Dirty Dangerous Places
Home sweet home. After several days in the Ocean State I return to the Capital Region to tell the tale. Traveling without a spouse and with two small children is about just as much fun as it sounds. There are things one cannot do on such a kid centric trip, like dinner at The Dorrance, but that is not to say the trip was without its charms.
The kids had a great time with gramma. They have come back with 35 meatballs, two boxes of hamantashen, and a lot of art supplies. I picked up three different sheep’s milk cheeses from Sardinia, because apparently that’s what I do these days. It will be a great use for my new cheese bags.
Probably the worst experience they had was when I dragged the family to an Ethiopian restaurant. I loved it. The kids and gramma waited impatiently for me to finish the meal, so they could go for some pizza. Ugh. I feel like I’ve failed as a father. My kids love beans. They love split peas and lentils. They love eating with their hands. This should have be a slam dunk. But no.
However the big takeaway from this visit was more personal, as my favorite food moment happened as I was leaving town.
Is it safe?
One day I may come to regret this, but I don’t fear much for my safety in sketchy neighborhoods. Maybe part of this has something to do with the four years I spent in West Philadelphia before it was completely gentrified. By that I mean a guy was shot in the face at the pizza parlor on my corner. The fight began at the pool hall across the street where I would occasionally drop in to play some video games.
The thing is that bad people usually get into quarrels with other bad people. Only rarely does an innocent bystander get in the way. But innocent bystanders can find themselves crushed by a tow truck sailing over the edge of a highway overpass.
Fate is funny that way.
So when I heard that there was a promising Guatemalan restaurant nearby, and it just so happened that Little Miss Fussy had her heart set on rice and beans, I was all ready to get in the car and go. Sure I knew the neighborhood wasn’t great. But my momma was less than thrilled at the prospect.
There was some back and forth, and by the time it was all over I demurred and we ate some delicious leftovers of one of my favorite dishes from childhood.
I don’t know what it is about bad neighborhoods that I find so appealing. Maybe it’s the local color? You don’t often see a short rumpled fellow with a handful of crumpled one dollar bills chasing after a woman on the sidewalk. For the record, she wanted nothing to do with him and was quickly walking away in the opposite direction.
No. Really it’s the food. Because buried in the heart of these dirty, but really fascinating places, are kitchens producing delicious delights.
So on the way out of town, I stopped into a place called Asian Bakery & Fast Food. It had all the trappings of a bad neighborhood. The scene with the dude and the dollars above was observed once we were safely back in the car. But there were bars on windows and debris in the streets. I spied a ratty jacket frozen into the ice that was plowed onto the curb.
However, the woman behind the counter at Asian Bakery & Fast Food was perfectly pleasant. And she was the one who was making my Banh Mi and heating a couple of big pork-centric steamed buns for the Fussy Little Children.
The place was great. Not the greatest Vietnamese sandwich I’ve ever had, but the best one I’ve had in the northeast for a long time. Man, do I miss Falls Church.
The best burrito places in San Francisco were always in dicey neighborhoods in the Mission. My favorite Indian place was in the Tenderloin and had pigeons walking in and out of the kitchen. There are some folks who won’t even go to Troy for fear of being murdered or robbed or who know’s what. But Troy is the Emerald City in comparison to some of these much much grittier urban environments.
Bottom line is that if you live in fear, you are going to miss out on a lot of good stuff. Be brave, eat well, and live to tell the tale.