depiction of that experience in the spring of 2002.

Leworo Dou Gou

When I arrived at Leworo Dou Gou restaurant, after getting off the B train at 116th Street and walking two blocks up “8th” Avenue to 118th street, I was relieved to see Charlie already at a table and waiting. In fact, he was the only one waiting in the restaurant. Our dinner was scheduled for 7:30. Charlie and I waited, inhaling the pronounced aroma of a fish market mixed in with other strong, yet unfamiliar smells. The aroma, coupled with the fuzzy reception of “Wheel of Fortune” on the restaurant’s television, was beginning to make me feel a bit dubious about this outing, our third of 2002. I glanced at the menu and was relieved to see that none of the “Natural African Dish From the Motherland” were priced above $7. At Leworo Dou Gou we would be very hard pressed to surpass the $20 limit we imposed on ourselves when beginning this venture.

The Motherland encompasses a very vast mother of a land, but Leworo Dou Gou claimed to represent the Ivory Coast portion of that continent. Charlie and I were still waiting when my cell phone rang. Zio was close by, searching for Eighth Avenue. I told him to look for Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which on maps and in the phone book goes by the name of Eighth Avenue. A few minutes later, he walked in. So now there were three of us. The smells, which were beginning to test my stomach, immediately enticed Zio.  But Zio would salivate at the smell of burnt toast. While we waited for the remaining three in our party, we studied the menu wondering what “dry okra sauce,” “cassava leaf,” and “LaFide” might be. There was also something called “agouti.” The name was familiar and I recalled that I actually tasted agouti on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. It was in the rodent family and I remember it being very tough and gamey. That not so complimentary description only reinforced Zio’s determination to taste the rat.

The three of us continued to wait, we were beginning to worry. The phone rang in the restaurant and a woman behind the take out counter of the restaurant answered. I could hear her struggling, in her English with strong French inflections, to give directions. One of our own was lost. A few minutes later, Rick pulled up. He had been searching for Eighth Avenue. A big mistake, as we were beginning to find out, since there were no street signs proclaiming the street we were on as being Eighth Avenue. After a few more minutes the phone rang again. Again the same woman was attempting to give directions. She gave up and handed the phone to a man who was sitting behind us, the owner, we later learned. He spoke perfect English and explained, on the phone to whomever he was talking to, that Frederick Douglass Boulevard was Eighth Avenue. He had been, it turned out, talking to Gerry and a few minutes later both he and Eugene walked in.

By now, either the smells had mellowed or I was too hungry to notice or care anymore. We all were ready to eat, but we had no clue what to order. We did learn that there was no more grilled fish, and to Zio’s disappointment, no agouti. Rick made the wise choice, he told the waitress to bring six dishes, a combination of some of the different items on the menu. While our food was being prepared we all had homemade ginger beer, tangy with a sharp hint of lime along with the zesty ginger. To entertain us while we drank and ate, the owner switched from the fuzzy network television, to a video of “soukous” music from West Africa, some of which, he claimed he personally photographed while at a concert back in the “motherland.” The music was infectious and the video production, gritty especially the scenes with the dancing midget. Or was he a dwarf?

Our food came, one heaping plate at a time. Fried whole fish (croaker) with plantain. Fried whole fish with cassava and yams. Stewed “hard” chicken, grilled chicken and beef on a stick, stewed fish in okra sauce, and an aspic-type wedge of what seemed to be pounded banana, which, by itself was bland, but worked with the sauce from either the stew chicken or fish. We were given forks and knives, but noticed that one of the restaurant’s customers expertly ate his meal without either. Even with forks and knives, our hands got greasy and we made what probably was the unusual request at Leworo Dou Gou for napkins. What we got were sections of paper towels.

The six of us soon devoured the food leaving only fish bones and cleanly picked pieces of chicken. Everything else had been eaten with Zio and Gerry even sucking up the last of okra sauce with the remaining few kernels of rice. There was no mention of dessert on the menu and the owner wasn’t offering anything but coffee, so we ended it there. All that for only $12 dollars per person left us wondering how Leworo Dou Gou could stay in business.

Leworo Dou Gou did not stay in business for long. Within a few months of our visit it was gone.  But that’s not uncommon among the African restaurants around the area of West 116th Street known as “Little Senegal.” They come and go with great frequency.  Though as the neighborhood changes and rents increase, I wonder how long the African influence in the area will remain. In 2002 there were vacant lots and tenements surroiunding Leworo Dou Gou. Now, across the street from where Leworo Dou Gou was there is a market price condo with a Chase bank, Starbucks, and a gourmet supermarket. A few blocks up an Aloft Hotel ( a divison of  W Hotels) will soon open while new restaurants are so prevelant on Frederick Douglass Blvd that some are saying the street will become Harlem’s “Restaurant Row.” But will they qualify for our $20 and under crowd?

The storefront that was once Leworo Gou Dou

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