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June 10, 2006

After a long day of priming the living room (which doesn’t appear large to the naked eye but which contains hundreds of tiny, nearly unpaintable details) I was hoping that M and I and perhaps a few others would go to Jerk City, a chicken place on Church Avenue that was written up by Peter Meehan in the $25 and under column in the New York Times.

That article appeared in the food section just days after I’d come up with the idea for the blog, and it reinforced what I was already hoping: that Church Avenue is a wellstorm of low-priced ethnic wonders. I’d first read about a place called E & R (seen elsewhere as ENR) which Robert Sietsema wrote up in the Voice. To paraphrase his sentiments: you are stupid if you spend money at French restaurants in Manhattan, because this Haitian restaurant with terrible ambience where no one speaks English is better. I quickly disseminated that article to my boyfriend, to my friend at work, and to my friend John in order to perk up interest in a) exploring food in Brooklyn and b) being enthusiastic about an eating in a neighborhood that could go either way. (I am a food enthusiast but sometimes I need other enthusiasts to help me along to realize my dreams of eating delicious food.) All of these people nodded vigorously, and I became very cheerful.

(I think that E & R has changed hands, but here is the article, in case you are interested:,sietsema,19402,19.html)

These events led me to looking around for writings about other Church Avenue places, and I found some, and then the piece about the chicken joint appeared.

I was delighted to see it there, but M pointed out that it’s pretty sad that NYC is so pricey that the $25 and under column is relegated to chicken shacks way, way in the outer boroughs. He does sort of have a point.

We wanted to go, though, and would have if we hadn’t been distracted by some leftover fried chicken left over from a very succesful fried-chicken and Jaws-watching party we’d been to the night before, an event designed to kick off the summer season. That chicken was from Dirty Bird, a place on 14th Street in Manhattan that boasts fried organic chicken. When it opened, rumor was that it wasn’t salty enough, or spicy enough, but then the Dirty Birders realized their errors and from the taste of it, they also added a bunch of sugar to the mix–which is not a complaint. (Knowing that in the best of foods the line between sweet and savory is somewhat wiggly, I add both sugar and cinnamon to my spaghetti sauce but only when M isn’t looking because it grosses him out. M, if you are reading this, I am just kidding honey, of course I would not do that to you.)

Because we love fried chicken and because we have been sulking about our lack of kitchen, our hosts from the night before had given us leftovers. During a particularly horrible part of the painting, we were therefore forced to stop and eat cold fried chicken which is even better than greasy hot fried chicken. M knew that it would ruin his taste for chicken but I didn’t think it would matter. It did, however, curb my appetite. Not for poultry, but just in general. Instead of the Church Ave project, we decided to go out to Coney Island instead to say hello to the ocean. But after painting, I was too tired for even that. Eventually we went out for a walk and M steered us in the direction of Church to see what we could see.

What we saw is a complete split from one side of the street to the other. On the south side are gigantic old rarefied houses that you wouldn’t imagine you’d find in Brooklyn. Where did they get shingles, why aren’t there bars on the windows, etc. But the north side of Church Avenue is PURE brooklyn, with bodegas and kids in do-rags and a couple examples of the kind of car service that aren’t even regulated by the Taxi and Limosine Commission.

After walking up and down a few blocks and realizing that we’re far from any of the places I’ve read about except for E & R, which is closed, we happen into a brand-new Mexican place called La Huasteca. We’re wondering whether they’re closed, but they’re not. Can we eat there? Yes. Do some drug dealers follow us into the restaurant? Yes. But they finish their business in the bathroom, quickly, and we’re left with a bunch of nice Mexicans who basically speak no English but seem at the ready to give us Al Pastor tacos, and me a lime agua fresca.

We brought it home to eat and M actually glowed with pleasure at his enchiladas, whose tortillas had been passed through some rich mole sauce before they were filled with chicken, and then resauced with tomatillo. Even though I don’t seek out mole, I do, as a maximalist, approve of multiple saucings for the same plate of food. My tacos al pastor were actually pork in red sauce accidentally, but I also really enjoyed it. We have since been back and I will write further about that meal but in brief, El Huasteca has cleaner flavors and fresher-seeming food that our local Mexican on Cortelyou, called Cinco de Mayo. I will defend Cinco de Mayo to the death in part because it’s one of the only restaurants REALLY close to our house, because since living in Texas I love all real Mexican food. However, we both *love* La Huasteca. They have many different kinds of soup, including a ranchera-style tortilla soup, as well as chicken caldo. The quesadillas are on flour tortillas (as opposed to the unusual cornboats that CdM serves) and the pico de gallo is chunky, bright, and hot.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been to other Church Avenue restaurants.

This is for a few reasons:

During the week ,we work too late to consider straying too far for dinner, and even though Church Avenue is only 3 blocks up, it’s still 3 long blocks up.

The REAL reason, though, is because the real project at hand is the house project. And while we’ve made some steps forward, we’ve also taken some steps back. I will tell you a little bit about our house using LISTS as a medium.

1. M and I live in it together
2. It doesn’t cost very much
3. The ceilings are weirdly fantastic: 6 different tin ceilings
4. There are picture moldings on the walls, so it’s sort of like we live in a castle
5. It is 1 block from the Q, which is an express train that takes M and I to work
6. There is a family of baby kitties in the backyard, and even M., who is theoretically opposed to kitties, realizes how excellent it is to have a pile of kittens outside. He might call it a tableau vivant, because that is the sort of thing he calls things. We can’t get to them since we can’t get down into the yard, which M. thinks is fine but I think is bad because c’mon, it would be good to pet these kitties AT LEAST ONCE but he knows where it would go. But we, and the cat we already live with, can watch them through the window. In this way, it is like we are at the zoo, but it is like WE are at the zoo, and the kitties are the patrons, since we are the people locked in and they are the free ones frolicking around through the weeds, which are very tall, so the tiny ones have to hop, which is enormously cute. I don’t think they paid to get into the yard, though. They are feral.

Okay, 6 is enough for now. Don’t want to exhaust them all at once. I will try to think of a succint list of bad things about the house:

1. It makes me cough
2. This is because we have a mold condition but we don’t know where it’s coming from
3. We don’t really have walls in the kitchen and if we want them, we have to pay to get them. Same with a vent in the bathroom, which is perilously small and in a weirdly public part of the apartment.
4. The house has recently settled even further and the bathroom door, formerly very wonky, now won’t even close, and if you do force it, you are afraid that the pressure will be the final force that makes the back wall fall off into the back yard.
5. There are acoustical tiles first thing when you walk in the door which everyone–or everyone with eyes, at least–hates.
6. Pigeons hang out on our ledge in front, which is bad except for the fact that it makes M suggest nearly every day that we get an owl, which is a really interesting idea.

Would more birds really help us?


A good piece of news is that despite the fact that our sink is on sawhorses and we don’t have walls in the kitchen, we’ve actually been using it. More later.

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