Tag Archives: food

Beef grease begrimed

but content, with bulging bellies, we pull away from Mr. Beef in Chicago and back on to the highway.

If you’ve watched The Bear, streaming on Hulu, you know something about Mr. Beef.

It’s the premier Chicago joint to get an Italian beef sandwich, with great actors – including debatable hunk Jeremy Allen White – telling the story of a guy that inherits his deceased brother’s counter restaurant, the Original Beef of Chicagoland, modeled closely on Mr. Beef. It was even shot on site as well as a sound stage. Also Ayo Edebiri, a fast-rising newcomer who co-stars as his culinary sidekick.

Not debatable, the scrumptiousness of the sandwich sold there,”hand-carved” thin-shaved beef with what is called giardeneria, sautéed vegetables, and then the whole thing dipped in jus.

Okay to eat in the car, especially if you have dogs in the back seat and don’t want to risk broiling them by leaving them there.

Otherwise the counter by the window is the thing.

When I say dipped, I mean bun and all.

Twice-fried french fries also the best, the kind that have you licking salt off your fingers before you surrender to the necessity of wipes.

The highway spools out ahead, the trip post-Mr. Beef energized by Steve Earle’s I Feel Alright, though made somewhat tawdry by Maud’s addiction to true-crime podcasts. Also, Parliament Funkadelic, Flashlight, utilized to good effect at the beginning of the 1990 thriller Misery. James Caan speeds down a mountain road blasting Flashlight on his way to mail the manuscript for a novel he has just finished. Probably the best portrayal of writerly triumph and self-satisfaction in Hollywood history. That is, before meany Kathy Bates gets ahold of him.

Mr. Beef has many fans willing to wait on long lines.

Stars of screen and tube drop in regularly, and autographed head shots adorn the walls. The person at the counter said that Jeremy had come by several weeks ago, stimulating a bout of fan-girling.

There is a back room, but I’ve rarely seen anyone go in there. Well, we have. We’ve been to Mr. Beef many times before, having chanced on it serendipitously when taking a random exit off the road at meal-time.

Alright then, says Maud. Nuff said. That’s just about all you can say with jus dripping down your chin, onto your chest and everywhere else. Alright.

Taking a bite sets off fireworks in your mouth.

The largest (they say) fireworks warehouse on Route 80 welcomed our business, the quiet time between Fourth of July and Labor day.

Hard to know what to get in this multiple-football-field-sized store, between the ones that shoot balls, the boppers, or the ones that simply explode. Even the sparklers look somewhat iffy, though the young lady that checked us out assured us that it would all would be fine for a backyard display.

She also told us that Sturgeon Bay, our ultimate destination in Door County, has a terrific place to go if you want pancakes and also goats on the roof. We looked it up. Yes. It also has Swedish meatballs. Okay, but I believe that pancakes and goats are inherently a better combination.

Perhaps an improvement on Mr. Beef? Goats? Actually, there could be no improvement on Mr. Beef.

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The scents of the Grand Concourse,

both pleasant and foul, follow me as I walk the avenue inspecting trees to make sure they’re not injured by the major construction project underway, alerting the contractor to tree pits that have had stuff dumped in them.

First is citrus heaven, as I go past the many small produce stands where the proprietor peels oranges on a spit, afterwards bagging them for the clientele. The aroma wafts out to the sidewalk, freshening the morning.

One not so lovely, the smell of the pet store. Canine poop and pee rise like a cloud in front of the shop.

Puppy mill puppies include that little Golden in the window,  and can cost 2,800 dollars in the case of this English bulldog.

Which I would love to bring home, but can’t afford. Plus I prefer pit bulls.

Speaking of pets, the bodega I patronize just acquired a kitten named Winston, who is kept in the bathroom but has perfumed the whole store already.

Hard hats do not usually patronize shops here, but I go in if I’m interested.

I enter a nail salon to use the facilities – they really seem like every other store in the Bronx, alternating with hair braiding places – and I’m hit with dense, choking smoke from the acrylic shaping that goes on here. The bathroom is sparkling clean, as is the case in every establishment run by women here.

A relief to pass by the other big presence, the laundromat, with its sudsy air emanating from the open doors. 

The trees themselves offer a green breeze, especially if you harvest a few to determine the species – some sort of elm, as yet to be determined, with a problem as evidenced by the pin pricks.

And at the fish store, where the fish seem to have just swam in from the sea, the tangy salt breeze begs me to take home a salmon, bluefish, anything but the shark, a species which is now being overfished. In the morning they take them out of boxes of ice and line them up in an orderly fashion for choosy shoppers.

Or you can go to the cuchifritos restaurant, a hole in the wall that doesn’t even have a name in the window. The smell of the best fried pork in the neighborhood draws long lines, and when I wait I have the most delicious pina colada I’ve ever drunk.

It’s the only eatery I’ve ever patronized with a Lotto booth. Well used, too.

And finally, the garlic that hits my nose when I rip open the tostones package, its contents rich with grease and salt. Every day I promise myself I won’t indulge, a promise inevitably broken.

It’s an aromatic distinction of the Grand Concourse, one of so many. I’m going to get a bag of Tostones right now.

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Dollar coffee

is a bodega staple I’ve always thought is among the best things in the Bronx. Hot, strong, milky and cheap. It’s universal in the borough, along with the chopped cheese sandwich (also known as a chop cheese), a mess of ground beef, melted cheese, tomato, lettuce, a mystery sauce and some other things on a Kaiser roll, guaranteed to drip down your chin.

Within this little microburst of a neighborhood, just a few blocks of the Grand Concourse, I’m beginning to scratch the surface of its foodways.

There is the grocery I park my car next to–onions out front– which features floors cleaner than mine at home, a full butcher counter, a sandwich maker, iced coffee, a spic and span bathroom (with toilet paper!) and a tiny litter box, presumably for a tiny cat. And at the cash register the loveliest woman, whose brother owns the place.

Searching in another greengrocer for a bathroom (It’s in the basement! Headshaking no) I’m in a quandary. This place has a dozen varieties of tuber but no public bathroom.

An elderly gentleman wearing a kerchief directs me to Lulo, a restaurant across the street.

It is the official house of goats. A guy on the sidewalk yesterday told me I look like a horse. Could have been worse. Anyway, I don’t eat horses, and I don’t eat goats, I like their Satanic eyes too much. Lulo is also immaculate, all of its furniture covered with slick, easy to wipe down plastic.

Home to the dollar coffee, the Grand Concourse is also home to The Real Coffee Man.

And, shock, the dollar slice.

I thought that was obsolete. And I’ll give it a try one of these days, coffee on the side.

There is such careful attention given to selecting among the fruits and vegetables on the little produce stands on nearly every corner. The proprietess tenderly chooses the perfect tomatoes for a man on a bike.

Kennedy Chicken, Popeye’s and Dunkin may have a foothold here on the GC, but as long as chop cheese reigns, they will never push off the mom and pops.

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Burrata or blossoms

Usually you could have both, because the mozzarella store, Joe’s, in Arthur Avenue, is in so close proximity to the New York Botanical Garden, where the cherry trees are currently in bloom. The Sakura festival is upon us.

However, it’s 2:00, and “we sell out of the burrata early” says the counter man, not surprising when you consider how creamy, gooey, mild  and scrumptious is burrata. Joe’s has a wall of imported tomatoes.

Hoary cheeses hang above.

A picnic sandwich will have to suffice, al fresco.

It’s a good place to take pictures of people taking pictures. Everyone is doing it.

To hide behind the mysterious Prunus pendula.

We see a man juggling oranges as he walks along. And a mother with feet all dressed up for spring.

An artist named Yayoi Kusama had polka dotted the grounds. “Forget yourself and become one with nature!” says this mad person. “Obliterate yourself with polka dots!” Fabric stretches around the soaring red oaks. Patrons buy polka dot ponchos in the gift shop.

A funny combination. Blossoms.

And dots.

“Do these polka dots make my trunk look fat?” said the tree, smirking.

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