Citarella, the gourmet meat market, is across the street from the Starbucks I usually sit at until 10:30 or 11:00, when it’s time to go home and rack out in my $60/night bed at Hephzibah House. My friend Carl, whose apartment I crashed in last night while he was out of town, had a gigantor hunk of cheese that he told me was from Citarella. It was to go along with the chili he made. The chili smelled good. The cheese smelled imported and suspect, not something to be married culinarily with chili.
This is my last week at HHouse. It has been a good stay; three or four nights per week for the past six weeks. You can’t beat $60 per night in Manhattan; heck, it costs that much for a movie ticket that lasts 120 minutes. HHouse has been peaceful, a respite from the din around.
I went to Citarella when the Lovely K and I lived on West 76th Street and tried to get a flank steak to make chicken fried steak, a subject I will return to directly. Citarella didn’t have flank steak. They had rabbit. But they didn’t have flank steak. Dadgum retrogrades. Philistines. So I can’t remember how exactly we resolved the flank steak situation. I may have waited until we moved to Massachusetts, where they sell flank steak. I am sure other states in the Union sell flank steak, but this section of downstate New York, called New York City and, specifically, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, apparently does not sell or claim to even know about the existence of flank steak, from which is made a delectable Texas dish that is disdained by Urbanites that would rather eat Bugs Bunny.
I told you I would return to chicken fried steak, and here I shall. I ate dinner tonight at Brother Jimmy’s Barbecue, on 80th and Amsterdam, a section of the Upper West Side known for bars and loud people from Brooklyn who drink a lot of alcohol here and then fall asleep on the N train headed back to Bay Ridge or wherever they’re from. I first went to Brother Jimmy’s years ago when the State-Carolina basketball game was on the restaurant TVs, and I must say it made dining an active experience. Zagat’s calls the place “one big frat party.” Tonight it was fairly calm – a Tuesday night after the end of the World Series, not a Monday or Thursday night (football) and no other sports news than Grady Little’s resignation today from the L.A. Dodgers. (A doctored photo of Joe Torre in a Dodgers cap appeared in yesterday’s NY Post…that’s my guess of where he’ll end up.) It was also quiet. I ordered – yes, Dear Reader – chicken fried steak, along with candied yams and black eyed peas. Sweet tea. (Yes, Luke, they sell it here.)
But I must tell you, it was not like my mother-in-law’s chicken fried steak. I don’t think it was attributable to anyone’s mother-in-law. I think it was attributable to some guy; some guy in a sweaty Marlon Brando “Streetcar Named Desire” t-shirt who probably lives in Bay Ridge and takes the N train in to Manhattan, and who cooks this dish he has no cultural appreciation for. The coating came off like it was glued on with year-old Elmer’s. The steak itself was as thin as the tablecloth, and just as hard to cut. My mother-in-law, Ginger, schooled me that you need to double dip it, etc. (don’t ask me how here…I have it all written down and not with me at Starbucks) and it turns out just fine. Of course, she makes it far better than I do. But I make it far better than some guy from Bay Ridge. Somehow, though, “Brother Howard’s Barbecue” loses something in translation.
The candied yams with walnuts were good, as were the black-eyed peas. The side of pickle slices, the kind the Lovely K likes, were a nice complement to the brown sugar on the yams. Cornbread: ehh. Sweet tea, pretty good, and the server made a point of asking me if it was okay. I said, Sure, why?
“I made it,” she said.
Did you make it with Caro syrup?
“No…” Quizzical look.
Gotta make it with Caro syrup; that’s how they do it in the south.
“Where are you from?”
She smiled and walked off.