Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Previously: Brilliant was right. In the same way a 15 watt light bulb is brilliant. This was not going to end well.

And now: Little did any of us towering intellects know that we would soon be needing a mouthpiece sooner than later and not just for resisting arrest.

Pops was down with the lawyer idea. He thought it might bring some here-to-fore needed class the pizzeria sorely lacked. F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, and Johnny Cochran could not have brought class to this place, but, hey, I’ve crushed enough of Pops’ dreams to say anything about it. So, unbelievably, the resisting arrest scam was working. Look, it’s New Jersey, anything is possible here. And things were quiet. No PETA protests, Doris Day was happy with her new dogs, Pops was selling pizza and juris medicine in the back. It was too quiet. But we take our gifts where we get ’em.

6327151234_bd3c0dbf8a Not the caliber of lawyer at O’Shea’s.

Now that all that was humming along nicely, the drama reduced to a low, barely-discernible moan, I could go visit O’Shea’s and watch Ahmed polish his new glass, and finally indulge in one of his falafels. Life was good. Yeah, for the moment. I know I told you about O’Shea’s before, but it does have the best falafel in town. Town being Newark. Newark is out there, hanging on in the dark by its fingernails to the border, right across the river from New York City wishing it wasn’t in New Jersey. It had pretensions once, but now it’s come to grips with itself. It even at one time had its own theatre district. Now why you ask am I mentioning that? Well, what remains of the old and decrepit theatre crowd of hangers-on and former wannabees like to come into O’Shea’s and reminisce over their falafels and gin and tonics. It’s a strange crowd. It’s like watching outtakes from the old Mel Brooks movie, The Producers. Usually, it’s a harmless and almost amusing group of farts. Usually.

Tonight, we’re about to experience an out-of-body event, but I’m not sure whose body. One of the old-timers, named Kippy Sewell, creeps up to the bar next to me and signals Ahmed to join us. Us? I’m just sitting there nursing my falafel. I didn’t ask to join this but it looks like I’m into it.

“Hehnnn… Ahmed. C’mere.” hisses Kippy. Hissing is about all Kippy can manage after Tranks and Barry shook him down, literally, for an unpaid debt of some forgotten nature. “Ahmed, c’mere.”

Ahmed is deep into polishing the glass and doesn’t want to be bothered especially by the likes of Kippy. But Kippy is that rare bird seldom found in O’Shea’s – he pays his tab, so Ahmed reluctantly wanders over, but not before slowly straightening every bottle on the shelf behind him. “OK, Kippy, whadisit? I got glasses to polish.”

“Ahmed, you’re going to love this. You too Fog. But you’ve got to keep it on the down low.” You gotta give Kippy this – he speaks really well, enunciating each word as if in a Shakespearean play, only with hissing sibilance. You can take the boy out of the theatre, but… well, you know the rest.

Neither Ahmed or I are particularly interested in this, but boredom seeps in quickly at O’Shea’s so we listen. “What is it this time, Kippy?”

“I’ve just come across the most unique and original script of a play that I’ve seen in a long time. It is guaranteed to bring live theatre musicals back to the top. I’m looking for backers and you two need to get in on the ground floor. You’ll get rich!”

8318342482_5eb31fdb56 Yeah, it is a Broadway musical, but it looks more like the PETA protest.

Ahmed looks around and realizes there are more bottles that need straightening and departs for his shelves, leaving me with Kippy. I have to decide whether to make an excuse and leave, not finishing my falafel. Nope, can’t do THAT. So, I stay and listen to what Kippy believes will make us all rich. Looking back, I realize I can get a falafel pretty much anytime, but too late.

“Fog, do you go to the movies? Do you like movies? Musicals? Dance numbers?” Kippy says. “This is important.”

“No, Kippy, not really. The last movie I saw didn’t have sound.” I really didn’t want to indulge him, so sarcasm was my only refuge.

“Fog, I know that’s not true. I remember seeing you removing Polly from a Dana Delaney film festival. So there.” he hehnned triumphantly.

“OK, Kippy, shoot. I can’t hide the truth from you any longer.”

“Fog,” he always starts each query with your name. “Remember that actress with the big lips, Angela… what was it? Not Lansbury. No, no. Angelina, Yes, yes, Angelina… Jolie. That’s her. remember her? She was married to that weird guy who tattooed her name on himself. Well he made a movie that I’ll never forget.”

Oh great. He’s made a few. Which one and why? “OK, I’ll bite..which one?”

“Fog, you know the one. The one where he mumbles all the time.. Hmgnnhh. Right. Well, this script is marvelous. It’s a musical version of Sling Blade!”

2788022437_7cf29e2035 Hey, he does sing. Maybe it could work!

Good grief, I wish I had a blade so I could cut myself out of this joke. But, Kippy was serious.

Previously: Barry wasn’t kidding nor was the newly arrived Trank. OK, it wouldn’t have seemed possible but Pops turned even paler. Could anything be whiter than Pat Boone?

 And now: Well, yeah it could, but why go into that now? At this moment, Pops had to find a way out of this. He had tickets for the Cyndi Lauper Really Final Tour of My Career show that night and he never missed one of those. By his count, he had seen this show 53 times. Final tour…really? After Pops had a few, he would wax enthusiastically if not somewhat remorsefully how Cyndi, even in her younger years, was an overlooked and misunderstood musical genius. I don’t know… maybe he was huffing some Sterno with Polly too. But I digress, again. In the meantime, Tranks was humming happily, probably thinking about the mayhem he was about to unleash.

2564228353_bfc1736120 Polly’s “drug” of choice.

Pops looked at Tranks with wonder. I’d seen this look before and it in itself was a wonder. Pops had an idea out of this. I waited with an uneasiness to see what foolhardy thing this would be.
“That’s it!’ screamed Pops. “Let’s call Patti Page!” OK, we were all now wondering if Pops had lost it for good. Patti Page, wtf?

“Pops, what are you talking about?” we all asked. “What does she have to do with this?”

Pops, eyes gleaming with triumph answered, “When I came over to New Jersey, there was this song on the radio, ‘How much is that doggie in the window?‘ She must like dogs,  she loves animals, we’ll give ’em to her.” Ahhh, that was the song Tranks was humming mindlessly.

8343027767_85958a3247Patti Page wants to know how much the mutt costs.

As usual, when Pops has an idea, it’s probably based on a somewhat faulty historical recollection. And this one was no exception. “Uh Pops, you fool, Patti Page is dead.” snorted Polly gleefully between Sterno huffs.

“No, no, I see her on Entertainment Tonight, she’s still alive with all those animals.” Great, now Pops is channeling some screwed up TV show. Great. Just great. But, and I hate to admit this as it means Pops had had an influence on me, he might just be onto something. Thinking as Pops might, he was confusing Ms. Page with another singer of that time, Doris Day. And to the best of my knowledge and the internet, she was alive.

Fast forward a couple of days. Somehow or another, we were able to make contact with Ms. Day, a lovely lady of 91 and still a looker as far as Pops was concerned. He wanted to pack up a truck immediately and make the delivery himself. He had had the hots for her for years and he thought this would be a good opportunity to put his moves on her. Jeez, I thought the tyranny of testosterone died down at his age. Evidently not. But it was arranged, she agreed to take the mutts and give them all a home on her estate and that solved a couple of problems. Pops could keep his questionable vegetarian pizzeria open, he didn’t have to serve dogs on the menu, and Tranks got the dogs off his hands. Win, win, right? Yeah, right. No, not so easy.

2131086396_1e072e2d2c Doris Day wants the mutts.

A couple of weeks later, Tranks comes in with a new idea. Doesn’t he have any other place he can unload this crap on?

“Pops, how’d you like to be a lawyer?”

Previously: If Barry “took care” of Ahmed, I’d never have a falafel again. I had to get involved.

And now: Just what I wanted. Barry was not a favorite of mine. He was bad looking, but smelled worse. Just one affliction short of an unpleasant trifecta of human refuse. But he was there wanting his money. Well, not his actually. He was just the faceman, if you could call it that, for an even worse individual, Tranks. Yeah, like Cher he favored only one name but at least Tranks wasn’t in evidence.

This was not Barry’s regular time to come calling. So, if he was there which he was, something was up and it wasn’t going to be good. There was some good news in his presence…he didn’t want his money this visit. But he was there on Tranks business. Could this day get any worse? Uhhh, yeah.

It seems that the PETA dust-up was of Trank’s doing. He thought a diversionary tactic, such as the buffalo mozzarella cheese flap, would deflect attention from his real and much more miserable activity. Tranks was running a scam animal rescue operation. He and his gang of community college miscreants were rounding up dogs, there’s a good reason for leash laws folks, and advertising them as rescue dogs.  Hey, no overhead except for the dog food bought at Target. He commanded a high dollar for each one of these Sarah McLachlan represented pooches. Gordon Gekko once said “Greed is good.” Tranks paraphrased that to “Guilt is good.” And it paid off for a while until PETA got wind of it.

5305214442_56a5231e04 Gordon Gekko, not Tranks.

In order for Tranks to get his pups out of town, he had to stage a diversion, hence the Great Buffalo Mozzarella Protest. Damned if it didn’t work. But now Pops was branded as some heartless capitalist and animal hater. OK, he is a capitalist, but he loves dogs. Certainly not as what PETA portrayed him. That said, he wasn’t selling much vegetarian pizza these days. Thanks Tranks! But the diversion was just that for all involved. See, Barry was there to let Pops know what Tranks wanted from him now. An offer that he surely could not refuse was coming down the barrel of this gun and we were all waiting for the blast.

“Pops, Tranks likes you and wants to save you some money and make you some money. You interested?,” Barry coughed up. Those words were like music to Pops but it was the symphony he was about to regret.

Barry continued on with his phlegmy monologue, “It seems like Tranks is really missing his meat pizzas. He wants you to start offering them now.” Pops was suspicious with good reason.

From under his flour-crusted eyebrows, Pop looked at Barry and asked, “Why?”

Barry replied without giving away anything, “Because Tranks has come into quite a supply of fresh meat and wants you to start using it.”

“No, no, no, no,no!” Pop screamed. “No meat! No meat! Did you see what happened here with all those hippies protesting my pizza? No. No!”

“Well Pops, it ain’t gonna be that easy. You see, Tranks has to get rid of those dogs somehow and you’re gonna make them the specialty of the house. Get it?”

4895522092_c111398306 New specialty of the house? Stay tuned!

If Pops could have gotten any whiter, hard considering he was covered in flour, he would have passed for Pat Boone. This was not how he saw this day continuing. “Fog, son, help me with this. Polly, ahh, no forget it Polly. Fog, you, you gotta do something! Barry, you gotta be kidding right?”

Barry wasn’t kidding nor was the newly arrived Trank. OK, it wouldn’t have seemed possible but Pops turned even paler. Could anything be whiter than Pat Boone?

Previously on The Bruce: So the mystery of the envelope was solved; the mob was dispersed; Ahmed was back to polishing the same frigging glass; in short all was as it should be. But not for long. Barry came in looking for his weekly order of baksheesh.

4026627627_bff237af23

And now: For those of you out there who don’t know what baksheesh is, here’s a brief explanation. It’s thought to be Persian in origin and means a tip or some such gratuity. It more recent years, it usually mean bribery and that’s what Barry was looking for. And he was looking right at Ahmed and that damned glass. Ahmed was doing his best not to notice Barry which in itself would be an incredible feat to pull off. Barry is, how can you say this diplomatically, (something I’m not really known for), unusual looking. If while under the influence of any number of mind-altering substances, Ovaltine included, one could describe him as the illegitimate love child of a seven foot tall Jeff Goldblum, Sally Struthers, and A-Rod. If not under that kind of influence, that description is still pretty accurate, but nothing would explain the red hair. Don’t ask, but it ain’t my family!

Barry wanted his money, now. Ahmed feigning concern over his falafel grill, was still trying to ignore Barry. With Barry’s shadow looming ever larger, Ahmed was losing his battle. Finally, he gave in, turned and promptly dropped the glass he had been so dutifully polishing for probably 6 years. Well, all good things must end and a new glass started, right? And as far as ending goes, Barry was looking to end Ahmed right then and there. What were we into now?

“Ahmed, you haven’t been behaving. Why haven’t you been returning my calls?”, Barry wanted to know as if he didn’t know already. Barry knew and Ahmed knew he knew and couldn’t stall him any longer. For too many years, Ahmed had been paying Barry off and while I knew it was happening, I didn’t really know why. That was about to change. Dumb-ass me, I never saw the connection. Yeah, Fog Calamari couldn’t figure out some marriages were arranged and others, well, they were ARRANGED if you catch my drift. Only this one involved my half (and half-wit) sister, Polly. Yeah, the same name as our mother. Polly, my Sterno-huffing mother, gave birth to my sister fathered by cheating on Pops with some Electrolux salesman. Yeah, it sucked and in more ways than one. During one of her huffed-up binges, she decided to name her new daughter Polly as if it was the cutest thing in the world. In the family, daughter Polly was called Po as if we were prescient about her life to come. Hell, all one had to do to suss that out was to look at her mother. I didn’t learn this until many years later after I’d been calling Ahmed “Uncle” for the whole time. Now it was time for Ahmed to say “Uncle.” Karma, man.

30527411_d7cca04d17

For a not small amount, Ahmed, who was later revealed as the Electrolux schmuck and father to Po, paid Barry to marry her. What Ahmed didn’t count on was Barry expecting a regular payroll check for his efforts. In Barry’s favor, he was kind to Po, but not particularly loving or faithful, but then neither was Po to him. Ah, love, right? Barry’s latest visit was due to Ahmed being more than a little late in his continuous dowry. Who knows how long Barry’s kindness would last without his stipend? This had to end now or sooner. If Barry “took care” of Ahmed, I’d never have a falafel again. I had to get involved.

Previously on The Bruce: But, still I now had protesters to deal with along with the ominous thick envelope on my dashboard.

And now:

Leave it to some oozing, warm-blooded, do-good organization to screw things up royally. Pops had been making his buffalo mozzarella pizza for years without a hitch and along comes some hairy-armpitted, unkempt group hell-bent on exacting their pound of flesh or in this case, cheese, from this poor working stiff. Polly was besides herself, which isn’t unusual since she often battles with one if not several of the personalities that dwell with her cranial cavity. Talk about your extended family. Distended would be more like it.

340512743_508b5f403b Part of the extended Calamari family.

Fortunately the protest was peaceful if not somewhat malodorous as most of the protestors hadn’t had intimate relations with a bar of Zest for some time. But then again, Pops pretty much smells the same way all the time, shower or not. But he was getting the kind of gleeful press one reserves for Sarah Palin. The press smelling blood, which again in this case was NOT the case, was going for it all and at the center of it was Pops and by extension Polly and me. And Ahmad wasn’t too happy either. And there was that envelope too.

We called a few of our friends, lapsed Guardian Angels, to help us quell the crowd. The appearance of them in their worn but still proudly worn red berets was enough to instill just the amount of fear into the cheese-huggers. No doubt the large clubs they were carrying also had some effect on them and they left none too quickly. Polly returned to  huffing her almost depleted Sterno can, Ahmad said a prayer with his beads, and Pops offered free pizza to all who helped out. Me, I was just pissed.

The nearest we can figure is that this was a poor version of a flash-mob with nothing better to do, but isn’t that what all of them are about anyway? There didn’t appear to be any real organizing group behind it and we put it behind us. But, now I had to open that envelope.

There was a return address on it, but not one I could identify with anything specific. It was heavy, pretty thick, actually. I opened it with no small amount of trepidation fearing it might contain some biological equivalent to Polly’s cooking, known to render all who partook immobile almost immediately. It’s why Pops did all the cooking. It was Pops manuscript. He had an idea for a book and had sent it out to who knows how many publishers. He thought the world would beat a path to his door with his vegetarian pizza recipes. Pops was nothing if not ever-hopeful.

Well, it was no surprise. The publisher hated it. They thought a cookbook with the questionable title: Roadkill for Vegetarians might turn some people off. Hell, it might even offend them. Pops was crushed. But since he was of good peasant stock, he thought, he believed, another publisher would find the intrinsic merit of this gustatotrial tome, that it would only be a matter of days before it hit the New York Times best seller list. Hey, stranger things have happened in the Calamari family.

DSC_0374 Cover art for Roadkill for Vegetarians cookbook.

So the mystery of the envelope was solved; the mob was dispersed; Ahmed was back to polishing the same frigging glass; in short all was as it should be. But not for long. Barry came in looking for his weekly order of baksheesh.

PETA, pizza, Polly, and me.

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Food, People
Tags: ,

From the previous post:

In the meantime, her absence was all too short as she staggered back into O’Shea’s. “We need to talk, Foggy.” I hated that nickname more than my regular name. What the hell now?

And now:

Yeah… what the hell now did Polly want? Money probably. That was a given. Always looking for a handout – whether it had money in it or offering her a dance. Yeah, that was Polly alright.

“OK, Mom, what it is this time? How much? Have you called the personal injury lawyers again?”

Mom/Polly looked stricken by my tone. Well, that’s not exactly fair. She always looked like that. It was most likely due to the amount of roasted kale chased down by a bottle or two of Nyquil. “No, Foggy,” she slurred. Nyquil will do that to you. “It’s your father and the pizzeria.” Jeez.

6216242858_a30c3fb0d9 Goes really well with roasted kale, or so says Polly.

Before I go any further with this, let me tell you something about my father. We called him Pops. Everyone called him Pops, even when he was a kid. Don’t ask why, I don’t know. No one does. No one even remembers what his real name is. Pops was first generation this country. He was still in the womb when Grandpops and Stooky (his mom) came over from the old country. Grandpops pretty much lived the immigrants dream upon to coming to America. Got a job in a grocery store, made deliveries, swept the floors, ran numbers, and eventually bought the store shortly before buying the farm. Stooky kept churning out little Calamari’s until they ran out of places to put them all. Pops was the first born and the one with the most drive. He shared Grandpops work ethic if not his ethics. But all of the charges were eventually dropped.

So anyway, Pops opened the first ever vegetarian pizzeria. A real man ahead of his times. Naturally business was a little on the slow side as he had none of the traditional meat toppings. Pops did march to his own drummer. No else however could hear that peculiar beat though. So what could be the problem?

“Pops and the pizzeria?” I cleverly repeated. “What?”

“The pizzeria is being picketed by protesters! It’s a mob scene.”

Once again I engaged in clever repartee, “What?”

“It’s some group called Peter or Petra or something like. They really like animals and really hate Pops.”

Now we all know that Mom/Polly is prone to slight exaggerations. Well, gross exaggerations. Tell her something is ten feet tall and upon retelling, she’s made it twenty feet tall. It could be the Nyquil, we’re not sure. “Polly, that sounds like a group called PETA. They’re an animal rights group. What problem would they have with a vegetarian pizzeria? Especially Pops’?”

387142237_b0b49d357c Now why would anyone want to protest this? Jeez!

Pops’ pizza wasn’t very good but I would never tell him that. Thankfully, only once a year did I have to eat it as part of our traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But being boycotted by PETA? That didn’t make any sense at all. However, as a member of the Calamari family, one got used to such stuff.

“Foggy,” she cried. I did tell you I hate that nickname, right? “Foggy, it’s the cheese! They’re protesting his cheese!” I rolled my eyes as I thought of a number of less than civil comments I might have made about her last remark. His cheese? Aww, c’mon, that’s just too easy.

“OK, Polly. I give up. What’s the matter with his cheese?” I regretted saying that the moment I did. I hope no one else heard me say that.

“Foggy, you don’t understand. It’s buffalo mozzarella! They’re protesting the inhumane treatment of buffaloes during the making of the mozzarella and threatening to shut Pops down. ”

Oh no, please don’t tell me that’s what she said! This was more than just her normal kale and Nyquil delusion. She’d really gotten into the Sterno now. But, still I now had protesters to deal with along with the ominous thick envelope on my dashboard.

Fog Calamari.

Posted: January 28, 2013 in Animals, Food
Tags: , , , ,

From the previous post:                                                                                                         “Ahmed.” No need for words between us. Hell, he doesn’t know much more English than that anyway. He nods to a booth on the far wall. I look over. Damn, if it isn’t…

And now…

Yeah, the last thing I needed was to see that beast again. I thought when I dropped her off at The Pound, a bar for real dogs if you catch my drift, they would put her down once and for all. The only putting-down though that night were the rude but accurate comments on her clothing that she really didn’t deserve. After all, her clothes were fashionable – once, a long time ago, maybe two or three owners before. But, she survived and always landed on her feet. They say a cat has nine lives…who the hell loaned her another one?

3120368915_82a1127005 The girls from the Pound.

Since she saw me seeing her, I had to go over, and short of putting her in her place, the basement usually, and politely ask her to get the hell out of O’Shea’s. Nothing will ruin a good falafel more than an angry, poorly dressed, terminated house-keeper looking for a handout. But did she have to bring her bucket of cleaning crap with her? Really? To O’Shea’s? I glanced back at Ahmed and he quickly wiped that smirk off his face. Not that it was easy as the scars from a Tupperware party gone wild left it pretty much permanently in place. He knew the effect she would have on me. Look, it ain’t easy firing your mother. And that too is a story for another time.

“OK, Polly…what’s up? What dragged you away from your Ricki Lake show this time?”

She looked at me, snorted in her inimitable and loving motherly fashion, threw a smelly, wet sponge at me and walked out. Again. It’s always sponges. I’ve accumulated quite a collection over the years waiting for that one perfect moment in which I can bury her with them. At least they don’t hurt.

The last time I saw her was at the all-you-can-eat Hawaiian buffet at the bocce court. She would keep score for the old guys who made sure she always had an ample supply of poi. Finger food was all she was allowed as her dentist and the court had decided she was not permitted to be in possession of any sharp objects. That edict was handed down shortly after she was found while opening beer bottles with her teeth at the local PathMark prying off the lids of containers of Breakstone’s sour cream and sampling each one with a pocket knife, then slicing summer sausage and handing them out as samples. In her own screwed up way, she could be generous. And now she was back in my life. Why? Hell, if I know. But I did know she would show up again in the next day or so and all would be revealed, not that I really wanted to know. How she found me was easy. I need to find a different bar and falafel joint to hang out at. Maybe I’ll look next week.

In the meantime, her absence was all too short as she staggered back into O’Shea’s. “We need to talk, Foggy.” I hated that nickname more than my regular name. What the hell now?

TBC.

Introducing…

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Food, Life
Tags: ,

It was a miserable night. It was rainy, damp, cold – a real skank of an evening. In short, a typical Keansburg, NJ kind of night. I loved it.

2250173012_8c968d7918 Keansburg. Yeah.

I was sitting in my car, watching the wipers describe lazy arcs across the windshield, waiting for my brother to finish whatever he started in that ramshackle, sorry little excuse for a house. Drugs? Women? Who knows? He’s that kind of guy and I’m waiting for him. Guess that makes me another kind of guy. Right?

If you don’t know me, let me introduce myself. I’m Fog Calamari. Yeah, yeah, make your jokes now. I’ve heard them all. Thanks to the illustriously hard-working people at the INS, my name was butchered into what it is today. Not that the original was any better, but at least it wasn’t so accurately descriptive.

The hack at the immigration office couldn’t get over our real family name of Occtavia, so he wanted to list it as Octopus. Grandpops wasn’t having any of that, thank god. But his language skills weren’t that good and he thought he had to at least follow the direction those jamokes set out upon. So, translating octopus became Calamari. Go figure.

Fog – well that’s another story. Being a redhead as is most of my family, it was originally Fuego for fire. But being blessed as much of my family is with another affliction, flatulence, it became appropriately but not happily, Fog. Thanks a lot Mom and Dad, love you too. Yeah, I got issues. Who doesn’t?

Anyway and eventually, my do-not-much-of-anything brother comes out of the mystery house and decides he’ll probably show up for work at the dollar store. You got to understand this is a step up for him, a promotion. Previously, he worked at the 69 cents store. What’s that line about a rising tide raising all boats? Here it is in real life. I drop him off and decide to stop in at my favorite falafel bar, O’Shea’s. It takes a little longer than usual to get there because the old Yugo, painted in Slovakian Racing Beige, only wanted to make left turns today. Somedays it’s left, other days only right. And that’s when by the grace of some dark-humored deity it starts.

After a Magellan-like plan to get there, I arrive. Ahmed O’Shea has the best falafel in town, Let me correct that – he has the only falafel in town unless you count the combination gas station/sushi/ falafel/ and dry cleaning establishment down on Central. How he came to open this dubious venture is best left to another time, but it did involve bearer bonds, zoo animals, and grey market Gummi (Trademark!) Bears. You figure it out. I’m not saying anything else on this subject.

Walking into O’Shea’s is like entering some New Age candle shop. Besides the Yin and Yang decor, the beaded curtains covering only electrical outlets, it’s the over-powering scent of cilantro that grabs your attention. That and the mangy Labradoodle attack dog by the front door. Say what you will, the joint has ambiance. And cheap beer. Oh, and did I mention the falafel?

Ahmed is behind the bar polishing, I swear, the same damn glass he’s been doing for years. It must have been very dirty. He looks up, well, raises his eyebrows at me and acknowledges my presence, “Fog.”

“Ahmed.” No need for words between us. Hell, he doesn’t know much more English than that anyway. He nods to a booth on the far wall. I look over. Damn, if it isn’t…

TBC.

Even though Bruce and I are both four-star B.F. Goodrich chefs, we do like to dine out and often. Sometimes it seems as if we’re only doing it to make ourselves feel better about our own superior culinary skills. Really, if you are going to lay down some serious currency in search of an exemplary dining experience, cost, while not the perfect barometer of quality, should be a guide at the very least. But alas, it isn’t. We’ve both have some stunningly good meals at small holes-in-the wall that one usually walks past on a daily basis. Correspondingly, we’ve also barely avoided ptomaine poisoning at some very toney, posh restaurants favored by another tire manufacturer’s stars. Go know.

A favorite hole-in-the-wall place.

However, over the years, we’ve come across a nearly fool-proof method for determining, in advance, as to whether or not a restaurant will make the grade. It’s rather simple, but then again the most elegant solutions are.

Here’s one way of knowing: if a restaurant has to promote its’ cuisine by decor, (excessive, gaudy, minimalist, thematically driven), be wary. Be very wary. We are going to share some additional examples with you. Yet, with all of this said, it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. We’ve had some wonderfully bad Chinese food from take-out kiosks at gas stations. Go know once again. What it does imply is that the food will be: over-priced; undercooked; bad; just alright; maybe even cheap; or just plain terrible. But not excellent. Never. Ever. Again, be very wary.

So, without further ado or prejudice (we love everyone!), here are the critical warning signs for restaurants by type and in no particular order or preference.

Chinese: excessive red paint, lots of faux Chinese art, Chinese lanterns everywhere, and a menu with “Specialties of the House” (that just means it’s been in a pot all day long waiting for you!) And anything named after a David Carradine movie or TV show is a dead giveaway. Run!

See?

Steak: This one can be misleading as there are so many permutations: Western decor, private men’s club, and anything with what is called a “petite filet” on the menu; it’s a steakhouse, damn it, not an Ethan Allen furniture store! Ketchup should not be available, even if the bottle is in a plain, brown, paper bag.

Italian: opera music in background, Chianti bottles with candles in them, red and white checked tablecloths, drapes on the walls intimating secret rooms, trompe l’oueils as decor, and meatball grinders on the menu.

Spanish: Avoid at all costs if there are pictures of bull fighters (and bull fighting posters) and Flamenco dancers on the wall. That just looks like Hobby Lobby and you wouldn’t eat there, would you?!

Japanese: fish tanks in lobby, Sumo wrestling on the TV above the bar. Wine – only Sake. Beer’s OK.

Seafood: Lobster tanks with your dinner waiting for its impending death, nautical decor, dead preserved fish on the walls, bibs, and anything printed with a lobster motif on it.

Bagels: Decor matters less than menu here. This is a big one as the princely bagel has been bastardized by the Anglo-Saxon culture – no bagels allowed with blueberries, cherries, chocolate, asiago cheese, cheddar cheese, ham, cinnamon, sushi, jalapeno, etc. If any of these exist, run away. And certainly, a bagel should not be the size of a temporary spare tire.

A proper “Everything” bagel.

BBQ: Do you really believe that your favorite BBQ place is NOT owned by a corporation? Why does all the decor, everywhere, look like it was purchased at a Pier 1 sale? Anyway, spaghetti is never to be BBQ’d; nor is there any reason for a BBQ Pizza. Never!

Pizza: Checked table clothes (again!), Italian flag motifs, any corporately designed, new “Italian” dish such as the “Guisepizza”, WTF is that?

Diner: This is more of a what’s missing means stay away. Here more is more and that’s the way it should be. If there is no cake and pie carousel or case at the front counter, get out fast. If the menu is not at least 16 pages long with everything being a specialty of the house (and they are), you’re in the wrong place. If there are a lot of smoked glass mirrors and brushed aluminum, that is a plus. Bonus tip: if the waitresses are not chewing gum or smell like an ashtray, it ain’t a real diner.

Poifect (in a Joisey accent). (Bruce insisted we stoop to such low humor on this one.)

Gastropub: Really? Get out. This is a medical procedure waiting to happen – to you!

Mediterranean: Carved (really mass-produced stamped) wood chairs and tables (most likely made in China), grape leaves in every dish and painted on the walls, and bouzouki music in background. Zorba does not live here anymore!

Vegetarian: This surprised us the most. We thought they just went to the produce counter and chowed down right there. Key give-away – hemp wall hangings, table clothes, tofu-inspired art, and rough fabric napkins (they’re good for Mother Earth!). Soulful guitar players are an enormous warning to stay away at all costs.

There are of course more examples, but we didn’t want to belabor the point. Dining out can be a wonderful experience, made more so now that you are properly prepared and know that for which to avoid. Otherwise, you’re on your own. Be wary, be very wary. And don’t forget the Zantac.

Bruce and I were having one of our late-night-up-until-the-early-hours philosophical/theological discussion. He’d just seen an episode of Whale Wars and was bemoaning the fact that there were fewer and fewer whales in the world. I misunderstood him and thought he meant that with all the whales gone there’d be no more episodes of Whale Wars. Boy, was I ever wrong! He was really worried about the fate of the world, the way we take things for granted, our criminally poor stewardship of dear old Mother Earth (his words, I swear!), and the amount of waste in our lives. Taken in the context of his life of wretched excess and gas-guzzling cars (the Pignasaurus not withstanding), this was an amazing about-face for him.

It just made him weep.

I looked up and he was crying! “What is going to happen to all those poor, dead whales just floating around in the sea?” I opined that they could be harvested for ambergris, a key ingredient in his favorite cologne, but he found no comfort there. And it went downhill from there.

He calmed down enough for us to go out for dinner as our dear Mrs. Crosby had the night off again. (Aside – does she ever work? I’ll have to ask Bruce when he’s in a better mood.) So on our way to Casa del Pies for a favorite dish of ours – the pigs feet in rose wine and guacamole, Bruce saw a dead raccoon in the road. This set him off once again. First the whales, now the raccoons. (Please lord, give me strength!) But this gave me a brilliant idea.

Since Bruce was now exhibiting a concern for the world around him, this was going to be a winner. If you are like us, and we assume you are for you are reading this blog, then you are probably hyper-aware of the increasingly large amount of road kill these days. Ignoring them and leaving them on the road is poor stewardship. As our primary premise, we will be publishing the first ever gourmet road kill cookbook. Think about it: no more unsightly animal carcasses befouling our thoroughfares; we will now use all that is provided to us by a higher power, if you believe in such things; and finally, nutritious meals that can be had by all. We are going to provide a few of the recipes now slated for inclusion in our new French-inspired, but globally-adaptable cookbook, Rue de la Morte. What you will undoubtedly notice is that all palates can be entertained by these and all road kill can be adapted to multiple cuisines.

We wanted to make sure no children were traumatized by this post.

Tex-Mex Armadillo stew: 1 armadillo; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

New England whale chowder: 1 whale; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

New Jersey squirrel pate: 1 squirrel; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in blender.

Montana Bambi stew: 1 deer; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

Brazilian dolphin ragout: 1 dolphin; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours.

Pepe Le Pew Jambalaya: 1 skunk; 4 tomatoes; 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 2 slices American cheese; two large Idaho potatoes; 4 cups of chicken broth; 6 tablespoons sugar; 1 bay leaf. Toss in stock pot for 6 hours. Add ketchup to kill smell.

Jambalaya – it’s all good.

I think you get the idea. Anything with this universally helpful recipe can turn the most disgusting road kill into a gourmet’s delight. And keep in mind, if it’s been on the road for a day or two, even better. It’s just like aged beef. So, take a chance. What have you got to lose?