Do not miss the two Pete’s Kitchens on gritty Colfax Avenue. The original Pete’s Kitchen on Colfax and Race stays open 24 hours a day and draws — to say the least — a varied crowd. Hookers (and their business agents); cops, criminals, rock musicians, lawyers, bankers. Everyone. Specialties are a breakfast burrito (preposterously large) and a very good feta cheese omelet (a bow to the founder’s Greek origins). Pete’s Breakfast Burrito contains eggs, onions, fried potatoes; bacon, ham or sausage. It is generously smothered in tangy green chile with big chunks of pork shoulder. This is a meal for the day. Eat one on Monday. Dine again on Tuesday. (SJ would like to add that these breakfast burritos exert a powerful grip on one’s memory. This had led to SJ experimenting for many fruitless hours to reproduce Pete’s exact ratio of crunchy home fries to eggs and so forth. This left SJ with only one option which has been to beg unwary Denverites heading to NYC to please bring him a Pete’s Kitchen Breakfast Burrito. Offer still stands!)
The other Pete’s is on the same side of the street (south) but further west. It’s a small place that features giant omelets (with some creative ingredients) and the best pancakes you will ever taste. (You can also try the Satire Lounge, owned by Pete’s and adjacent to the Race Street location. Pleasant Mexican food).
If fine dining is your taste, Denver has great spots like Fruition and the Japanese fusion great, Bones, but for classic and authentic diner food with a Western twist, the Pete’s can’t be beat.
At one point in the distant past, HG collaborated with the distinguished advertising copy writer Charles Ewell on a television project. (Ewell had many distinctions. He headed Volkswagen’s advertising creative team in Germany and played on a Columbia University football team with Jack Kerouac). HG and Charlie would take a break from their lofty endeavors and visit a Chinese restaurant on Seventh Avenue just west of 57th Street. And what did these discerning gentlemen order? Did they dive deep into the mysteries and subtle refinement of authentic Cantonese cuisine? Nope. Combo platters. That’s right. They ordered large platters containing a greasy egg roll, corn starchy shrimp Chop Suey and dark brown pork fried rice. Much hot mustard was applied. Final disgraceful touch: Dabs of very sweet plum sauce on the egg roll and fried rice.
HG blushes with shame at the memory. But, it sure tasted good.
HG is a big fan of salt cod. It needs a good soaking in cold water (with frequent changes of the water). Then a gentle poaching or baking or whatever suits your fancy.
HG is a particular fan of the rich, luxury of a brandade (salt cod that has been pureed with some boiled potato, a lot of garlic, sweet cream and olive oil). Served with garlic rubbed toast (HG believes in keeping the vampires away) and chilled white wine it is a lush treat. You can get very good brandade at Balthazar, Five Points and Barbuto in downtown New York. The ultimate is at Rech, the classy brasserie in Paris.
Salt cod is good done in Mediterranean style — baked with thinly sliced onions, potatoes, garlic, olive oil and slivers of green olives. Try it cold as a simple Italian salad with parsley, garlic and olive oil. Or mix it with white beans. Salt cod makes great fish cakes.
When young, HG’s children, LR and SJ hated salt cod so much they stole a wooden box of the stuff from the pantry and buried it in the back yard. The years have made them change their minds.
Cuisine plays a big role in the work of two writers of crime fiction — Rex Stout and Lawrence Sanders. Stout, the creator of the cerebral private investigator/gourmand, Nero Wolfe, gives the reader full accounts of the meals prepared by Wolfe’s chef, Fritz. Fritz was a master of haute cuisine and the intricate details provided by Stout were quite appetite provoking. At one point, Stout wrote and published a book of Wolfe’s favorite recipes which was never read by HG as HG is no fan of elaborate cuisine and time consuming kitchen procedures. Sanders, on the other hand, favored plebeian fare in his fictions. HG particularly likes the “wet sandwiches” constructed by one of his protagonists, Francis X. Delaney. Brimming with sardines, tomatoes, onions, etc., these tasty items have to be eaten over the kitchen sink to avoid general messiness.
Ach…how could HG leave out all of the excellent food that saturates Donna Leon’s Venetian mysteries? Ms. Leon’s protagonist, Commisario Guido Brunetti, sure likes his vittles. His wife, Paola, sets a delicious table for Guido and their children, Raffi and Chiara. HG rarely comes to the end of a Brunetti case without cooking up a batch of linguine aglio e olio (dusted with a nice batch of chopped parsley).
Far from the gritty, urban milieu of detective fiction, Laura Ingalls Wilder used to make young HG’s palate tingle with her descriptions of farm food in the “Little House On the Prairie” books. There were extensive descriptions of the preparation and eating of smoked venison, cured hams and, best of all, a simply mouth watering (and mighty mysterious to a young, Bronx Jew) exegesis on “Johnnycakes” flavored with pork cracklings. HG was not the only one riveted by Wilder’s descriptions. In Michael Ruhlman’s and Bran Polcyn’s great cookbook “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing” the two give Ingall’s “Little House In The Big Woods” much attention.
Alas, like a great tease, Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret pauses at many cafes and bistros in his yarns but there are no memorable mentions of food. (Many Parisian cafes and bistros claim to be the hangouts of the fictional sleuth).
Alan Furst, who specializes in spy thrillers set in Europe just before the beginning of World War Two, pays some attention to Paris brasserie food (particularly in his yummy descriptions of the fictional Brasserie Heinegger ) but his heroes seem more interested in sexual dalliance (taking excessive time out, in HG’s opinion, from their dangerous spy maneuvers) than serious noshing.
But, the best book about dining is the non-fiction “Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris,” A.J. Liebling’s memoir of his life in pre-World War Two Paris. Also worth reading are the various books by M.F.K. Fisher (pay no attention to her recipes–they are inferior).
In typical Prince Edward Island style (meaning NO pretense and barely a smidgen of irony), St. Peter’s Bay has a fine spot for lunch with the deeply appetizing name of the Mussel Interpretive Center. The center was originally operated by the Province government to showcase PEI’s Mussel economy but — surprise, surprise! — it lost a bunch of money. It is now run by a retired Mussel Man who, amongst the fascinating exhibits on the life cycle of mussels and the miraculous leaps in Mussel farming technology, operates a food stand.
HG dined there and was thrilled. Big platter of juicy, steamed hard shell clams (quahogs). Big platter of steamed, plump mussels. Melted butter. Lemon juice. Tabasco. Flaky biscuits. All for a total of ten bucks. Beat the heat and come to P.E.I. Enchanting, gentle and affordable.
Yes. BSK’s latest pasta creation is similar to and ultimately better than a traditional Spaghetti Carbonara. Here’s how The Wonder Woman does it. Gently fries pancetta (yes, you can substitute bacon or if you can get it, guanciale, the magical Italian pig jowl) in some butter and olive oil. In another pan, saute a lot of thinly sliced zucchini with chopped parsley (or mint). When pancetta is done add the zucchini. Mix with cooked pasta (tagliatelle, fettuccine or linguine). Top it all with four gently poached eggs. Dust with lots of parmesan and ground black pepper. The soft egg yolks are pierced and blended with the cheese and other ingredients. A taste sensation indeed.
Seems like everyone —young and old, male and female– on this very Celtic Prince Edward Island plays a musical instrument (mainly fiddle and guitar). And, those that can’t, sing and step dance in lusty fashion. Every town has a weekly Ceiligh (pronounced Kay-lee). This is a traditional Gaelic social gathering with Gaelic folk music and dancing Though it originated in Ireland, Ceilighs are prevalent throughout the Irish and Scottish diaspora (exemplified by PEI). HG and BSK reveled in the sounds of Celtic music on the banks of Rollo Bay at the annual Rollo Bay Fiddlers Festival. This was toe tapping music supreme.
As HG neither dances, sings, fiddles and can barely manage a hand clap in rhythm, he pitched in by consuming an impressive amount of nice, home style, pan fried haddock sandwiches.
Here’s BSK’s new way of doing sole. As you discerning folk know, sole has a tendency to fall apart. HG typically solves this by dusting fillets in flour or Zatarain’s Fish Fry and giving them a quick (very quick) saute. Now BSK has come up with a method that is healthy, tasty and— best of all—preserves the integrity of sole.
BSK heats a bit of olive oil in a wok. Adds garlic, garlic scapes and a big bunch of fresh, wet spinach leaves (the spinach has to be wet so that it releases a lot of steam). Cooks until the spinach softens. BSK then adds a pound of sole fillets, resting them on top of the leaves. Covers the wok and lets the sole steam until ready — be careful as these fillets cook fast. BSK sprinkles the fish with some sesame oil, Thai fish sauce, a few hot pepper flakes. She accompanies the whole thing with a bowl of rice or cold soba noodles and wasabi.
The Saturday Farmers Market in Charlottetown, PE.I., is the place to meet, greet and overeat. HG managed to score pierogies with sour cream and scallions, Chinese spring rolls, Lebanese falafel and a bite of BSK’s pulled pork sandwich. All wonderful. Did not have room for Indian samosas, Canadian cheddar soup or various African and Thai goodies. The Market is a great place to buy freshly ground coffee (the family coffee maven, Profesore/Dottore M., lauds the espresso); organic lamb, beef and chicken; smoked salmon, herbed gouda (from The Gouda Lady); extensive variety of sausages and, of course, lots of fresh vegetables. Nice music from Island fiddlers and Irish pipers.
Being a born and bred New York guy, HG has always loved a good pastrami sandwich. It is the ultimate urban sandwich — designed for, created and yes, perfected by the Jewish immigrant groups who nestled in tight enclaves like New York’s Lower East Side; all of whom needed a portable meal as they hustled to fulfill their American dream. And, yes, such a treat is still available (with many a regional discrepancy!) from Montreal to New York (most notably at Katz’s) and even across the country in LA (Langer’s). However, HG has discovered his new favorite sandwich at a more pastoral location: Lin’s Takeout in Prince Edward Island. Little more than a trailer, Lin’s is nestled on a bucolic hillside on the road to Greenwich Provincial Park (beautiful beaches, warm water swimming). HG lunches on Lin’s scallop burger. Lin tucks about 15 sweet, gently sauteed sea scallops into a big, soft bun. A slice of tomato. A lettuce leaf. Cole slaw. Touch of mayo. Sometimes greedy HG accompanies this sea treat with crisp, greaseless French fried onion rings.
No smell of asphalt. No car horns blazing. No taxi drivers cursing your mother with a Turkish accent. Just the sun gently shimmering off the waters of St. Peter’s Bay. The joys of a pastoral sandwich…Ahh Life’s good.