Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Forgot to post this, especially for any Rhode Island Sparkers out there. You're a small state with a complicated coastline that seems the equal of Florida's in length, so you deserve a shout out.
A deli isn’t always a deli. Sometimes it’s a shape-shifting roadshow with New England fair food and its own troupe of troubadours.
Your first hint that this deli with the Boar’s Head sign has morphed, almost in spite of itself, into something unique is a wrought-iron patio set and potted succulents placed artistically out front for sale. Still thinking you’ll just go in and take a number at the counter--for a Reuben and a half-sour perhaps--you instead step into a Caribbean breeze.
Soft calypso is being played by Trinidadian Sylbert Jackson-Smith (Smitty), who runs Saturday’s open mic here.
Also in the house: the Guitar Army, an eclectic community of acoustic musicians who encamp here when not playing Gilchrist Park Thursday nights. Canadian Marc Ballesteros, card-carrying member of the Army, showed up one day, got talking with co-owner Lisa Vale about music, and next thing she knew, all these musicians flocked in for lunch and kept coming back to play.
“I mean, I like music, but I always thought I’d be doing an Italian restaurant,” Lisa admits, bemused.
Where you least expect it, is a coffeehouse--painted warm bistro earth tones, musical paraphernalia hanging on the wall, striped café curtains that a customer sewed for free from a bolt of yard-sale fabric, and salty Rhode Island accents rolling off the tongues of staff and customers.
One patron yells, “Hey Joe Walsh!” to co-owner Randy. “He looks just like Joe Walsh, the rock stah. I just gut in lahst night from the Carolinizz, had an ice stawm, lost powah for fo-ah days. How ya doin’--aright?”
This place could be called RI’s, not RJ’s, but its name comes from Randy Jr., not his home state.
Half the year, a box trailer sits contentedly out back, frying up such delectables as clam cakes--Rhode Island’s cornmeal/clam take on the hush puppy, best when dunked in chowder.
Order some while you can, before Randy and that trailer rumble away like the circus, from May through October, to crank open their yellow awning at big New England fairs. The awning opens over the Charlestown, RI, Seafood Festival, where the dress code requires lobster attire, from red antenna-waving headgear to full-on clawed costumes; the Deerfield Fair’s cattle pulls, pig scrambles, and Flying Wallendas; and that mile-long flea fest near Sturbridge, MA, the Brimfield Antique Show.
When they ask, “What do you do when Randy’s gone half the year?” Lisa laughs, “It’s great! No cluttah problem. Pah-TAY!” But she also takes RJ’s helm offseason, keeping only slightly different hours.
Lisa’s coffee-brown curls spill out of a fisherman’s cap as she strides around waiting tables, greeting everyone like old friends with her broad Ocean State accent. She never waitressed before, and she’s “still to this day not a tray carrier,” but she loved cooking at home. Her mother, sisters, girlfriends remember the stuff they made when they were kids--potato and chicken salads, sheet pan pizza. Lisa’s mom, Margie, going on 89, shared all her recipes.
“Now we tell her, ‘Oh that chowdah, oh that pizza! Mahgie’s recipes are famous now!’”
Monday, April 07, 2014
For any of you living in the Gulf Coast area, beware of the walking stick bug, also called the "stick bug." Our regular vet is fairly certain that's what got Doxie. These three-inch-long sticklike bugs are very hard to spot, but when threatened, they shoot out a caustic acid that should be flushed out immediately by human or dog owner, or it will cause a corneal burn. The vet shared with me an article that described a situation almost exactly like Doxie's. Dog yelps, rubs face, then hours later has an eye swollen shut.
He has her on new medications and is hopeful it will heal because, though widespread, it's superficial. Fingers crossed!
Both patients are on pain meds, but only one of them can eat crunchy food.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
"Yipe!" said Doxie, while nosing around our tree, and at once threw her face on the ground and began rubbing it. I checked it carefully, couldn't see anything, and she subsided with the rubbing. So I figured whatever it was would work its way out.
By evening, her eye was weeping. I gave her hot compresses, which she gratefully accepted. Good girl.
This morning, the whole thing was swollen shut, and she was kicking and scratching at it. So, enough. Time for the emergency vet, a trip that I expect will cost as much as a short vacation. But, Sunday or no Sunday, I'm not messing with possible infection. Off we went, leaving Sister Roly home with Bill and praying there will be no pitbulls in the waiting room with torn ears hanging from their heads after the Saturday night fights.
All was quiet. Everyone was a delight. Doxie behaved herself like an angel in the absence of her sister to give her courage.
But it seems she has a severely ulcerated cornea and will be on an aggressive course of eyedrops and ointment every few hours. Not to mention the Cone. Bless her heart, she has gotten used to it quickly--maybe because it frightens her sister like nobody's business.
Tomorrow Bill goes in for major dental surgery in preparation for a nice set of new teeth. He's on his own!
Friday, April 04, 2014
If you tell them you’re going to Englewoods on Dearborn (henceforth EoD) for the first time, friends will feel compelled to tip you off: “Don’t stop at the front. Keep going, all the way to the back.”
They needn’t worry. If the jamming of The Copperhead Band covering ZZ Top’s “La Grange” and the twinkling banyan tree lights don’t seduce you into the way-back courtyard, someone will surely grab your hand and seal the deal. “Aren’t you gonna come in and dance with me?” a delightful woman will plead, her eyes aglow with wine.
Approach most restaurants at the height of season without a reservation, and you won’t get in the door. You consider telling the hostess, “Oh, we’re joining someone. They’re right in … oh … there!” Then you’ll go in and approach the first table with enough empty seats.
“We’re real hungry, but we don’t want to wait. Okay if we join you?”
It could work, right? Hey, this is Florida.
In the warm camaraderie of EoD’s bar, you can just say, “Is somebody sitting here?” and you’re good to go.
There are, in fact, two empty barstools. Two local Englewood gals perch nearby, sipping Chardonnays and sharing intimacies about taking their respective relationships to the next level. It took one of them no time at all to find EoD, after having lived here only a week. With hot music events like the Blues Under the Stars series, how can anyone stay away?
This band is now so loud we have to use sign language to convey how long we’ve all lived here. Then the music stops, but our volume doesn’t. “This place is CHEAP! Boy is this a lot of vodka!” your faithful correspondent blares.
“This is the best music in five counties!” hollers Paul from Weymouth, who has lived here for 40 years and therefore must know.
Co-owner Tony Hollinger strolls about in a dashingly dark shirt and black fedora (“Like Frank Sinatra, you know?”), courting newcomers and regulars. If he strolls out of sight, his bright-eyed wife, hostess Merrill, always knows he’s around if he leaves evidence sitting on the bar: the signature hat, a lit cigarette, and his favorite drink, a vodka-cranberry concoction which inspired EoD’s sparkly pink martini logo.
Tony got his start at age six, scooping ice cream at his parents’ tavern in Gallneukirchen, an Austrian village north of the Danube. His first restaurant was Café-Bar Vehikel, directly south in Enns.
Tony came to America—in particular, Englewood, Florida--because he flat-out loves it here. He won’t even listen to someone who suggests it might be a bit nicer in Germany or Canada. As a result, the only Austrian dishes on the menu are his Mama’s secret recipes for a three-hour-stewed goulash, red cabbage, and schnitzel.
The guy became so entranced with Route 66 that he took a 40th-birthday road trip on it. He and Merrill were married by an Elvis in Las Vegas. With all that and a Sinatra hat, too, how can you get more American?
Ten years ago, all Tony wanted here was a “little bar.” The original building held an emporium of 11 shops with an ice cream place. Merrill can’t wait to get rid of the old Emporium Hand-Dipped Ice Cream sign hanging out front.
“We almost got divorced over that ice cream. Tony says, ‘I been doing ice cream since I was six, and I’m never doing it again!’ We’d have lines out the door, and he’d just refuse to scoop it.”
It’s different now. A little bar, Tony? This place has three. And the New Orleans–Key West vibe of EoD couldn’t be further removed, geographically or psychically, from Austria.
This is Florida, after all.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
The neighbors tell me I should join the Neighborhood Watch. They see me walking up and down the streets, five miles every single day, more than the local sheriff drives around here. I sure couldn’t have done this all year in New Hampshire.
I still haven’t joined. Mind you, I don’t have anything against Neighborhood Watches. They’re great. They give the neighbors something to do, they sometimes throw parties with pizza and special guest speakers (i.e., local sheriff), they keep your home safe from vandals, and, at least in our neighborhood, they give you a lovely banner to hang out front—like the fire brigade signs that told colonial volunteers that a house was “insured.” We don’t have one.
I figure, if I see a truck pull up to my neighbor’s house and start uploading appliances, or vice versa, one of us will speak up about it. Or if a nice, buff young man with a Vermont license plate and a professional business logo on his truck moves into the rental property next door, I’ll go over and introduce myself. With homemade cookies. The neighborhood watch lady across the street, somehow taking him to be a squatter, instead calls the cops. Another neighborhood watch lady takes it upon herself to swat our lawn guy’s truck with a rolled-up newspaper, perhaps thinking this might compel him to move it. When she escalates to threatening him with the cops, he pulls out his badge and calmly points out, “I AM the cops, ma’am.” Like everything else, too much of a good thing can come back to bite you.
While walking around the neighborhood, I’ve developed a technique I call “the wave,” which is almost always a good thing. Oncoming cars usually pull nicely out of your way when you’re walking—often to an extreme, in my opinion. How big am I, anyway? Do you really have to pull way over to the far side, endangering opposing traffic, to make room for my bulk? Well, if so, you oncoming cars deserve an appreciative thank-you wave.
There are several varieties of waves with which I entertain myself. Doesn’t matter whether I know the driver, nor whether they wave back—though I’m disappointed when they don’t.
There’s the Parade Wave, that slow, open-palmed, side-to-side maneuver used by the Grand Marshal or the Little Mermaid atop an “Under the Sea” float. I feel like Margaret Thatcher doing that one.
And there’s the Waggle, a girlie little “toodle-oo” gesture.
Any variation on the Lefty always feels awkward, like I’m giving someone a less-than-upfront wave.
The Flagman, an open hand on a forearm raised straight up from the elbow, is usually reserved for pickup truck drivers.
The friendliest wave of all is the Fast Parade Wave—wavey, wave, wave, wave, I know you alright, glad to see ya!
I’ve tried combining them just for giggles. The Parade Wave–Waggle takes way too much energy and ends up looking like you’re sprinkling pixie dust. The Flagman-Waggle is too coy. The Lefty–Fast Parade Wave is likely to dislocate your shoulder if you’re not careful with it.
And sometimes a wave won’t suffice. There are neighbors out walking, too, who expect more than just a wave. You’ve also got to SAY something to them, along the lines of “Good morning” or “How ya doin’?” Except if you know they’re deaf as a stump. Then you can get away with a wave and a lip-sync. It’s easier than hollering, that’s for sure.
If they’re on a bike, a wave will usually do, because they will have whooshed past you before your words register, and you really oughtn’t to distract them anyhow.
Once Bill and I were out walking together, past a porch where this guy sat out every morning, basking in the sunshine. Bill, who doesn’t know the neighbors as well as I do, waved. I had to whisper, “Don’t waste the wave. He’s blind.”
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