Monthly Archives: April 2012
It’s not good to begin writing a restaurant review when your pissed at the place your reviewing. I’ve been eating at both Pickles Plus locations – now one – for many years. I was there today and when paying my bill, I was informed they were out of chopped liver. This has never happened to me. Pickles Plus chopped liver is one of the truly amazing joys of existing on this planet. I prefer it in the morning with my hazelnut coffee on an “Everything” bagel toasted. The fact that they had none left is bound to just screw up the rest of my week. If I wasn’t going out of the country for a week on assignment, I would be back there tomorrow asking when a new batch will be ready for “me”. Until then I will be cursing Joe Benedettini, the owner, and I’ll have to wait to return for my world to be right.
So, Pickles is a kind of an under the radar screen “NY-style” deli – you either know about or you don’t. It’s located at the Northwood Plaza strip mall at 2530 McMullen Booth Rd. in Clearwater. You can spot the Boar’s Head black and red umbrellas outside. Inside, I’m not crazy about the plastic tables and chairs, the old green carpeting or the leaky ceiling that, I see, has finally been repaired. I tend to eat outside more, until the Florida heat and humidity becomes so oppressive that it drives customers inside for cool air. There are couple of “sports-bar-ish” flat screens inside on either side, which nobody except the servers pay attention to. The deli was established back in 1989 by folks that merged their talents from New Jersey and Michigan.
There used to be a downtown Clearwater location, but since the various commissions and politicians destroyed the business section and the beach front of the place I so loved when I first moved down here – certainly nothing to do with Pickles, there is just the Northwood Plaza location. Personally, I never liked that downtown location. I felt the service was slow and wait staff poorly trained. My “regular” waitress, she always wore a Freeport Islands hat or something, doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Our waiter this afternoon, my wife was with me tonight, was a nice young eager man, but kept saying awesome or fantabulous or something like that either every time we made a request. I appreciate his, what shall I call it, passion and positivity, but a simple “your welcome” would suffice.
Strange night for me. I had a 7pm tattoo appointment with Angelika at Foolish Pride on Central Ave. Next week, I’m headed out of the country for a few days. There is sun, salt water and a pool or two involved. Angelika had just come from ballet class, ready to work, but when she heard about my plans, she, wisely, said to put off the appointment for two weeks. It was to be my first “tat” and I was extremely disappointment, but then she is a real pro at what she does and I deferred to her expertise. I left her my design and walked outside stunned. I have waited years to do this and now it’s on hold albeit temporarily. My wife was with me and we decided to just cruise up Central.
Across the street was a gallery opening. The last one we attended, was, well, never. We don’t do gallery openings. It’s not how we roll. This was slightly interesting, but other than one painting that stood out to us, everything else was obvious art. Chicken wire painted black over a Nazi symbol with oppressed people in the background in front of a stone fence. Is it really necessary? The Holocaust Museum is across the street. Better there, maybe, than here. Some metal works sculptures reminded me that this was really more of a craft show than an gallery opening with relevant art. The sale of home made jewelry proved my point. The one outstanding painting had cats, balloons, a clown at a circus – I would have invested in it, if I had the wall space, the money and loved cats, which I don’t.
The shock of my tattoo-less right arm slowly dissipating, we were starting to get hungry. We passed by a few places, Korean or Japanese or maybe both, but they reminded me of the places I used to look into on 42nd St. in NYC. Do any of you remember places like Tad’s? Charbroiled steak over high flames, smells like a higher quality Burger King, but based on the way the place looked, you’d never go inside. There was an original European bistro – one couple was eating at one of the tables outside. It looked as though a ghost brought them their wine and salads. We saw nobody else around – not even inside. The next place, don’t know the name, looked like it shut down for good only a few hours ago – the only remaining activity to auction everything off. Why it is that every place we passed had dirty greasy menus laying on the table tops. Many tables not cleared yet. Don’t you want customers?
I like Anthony Bourdain. I think most men and women do. I’ve read his books and watch him on cable television. He reminds me of my Uncle Chester in personality, height and looks. Like my Uncle, Bourdain would probably say, “And who gives a rats ass.” But slightly below that Bourdain gator skin, I believe exists a really nice guy. A good indicator of that is he’s always nice to kids on the show. As with most of us, push him slightly beyond his comfort level and his tiger comes out.
Bourdain, for me, also brings to mind Craig Ferguson, who does not remind me of my Uncle, but appears very Bourdain-y-ish, both regular no BS kind of renaissance men. I prefer watching these “real men” rather than the current flock of inexperienced unseasoned 20 “somethings” on television who look like they shop in the boy’s department of JC Penney. I’m in my 50’s and we need more Bourdain’s and Fergusons on our radar screens as proof that real men are the core of our society, not the 16-24 demographic.
I’m sure at some point Bourdain and I have crossed paths, in fact, perhaps have stood right next to each other. I was born in Manhattan and had the displeasure of relocating out to Livingston NJ to finish my high school education. Bourdain lived in Leonia, which is Bergen County. I was “down” in Essex County. Arrogant SOB that I am, I don’t believe I ever set foot purposely in Bergen County, other than to go on a date with someone from my therapy group. After seeing the original “Godfather” at a drive-in, we went to a Friendly’s ice cream “shop” for a Reece’s Pieces sundae, somewhere in Bergen County. I never saw her again.
But, like Bourdain, I will never admit to having anything to do with New Jersey. I hated every minute of my existence there. I am and will always be a New Yorker. Among the many hangouts I had, the Papaya King at 86th and 3rd Ave. was probably my favorite. I would make the trip there alone using my NYC school “bus pass” and my family would stop there on the weekends coming home from Jones Beach. All of my other hangouts, like Stark’s on the East Side and Schrafft’s on the West, Bourdain has never mentioned and they have long since disappeared. Outside Schrafft’s, with my mother, is where I heard that President Kennedy was shot.
So, Bourdain heads off to the Culinary Institute of America, the place I wanted to go, but decided not to because the “campus” in Hyde Park looked like something from the “Munster’s” – extremely creepy. I wanted the education, but not there. I desperately wanted to be a cook, not really knowing what a “chef” really did, but the universe had other plans for me. Bourdain did his thing, got involved with evil drugs, wrote a terrific book and became famous and wealthy. I did manage to leave New Jersey, but spent the next 30 years fighting depression and doing this and that before retiring to Florida. So Tony took one road and I took the other.
I caught “No Reservations” simply by accident one night. I was curious why a “travel” show would need a content disclaimer up front. After watching years of the show, I still don’t know why. Now let me clarify something. I’m not some crazed fan that wishes I had Tony’s success. I like Bourdain because he takes his viewers to places most of will never be able to afford to go. I share his SOB understated arrogant edginess. To paraphrase his “MO”, he writes, he travels, he eats and he’s hungry for more. That makes good television, especially at 2am when there is nothing but QVC and a hundred other channels of utter useless crap on.
There are times, though, that I wish Bourdain would just shut up and eat. His has this “strut” when his arms sway back and forth like he’s a chimp walking though a forest searching for a female with a banana. That annoys the hell out of me. I think he stopped smoking, but his being a waist 36 is just not right for a man of his age. Never mind my waist size. Being thin, he can zip line through a forest, bungee cord off a tower, hang glide off a cliff and pretty much fit into any clothes he’s given to fit the occasion. Honestly, that just makes me freak’n jealous. He can keep that Pirates of Penzance black and white striped shirt he wears (in Austria he wore it under a big fluffy sweater which he eventually took off) and those white pair of Beach Boy jeans. I wore a pair like back in high school. He should also never trim his hair short on the sides – it makes it teeth more apparent.
All that minutia aside, Bourdain is fun to watch – he’s good entertainment, consistent with few glitches over the past eight seasons. Bourdain going to Cleveland is just wrong. Both his shows are interestingly educational – easy on the mind. I know more about a pig than I could ever have wanted or imagined. He has ignited my desire to eat very differently, to go against what is common or comfortable. Yes, there are some things, and he says so on his show, that I, as an American, excuse me, New Yorker, would just never eat. It took me fifteen minutes to put a piece of octopus in my mouth once and I never will eat the “ass” of an animal or its eyeballs. I am not a hunter or a butcher, and prefer he leave the weapons and killing aside. But, thanks to Bourdain, I have discovered that I can talk more peacefully to my 24 year old son over Sushi and it’s fine to want a good hot dog and beer late at night, although in Florida, that’s hard to find.
So, Mr. Bourdain, I take my hat off to you, you are a national treasure and you make “our” world a better place. If I saw you way back when at the Papaya King, I’m sorry I didn’t say hello.
My son and I went to something called Tattoo Fest. It was held in some “hall” (I think the VFW serves spaghetti there on Tuesday) down South of Tampa in Palmetto FL right off I75. Keep going three hours more and you get to Broward and Dade Counties, better know for Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. If I could get down there, I’d like to visit a tattoo shop named Miami Ink. They did, I’m not sure if it is still on, a reality television show about tattooing. I believe Kat Von D. was “associated” with that location until she got her show that is filmed out in LA. I’d love Kat to do my tat, but then I’m not famous, don’t have a tear jerker story for the reality show and as my son keeps reminding me, what I want is too simple for someone so famous as her to even consider. If she did, well, it would billions of dollars – well thousands maybe. Oh well. What a bummer.
I don’t know what the cost to go in was – we had free passes – but if I had to pay, based on what I’m about to tell you, I would have wanted my money back. It was Sunday and the doors opened at noon. About ten people were there. The exhibit hall had about 50 booths arranged in a square with four isles. There was a small stage and speakers for a band. 1/2 or more of the booths were empty. Some of the “artists” (apprentices?) were in the booths fast asleep. A few of the tattoo companies were represented by three or four people behind their tables and seemed a little shy about reaching out to the attendees walking past them. They made you feel like they were outsiders – I don’t know why – or you were the weirdo that might intrude on their territory. Is noon on Sunday too early for these folks? Not for me and I’m the one paying.
I’ve worked many trade shows and this is not how to get business. I could have held a mini seminar on how to “work” a show. There were two tattoo shops that did reach out and guess what? They were busy tattooing people. If I didn’t have to take my shirt off and sit in a strange black medical chair while people gawked at me, I might have considered their services. One tattoo shop had their people huddled around in a circle, like Eskimos trying to stay warm against the cold. Some would sit in their chairs just staring out into space. One seemingly talented Japanese calligraphy dude was too busy to answer questions about what he was selling, his head down working with a X-Acto knife like he was carving the original Pinocchio. The were some product just for the tattoo industry, having nothing to do if you wanted a tattoo or piercing. There was a masseuse guy, but I prefer a woman’s touch.
All I want is a simple symbol tattoo done by someone clean and competent, somewhere private. Is that too much too ask? Perhaps. Let me digress a sec. It’s not necessarily fun being an outsider. I never was very happy being an employee not participating in those long drawn out boring meetings that everybody hates but where workers fates are determined. I wanted in and worked hard to be in management. I wanted to run those meetings. Well, that got old fast, having a career in business with some corporation is nothing more than extension of going to high school. I don’t play well with others, don’t like games or dealing with children, that is, workers and bosses.
This job, that job, this business, that business, one incompetent abusive boss after another – ho hum, I tried to leave the rat race and became an over the road truck. Truth be told, I left the corporate BS to go back to college to get my degree with the thought of law school, but attending classes at 35 was boring. One of many recessions was going on after I graduated and getting back to who and what I was in business, even living in the same house, wasn’t going to work. So, I went to trucking school, got my CDL, which became more valuable, employment wise, than both my corporate experience and the college degree, and became an over the road trucker.
I shed the corporate skin my father cultivated in me since I was 12, became even more arrogant and independent than ever and was “in” with the trucking, motorcycle, warehouse, mechanic, blue-collar – TATTOO – crowd. I was one of the few truckers with all my teeth and hair that could write or speak a continuous coherent sentence. I didn’t, however, own a pick-up truck, hunt or lie about being a US Army Ranger hero. The President of the company I worked gave me (???) the ultimate compliment, “You’re not like any trucker I’ve ever met.” Wow – too bad it didn’t come with a raise, better truck or extra week of paid vacation.