Sunday, September 1, 2013

No Menus!

Last weekend a friend and I went to The Bronx Botanical Gardens and then had a late lunch in Little Italy in the Bronx. I hadn't been there in about 30 years and was surprised to see Amato Pharmacy still open for business on the corner of 187th Street. Gary and I had last dined on Arthur Ave with two couples from our Yonkers (Bronxville P.O.) apartment days, one of whom was from the Amato family.

Last Saturday was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and traffic was busy on the avenue, so we parked in the Belmont municipal lot. My friend wondered why I was snapping pictures of the sign and the apartment building overlooking the lot.  Another memory: about 20 years ago, my brother and sister in law were held up at gun point in the very same lot. The mugger had a foolproof scheme going. He'd watch from his window in the apartment and race downstairs when he saw an unsuspecting couple get out of their car. He disappeared just as quickly and it took the police a while to figure out he lived in the building with the Jesus mural, which is still there:

No such worries today, as we threaded our way through the sidewalk crowd of tourists, little old neighbor ladies with canes, and swarthy looking residents. We passed the Kosovo Deli and the Albanian Social Club, along with some Italian restaurants, a bakery, hardware store and other shops. Our destination was Dominick's and an authentic Arthur Avenue experience. We entered the wood paneled restaurant lined with long, oil cloth covered tablecloths and were directed by one of the portly, white shirted waiters to a seat all the way against the wall. No frills, but a good vantage point for viewing the regulars and the large tables of tourists and families.

Our waiter ambled over and asked what we felt like eating.
'To start, I've got clams, calamari, nice big salad, etc." The recitation went on for a while.
We exchanged glances. "No menus?" 
He knew what we were thinking and then proceeded to rattle off the lunch entrees in the same fashion. "I've got veal any way you want, chicken rollatini, eggplant and hot peppers, linguini, tortellini, fresh ravioli, some nice pork ..."

My companion asked if she could have spaghetti with the clams, instead of linguini.
"No, no spaghetti!" We had found our own Italian version of the soup nazi.
Not sure if that was heresy to consider pairing clam sauce with a thinner pasta, but it was clearly out of the question.

Our red wine arrived in two little juice glasses and we badgered the busboy to bring us some bread, although no olive oil or butter was offered. Service was not attentive. The food was good, but not the best Italian I'd ever had. The sauce on my rollatini was delicious but the mushrooms seemed canned rather than fresh. The pasta arrived in a medium-sized bowl with shredded clams, rather than the traditional clam shells.

At the end of our long table there was a seat that seemed to be reserved for a regular. While we were there, one 300 lb guy replaced another with nods and handshakes all around to the waiters who clustered near the bar.

Funny thing about "No Menus."  No menus, no prices. Our waiter came over and had a paper with numbers written down, presumably indicating the different tables he was waiting on. "$80," he says to us, followed quickly by: "Have you ladies been drinking alot?"

When we assured him we had not, he disappeared to re-check the bill. Finally came back after a while with a revised total of $48-not itemized and still sounded high for the luncheon portions we had ordered.

As we left our waiter suddenly got chummy. 'Next time you come back for some espresso, a little sambuca...." Uh, oh, the litany was starting again.

The big guy at the end of the table said, "Great food- huh?'  "Yes," we answered tentatively, "but a little expensive." "Oh, yeah," he smiled, "for you," nodding understandably. We got the turista summer special rates! Maybe we paid for his huge salad and clams casino?

We walked around the neighborhood and stumbled upon Pasquale's-- another place recommended by the Botanical Gardens tram ride employee. "Tell them Eddie sent you--Marianne's nephew," he had urged. The place wasn't crowded like Dominick's, but maybe we should have stopped there instead. It would have been worth it to see how they responded to our being such good buds with Eddie. We did take another of Eddie's suggestions and bought wonderful olive bread in the bakery across the street--crusty bread loaded with rich, black olives.

Our next visit, we decided, would be next spring, to catch the full flowering of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.  As for Arthur Ave--menus please!