Back home in The Land of Enchantment (AKA New Mexico). Rainy and chilly. Welcome after baking in the Florida sun for a week. Rummaged through a week’s worth of catalogs, junk mail, bills and magazines. HG/BSK decided to eat out of the freezer. Long flight to Albuquerque led the duo too tired to shop. HG lunched on a package of pierogi that had slept in a corner of the freezer for a year. HG ate one. Vile. Left the rest for Toby, The Wonder Dog. He’ll find them yummy. BSK found some very tasty feta and spinach chicken sausage in the freezer. HG plucked some Louisiana boudin sausage that had found a home beneath a bag of corn niblets. Package prose vouched for its “Genuine Cajun Taste.” While these frozen foods thawed, HG swam many laps in HG/BSK’s heated (80 degrees) pool. Felt like the Gulf of Mexico. The exercise sharpened HG’s appetite. Blaze in the fireplace chased away rain dampness. HG sipped a new cocktail (drunk in Brooklyn and Paris); The Chin Up. Gin, dry vermouth, slice of cucumber crushed with a pinch of salt, Cynar (the French artichoke aperitif). A refreshing and not too inebriating drink. BSK grilled the chicken sausages and served them with a robust green salad enriched with roasted peppers and BSK’s super savory blue cheese dressing. Good eating. HG grilled the boudin. Turned out to be a mushy, tasteless horror. In the future, HG will stick to the French versions of boudin—boudin noir and boudin blanc. Of the two, HG prefers noir, a hearty blood sausage. Accompanied by sautéed apple slices and a rough red wine (HG likes Cahors) this is French down home cooking at its best. HG will leave true southern version of boudin to the Cajuns. The stuff doesn’t travel well. Doggy gourmand Toby will gobble up the left over terrible boudin and bark his appreciation.
Last day in St. Pete and the sunburned family checked out of the condo. Hot and sticky day. Headed to Ybor City, the historic section of Tampa which was founded by Cuban immigrants. Once a center of a thriving cigar industry (you can still get hand rolled cigars there), Ybor City is now famous for dining. The main attraction is Columbia Restaurant, the oldest (more than 105 years) continually operating restaurant in Florida. This is a vast restaurant serving Cuban/Spanish food. Good ingredients but a bit heavy handed with salt and chorizo. Very pleasant service. Ordered a pitcher of outstanding sangria. HG had some very generous small plates: Gambas Ajillo (prawns in garlic sauce, good prawns but the sauce was too salty); grilled super tender calamari (simple and perfect); PEI mussels in a broth of tomatoes, sliced chorizo and parsley (excellent mussels whose flavor was blunted by excessive chorizo.) Handsome Haru shared the mussels with HG and pronounced them “awesome.” Given the evidence of the mussels ordered at Columbia and in St. Pete restaurants, PEI mussels have regained their splendor. (Or, are they exporting the winners and keeping the losers at home? We’ll soon find out.) BSK had grilled grouper which she pronounced “best ever.” SJ knocked off a big plate of roast pork. Handsome Haru had a Mojo Chicken sandwich (looked mass produced and not very appetizing). HH wasn’t impressed with the sandwich but happily consumed a virgin mango daiquiri and a big bowl of the house salad mixed table side by a charming young man. Teru, the reigning Princess of Cuteness, devoured a big bowl of mac and cheese. Approved. HG and HH finished with flan. HG and SJ had cups of cafe con leche. Some of the best coffee HG has ever experienced. After the lengthy meal, the group spent hours at the Tampa Aquarium, located in the Port of Tampa. Kids wondered at the sharks and were pleased to pet the sting rays (this is allowed if you use two fingers and pet their backs gently). Long, tiring flight back to Albuquerque. Home after a drive in the rain. The reunion with Toby, The Wonder Dog, was super joyous.
The sun sizzled on St. Pete Beach today but it did not dull the appetites of HG/BSK and family. Brunch at The Frog Pond. Big plates of waffles, pancakes, eggs and grits (best grits ever), quiche, biscuits and gravy. Big culinary departure for HG who usually breakfasts on juice, coffee and oat cereal. Doesn’t eat until dinner. In and out of the warm sea all day. Splashed among the gentle waves with Haru, Teru, SJ and BSK. The essence of innocent fun. Despite the big brunch everyone was ready for some big time eating when the sun went down. Off to Cedars Restaurant in the Seminole neighborhood. Down home Lebanon cuisine. Halal meat. Hookahs on the outdoor tables. Wanted to taste everything so ordered baba ganoush, labneh, feta cheese with chopped tomatoes, hummus, tabouleh, salads. Excellent tastes. Perfect after toasting on the sunny beach. Main dish was kebabs (chicken, beef, ground lamb) on a bed of rice with grilled vegetables and a bowl of tzatsiki. Much, much food. All good, The garlicky chicken and the rare grilled steak were solid winners. Drove back to our vacation condo for salt caramel gelato and (for HG) a nightcap of Jim Beam bourbon. Nice finale to our last beach day. Back to The Land of Enchantment tomorrow. Hope Toby, The Wonder Dog, hasn’t lost his heart to Ina G., the charming jewelry designer, who has been HG/BSK’s temporary house sitter. HG/BSK miss Toby, their feisty, furry little friend.
Perfect beach day. Bright sun. Cloudless blue sky. Modest breeze making the heat comfortable. Inviting sea. Gentle waves and warm water. HG read Hemingway’s book about Paris, A Moveable Feast. Conclusion one: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound were all certifiably crazy. Conclusion Two: HG admires Hemingway’s prose craftsmanship. His account of a trip with Fitzgerald is brilliant. His generosity toward that troubled man is admirable. Despite that, HG finds Hemingway personally unpalatable–homophobic, ludicrously suspect macho. HG/BSK, Haru, Teru and SJ spent much time carousing in the gentle sea. HG ended the glorious beach day with a soak in the hot tub. HG and family were ravenous after hours of fun. So, it was back to reliable Keegan’s in the Indian Shores neighborhood of St. Pete Beach. Seated immediately. HG had the stupendous sea scallop ceviche washed down with an icy beer, Followed by charbroiled octopus. Best ever. Superlatively tender and full of flavor. SJ had a cup of the creamy She Crab Chowder. The group devoured Prince Edward Island mussels, conch fritters, fried calamari, grouper sandwiches, loads of French fries and cole slaw. HG had a generous platter of warm Gulf shrimp dipped in melted butter and dotted with Keegan’s hot sauce. Finished with hearty gumbo. Wonderful food. Friendly, efficient service. Keegan’s never disappoints.
Dinner at Guppy’s On The Beach Seafood Grill (in the Indian Rocks neighborhood of St. Pete Beach) was an up and down (mostly down) experience. Guppy’s is a large, popular restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating. HG chose indoor (an error). Seated in a bleak air conditioning chilled room. Historic photos on the wall of historic Indian Rocks bathing beauties (in one piece suits) was a nice touch. Ordered a pitcher of sangria. Eeks, horrors!! The restaurant tampered with the classic recipe and added loads of cinnamon (also some cloves). Smelled like a men’s room deodorant with overtones of potpourri in a New England tourist gift shop. Undrinkable. Replaced the witches brew with cold Stella Artois beer. After a lengthy wait HG and SJ were served bowls of hot and spicy fish chowder. Caribbean tastes. Heartening. Twenty minute wait. A bowl of plump, tasty Prince Edward Island mussels in a broth enhanced by tomatoes, greens and garlic finally arrived. Light at the end of a tunnel. Mood became optimistic. A 25 minute wait quenched the happy mood. HG rose to complain. Waitperson said she’d inform management. Rest of the meal arrived in a rush. Strange food. The dishes were over elaborate with too many ingredients on each plate. Festoons of shaved carrots. Slivers of olives. Sauces that did not enhance. Truffled mashed potatoes that tasted chemical. Fried green tomatoes and fried oysters destroyed by heavy breading. Broiled octopus (tender and good quality) that were savory after all the redundant sauce was scraped away. “Lobstercargot” failed. This was a dish served in a traditional escargot plate, little chunks of lobster in a traditional garlic and butter sauce. Something went wrong. Cheese (possibly cream) was added to the sauce. Glop. At end of the meal, very personable manager appeared and removed sangria and chowders from the bill. Apologized for the delays. Consolation for the bad meal was the very modest expense.
If you relish Italian food, visit Mazzaro’s Italian Market in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is a vast, busy Italian food emporium that is an Italian version of New York’s famed Zabar’s. No housewares, but unlike Zabar’s there’s a butcher, fresh fish counter, greengrocer, pastry section, coffee bar and an encyclopedic array of fine wines. There are indoor and outdoor dining areas where one can order exceptional sandwiches and hot dishes. Row upon row of shopping aisles with shelves carrying an endless array of olive oils, vinegars, canned tomatoes, capers, sweet treats, etc., etc.. The scope is international. HG discovered six varieties of middle eastern halvah, for example. HG/SJ visited this extraordinary place for dinner fixings. Sausage, prosciutto, tomatoes, olives, ricotta, mozzarella, mortadella, bruschetta topping, almond honey bars, cheeses and rose and pinot noir wines. All of excellent quality. Dinner at home was outstanding (as usual). SJ prepared a big platter of antipasto. This was followed by SJ’s supreme version of linguine with oil, garlic, anchovies and chopped flat leaf parsley. An epic Italian-accented extravaganza. Viva Italia!! And, Viva SJ !!.
HG/BSK plus SJ, Handsome Haru and delicious little Teru, are busy having sun and sea fun at the RAM SEA CONDO complex in the North Redington Beach neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Fla. The group has a nice and big beachfront space (three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus laundry room) with a spacious terrace overlooking the sea. Only thing missing is Exquisite Maiko. HG/BSK’s talented daughter-in-law is running ONI SAUCE at the Brooklyn Smorgasburg and delighting the crowds with her fabulous Japanese fried chicken, Gobo Chips and Beef Skewers all drenched in her incredible Chili (Rayu) and Onion sauces (also for sale). So, Florida fun this year without EM. Lots of sun and swimming today. Ocean water is warm and friendly. Ended sun fun with a hot tub soak and bracing shower. Raging dinner appetites. Off to Keegan’s Seafood Grille for a feast. Scallop ceviche. Conch fritters. Steamed, warm Gulf shrimp with melted butter. Gumbo. Broiled grouper with cole slaw and French fries. Fried calamari. Oysters–raw and steamed. (This was only disappointment. Not as tasty as last year’s bivalves. Must be getting them from another source). Back to the apartment for salt caramel gelato, almond honey crunch and bourbon whiskey. Joy. Joy. Joy.
Passover is upon us and HG is filled with memories of the traditional food and drink from the Seders of HG’s youth. The Seder is the traditional meal at the beginning of Passover when the family reads from the Hagadah, a celebration of the escape by the Jews from Egyptian slavery. (HG, in previous posts, has recalled raucous and irreverent Seders of the past). The food most identified with Passover is the matzo, the unleavened bread that sustained the Jews during their hasty exodus. HG’s late Mom always insisted on Streit’s, a matzo baked for decades in antique ovens on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Founded in 1915, Streit’s closed its Rivington Street factory in 2015 and moved to New Jersey, ending a 90 year Manhattan history. Wasn’t gentrification. For years, the family turned down numerous offers to sell their property to real estate developers. The old ovens didn’t work anymore and no one knew how to repair them. Mom always insisted on Horowitz-Margareten egg matzos (HG’s favorite). Horowitz-Maragreten disappeared from New York and (along with Goodman’s, another New York matzo company) was bought by the giant Manischewitz company. Manischewitz’s is owned by Bain, the Boston investment firm once headed by Mitt Romney (Oy Vey!!). Schapiro Wine Company was another Rivington Street landmark. Founded by Sam Schapiro in 1899, the company closed its Lower East Side winery in 2000. Had a brief run as a winery in Monticello, N.Y. Schapiro wine was very sweet (loved by HG’s Mom and despised by HG’s Father). Its motto: “Wine So Thick You Can Almost Cut It With A Knife.” The cool, cool Lower East Side is now filled with expensive condos, art galleries, trendy bars and restaurants, cutting edge fashion shops. The only remnants of traditional Jewish eating are Katz’s Delicatessen, Russ & Daughters Appetizing Shop and Cafe, Yonah Shimmel’s knishes and Economy Candy. A bit of happy news. Kossar’s Bagel and Bialy Bakery has re-opened (after closing for a few months) in totally refurbished premises at 367 Grand Street. Traditional products like bialys and pretzels (onion rolls) are still great but there are some aberrations. Apple/cinnamon bialys, alas.
April 24 will be the centennial of the Easter Rising Rebellion in Dublin which eventually led to the establishment of the independent state of Ireland. Among other events, there will be a gathering of Irish bagpipers at St.Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. HG will be sorry to miss that because there are few things more rousing than these bagpipers (specially when they are leading the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade) or saddening (when they play at the funerals of fallen police officers or firefighters). Alas, New York (principally Manhattan) seems to have lost the Irish flavor it had during HG’s younger days. HG misses the Irish politicians (Boss Flynn, Bronx Borough President James J.Lyons, Mayor Bill O’Dwyer, etc.) who had a human touch and a flair for creating consensus. HG misses the rich Irish brogue of the Transit Workers Union (TWU) chief, “Red Mike” Quills; the Irish tones of Fifth Avenue bus drivers; the Irish-tinged voice of the fighting liberal, Paul O’Dwyer. HG misses HG’s sandlot football teammates in The Bronx, tough guys with nicknames like Mick, Binny and Paddy. HG misses collaboration with his brilliant Irish public relations protege, Bruce Maguire, the president of the 61-year-old firm, Freeman Public Relations. HG misses the humor and insights of Irish journalists like Joe Flaherty (died at 47 of cancer). Like Jimmy Breslin (thankfully still alive and writing a Sunday column for the New York Daily News) he had an affinity for New York’s working class. Brooklyn-bred Flaherty left high school at 16 to work as a longshoreman and for years combined dock work with writing (he was a reporter for the Village Voice, author of four books and was the campaign manager for the Norman Mailer-Jimmy Breslin mayoralty ticket). Though the Irish are not noted for creative cuisine or fine dining, HG loved the food at Irish-owned Dinty Moore’s in Midtown (the only Irish joint with gefilte fish on the menu). HG misses the down to earth Irish saloons on Third Avenue (they vanished when the El came down and Third Avenue became the site of lofty office buildings and fashionable apartment houses). The saloons always had jars of hard boiled eggs and pickled pig’s feet on the bar (nice accompaniment to HG’s journalist dinner of rye whiskey with beer chasers). HG exhales a nostalgic sigh at the thought of saloon platters of corned beef and cabbage and open faced pot roast sandwiches smothered in brown gravy. The Irish seem to have vanished from Manhattan to enclaves in Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester and Orange Counties, New Jersey, etc. Manhattan Isle isn’t the same without them.
As you all know, there are plenty of Jewish jokes; however, there are only a few Jewish jokes about food. Maybe food is so important to Jews (including HG) that it can’t be a laughing matter. Plenty of Jewish waiter jokes: “Customer: There’s a fly in my soup. Waiter: So, how much can it drink?” “Customer: Is the brisket good? Waiter: Too good for you.” “Customer: Taste the soup. Waiter: What’s wrong? It’s no good? Customer: Taste the soup. Waiter: Everybody loves this soup. Customer: Taste the soup. Waiter: Okay, give me your spoon. Customer: AH HAH!!!” There’s the Catskills hotel classic. A woman complains:”The food here is terrible. And, such small portions.”(Woody Allen used the joke as a parable for human life). Jews are irreverent about authority figures, even religious authorities (Okay, this isn’t true about the Chassids). There are lots of Rabbi jokes but few about food. Only two that HG knows: Aged Rabbi decides he should taste pork before he dies. Goes to a distant restaurant where he isn’t known. Looks at menu. Orders suckling pig. It is presented to him on a platter with an apple in the piglet’s mouth. At that moment the president of his synagogue enters. “This is terrible. What are you doing, Rabbi? The Rabbi responds: “I ordered a baked apple and look what they brought me!!!” The other concerns a confessional chat between a Rabbi and Priest on a plane. The punchline: “Beats the hell out of bacon, doesn’t it, Father?” You can fill in the rest.