Food Neighbors

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Spins off from Fast Food:

Hot Sauce:

I used to love to go to Sherman’s in Harlem for their ribs and greens or their chicken and greens. It was a franchise and there were a couple of them, both in Harlem. I remember my favorite being on Lennox in the 130s. If memory serves, they only had two dishes on the menu and I’ve already named them.

Sherman's BBQ
thanx dnainfo

One time, maybe 4 AM, I’m eating my ribs, when a really old-looking guy limps up to a free table. Again if memory serves, I’d gotten my ribs myself, cafeteria style: like in Katz’s downtown on Houston; this guy waited for the waitress. Maybe he wasn’t so old after all: forty, going-on seventy: more abusive mileage than years. She brings the chicken he orders. Now, every Sherman’s table had the usual salt and pepper on the table. A napkin rack. Towering over all would be a super size bottle of Hot Sauce. Sherman’s hot sauce wasn’t the pussy stuff you buy in the markets with utterly fake claims of “three-alarm” or “devil’s brew.” Sherman’s hot sauce was hot. This guy looks skeptically at his chicken, puts it back down. Picks up the Hot Sauce. Shakes burst after burst of the stuff over the already cayenne-red crispy skin. He takes his first bite. The entire half-chicken skin came loose, sauce dripping back onto his plate. This bird was saturated. The guy puts his chicken back down. Looking uncomfortable, he turns about to flag the waitress. As innocent and sweet as one can be in Sherman’s at 4 AM, she comes up to him. “Yes?”
“Do you have any hot sauce,” he inquires? His voice is a dry rasp, like Miles’.
“Certainly, Sir.” She snatches up the Hot Sauce to hand to him , surprised to find it half-empty. A bit of doubt has crept into her assurance, but she continues anyway and holds the bottle where his fingers can’t help but grasp it.
“Yeah,” he assents. His voice would scrape sparks from asphalt. “But do you have any hot sauce?”

The great Shanghai restaurant was on East Broadway when I was introduced to it, 1960-something. That was its address: 456 East Broadway. Then they moved a couple of doors further east. Then there was another 456 out on Bowery, Chatham Square: don’t confuse one with the other.

Then, 1980s, I was driving in Orlando, saw a 456 sign, Orlando’s half-a block of “Chinatown.” I stopped, just cause of the name, mentioned it to the waiter. Oh, yes, said the waiter, Bob, that owner, was a big han of the East Broadway 456, that’s why he named his restaurant for it. Well, Bob’s cuisine was damn good, but his 456 was not THE 456. Now here’s a touted 456, but on Mott Street. Well, I’d try it, in a heart beat, if I were in the Apple: Please, God, no, I’m too old, too everything.
I’m forever telling my darling Jan that what I need isn’t a trip to NYC and a generous budget; I need a time machine: to go to NY: in 1967! On a night when grandpa is in the kitchen at Bobo’s, when whoever is in the kitchen at 456 … !
I don’t want to eat in a restaurant called Escoffier; I want Escoffier himself to be handling the Peche Melba. I want to be in the trench in WWI when Escoffier served the horse meat that got him decorated as a hero.

Harlem Cuisine

Let me squeeze in another couple of memories while on the subject. I’d been going to NYC jazz clubs since age 15. I started at Birdland, then spread around that neighborhood, 52nd St: Hickory House, Basin St, Metropole … Then, in college, I added Village clubs, Harlem Clubs: Minton’s, Smalls’ Paradise …

thanx harlemculturalarchives

Smalls’ got bought by Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was always around: midnight, 3 AM. Smalls’ to me was a two stop proposition: Smalls’, for the music, then an eggs, grits, and biscuits joint across the street. Last time I was in there, enjoying my soul breakfast, don’t forget the bacon, Wilt was having his breakfast at the same time. Only two of us at the counter, me a few stools down from Wilt. Have you ever sat next to Wilt Chamberlin? Let me tell you: I’m 5’8″, or close to it. Round it off, 5’8″. Wilt, at 7’something” was taller than me, obviously. Crazy thing is, his head was only a little taller off the stool. Half his height was in his legs! With his feet flat on the floor, his knees came up to his goddam ears! like a grasshopper!
I didn’t speak to him, he ignored me. We just had our breakfast, then back across the street, for more music: till 4 AM.

You wanna see Wilt’s long legs? You wanna see double parking in Harlem after midnight? Check out ning. Oh, and don’t forget Hollywood’s contribution toward the generation after Wilt’s stewardship: American Gangster.

I’ll tell another. There was a joint on 7th Avenue, featured chili for a dime. I pass the joint, gal stands there pouring crushed red pepper into the vat. A dime, what the hell. I go in, I order a bowl.
When I was a kid my “friend” Rudy would pull tricks on me, offer me gun, give me ceyenne pepper laced gum. And I’d chew it, and fight the sweat, and keep a straight face, and pretend that I was enjoying it, not getting murdered. Other Americans in Cuernavaca wanted to sue Maria’s for trying to murder them with the salsa, not me, give me more, yum. But this joint in Harlem … Ghaa! I absolutely could not swallow one teaspoon of their “chili.”
I’m an anarchist, I don’t believe in cops, jails, laws. But somebody, some self-sacrificing soul should have immolated themselves, eradicating that chili house from the face of the earth.

‘Nother Shermans Story
John was my buddy in college in the 1950s, John was my buddy in the 1960s: skiing, fishing, drinking … girls. We both loved to ski, we both were pretty good learning skiers, brave to the point of idiocy. John loved to surf fish, he was good at it, had some luck; I surf fished to keep him company. We fished for years together before I ever had any reason to believe that there actually were stripers in the surf sometimes. We’d go to Fire Island, fish the western end that had a bridge, just passed Jones Beach, fish all night, drink scotch. Well, one time we’d had enough and it was still only the middle of the night. We drive back to the Apple, he’ll drop me off, Riverside and 116th, he’s living downtown, the 20s somewhere. We get to the Triborough Bridge, debouch onto 125th Street, coming west. We achieve Lenox Avenue. “John, John, Oww, let’s get some ribs, go to Shermans.”
I’m the jazz nut, I’m the black-o-phile, the soul diplomat; John doesn’t know what I’m talking about. But he turns north on Lenox as instructed. It’s a weekend, let’s say it’s 3 AM. Lenox Avenue in the 130s in Harlem is a big road. There’s two lanes for north traffic, two lanes for south traffic, one each for parking, then one each of sidewalk. There’s Sherman. I can see John’s distaste, mistrust, repulsion. And John doesn’t have to look far for excuses. The block, the couple of blocks, are mobbed. Everything is double-parked, people are trying to triple park! The tow trucks know better than to come anywhere near. Park Avenue is civilized; Harlem is anarchy. But the crowd isn’t all for Shermans: there’s’ a line for chicken or ribs at 3 in the morning, but the real crowed is for the mosque just downtown of the restaurant. Muslims galore. And they’re all screaming for blood. “Kill Whitey, Kill Whitey.”
“Jesus, Paul, we gotta get out of here?” “Naah ,there’s no danger. Let’s eat.” “But ‘Kill Whitey’,” John persists.
“No, no. Look.” I point to a guy who’s actually starting to get violent. He’s with a cute girl, nice hips, jeez, the bottom on her, the thighs. Guy’s got a rifle in one hand. He kicks the girl, she falls, she lands on the sidewalk, legs apart. We all see some white panty crotch. “I’m goin’ stomp you, bitch!” The guy shakes his rifle.
“Jesus, Paul.” “No, they’re stomping each other, he’s stomping the girl. We’re in no danger. They don’t even see us.”
John seems to have decided to not make another sound. We go into Shermans, eat, leave. Guys are still knocking women down out on the sidewalk. Any cops around, and there are always cops around, are hiding.

thanx moderatemuslimvoices

and I think I would have fled if I’d seen that one coming.
The Egyptian girl, no longer conscious, doesn’t look African to us; but she is “African”!

Here’s to those saintly women who put up with violence from their helpless, frustrated, compromised men. The world would have evaporated long ago if they didn’t.
(It’s world-wide: see Once Were Warriors.

Once Were Warriors
thanx imdb

Maybe I was wrong, maybe we were in danger. But we got away with it, that and other times. Much of our bravado accompanied skiing, climbing, camping, fishing. But: there was at least that one episode of daring the devil with culture. We never again crossed 7th at 3 AM on a weekend, not with John driving. I don’t think I did either.

Katz’s Downtown on Houston

In the 1970s I had my office on Spring and Lafayette, Little Italy. My gallery was a couple of blocks over, on Spring and West Broadway, SoHo. Little Italy and Chinatown kind of merge, bleeding into each other: across Canal Steeet and other such blotting paper streets. Chinatown was my all time favorite for food: grocery shopping as well as restaurant dining.
In grad school I living on the lower East Side, great Jewish Restaurants were a dozen steps away from my front door: Rappaports.
But one famous Jewish eatery, though I’d heard of it aplenty, I never dined at till the 1970s. Katz’s!

Back when I loved Sloppy Louis’, over by the Fulton Fish Market. Sweets was great, but Sloppy Louis’ was greatest. I loved the waiters, they all looked like PopEye: ridiculous huge forearms, tattoos … sawdust on the floor, surly beef on the hoof, throwing the food at you, what could be greater?
But, skip back to Katz. You get a ticket at the door. Servers on the cafeteria line will hole punch codes for what you get, the cashier will add it all up on your way out. Huge Jews man the line.

You stand in front of one of those guys. “Uh, uh …” Maybe the guy judges you to be looking at the pastrami. A huge finger, sausage size, shoves a chunk of pastrami into your mouth. Aehhaehh, the guy’s got his finger in my mouth! But oh, man, the pastrami just melts there. So delicious. You gotta have it. A second later you’ve got a pastrami on rye with mustard the size of a platter on your tray, and a giant plate of french fries.

Katz's deli
Katz’s deli, since 1888
thanx ytimg

You carry to a table, you look at your neighbors: winos, muggers … Where are the Jews? Behind the counter. No Jews have lived in this DMZ for decades. Outside the population lives by smearing filth on your windshield with a rag, hoping for some change, maybe a small bill or two. War zone: where are the defeated Nazi youth with their chain cigarette smoking and swollen bellies that filled the newsreels in 1946? Never mind, never mind, the food sends you right back to 1926, 1896 …

2016 08 30 Poking around on a map the other evening to remind myself where the Bleecker Street Cinema was in relation to Houston Street, I saw that even the name has changed! It’s no longer Houston St!

One time I went back to NYC and was walking around Columbus Circle with my son. I felt lost, taxis terrified me, my son boldly stepping into the traffic terrified me. Within five minutes though I was back, feeling at home, stepping into the taxi’s path, playing chicken, winning … leaving bk to his own instincts.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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