This past January, our group celebrated ten years of traveling New York City’s environs searching for mostly unheralded, inexpensive, usually ethnic eating establishments. To honor this very important anniversary, we hoped to gather at a place somewhat representative of the restaurants we had been visiting the past decade. We were looking for something maybe slightly more broadly appealing than a place where cow foot soup and goat belly were the signature dishes. And since this was supposed to be a special occasion, we also decided to invite spouses, partners, significant others; anyone our members wanted to bring along.
Gerry recommended an old time Italian place in Mount Vernon, just over the Bronx border, called the Lincoln Lounge. From his description; “good pizza—old school, family-style Italian in a run down neighborhood with a full bar,” the Lincoln Lounge sounded exactly what we were looking for.
It took numerous group emails to nail down a date when all could attend. And then things happened. A wife dropped out due to family obligations; a girlfriend couldn’t come because of a conflict until we got an email from Rick saying “Sounds like its turning stag. Should we just commit to no wimmin?”
We never did commit to it, but as it turned out, no “wimmin” were in attendance.
And on the appointed day, neither was Rick; a family emergency denying him our celebration.
To make up for the loss of Rick, we were graced with the presence of original member, Charlie, who left us in 2005 for the greener pastures of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.
It was a Friday night and the Lincoln Lounge was mobbed with large groups; the small bar two deep with “regulars,” including one uniformed policeman who ate at the bar with his bullet-proof vest on and gun holstered around his waist.
After we were seated; cramped in a corner, we quickly ordered a sausage pizza and here the Lincoln Lounge did not disappoint. With its thin crust, sauce bursting with flavor, nicely charred crust topped with fresh sausage; the pie, as it turned out was the highlight of the meal.
The antipasto salad, a bowl of greens topped with provolone, sopressata, and olives and doused in a vinegary dressing was passable while the steamed clams in white wine and garlic, standard and more than acceptable.
The calamari pasta, however, along with the shrimp scampi were disappointments. Apparently, when the dishes at the Lincoln Lounge are advertised as family style, they don’t mean our gluttonous family.
The shrimp, of which here they most definitely count, were barely enough for each of us to get a taste. As it turned out, a taste was more than enough.
The modest amount of spaghetti adorned with a light tomato broth and tiny pieces of calamari was devoid of flavor.
Zio shook his head as he gazed at the miniature calamari. “I like big fat calamari rings,” he said. “Not these little ones.”
“Was it really worth slaughtering baby squid for this?” I questioned indicating the “family-sized” platter.
“Yeah, it’s inhumane,” Gerry said as he speared one with his fork.
Thankfully, the pork chops with peppers and onions were good enough to almost redeem the travesty that was the squid and shrimp.
While we cleaned our plates, Eugene began to, once again, muse on a trip to a Caribbean all-inclusive he was soon to embark on. “You know what I like to do,” he swooned. “Eat a big breakfast, stay at the beach until two, take a nap, and then eat dinner. You never have to leave the hotel.”
Trying desperately to divert the conversation back to why we were at the Lincoln Lounge, I was curious about our group’s memories of the past ten years.
“Remember the bean dessert,” Eugene barked out. “At the Filipino place in Queens. The worst!”
“Yeah and the cheap Polish place in Greenpoint,” Zio added. “I went back once.”
“What about that one in Chinatown. The place with fish stomach and goose feet,” Mike from Yonkers reminisced.
“Sheesh, that was inedible,” Eugene spat. “Even Gerry had a hard time eating it.”
Brian Silverman chronicles cheap eats, congee, cachapas, cow foot, cow brains, bizarre foods, baccala, bad verse, fazool, fish stomach, happy hours, hot peppers, hot pots, pupusas, pastas, rum punch and rotis, among many other things on his site Fried Neck Bones...and Some Home Fries. Twitter: neckbones@fried_neckbones.