Tag Archives: NY Mets

Diamonds are not forever

24 Mar
I’m starting a new diet next week. I don’t recommend it. It will begin on Friday, April 1, and end on Wednesday, September 28. This roughly coincides with the regular 2011 Major League Baseball season, and so weather may alter the dates somewhat.
If I lose weight that will be fine, but it is not my intention. This isn’t about shedding pounds, it’s about taking a stand.
I’m a Mets fan, you see.
If you hadn’t heard, our team is a national disgrace. It is run by a hapless family named Wilpon, a family that has no business owning a team that is supported by honest working people and their wages. The Wilpons have been horrific stewards of the franchise, particularly of late. You have heard of Bernie Madoff, yes? They’re in deep with that guy. The family is now known, in some circles at least, as “The Wilponzis.”
Well, I’m finally fed up with the incompetence and the lies. I won’t go to a single event at Citi Field this season, and I won’t subscribe to the $200-a-season cable TV package that broadcasts the team’s games either. I’m done with these clowns.
Unfortunately, my decision to boycott the Wilpons economically will impact upon the innocent as well. Most crucially the foodservice business, which will lose a mighty sum of baseball-related scratch due to my self-imposed seasonal blackout.
This is a most uneasy moment. I have history with this team, the roots of which are planted deep inside the picture that’s above. On the right is one George Thomas (Tom “The Franchise”) Seaver, the greatest pitcher ever to put on a New York Metropolitans uniform. With him is teammate Jerry Koosman, who is best remembered for pitching, moments before this frame was captured on film, the complete game victory that won the “Miracle Mets” the 1969 World Series title against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.
If you lived in New York at the time, as I did, you know what these two young men, and their teammates, meant to a city that seemed in crisis on all fronts but for that diamond-shaped turf out in Queens. They certainly meant a great deal to my father, a Mets fan of extraordinary fidelity, if not longevity. It was the last World Series he would see.
And so next Friday night, when the team’s 2011 season officially begins, I will likely feel a bit hollow of stomach. I tend to share these six-month-long affairs with my brother Joe, whose home turf just happens to be the same as the team’s. I will drive down and spend a few days here and there, and if we do not go to a game we will at least catch two or three of them on TV. Together.
It’s what brothers who had fathers who were Mets fans at an important age do.
Just not this year.
I’m not kidding about the possibility of weight loss. For starters, I will be eating far fewer hot dogs and drinking much less beer between now and the end of September. This drop in consumption will prove dramatic, and will affect operations at the ballpark, at Joe’s place and elsewhere. I can feel the pounds melting off of me already.
Danny Meyer won’t be selling my brother and me any hamburgers at the Shake Shack he opened at Citi Field. I like Meyer. He’s one of the best restaurateurs in the business. But my mind is made up.
This one hurts more than the burger. Leo’s Latticini/Mama’s of Corona, a family-run outfit which also has a place in the ballpark, makes a monster of a very tasty Italian sandwich. But look at that thing, would you, and tell me it is not a thousand calories at least!
The sausage and pepper stands at the park? Not gonna happen.
Aqueduct Racetrack will not be seeing much of my money either, for fewer trips down to see a game means fewer opportunities to bet badly on the ponies alongside my brother and our uncle Dominic. That means I won’t have to wolf down many of the turkey breast sandwiches we usually order when at the track, which is a good thing because the food at Aqueduct pretty much sucks. (Why else would we be ordering turkey breast sandwiches?)
Local businesses in and around my brother’s apartment will also feel an impact. For example, Vincent’s Clam Bar will need to find some other post-game sucker to straddle a barstool and slurp down a couple dozen cherrystones.
La Villa will have to make due with a few less pies coming out of its wood-burning oven.
And Pastosa’s excellent cheese arancini (rice balls) will need to find another adoring fan.
The sushi joint that my brother likes getting takeout from, for watching night games on the 47-inch Sharp, won’t be seeing us as much as usual.
Joe’s Shanghai’s pork soup dumplings will be missed very, very, very much.
And the two White Castles within sniffing distance of Joe’s apartment? No can do.
It’s what I crave, all right. But I’m just not gonna be in the nabe.

Don Peppe, King of Queens

17 Aug

Not long ago, while watching my motley Mets get massacred by the Giants on a particularly heinous road trip, I got a frantic call from my friend Jordie, who lives in (of all places) San Francisco. She and her partner Julie were stranded at JFK in New York and were looking at another six hours before the next flight out. She was calling me in Maine to get a restaurant recommendation in Manhattan, rightly calculating that six hours was ample time for a trip into the city and back.
Considering how her Giants were eviscerating my Metropolitans on the field, I briefly considered sending her to the rattiest of rat traps as payback. Instead I opted to act the gentleman I was raised to be and counsel the woman properly.
“Forget Manhattan,” I said, emboldened by an Angel Pagan double to right. “How’s a five-minute cab ride sound?”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” Jordie barked into her new iPhone. “We’ve got six hours to kill, Meatball. Getting to the city’s not a problem. What about that place you liked so much at De Niro’s hotel; you know the one I mean?”
“Locanda Verde. At the Greenwich, in Tribeca. Carmellini’s the chef. Yeah, it’s real good.”
“Right, how about that one?”
“Suit yourself. It’s just that if I were in your spot there’s only one place I’d even think about going, and it’s right outside the JFK fence, in Ozone Park. You could walk it even.”
“Ozone What?”
“Park. It’s in Queens, Jordie. Just like you are right now, in case you don’t know.”
Silence greeted me as the top of the inning ended, the Mutts again failing to score. Then, after about a minute, came the soothing sound of an attentive friend who had embraced the notion that I would never lead her astray.
“Okay, Ozone Park it is. Where are we going?”
“Don Peppe,” I belted out loudly. “It’s on Lefferts Boulevard, literally across the road from the airport. The cabby’ll be pissed off because of the crappy low fare, so give him a good tip. And when you get there call me, I’ll tell you what to order.
“Oh, and wait, stop at the ATM first. It’s cash only. And if you’re looking for some company, here’s my uncle Dom’s number. It’s his favorite restaurant. Maybe he’ll even take you to the track, Aqueduct’s practically next door — and he wins.”
Long story short, the ladies did not call Dominic (their loss; he’s the best). But they did follow my precise instructions on what to order. The two of them sat in Don Peppe the entire afternoon, they tell me, ate well and in abundance. And they have never once doubted my chow-picking prowess since.
Now it’s your turn. I can’t give you my uncle’s number (Aunt Laura’d kill me) but I can clue you in on the dishes that will never — not once, never, nope, no way, no how, not gonna happen — disappoint. At my all-time-favorite old-school Italian, in Queens.
A couple things up front. Besides being cash only, they don’t take reservations at Don Peppe, and there’s no bar to sit at should you have to wait for a table, just a glass-enclosed and not terribly inviting vestibule. The dishes here are family style and must be chosen off the large blackboard on the wall, not a printed menu. The guys at the door who greet you can appear intimidating to certain, shall we say, delicate types, but they’re okay and so be friendly to them. And the waiters, hardworking men who wear white shirts with neckties and black pants, are old school and helpful. (One of them, Marco, will sing for your table if asked; he once told my brother Joe, who’d expressed concern over his beet-red face and neck following an extended High C, that he has studied singing for years. A proud man, he.)
Oh, and forget about a wine list. Just order the house red or white. They’re perfectly serviceable, come in unmarked bottles, and are served at the same temperature — cold.
These are the best baked clams I have ever eaten — small, sweet and very fresh, topped with just the right amount of breadcrumbs, by which I mean not very much at all. They’re my favorite way to start a meal at Don Peppe (though my frequent dining companions often insist on the Don Peppe Salad to start and then the clams). Whadda I care, you want the salad, order the salad. It’s good, I just prefer getting to the clams first is all.
I know what you’re thinking: Clams? Again? All I can say is this: Yes. Clams. Again. In fact, if you order only one thing at Don Peppe, the linguine with white clam sauce is it.
You like garlic, yes? Good. There’s a couple heads’ worth of beautifully roasted whole cloves on every plate of linguine that comes out of the kitchen. And the pasta is always cooked perfectly al dente. The sauce is generously apportioned and so you’ll likely be sopping up whatever is left with bread, which has lately been much better than the bread they used to serve.
I take it you like veal. Of course you do. So get yourself a plate of the Veal Don Peppe and prepare to send me a very lovely thank you note (my email address is mistermeatballblog@gmail.com).
This is a Milanese-style veal dish, made with tender cutlets (waiters cut them with a spoon) that are coated in breadcrumbs and then fried. Piled atop the cutlets is a mixture of diced tomatoes and raw red onions in oil and vinegar. The vinegar and onions aren’t at all subtle but they counteract the richness of the veal, which somehow manages to stay crisp until the very end.
Along with the white clam sauce, this is a must-have dish for me. It just doesn’t get better.
There’s always somebody in the group (nobody I know, but still… ) who insists on eating chicken wherever they go, and here at Don Peppe there’s actually a dish that even I crave: the Chicken Scarpariello. It’s a whole bunch of chicken pieces, cut up small, simply seasoned the traditional way and baked at high temperature until crispy. But take my advice and order itwith sausage and peppers. It’s not on the menu board but, believe me, your waiter won’t skip a beat; that’s how a lot of regulars order their “chicken scarp.” It’s the only way I order it.
Oh, and you must get a side of escarole. Yes, you must.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lot of food. So what, you’ve got friends, don’t you? Round them up, it’s probably been too long since you all went out for a good meal together anyway.
And if you’re stranded at JFK and have to kill a couple hours, odds are you’re not the only one, so try reaching out to a like-minded traveler. Many a fine friendship has blossomed over a good meal and a bottle of wine, no?
Here’s a listing for Don Peppe. They’re open every day but Monday, for lunch right through dinner.
Whenever you go there’s a real good chance one of my gang will be sitting close by.
And they’ll be eating the same dishes you are.