Andre R. was a very eccentric pal of HG/BSK during HG/BSK’s long ago summers on Fire Island. A Swiss-born “futurist” (whatever that job entailed), Andre was perpetually stoned on weed. He would arrive every summer at HG/BSK’s dune house (as he would get older, the women accompanying him would get younger). Upon arrival, Andre and his youthful female friend would remove their clothes (to the delight and amazement of the little kids present) and leap into the sea. Upon their return, Andre would cook a splendid dinner and give HG/BSK some very high grade marijuana. Happy days. On a particularly steamy August day, Andre stopped at Schaller & Weber (the famed German butcher in the Yorkville section of Manhattan) and brought to Fire Island a pork knuckle, a big uncooked sausage and kassler rippchen (smoked pork chops) plus, of course, sauerkraut. HG/BSK were dubious about eating such heavy food at the end of a steamy summer day. Andre simmered it in a pot with onions. He boiled potatoes. The sun went down. Appetites were sharpened by weed and icy vodka. Hot mustard, pickles and plenty of cold beer. A memorable feast. HG thought about Andre last night as HG/BSK and visiting grandson Handsome Haru devoured a flank steak a la Andre. This was a flank steak barbecued after a long bath in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic and honey. Andre scored the steak with a sharp knife before putting it in the marinade. The honey in the marinade would caramelize the surface of the meat. Cooked rare and sliced on the bias, this was consumed with many ears of in season corn on the cob. No corn last night. Just BSK’s sublime smashed potatoes.
That was the motto of the early women’s prohibition movement. BSK doesn’t go that far. However, BSK has often taken a very dim view of HG’s intake of strong white spirits. Namely tequila and vodka. Can’t blame her. BSK’s war hero father had problems with alcohol which led to a stormy family life. The only time HG ever saw BSK drink strong spirits was on their first date in March 1963. The duo met at the bar of Lombardi’s, a Greenwich Village restaurant. BSK ordered a Dewars scotch on the rocks. (Later, BSK confessed feigning sophistication on a first date with an older, worldly New Yorker). HG had two extra dry Martinis (BSK did not heed the warning). BSK loved dining at Fornos, a wonderful Spanish restaurant (long closed); however, BSK did not like HG’s habit of drinking Fornos’ Margaritas (best ever) throughout the meal and finishing with two Banana Daquiris (best ever) for dessert. Matters came to a climax on Fire Island: HG/BSK were guests at a smorgasbord prepared by the late New York Times journalist Glenn Fowler and his Swedish wife. Famished and thirsty after a day of sun, swimming, body surfing and football tossing. The array of herring, meatballs, red salmon caviar, ham, sausages and cheeses was enticing. HG ate a lot (as did BSK). Jolly time. Unfortunately, HG drank a great deal. There were bottles of near-frozen Aakavit in a block of ice and ale nestled in a bucket of crushed ice. HG took a bite of food. Then a snifter of icy Aakavit. A chaser of ale. This was repeated and repeated and repeated. Later, HG/BSK walked home on the narrow boardwalk (no cars on Fire Island). All of a sudden BSK noticed she was walking alone. BSK looked off the side of the boardwalk — There, laying in the sand, was a prone, very happy, very drunk HG. The next morning there were some stern warnings from BSK. If such a drunken scene was repeated marriage would be ended. HG never again became falling down drunk. (BSK was magnanimous about HG being tipsy, high, slightly sozzled, etc.). Lately, strong spirits have had a bad effect on mature HG. The combination of vodka or tequila with HG’s old guy medications has proven dangerous. HG has stumbled and passed out briefly (for about 30 seconds). BSK has expressed concern. HG now adheres to a regimen of bitters and soda (Aperol, Campari, Punt a Mes, Cynar, Angostura) before dinner. A glass of wine (a large one) with dinner. A very small shot glass of bourbon sipped while watching a movie DVD. No, this is not a liquid diet approved by Carry Nation, the temperance women and the health police. However, it keeps HG upright and soberly joyous. Moreover, BSK approves (barely). That’s the only approval HG seeks.
HG/BSK treated themselves to a classic Rhode Island lunch at Hemenway’s, the very good, very comfortable seafood restaurant in downtown Providence. Hemenway’s has a handsome, snug oyster bar; a cocktail bar and nicely spaced tables for family dining. HG/BSK have dined there many times and have found the service to be warm, friendly and efficient. A very well run establishment. On this cold grey New England day, HG/BSk made themselves comfortable in the oyster bar. Three Cape Cod oysters for BSK. Excellent, judged BSK, but not as superlative as the big, lush, briny meaty oysters HG/BSK recently devoured during their recent stay in the beautiful French city of Reims. HG took pleasure in six cherrystone clams on the half shell. Perfectly chilled and shucked, HG judges Rhode Islanders to be the best clams in the world. This is not a superficial judgment: HG’s first job (73 years ago at age 13) was as a clam and oyster shucker at Harbor Rest Inn in Rockaway Park, N.Y. HG devoured scores of clams. Then went on to clam gluttony at such clam-on -the-half-shell shrines as Lundy’s at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and Nathan’s of Coney Island. Plus there were decades of clam gathering and eating during Fire Island summer vacations. The clams were dug from the bottom of Great South Bay whose shores bordered Fire Island. (Joseph Mitchell, the late New Yorker writer who wrote about clam gathering and eating, would have called this massive clam ingestion a Mess o’ clams.). HG/BSK continued their Hemenway’s lunch with Rhode Island-style clam chowder. This is a clear chowder (no cream or milk as in New England-style or tomatoes as in Manhattan-style). Hemenway’s version emphasizes strong broth, lots of clams, smoky bacon. a bit of onion and celery, potatoes. Perfect. To complete the lunch, HG/BSK shared a portion of Rhode Island’s official appetizer: Fried squid with hot peppers. A don’t miss dish. Ordinarily, HG/BSK would have accompanied their meal with a bottle of cold Muscadet. But, since HG is limiting his alcohol drinking, the duo had to be satisfied with a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water. Surprisingly, the wine wasn’t missed.
Flank steak used to be cheap. (Alas, no more). Chinese chefs used it in many stir fries and Italians pounded it tender before rolling it around savory stuffing to make Rollatini. (Sometimes Italian cooks used thin slices of eggplant rather than meat). HG/BSK learned the secret for making excellent flank steak from the very eccentric Andre R.. He was a frequent visitor when HG/BSK had a Fire Island beach home. Andre got older. His girl friends got younger. Andre and his young lady, upon arrival, would strip off their clothes and run naked into the sea. HG/BSK’s little children and their friends were always bemused and delighted by this display of free spirit, l960’s behavior. Andre would marinate a flank steak for a day in a mixture of soy sauce, honey and sliced garlic. Barbecued quite rare. Sliced thinly across the grain. The meat was tender with a blackened semi-sweet Asian crust. Made a great meal accompanied by summer sweet corn on the cob. BSK cooked a flank steak a la Andre a few days ago. (BSK pan broiled the meat in a very hot cast iron pan). Good eating with BSK’s salad (peeled roasted peppers, chopped sweet onions, Kumatoes, arugula) with Maytag blue cheese dressing. Dinner the next night was the left over flank steak, sliced thinly, served over a Vietnamese-influenced salad of rice noodles, spring onions, Persian cucumbers, frisee, carrots and cherry tomatoes. It was dressed with a combination of sesame oil, soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic, Red Boat fish sauce. Sensational. HG had left over salad for lunch the next day. Economical BSK hd provided a tasty group of meals from one modestly priced Trader Joe’s flank steak.
HG/BSK’s summer retreat during the 1960’s and early 1970’s was Fire Island, the long, slim, always hurricane threatened barrier beach between the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island’s Great South Bay. Fire Island was dotted with about a score of beach communities, each with a very distinctive personality ranging from overtly gay Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines (pioneers in out of the closet behavior) and prim and proper Point O’Woods. There were family oriented communities and those specializing in boy-meets-girl activities. HG/BSK had a house perched on a sand dune in Ocean Ridge, a community directly across the Bay from Patchogue, L.I.. Big, expansive windows and spacious front and rear decks. Spectacular ocean views and blazing sunset panoramas. Ocean Ridge was mixed: Some families. Lots of ad men and women. Journalists. Musicians. And, boys and girls playing the mating game. Booze and marijuana were very popular. Surprisingly, there were many outstanding cooks in Ocean Ridge (and Davis Park, a neighboring area). What made the culinary heights surprising was that there was only a bare bones convenience store in Ocean Ridge. Everything else had to come by ferry from Patchogue. There, Shand’s Market provided the basic foodstuffs. This was augmented by Karl Ehmer’s (sublime sausages and other German pork products); a fish store with Peconic Bay scallops and oysters and an Italian delicatessen (Mozzarella and many other good things). No autos on Fire Island (that’s why it was a paradise for the HG/BSK kids). Youngsters made spending money by meeting ferries at the dock and delivering food in their ubiquitous little red wagons. Here are some feasts HG remembers: Spectacular smorgasbord organized by New York Times journalist Glenn Fowler (and his Swedish girl friend). Catalonian fish barbecue by Catalonian sculptor Joan Junyer (friend and contemporary of Picasso). Joan and his wife, Dolores, grilled whole, gutted fish over blazing charcoal. Splashed the fish with crushed garlic, olive oil and paprika. Indonesian Rijstaffel cooked by two (names forgotten) Madison Avenue copywriters (and their wives). At least twenty dishes, all wondrously savory. Hobby Miller’s annual fish fry. Hobby was the developer of Ocean Ridge and operated as a real estate agent/builder and beloved unofficial Mayor. Manning some huge cast iron pans filled with hot oil, Hobby sizzled flour dusted fish fillets. The fish had just been pulled from the Bay and Ocean. A chic woman who had spent some years in Paris would issue an impromptu invitation to a mussel orgy. Big pots of mussels steamed in white wine, garlic, onions, parsley accompanied by crusty baguettes for dipping and icy, white jug wine. Yes, there were some misses. An eccentric woman gave a shrimp curry party. The curry was incendiary. Nothing to drink. Some bowls of yogurt. The yogurt will soothe the heat, assured the madwoman. It did not. Yes, lots of wonderful summer eating but the ultimate was HG/BSK’s platters of Clams Casino and linguine in white clam sauce, both made with hundreds of cherrystone clams plucked from the muddy bottom of Great South Bay by the HG/BSK family and their friends.
The Davis Park/Ocean Ridge section of eastern Fire Island (the long barrier beach south of Long Island,N.Y.) was battered by Hurricane Sandy but survives. Many years ago, HG/BSK had a house there perched atop a sand dune with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Great South Bay on the other. The duo plus daughter Lesley and SJ spent every weekend there from late March to early October (BSK and kids were there full time for July and August while HG steamed in New York). Those days were brought back to HG/BSK last night when they dove into some big bowls of BSK’s special linguini in white clam sauce. Weekends on Fire Island featured great food and drink, much appreciated by appetites sharpened by the sun and salt air. Here are some of the memorable dishes served up by HG/BSK’s Fire Island friends and neighbors: Gravlax with a pungent mustard and dill dressing (made by the late Willa Z.). Perfect sirloin steaks grilled in the oven by the late John A. who hated the barbecue with its unreliable levels of heat. The late Glenn F.’s Swedish smorgasbord with a dozen varieties of herring washed down with Aakavit and beer. The 20-dish rijstaffel prepared in a tiny kitchen by two guys whose names HG can’t recall. The Normandy-style steamed mussels prepared by a woman (name also forgotten) who had previously summered in France. The roast lamb that cooked all day over a wood and charcoal fire (supervised by a fellow with an Armenian background). Omelettes and Bloody Marys for brunch at a pretty blonde’s house. Spaghetti Carbonara at (the late) Veronika H.’s. The late Hobby Miller’s community fish fry with corn meal coated filets sizzling in hot oil. The best-of-all fish dishes prepared on the barbecue by the late Catalan sculptor Joan Junyer (friend and compatriot of Picasso) . He would toss whole fish on the barbecue for brief cooking. Then off the grill for a quick de-boning. The firm, juicy and slightly smoky filets got a pour of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Magic. (Sorry to describe so many people with the adjective “late” but time and fate are inexorable.) HG and BSK hosted many a great cocktail party on their rear deck with the sun setting over Long Island. With clams HG and BSK (sometimes with the help of SJ and Daughter Lesley) had just plucked from the Great South Bay, HG would prepare clams casino to nosh on while those who stayed for dinner had, naturally, BSK’s signature clams and linguini.
But, one of the most memorable Fire Island meals HG can recall took place in the bleak years before HG met BSK. A large group of Fire Islanders — very much under the influence of prodigious quantities of martinis and marijuana — mused that a meal of great Chinese food would really hit the spot. Good fortune. One of their number was a wealthy, young Chinese guy (tungsten, HG believes, was the source of his fortune). He called his office in New York City and gave some rapid orders in Cantonese. In 90 minutes, a seaplane landed in the Bay. Two Chinese gentlemen emerged carrying huge, metal tureens of duck, lobster, shrimp, fish, pork, beef, bean curd, noodles, vegetables, and more — all from Chinatown’s best restaurant. In moments, the hungry crowd was feasting on their dreams. HG realized then that there are some tangible benefits attached to wealth.
Yes, in the sultry heat of summer, HG, like many other folks, prefers lightly fried, sauteed or steamed fish; also salads, fresh vegetables and fruits. Clams, scallops, mussels, shrimp and lobster go hand-in-hand with the summer months. Plus oysters ( eating oysters only in months with an “R” is not applicable on far north Prince Edward Island). However, there were two summer feasts — totally delicious and totally inappropriate for the season — that remain prominent in HG’s culinary memory bank. They were prepared by two very different people — Rex Reed and Andre Reudi. Rex Reed, an urbane television personality and newspaper arts/theater/music critic, was on Fire Island, the colorful barrier beach off Long Island, New York, where HG/BSK had summer homes for many years. Rex was visiting HG/BSK’s dear friends, the inimitable jazz duo, Jackie and Roy. Blazing hot day in August. Temperature in the 90’s. Rex prepared dinner, drawing upon his southern roots. A long cooked piece of roast beef liberally sprinkled with Cajun spices. The beef swam in a lake of dark brown, winey, spicy gravy. It was accompanied by super buttery mashed potatoes and slices of Wonder bread (to soak up any excess gravy). Reed baked lemon meringue pie. Every bit of the meal was consumed. With joy.
Andre Reudi, a Swiss nudist-futurist, prepared his memorable meal on a blazing June day some 50 years ago, just weeks before HG/BSK married. En route to Fire Island in their 1960 Cadillac, HG/BSK picked up Andre at the great Upper East Side German butcher shop, Schaller and Weber. Reudi had picked up a pork knuckle, sausages, sauerkraut, lentils, beer, pumpernickel bread, pickles, three kinds of mustard and Liederkranz cheese. All were loaded in an ice filled cooler. Upon arrival at HG/BSK’s home, the pork knuckle, sausages, lentils, sauerkraut, dark beer and some unidentifiable spices were dumped in a big pot. The oven was turned to a low heat. And, there the robust German stew simmered all day while HG/BSK played on the beach, body surfed in the ocean and gathered beach glass in walks by the shore. After the sun had set and pre-dinner Martinis (wine for BSK) were drunk, the pot was removed from the stove and ravenous HG/BSK and Reudi fell upon food. Absolutely Fabulous feast.
Some 48 years ago (seems like yesterday). HG, BSK, their two adorable children, their live-in mother’s helper and their poorly trained but decorative standard poodle, lived in a 12th floor Upper West Side apartment with dramatic views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. A very spacious residence. Big living room. Big, separate dining room. Nice windowed kitchen and pantry. Four bedrooms and three baths (one en suite). The rent: $274 a month (later raised to $292 and a similar apartment in the same building now rents for $15,000 a month). Ah, rent control, you lovely bit of legislation (of course, obtaining this rent controlled paradise involved some bribery, chicanery and corruption). This did not shock HG, a born and bred New Yorker. In those days the Upper West Side was affordable and diverse. There was still a heavy Jewish influence. Big time theater and entertainment folks (Abe Burrows, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern and many more) lived on Central Park West alongside many affluent professionals and business persons. Side streets from Central Park West to Broadway were gritty (except for W. 67th Street, site of the Des Artistes apartment house and many studios of painters and musicians). Riverside Drive and the Avenues and cross streets west of Broadway were filled with intellectuals and creative types who had more brains and talent than money. Forget Greenwich Village. The Upper West Side was the home of professors, critics, novelists, dancers, journalists, composers, actors, musicians and school teachers. Lots of European intellectuals who had fled Hitler and many Holocaust survivors (the little, pale, Nobel Prize winning writer, Isaac Baashevis Singer, who lived on W. 86th Street, often wrote about them). The Heresford (West Side apartment houses often had British names, a touch of Anglophile class) where HG and BSK lived, had much artistic ferment. Among its residents were Peter Boyle (before Hollywood and TV fame); film composer Michael Small, the critic and editor Ted Solotaroff; Gary Null, the health and sex writer, guru and radio personality. There were also some Broadway dancers, the cantor of a major synagogue and lesser artistic lights. The Upper West Side was filled with movie theaters showing art films (the New Yorker, Thalia and Symphony) and plus the first run houses (Loew’s 83rd, the Beacon,etc.). Food was a neighborhood obsession. Zabar’s, of course, but also Murray’s (preferred by some smoked fish aficionados) and Barney Greengrass (unsurpassed sturgeon). Middle European restaurants like Eclair and dairy restaurants like Steinberg’s and Paramount. Gitlitz’ Delicatessen on Broadway and 78th ( much superior in HG’s informed opinion, to Katz’s, Carnegie or 2nd Avenue Deli). The jewel of the West Side was the Tip Toe Inn (on Broadway near 86th Street). A huge place with a huge menu. Everything was delicious and inexpensive (the New York Public Library has a nice collection of old menus….Here’s a link to Tip Toe’s 1954 menu. Be astonished). There was a rotisserie in the Bretton Woods Hotel (86th and Broadway) that barbecued ducks and chickens. Sunday dinners for HG and BSK often featured one of those juicy, crisp skinned ducks and an avocado-sweet onion-sliced orange salad. Chinese restaurants were clustered around Broadway and 96th and they were very good (the first Szechuan restaurant in New York was on Broadway and 95th). There were also some Cuban/Chinese places where you could get good shrimp dishes plus Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice) Fairway didn’t exist but for those who liked to eat at home there were butchers like Endicottt Meats and Nevada Market (where you could get some exotic stuff including bear, in season). Good bakeries. Mom and Pop greengrocers. Citarella’s for fish. Broadway Nut Shop for sweets. Daitch Dairy (79th and Broadway) for tub butter and cheese. Bretton Wood Rotisserie for barbecued ducks. HG and BSK were not plutocrats but could afford all of these good things. Yes, the Upper West Side had lots of junkies, hookers, muggers and burglars. Their presence made West Siders feel superior to residents of the antiseptic Upper East Side. Now, let HG make you young folks really jealous. HG, BSK and family spent all summer plus spring and fall weekends at their Fire Island home. Built atop a dune it had panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Great South Bay sunsets. The family bought it for $40.000. HG’s first Fire Island house (in 1959) cost $4,000 ($1,000 for land and $3,000 for two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room and deck). In 1960, HG added two more bedrooms, another bathroom and additional decking. Cost: $2,000. That’s right. The numbers for these Fire Island properties are correct. Read and weep.
Many years ago HG sat astride a big bucket perched on a raft floating in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Fire Island — the barrier beach heralded in fact, fiction and gay (in all senses of the word) memories. Two companions were armed with nets and they were energetically capturing blue shell crabs swimming busily in the waters. HG assisted in scooping the crustaceans into the bucket and in the process was nipped by the little devils. In fact, HG’s arms and legs were very bloody. Didn’t hurt too much but looked frightening — like the pig blood scene in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”. Some 150 crabs were boiled and, annoyingly after all that work, there was little to eat. Not worth the bloody effort.
For a crab feast HG could get his stomach around, HG focused on New York’s Chinatown where the Phoenix Garden, Wing Fat and a number of other eateries did great things with crab (including an intriguing dish known as “Crab with Fried Milk”).
Clam. HG does love that briny bivalve. The love affair began decades ago at the Harbor Rest fast food and sea food joint on Jamaica Bay in New York’s Rockaway Park — at the time, the proletarian Hamptons. HG, 13-years-old, was employed as an oyster and clam shucker (also a peeler and de-veiner of shrimp). HG ate a lot of clams. His mantra: One for the boss and one for me. HG’s oyster passion developed later. Boyish passions subside but not HG’s clam lust. HG ate scores at Lundy’s located at Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. He downed them at Nathan’s in Coney Island; at Manhattan’s Grand Central Oyster Bar. HG refers to raw clams (cherrystones and little necks ) on the half shell. HG has always fancied clams (and oysters) unadorned. Maybe a modest squeeze of lemon. No beverage but beer. Lundy’s served its raw clams with hot, buttered, straight-from-the oven biscuits — HG never complained.
When HG lived in Colorado HG began his daily lunch at the Palm Restaurant with six little necks (some 1,500 miles from the Atlantic but surprisingly sweet and fresh…go figure). HG has never neglected cooked clams, preferably as part of Italian cuisine….clams posillipo (clam broth enriched with tomatoes); Linguini with white clam sauce; clams casino (light on the bread crumbs, heavy on the garlic, bacon strip optional). HG is not a big clam chowder fan. HG finds New England style overpowers clams and Manhattan style is simply inedible. The best is light clam chowder served at the Legal Seafood chain in New England (an excellent purveyor of clams and oysters).
A great clam dish was sauteed clam bellies at the late, great Gage & Tollner’s in Brooklyn. HG is a fan of the fried soft shell clams available a scores of New England shacks. When resident at the family beach home on Prince Edward Island, HG downs scores of steamers, cleansed in broth and dipped in Tabasco-enhanced melted butter.
As stated in a previous post, the true clam heaven was Fire Island, the magical barrier beach that stretches for miles off Long Island between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. After a day of Fire Island beach and sea fun, the HG family and friends would arm themselves with buckets and wade into the Bay. It was a clam bonanza. Following would be raw clams, clams casino and BSK’s extraordinary white clam sauce adorning bowls of linguini fini. The HG and BSK dune house overlooked the Bay and Ocean. Sunsets. Infinite whitecaps. Many martinis. Much beer and cheap, cold white wine. A jolly, sunburned time. Happy memories.