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Posts from the ‘Bronx’ Category

Captain Luna’s Seafood Bar & Crab Shanty

Owning a car in NYC is kind of decadent, but it also allows you to cram more non-decadence into shorter time frames. I don’t think I could stomach a Carroll Gardens-Howard Bay-City Island Saturday excursion on public transportation even though you see bus stops even when you feel like you’re in remote corners of the city. That’s just me, though, maybe I’m lacking an adventurous spirit.

Or maybe this is a simple case of taking the easy way out. Whenever I hear that phrase I think about tagging along during car-shopping missions along Northern Boulevard the summer of 2001. James wanted a standard transmission, which was proving tougher than finding Thai chiles in Carroll Gardens. A salesclerk confided in him, “We only sell automatics because Mexicans like taking the easy way out.”

What an odd sentiment, not the misguided racism, but the geographic confusion. This is New York, hardly a Mexican stronghold. Wouldn’t Puerto Ricans or Dominicans make more sense in that context? (In 2000 in NYC there were 799,588 Puerto Ricans, 532,647 Dominicans and a measly 183,792 Mexicans, though that last figure increased a dramatic 57.7% between 2000 and 2007. Watch out, car salesmen.) For what it’s worth, I only know how to drive an automatic.

Captain luna's

First, I paid a visit to Captain Luna’s, a glorified bar overlooking Cross Bay that occupies a parking lot next to an FDNY station. It’s also a marina where you can rent boats, buy bait and tackle and charter fishing trips. No sea-lover, I was merely concerned with food and beer.

Captain luna's shrimp

Coronas and Old Bay shrimp for me. I wasn’t expecting the butter (I’m not sure that’s actually what this was, which says more about me if I can’t tell the difference between margarine and real dairy) just shrimp in the style of Maryland crabs. I greatly prefer peel-and-eating to cracking-and-picking. The concept of crab is more fun than the actual practice.

Legs were the only part of the crab on the menu this particular Memorial Day weekend Saturday and plenty of patrons were gnawing on the red appendages. But blue crabs should become part of the regular rotation soon and I got an an email list to alert me when a fresh haul arrives.

Captain luna's bar

The bar itself sits underneath a tent with additional umbrella topped tables on the adjoining pier. On a balmy Saturday afternoon visit there was a smattering of all sorts occupying the seats: a Hispanic family with kids, a Sheryl Crow-ish tanned woman wearing a cowboy hat who seemed more Austin than Queens who was accompanied by two non-descript men in t-shirts, bikers, most definitely not of the fixed gear variety (a POW/MIA flag is prominently displayed near a beer tap—not sure why I associate that with bikers) and a few twentysomethings, who couldn’t have traveled far to get there, like the two above who began kissing the second after I snapped my photo. 

I would’ve soaked up the un-New York-ness of the place over a few more beers if the Bronx hadn’t also been on my agenda. I didn’t do much exploring around City Island, that’ll have to wait for another time.

Crab shanty stained glass Instead, I popped into Crab Shanty. The first thing I noticed was that their signage employs the font Burnstown Dam, the same silly lettering I used for my old online diary, Project Me. Viva the '90s. The restaurant isn’t really beachy; even with the blue colored skylights (that cast a really odd glow on my photos) shingled awnings and weather vanes attempting to create an outdoors indoors illusion, you feel landlocked. Plus, the aisles are tighter than a coach cabin. The crab stained glass was kind of cute, though.

Crab shanty relish

The meal starts with garlic bread and a handsome relish tray of both crunchy raw and spicy pickled vegetables. There is a clear Italian-seafood connection in the region. All of the crab places I’ve been to in the city and New Jersey also serve pasta, red sauce and the like.

Crab shanty fried

Their raison d’etre is fried seafood, not my favorite genre, but I dived in with gusto. This mammoth plate housed fish, a soft-shell crab, random shrimp and a shitload of squid. I totally gave myself a stomachache after eating about half and cursed the idiocy of choosing fries as my side (other options included baked potato and linguine). Dinners also come with soup or salad and there was no resisting the iceberg with blue cheese dressing.

Crab shanty crabs

Smarter diners opt for crab legs. People are crazy for crab legs. Go to a Chinese buffet and watch the mayhem unfurl when a fresh batch is brought out in metal trays. Crab legs are more meat for less effort, the epitome of taking the easy way out. Instead, James wanted whole crabs, which garnered a warning from our waitress, “That’s a lot of work!”

The thing is, he’s used to Mid-Atlantic crabs, which are big and priced accordingly. Spendy with payoff. Most of what you find in NYC are piddly, exhausting to extract any goodness from but rarely set you back more than $29 for a pile. There's no harm done if you just like cracking crabs, though you might come away from dinner still hungry.

Captain Luna’s Seafood Bar * 158-35 Cross Bay Blvd., Howard Beach, NY

Crab Shanty * 361 City Island Ave., Bronx, NY

Real Azteca

1/2 I think “you order like a Mexican” is a compliment. At least in a Bronx tacqueria. I’m not sure how I’d feel about the same comment at an haute French stalwart (which are fading fast—I couldn’t immediately come up with a proper name to insert).

The Bronx is still uncharted territory for me (I didn’t even realize there were numerous bridges between the borough and upper Manhattan), and I’m fuzzy on neighborhoods, though I’m pretty sure this was my first foray into Hunts Point. My only knowledge of that pocket of the city is from that HBO special from a few years back. It’s not that sketchy, hookers weren’t roaming the streets and there’s even an ABC Carpet & Home outlet semi-nearby.

Though after that shopping anomaly, Conway is about as classy as it gets. (They don’t even have a web presence, they’re so budget-minded. I was amazed that on my grandma’s one and only NYC visit she managed to discover Conway all on her own. She’s like the physical embodiment of Conway.) Then it turns into the classics on Southern Boulevard. You know, your Jimmy Jazz, Pretty Girl and Radio Shack (which didn’t have a single answering machine—is this an extinct electronic?). I was enticed by a colorful Forever 21-esque shop called Disco 1, and I’m still not sure what to think about the two wood-planked, wild west looking stores that I’m fairly sure were called Jean Star.

Hunts Point isn’t hyper-Mexican. It appeared that Dominican and African-American influences were stronger. Real Azteca was the only place of its ilk that I spied. I’m not sure how I made the mistake but I’d confused this tiny, take out joint with Estrellita Poblana, a roomier affair. It worked out for the best, though because we had grill side seats. After taking a stool and surveying the scene it became apparent that quesadillas were the main attraction. We’d already ordered carnitas tacos and a torta, though.

Tacos use doubled-up packaged corn tortillas, but the quesadillas occupying nearly all the griddle space are pressed from fresh masa into thick disks and filled with items like huitalacoche or mushrooms and white cheese. I’m fairly certain they use shredded muenster cheese, which is non-traditional to say the least. 

As a nod to the mixed patronage, there are hamburgers, bagels and omelets on offer, and default taco toppings include cilantro, onions, lettuce and tomato. It was when I was asked if I wanted all four that I was given pause and nearly had to insist that I only needed the cilantro and onions, prompting the “you order like a Mexican” response. I was trying to do it right.

The plastic wall menu listed weekend specials of pancita, which I think is akin to menudo (but I’d already eaten homemade for breakfast) and birria, a goat stew I became acquainted with last month in Chicago. What seemed like a simple storefront bears further exploring. Admittedly, it could be some time before I make it back up there.

As happens more than you might expect, I felt too self-conscious to take photos, even though it was my first outing with my new camera. I did snap Latin fusion sushi pics later that evening and peking duck sushi a few days later. I didn’t write up Citrus because the mood didn’t strike or Empire Szechuan Village because it’s for a listing (a brand new side gig). Sorry tacos, here’s to random untraditional sushi.

Citris_sushi Empire_szechuan_village_peking_roll

Real Azteca * E 163rd St., Bronx, NY


1/2 On the few extended English vacations I’ve taken to visit my sister, I’ve become convinced that my legs were morphing into two stubby chip appendages. It starts with tuber thighs and next thing you know, you’re a human chip butty. Lately, a new starchy vegetable has started taking root on my limbs. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten yuca. And yet after eating at Sabrosura, I’d gotten my third stomach full in four days. I never knew the true meaning of sticks to your ribs until I met this Caribbean staple. I see how it does its job as cheap filling foodstuff but I think it’s wise that I start laying off the yucca fries.

Sabrosura_outside Other than a soft pretzel at the zoo, I’ve never eaten a bite in the Bronx. It’s a whole new frontier begging to be explored (even the Times headed up this week). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Castle Hill but the first thing I laid eyes on after stepping out of the car was a toddler on a leash. Awesome! Just when I’d had it with all the foul Park Slope mom mayhem. No precocious roaming free, self-expression in the Bronx. They probably spank there too. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about loose un-paddled children ruining my Domincan-Chinese meal.

The menu is voluminous (I suggest looking at it online). I didn’t even know where to begin. Take out classics like beef with broccoli? Local stuff like grilled meat with yellow rice and plantains? They call themselves a seafood restaurant, which is supplemented by plastic fish on the wall, netting above a front area that looks like it should be a bar but isn’t. But beyond fried shrimp I’m not sure that seafood is the standard order.

Sabrosura_curryThe guys who seem more in charge are Chinese, the busboys looked Mexican, the clientele was mixed with white couples, Spanish families (I’m using that in the NYC sense, just for fun…when in Rome, though I’m not ever going to say Ore-uh-gone for Oregon) and no Asians. I always wonder how many Chinese actually eat corner “Chinese” food in the city. There’s got to be Mexicans who love Taco Bell.

While nibbling complimentary garlic bread, we decided on chicken curry, chofan and yuca mofongo. Curry is odd because there’s nothing particularly Chinese about it. It ended up being soupy yellow curry in the sense that it’s seasoned with curry powder, closer to Japanese curry than anything, kind of sweet and dotted with peas and carrots. It wasn’t like we were expecting Thai or Malaysian food so this wasn’t shocking. Choice for sides inlcuded maduros, tostones, yucca or rice. We got tostones.

Sabrosura_chofanChofan is their Nuevo Latino fried rice (there are other versions in the Chinese section). I’d just seen Chaufa, a similar dish, on a Peruvian menu. Everyone loves fried rice. This version had the extra additon of chicharrone. We paid the extra $2 for shrimp too. I take excess seriously.

The mofongo is where it got weird. I wanted the version with a side of fried pork chunks that I saw in a laminated flip menu on a little plastic stand. What I ended up with was an unadorned softball of yuca (you’re offered this starch or more typical plantain) in a bowl of gravy. Mofongo will put you into a coma. I’d never even heard of the dish until a few years ago. It’s not like I grew up with any Puerto Ricans, and I wonder if this is something a contemporary Boricua even orders. You don’t see blogs dedicated to mofongo worship (then again, you don’t see many Latin American food blogs period. Asian females seem to have the corner on the I eat and write about it market. I don’t want to generalize so I’ll have to look into this further before coming to conclusions. I think a big part of it is that Latin American blogs don’t tend to be in English, duh. Cooking Diva, a Panamanian blog is one of the few I can think of off the top of my head). Maybe it’s like tuna casserole, an old standard that some people in parts of the country might still eat. Or maybe it’s d.i.y. hip—I found a vegetarian, nay vegan recipe in ReadyMade.

Sabrosura_mofongoWe picked at maybe 1/3 of the mash-blob and had to pack it in. But the leftovers fortified me the next day during a 12-hour work shift where there was no time to take a break. No, I don’t perform manual labor so it’s doubtful I burned off all the carbs but it definitely kept hunger at bay. I recently was given a subscription to a British food magazine and they’re all obsessed with the GI diet over there. I don’t even want to think about where yuca falls on the glycemic index.

Sabrosura * 1200 Castle Hill Ave., Bronx, NY