New York Press' Gut Instinct: Pony Up for Dinner

Just horsing around. Photo: flickr/pkmousie In my checkered history of inappropriate utterances, this assemblage of nouns and verbs seemed positively innocuous: “Hon, I’m going to the racetrack today,” I told my girlfriend. She pursed her lips, her eyes slitted to the approximate width of paperclips.

“Uh, what’s wrong?” I inquired. It wasn’t like I was jaunting to Thailand as a sex tourist. My sights were set on the far reaches of Queens, where a few friends would bet a few bucks on the ponies at the Aqueduct Racetrack. Sure, our wagers would be fueled by bottom-shelf beer and bourbon, but I kept that to myself. It’s the little white lies that keep relationships cruising along. Yet ours had endured a head-on collision.

“I thought we’d spend a quiet day together—just the two of us,” she said. I nodded, knowing what she meant. We’ve spent the last two months in a near constant state of culinary travel. Over Christmas, we adventured across Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, where I devoured pounds of tender cochinita pibil. That was chased by a trek to North Carolina, where we ate steamed oysters by the bushel. And just last week we hit Portland, Ore., where I guzzled hoppy craft beer by the gallon and she stuffed herself with a river’s worth of smoked salmon. I know I’m drinking white whine here, but it’s been months since we’ve sat down to a home-cooked dinner.

“And you want to spend the day at the racetrack with your friends,” she said. Point taken. I decided to make amends. “When I get home, I’m going to make you eggplant Parmesan,” I said, naming one of her favorite feasts. Her icy eyes softened, hit by a sudden heat wave of the heart. “With extra mozzarella,” she said. “I like mozzarella.”

Before things got too cheesy, I took off to the track with a quartet of close associates, none of whom are gamblers. Curiosity, not a quick buck, lured us to the Aqueduct, alongside the opportunity to drink in public. Like the casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, Aqueduct attendees—a mixed ethnic bag of graying men chomping unsmoked cigars, wearing ancient sports-team jackets and clutching racing programs—are allowed to wander the multilevel concourse with beer, wine and liquor in hand. Hell, I think it’s encouraged. After all, one must be booze-deluded to drop a $5 bet on a horse with 50–1 odds.

We came bearing baddecision fuel: specifically, flasks filled with Benchmark bourbon, which costs about $8 a bottle at Astor Wine & Spirits. Benchmark ain’t bum juice; it’s one of the best values in bourbon. The brand is crafted by the estimable Buffalo Trace distillery, and its inexpensive spirit boasts plenty of juicy, tongue-basting, brown-sugar sweetness. A few nips of that 80-proof stomach-stoker, combined with a 24-ounce can of Coors, provided me with all the liquid courage I required to place $2 on a long shot named Haughty Princess.

She lost. So did Vivant. And Half a Note. And Smokin’ Conrad, whose fast start led to a slow finish. “To the glue factory!” I shouted, ripping up my ticket and scattering the pieces like confetti. My compatriots fared little better. The big winner walked out with an extra $4. The big loser was down nearly an Andrew Jackson. I lost $8, but I’d gained an inflated sense of self-worth thanks to the bourbon. “Can we get a bite to eat before we head home?” I begged, needing to soak up my sauciness with some food.

We left the track and steered toward adjacent Liberty Avenue. The main drag of Ozone Park teems with terrific Indo- Caribbean eateries, specifically Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar (131-18 Liberty Ave., betw. 131st & 132nd Sts., Queens, 718- 323-5990). With pulsing music and neon aplenty, Singh’s feels more like a nightclub than a restaurant. But its steam-table eats are the star. We scarfed ourselves sober with rich, unctuous goat and oxtail curries, fluffy doubles overstuffed with tender chickpeas and forearm-size shanks of aloo pies painted with mashed potatoes and lip-blistering Scotch bonnet–pepper sauce.

For us losers, this was a winning meal.

Back home, my girlfriend was waiting near the door, Sammy the wonder mutt by her slipper-clad feet. “Did you have fun?” she asked. I weighed my answer carefully. “Not without you,” I said, pecking her pucker and shuffling to the kitchen. I put on my apron and peeled and sliced the purple eggplants. Then I salted the aubergines and submerged them in frigid water, hoping a little time would remove the bitterness.

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Gut Instinct: A Moving Tale

Boy, I love burritos.

It is no secret that my biceps and triceps are floppier than spaghetti, barely able to hoist an unabridged dictionary above my head.

Nonetheless, my muscle definition was no concern to my friend Matt, a first-rate cheapskate requesting the ultimate in unpaid labor:

“Can you help me move this weekend?” Matt and his girlfriend, Emily, were taking the leap to cohabitation, commingling their possessions and their cats.Two humans, three felines, 400 square feet—that’s a recipe for a sitcom.

I flexed, demonstrating the imperceptible twitch that passes for my puny guns.

“Perfect,” he said. “We’ll pick you up at 10 a.m. on Saturday.”

“How did I just say yes?” “Josh,” Matt said, “I will buy you beer and a burrito.”

“You better make mine with guacamole,” I sighed, resignedly.

New Yorkers are a transient tribe, relocating with the regularity of migratory birds. Not me. I despise moving like I do raw, squishy tomatoes on my burger. I’ve dwelled in a brownstone-Brooklyn apartment for seven years, surviving a succession of psychotic roommates (a category that, I’m sure, includes me) until I became leaseholder.Then in came the girlfriend. Since, everything’s been peaches and cream, provided she stops leaving her dirty coffee spoon on the kitchen counter.

But I digress, which is what I do best. Unlike moving. Bright and early on Saturday, my head fogged due to the previous eve’s tango with rich and luscious Eagle Rare bourbon, Emily drove me to Matt’s Bushwick apartment. It was an ancient industrial building, the sort that seems edgy when you’re 22.

By 30, the luster has dulled on living in a cold, drafty loft with bedrooms separated by particleboard and bands practicing long past bedtime.

I greeted my fellow laborers and began hoofing boxes of books into a freight elevator, along with crates filled with hundreds of CDs. “Who even has CDs anymore?” I moaned. “Stop complaining,” Matt said. “I could’ve hired any of 20 Mexican guys that were waiting around the U-Haul lot.”

“Instead, you’re going to pay your friends in burritos.”

“You’re moving the bookcase.” Matt gestured to a towering structure as wobbly as Jell-O.

Quiero mi burrito con mucho guacamole,” I said, dusting off my culturally insensitive high school Spanish.

The hours passed in a back-straining blur. After Emily made some judicious judgments (“We are not bringing that massive marble table,” she proclaimed, saving me from a gut-splitting hernia), the U-Haul was filled.Team Moving traveled to Emily’s apartment at the southern fringes of Park Slope, right near a power plant and Greenwood Cemetery. Energized death—that was a nice description of my physical state.

Team Moving commenced shuttling boxes and boxy furniture up the narrow stairs, gouging out chunks of drywall like a golfer does grass. “Careful!” Matt said. “I just painted those walls.”

“Perhaps you should’ve hired real movers,” I replied. I never miss a chance to make someone feel bad for requesting my help.

Finally, the truck was as empty as my growling stomach. I secured a perch amid the chaos (a desk blocking the bathroom, boxes of books that’ll never be read and underwear-stuffed drawers stacked to the ceiling) and snatched the plastic bags containing my reward: a growler of Captain Lawrence’s Freshchester Ale from Grab (438 7th Ave. betw. 14th & 15th Sts., 718- 369-7595; B’klyn) and overstuffed, California-style burritos from Taqueria D.F. (709 5th Ave. at 22nd St., B’klyn; 718-499-2969).

I bit into a folded flour tortilla, bursting with tender spicy pork, chubby pinto beans and half-dollar dollops of sour cream. I set a land-speed record in consuming my fat, fatty burrito, finding it uncommonly satisfying. While hunger is doubtlessly the best sauce, the spicy salsa verde was pretty tasty to boot.

I poured a second hop-tinged beer, which soothed my creaky muscles and hurtled me toward dreamland. I took the bus home, took a nap, then took the bus to Matt’s old apartment for his house-cooling bash. “Whiskey for you, buddy!” Matt shouted when I walked inside.

“A double, please,” I replied, sitting at the kitchen table. Matt poured me several fingers of amber liquid. I looked at the dusty bottle, recognizing it from the lower reaches of liquor-store shelving. Where was his Bulleit bourbon, much less Buffalo Trace?

“We moved the good stuff, didn’t we?” I said, sipping the fiery, burning fluid.

“Just shut up and drink,” Matt said, exasperated. “I’m never asking you to help me move again.”

Read the original article in the New York Press!

Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout - Beer of the Week

Photo: DROOO, Flickr

Though the temperatures have ramped up a tad this week, last week was all icicles and frostbite. Fittingly, I had a hankering for a super-dark beer, one to put even more hair on my chest. To that end, I looked toward Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, a barrel-aged beauty that's as dark as my heart with just a hint of bourbon flavors. Heavens, this could warm up a corpse, it's that's good. Perhaps we should send St. Bernard dogs into the icy tundra with bottles of this strapped around their neck. Anyway, if you're thirsty, drink it up!