Monday, December 10, 2012

Mario’s: Supping with the Sopranos

Amongst the countless gelato places, cafés, bakeries, ristorantes, and pizzerias of Little Italy in the Bronx, there is one restaurant whose food, service and history stands far above their esteemed competition: Mario’s!

Since 1919, five generations of the Migliucci family have served authentic Neapolitan food at Mario’s in the Bronx’s Little Italy; an amazing neighborhood, which stretches across East 187th Street from Arthur Avenue to Prospect Avenue, known for its wonderful Italian and Albanian fare.

Mario’s is a large restaurant with ample floor space and exposed brick trim along the walls, which are covered with oil paintings, photographs of celebrity clientele, newspaper reviews, and culinary awards.  Despite its size, Mario’s is warm and cozy. 

The night I visited, Mario’s was full of families laughing, clicking wine glasses and enjoying themselves.  To my right was an older Italian couple, the husband-who I am pretty sure was the inspiration for Tony Soprano-was a heavy set with a receding hair line, guido accent and  boisterous personality.  His wife had huge hair, the same accent, and wore enough make up to compete on Rupaul’s Drag Race.

My neighbors and I shared the same server, who was attentive, friendly and quick.  I noticed he treated my neighbors with the utmost care and respect. He referred to “Tony” as sir and made sure to get everything he ordered as fast as could. 

Mario’s menu is divided into the following categories: Soups, Salads, Appetizers, Pasta, Cheeses, Seafood, and Entrees.  For more information on the menu go to:

As I contemplated the appetizers, Tony and his wife were arguing over which appetizer to share.  He wanted the the Eggplant Sciliana (eggplant baked with a marinara sauce with capers, olives, garlic and  pieces of toasted bread) and she wanted the Fresh Mozzarella Coprese (a salad made up of slices of mozarella cheese with tomatoes and fresh basil) with wine.

After a loud and animated argument (with a lot of f-bombs thrown around), they decided not to share and each ordered whatever they wanted.  Tony’s argument in favor of the Eggplant Sciliana might not have convinced his wife to order it, but it did me.

He was right, the Eggplant Sciliana was delicious!  The eggplant was soft and baked to perfection. The sauce, seasoned with garlic and oregano, was hearty and delicious.  The capers and olives gave the dish a wonderful kick of salt and the toasted pieces of bread added a delightful crunchy texture.

As I ate, I decided to take out my camera and take a picture of my eggplant.  Tony must have seen the flash from the corner of his eye and thought that I had taken his picture. Immediately, he confronted me, demanding to know why I had taken his picture.  I saw my life flash before my eyes and almost lost bowel control. Before I could explain (and beg for mercy), his wife, who had seen what I had done, explained and told him to apologize.

He begrudgingly apologized and explained he didn’t like his picture being taken. As a friendly gesture, he asked me what I thought of the Eggplant Sciliana and I told him it was wonderful. He turned to his wife and told her they should’ve ordered the eggplant for two.  She gave me an annoyed, yet comical look and I smiled back. Thank God for his wife! If she hadn’t spoken up, I am pretty sure I would’ve been found floating face down in the Bronx River the next morning.

Happy to be alive, I looked over the Entrée and Steaks/chops sections of the menu and couldn’t decide between the Veal Cutlet a la Parmigiana, Veal Scaloppine a la Pizzaiola with mushrooms (thinly sliced cuts of veal cooked in tomato sauce with mushrooms), or Steak à la Pizzaiola with mushrooms (steak cooked in tomato sauce with mushrooms).  I chose the Veal Scaloppine a la Pizzaiola with mushrooms and ordered it with the pasta; all of Mario’s entrees are served with vegetables, pasta with tomato sauce or potato croquette.

The veal cutlets were moist, soft and delicious. The tomato sauce with mushrooms was excellent; it was seasoned with basil, oregano,  garlic and had diced roasted tomatoes, which added a wonderful sweetness to the dish.  The mushrooms were plump, juicy and had a rich earthy flavor.  The Ziti side dish was aldente and perfectly complemented the meal.

As I ate my dinner, Tony and his wife talked about their children, the people who owed them money, and some poor guy named Guiseppe who “was going to get what he deserved.”  Hearing a vague, yet terrifying, statement like that might’ve taken someone else’s appetite away, but my dinner was too good to let a possible death threat ruin my meal.

Mario’s dessert menu is simple and features: Tiramisu, Molten Lava cake, and Old Fashioned Plain Cheese Cake.  As delicious, as it all sounded I skipped dessert and asked my server for the check.  Tony’s wife asked me why I hadn’t ordered any dessert and I explained that I’m diabetic and had eaten enough carbohydrates.  Tony advised me not to eat so much next time and to order the tiramisu, because it was  “friggin’” delicious.  It was both a suggestion and order, to which  I responded, “Yes, sir, I will.”

I don’t know for sure if Tony was a “goodfella” or not, but I am certain that Mario’s food, service and ambiance are exceptional.  So if you’re looking for amazing Italian cuisine, head to the Bronx’s Little Italy and visit Mario’s.  It’s friggin’ awesome! Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho, or as our Italian family might say, Buon appetito!

Mario's Restaurant 
2342 Arthur Ave. 
Bronx,  NY  10458 

HOURS:  See website!

ATMOSPHERE:  Friendly, fun and joyful.

SERVICE: Excellent.

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.



BEVERAGES:  A fine selection of imported and domestic wines to choose from their wine list. Cocktails, Liquors, Beers, and Soda.

PRICE RANGE:  Moderate ($15-$30)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Babalú: Taste all of Latin America in one place!

I’ve always dreamed of riding a motorcycle through the roads of Latin America like Che Guevara did in his youth.  Unlike Che, I wouldn’t record the plight of peasants or tend to the sick and downtrodden: I’d be eating at every restaurant or food kiosk I could find! Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of going on a culinary version of “Motor Cycle Diaries”, but whenever I crave the myriad flavors of Latin America I ride the 6 train, arguably safer than a motorcycle, to Babalú.

Located in the Throggs Neck section of the South Bronx, Babalú is a beautiful restaurant with ample floor space; outdoor seating in the front (in warm weather); a fully stocked bar on the left; and 2 big screen televisions, which play “I Love Lucy” reruns, on the right.  Babalú’s tropical décor is reminiscent of most restaurants in the Caribbean and reminds me of La Mesa Cubana, my favorite restaurant in Cuba.

Babalú’s ambiance is energetic and fun, but unfortunately, the service was not up to par.  My server was inattentive, unfriendly and couldn’t answer any questions about the food. My only saving grace was the busboy, who bussed my table throughout the night.

As Gillberto Santa Rosa’s “Dejate Querer” played, my server brought me tortilla chips and Babalu’s three signature dipping sauces.   Served on three bowls in a small rectangular wooden box (very Latin American street food style), the signature dipping sauces are: Ajillo (A creamy garlic and cilantro sauce); Charred Tomato Salsa (Spicy diced tomatoes); and Piquillo Mojo (Roasted red peppers with diced tomatoes in a white wine vinegrette sauce). 

All three are delicious, but the Ajillo was truly the stand out sauce.  It was rich, creamy, and the cilantro added a very unique and refreshing taste. I devoured my portion and asked my intial server for another helping.  That night my garlic breathe could melt plastic.

As Celia Cruz’s “El Negro Bembon” played, I looked over the menu, which is divided into 12 sections: Frituras (Fried snacks from Latin America), Chicarrones (Cracklings), Patacones (Flattened out plantain sandwiches or pizzas), Ensaladas (Salads), Babalú BBQ (Assorted meat and seafood dishes), A La Plancha (Grilled meat dishes), Especialidades (Special dishes from all over Latin America), Escabeches (Seafood dishes), Tamales (Central and South American dish made of steamed corn meal wrapped in a banana leaves or corn husks), Pinchos (Skewers with different meat), and Chucherias (Side dishes like roasted potatoes and rice dishes).  For more menu information go to:

Intrigued by it all, I asked the busboy what he recommended and he rattled off a list of dishes he thought were good.  He highly recommended the Viguron salad, tamales and tacos. His menu knowledge and attitude were superb; I made sure to note that on the evaluation card given to me with my check.

As Eddie Palmieri’s “Ritmo Caliente” played, I decided to treat myself and ordered dishes from all over Latin America.  I took my busboy’s advice and ordered the Viguron Salad (Nicaragua), and a Yapingacho (Equador) for my appetizers.  For my entrée, I ordered the Tamal Cubano (Cuba, duh!), a Pincho de Camaron (Shrimp skewer from Puerto Rico), and Arroz con Gandules (Rice with green pigeon peas from Puerto Rico and La Republica Dominicana).

The Viguron Salad, which is curtido (chopped cabbage, carrots, citrus, vinegar and salt) and steamed yuca, was excellent.  The curtido was crunchy and had that wonderful bitter vinegar taste that makes it famous.  The steamed yuca, cooked with garlic, balanced the curtido very well.

The Yapingacho, a small potato ball dumpling filled with chorizo (spicy sausage), was soft, savory and delicious.  I highly recommend dipping the dumplings in the Ajillo sauce; the combination is incredible.

As my busboy cleared my dishes and grooved to Tito Nieves’ “I Like it like that”, I raved about the salad and complimented his taste.  He assured me the Tamal Cubano and my orders would be good.  He was right again!  The Tamal Cubano was moist and sweet; the pork filling was seasoned to perfection. 

The Pincho de Camaron was good, but a bit salty and strong.  It was cooked with a dry spice rub and seasoned with two sauces (Chipotle and Chimichurri), which slightly overpowered the shrimp. I would recommend ordering it without the sauces or with less dry rub.

The Arroz con Gandules was moist, fluffy and delicious.  Babalú’s version of this classic Puerto Rican/Dominican dish features red and green peppers and chorizo.  The chorizo, not a typical ingredient in the dish, gave it an extra kick of heat that made it unique and interesting.

After having a heavy dinner, dessert wasn’t an option, but the menu did pique my curiosity because it featured: Flan (typical Latin American custard with tropical fruit salad); Tres Leches (Puerto Rican Coquito with white chocolate mousse); Budin (bread pudding with raisins and vanilla ice cream); and Mixed berry crema catalana (mixed berries, caramel, and sweet cream).

With incredible Salsa and food, Babalú is an amazing culinary tour through Latin America.  So if you’re ready to take your taste buds on an adventure south of the border head to Babalú and start your “Motorcycle Diary!”  Go taste for yourself!

¡Buen provecho!


3233 East Tremont Avenue  
Bronx, NY 10461
(718) 824-8400


Lunch // Monday - Friday 11AM - 3PM
Brunch // Saturday & Sunday 11AM - 3PM
Dinner // Monday - Wednesday & Sunday 3PM - 11PM
Thursday - Saturday 3PM - 12 Midnight
Late Night Menu // Friday & Saturday 12 Midnight - 3AM
LOUNGE // Friday & Saturday 11PM - 4AM

ATMOSPHERE: Laid back and relaxed.


SOUND LEVEL: Conversational, with nice ambient music.




PRICE RANGE:  Huge menu

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beans and Vines: Big flavors in a small space!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

The old saying, “Good things come in small packages” teaches us that size doesn't always indicate quality and that something small can be of far better quality than something larger.  Beans and Vines is the perfect example of this sage proverb.  It’s a small restaurant you could walk by without noticing, but once you enter the food and service will make you happy you did!

Located in Inwood, Beans and Vines is a café/wine bar/restaurant with an eclectic menu of international cuisine and an impressive selection of South American and European wines.  The décor features an exposed brick wall on the left, 8 small wooden tables and chairs, two comfy armchairs, and a small coffee bar in the back.  With a relaxed and social ambiance, Beans and Vines is perfect for having a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend.

Claudio-a young Argentinean Computer Programming student-was our incredible server for the night. He bounced between our tables like a pinball!  He served coffee; recommended wines; asked everyone what people thought of their orders; and answered every question without skipping a beat.  His recommendations made my visit a great experience.  Throughout the night, as patrons left they thanked him for his service and hospitality.

As I looked over my menus, I was impressed with the lunch/dinner menu’s diversity.  It was divided into 7 sections: Sandwiches, Salads, Panini, Tapas, Entrees, Sides and Dessert. 

The Sandwiches section features: Balsamic Chicken and Avocado; Grilled Portobello and Goat Cheese; and Moroccan Chicken. The Paninis are made on French baguettes or Ciabatta and include: Grilled Chicken and Avocado, Black Forest Ham, and Gourmet Chimi (Ground Sirloin or Chicken Breast, Topped with Tomato Slices, Shredded Cabbage, Onions, Chipotle Sauce, French Mustard, and Ketchup. Served with Your Choice of Seasoned Fried Potatoes or Yuca Fries). 

The Salads are simple: Southwestern grilled chicken Cesar, Baby greens with Goat cheese, and Tuna, Cranberry, and Fuji Apple on Mesuclin greens.  The Tapas section includes Assorted Cheeses and Fruits, Roasted Eggplant Tapenade, and Grilled Shrimp Tostada.

The entrées are really amazing; you can choose from Grilled Chicken Breast over Eggplant Puree (served with yucca fries and a house salad); Broiled Salmon in Lemon-Scampi Sauce (served with a house salad and mixed vegetables); Shrimp Scampi (served with a house salad and mixed vegetables); and 16-ounce Sirloin Steak (served with a house salad and Asparagus).

I asked Claudio what he recommended and he suggested the Grilled Shrimp Tostada. He said it was a popular appetizer and explained its preparation and seasoning.  It was obvious; he knew the ins and outs of the kitchen.  He assured me that I would love the dish, so I ordered it and continued to look over the menus.

Within minutes, my appetizer arrived!  The shrimp was grilled perfectly and the dry rub on it had a delightful piquant flavor.  The tostada was topped with avocado, corn, and drizzled with fresh lime, ciltrano and a chipotle cream.  The vegetables were crisp and refreshing, yet had a spicy kick to them as well.  The appetizer came with an excellent mixed green side salad dressed with balsamic vinegar.  The portions were generous; you could easily mistake this appetizer for an entrée.

After I was done, Claudio came over and asked me what I thought of the tostada.  We had a nice chat about the dish and then he asked for my dinner order.  I ordered the Shrimp Scampi with a side order of roasted potatoes.  Beans and Vines side selections include: Roasted Potatoes, Yucca Fries and Seasonal vegetables. 

I decided to be adventurous and asked Claudio what wine would go well with the Scampi.  Being a wine novice, I paid close attention to his recommendations, which included: Chardonnay – Desio (Italy/Sicily), Chardonnay – Widow’s Walk (USA/North Fork, Long Island), and Gavi – Sacco (Italy/Piedmonte).  Claudio explained why these three would pair well my Scampi and gave his opinion of each one.  It was very informative and interesting; I chose the Chardonnay-Desio. For a complete wine list go to:

The Shrimp Scampi was excellent!  The garlic butter, salt and white wine (typical scampi seasonings) complimented the sweetness of the shrimp. The mixed vegetables-green beans, zucchini, green and red peppers covered in oil and seasoning- were crunchy and savory.  The roasted potatoes, prepared with oil olive, salt and a sweet Spanish paprika, were delicious.  The Chardonnay-Desio was excellent! Claudio was right! It had a nice dry taste with a slight fruitiness that paired well with the shrimp.

After a hearty appetizer and entrée, I had no room for dessert. Beans and Vines’ dessert menu is simple and features: Pecan Pie, Chocolate cake and their special homemade flan. 

When I told Claudio I wasn’t having dessert, he recommended the homemade flan and a few coffee options that went well with it for my next visit.  I couldn’t believe it: he was making sure I’d enjoy my next visit.  As I left, he shook my hand, walked me to the door and asked me to come back soon.  That is truly excellent service.

Beans and Vines is small, but don’t let that fool you.  This restaurant mixes the best elements of a café, wine bar and restaurant to create a warm and wonderful place.  Their food dwarfs their loftier and larger competition and with attentive and friendly servers like Claudio, I am sure you’ll love it!  Remember, “Good things come in small packages!” Go taste for yourself! 

¡Buen provecho!

Beans And Vines

4842 Broadway Ave.
New York City, New York, 10034
212 544 2326

HOURS:  Monday-Saturday: 10am - 11pm. Sunday open for brunch from 11am - 9pm only.

ATMOSPHERE: Laid back and relaxed.

SERVICE: Excellent!

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational, with nice ambient music.
KID FRIENDLY: Yes, but it is a small space.


PRICE RANGE:  Sandwiches ($9-$9.50), Salads ($11-$13), Panini ($9-$10), Tapas ($5-$14), Entrees ($17-$31), Sides ($3-$6), Soups ($4-$6), and Dessert ($6).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Le Chéile: A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… in Washington Heights!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

The Irish believe that at end of every rainbow there’s a Leprechaun sitting hammering a shoe, with the knowledge of where you can find a pot of gold.  Well, I’m no Leprechaun, but I know if you walk to the end of W. 181th St. and Cabrini Blvd. you’ll find an amazing Irish restaurant, called Le Chéile (pronounced Leh Kay-lah), where the food is as good as gold!

Le Chéile (which is Gaelic for together) is an Irish pub and restaurant in Washington Heights with an eclectic menu that features American, Italian, and authentic Irish cuisine. The space features a pub on the left, restaurant seating on the right and a second floor with additional restaurant seating. Each table is covered with butcher paper and a small jar of crayons is provided so you can doodle and draw as you wait for your dishes.

As I waited for my menu, I noticed the diversity of people dining at Le Chéile. I heard Southern accents talking on cell phones; families chatting in Spanish; and a set of five joyful Irish accents sitting next to me. It was good to know members of the Irish community eat at Le Chéile and enjoy the food; it gave the restaurant more “street cred.”

I overheard one of the Irish patrons ordering the Bachelor’s Irish Beans with Toast, a classic Irish pub appetizer. Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea! Being relatively ignorant about Irish cuisine, I decided to eavesdrop on their orders and if they ordered Irish entrees I would look them up in the menu, and order whatever I thought sounded interesting.  I assumed, if Irish people ate there, they would probably order Irish food.  I know this makes me sound like a nosy food stalker, but who better to teach me about Irish cuisine then Irish people?

When my server appeared with my menu, I ordered a beverage and the Bachelor’s Irish Beans with Toast.  She seemed a bit surprised that I ordered without looking at the menu, but nodded and smiled! Le Chéile’s wait staff is nice and accommodating, but the service is slow.  I found it very strange that during the height of dinnertime, there was only one server for all of us on the second floor.

As I waited for my order, I looked over the menu, but kept my ears glued to the Irish patrons’ conversations.  They mostly talked about work and their relationships; I struck gold, when one of the men asked everyone what they were going to order.

My assumption was right!  The Irish patrons ordered primarily from the traditional Irish section of the menu, which includes: The Bangers and Mash (Irish sausage with mashed potatoes and beans); the Shepherd’s Pie (spiced ground beef with vegetables topped with crispy mashed potatoes served with greens); the traditional Irish stew (fresh beef and vegetables in a hearty sauce); the Fish and Chips (beer battered fillet with fries served with their house tartar sauce); and the Dublin Chicken Curry (Irish yellow curry with chicken over seasoned rice).

Le Chéile’s menu also features appetizers such as: Fried Calamari, Chicken wings and homemade mozzarella sticks.  Their salad section features: Cobb salad, mixed greens, and Caesar salad.  Their Sammies section (Burgers and sandwiches) features: A Steak sandwich, veggie burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches.  Their entrée section includes: Grilled Steak, Chicken Parmesan, and Blackened Skate fish.  They have wonderful farmer’s side dishes as well: Beets, Broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, and green peas.

When my appetizer arrived, I placed my dinner order-the Bangers with Mash and the Shepherd’s Pie- and began eating.  The Bachelor’s Irish Beans was simple, sweet and good; it consisted of a bowl of white beans in a spiced tomato sauce with pieces of toasted hero bread. When I added a pinch of salt and pepper, the flavors opened up even more. 

A few minutes later, my server brought my dinner along with the Irish patrons’ orders.  One of the Irishmen closest to me (a white haired bearded old man with a huge head) noticed we ordered the same dinner, smiled and said, “Cheers, good dinnah ta’yah!”  I thanked him; wished them all a good meal; and started my dinner.

The Bangers with Mash was wonderful! The Irish sausage-made of finely ground pork, egg, and seasonings-was soft, flavorful, and had a wonderful char to it!  The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery and the beans were as good as they were in the appetizer.

The Shepherd’s Pie was also delicious.  The crispy mashed potato topping was a wonderful accompaniment to the seasoned beef and vegetables underneath!  It was an excellent blend of savory flavors with rich buttery sweetness.  The mixed greens were crisp and tasty, but a bit over dressed.

I didn’t think I had room for dessert until I looked over the dessert menu and my sweet tooth took over!  The dessert menu features: Homemade Apple pie (served a la mode), Ice Cream sandwiches (2 oatmeal raisin cookies and vanilla ice cream), and Banana Foster (vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, brandy flambé, and whipped cream).

Intrigued by the Banana Foster, I ordered one and it was wonderful! The sweetness of the ice cream, whipped cream and banana slices combined with the deep richness of the brandy Flambé and cinnamon, make this an incredible dessert. Despite how heavy it may sound, it was actually light and refreshing.

With a fun atmosphere, excellent food and interesting art, Le Chéile is an Irish secret that needs to be shared!  So go to Washington heights and follow the rainbow (down W. 181st and Cabrini Blvd.) to this amazing Irish pot of gold.

Le Chéile
839 W 181st St
(between Pinehurst Ave & Cabrini Blvd)
New York, NY 10033
(212) 740-3111

HOURS:  Mon.-Fri. 11am-Midnight, Sat.-Sun. 4pm-Midnight

ATMOSPHERE: Very cool and laid back.


SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
KID FRIENDLY: Yes, kid friendly

RECOMMENDED DISHES: See the article above.

BEVERAGES: Soda, Coffee, Tea, Irish Coffee, Iced tea, Barry’s Irish tea, Mexican Hot Chocolate ($1.50-7pm)

PRICE RANGE: Soups ($5), Starters ($4-$18), Eggs and Such (7-$15), Salads ($7-$11), Sammies ($9-$15), Plates ($12-$23), Traditional ($11-$14), Farmer’s sides ($5-$14), Desserts ($5-$6)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Food for the heart, mind, and SOUL!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

Collard greens. Potato salad. Fried catfish. Candied yams. Fresh made banana pudding. These are the building blocks of a soul food dinner that will make you hoot and holler like an old lady feeling the “spirit” on a Sunday morning in church. So if you’re ready for a life changing religious experience (i.e. a good meal), then go to Miss. Maude’s Spoonbread Too and get ready to testify!

Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too is one of Central Harlem’s greatest culinary treasures. Miss Maude’s is one of two restaurants owned by former Wilhelmina model Norma Jean Darden (she named the restaurant after her Aunt Maude), who also operates Spoonbread Catering; which specializes in cutting edge multi-cultural cuisine.

Miss Maude’s is a medium sized diner-style space with tables in the center; three cushioned booths; a counter for take out orders; and family photos and press clippings hung on the walls. Simple and clean, the space is welcoming in that wonderful way that mom and pop establishments are.

The wait staff is friendly and sweet, but slow. My server was funny and engaging, but it took a long time to get my dishes; I made sure to note that in the suggestion box near the bathroom.

As I looked over the menu, Mr. Johnson-a 73-year-old cotton haired African-American widower from Central Harlem-sat in the table next to mine to wait for his take out order. With a friendly smile, he asked me if I had been to Miss Maude’s before, and then began to give me his dinner recommendations, “You come here, ya’gotta eat the fried chicken. Nothing is better than the fried chicken! My wife used to love the fried catfish, but I love the chicken. Get the chicken. Trust me the chicken! Unless, you can’t don’t like chicken, then eat the catfish!”

He said chicken at least 20 times, before his take out order (fried chicken (surprised?) with candied yams and macaroni and cheese) was ready. As he left, I thanked him for the company and re-focused my attention on Miss Maude’s amazing entrée menu, which features: Southern Fried chicken (Surprised yet?), Miss Maude’s Famous BBQ Chicken, Baked Turkey Wings, Fried/BBQ/Fried Shrimp, Louisiana Catfish, Homemade Meatloaf, and Uncle CL’s Short beef ribs, and Center Cut Pork chops (grilled or smothered).

All entrees are served with fresh baked cornbread and two sides such as: Macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens, Black-eyed peas, potato salad, mashed potatoes, spinach, and cornbread stuffing.

Miss Maude’s menu also features a soup/salad/starters section that offers: BBQ wings (glazed with their renown BBQ sauce); Aunt Norma’s fresh green salad (with cherry tomatoes, baby corn and your choice of dressing); and Miss Maude’s Famous seafood Gumbo.

Despite Mr. Johnson’s recommendations, I had to follow my heart and order the Louisiana Catfish with collard greens, potato salad and an extra side of candied yams. Since my childhood, I have loved catfish! I used to devour Ms. Mable’s mouth-watering fried catfish sandwiches from her mom and pop restaurant across the street from my father’s bodega. I had to see if Miss Maude’s catfish could stand up to that scrutiny…and it did!

The Louisiana catfish was excellent! The cornmeal and white flour breading was crisp and delicious and the catfish was soft, flavorful and well seasoned. Many soul food places serve you a plate of oily, salty or dried out catfish and have the nerve to call it good, but Miss Maude’s Louisiana catfish exemplifies how fried catfish should taste. It took me back to those Saturday afternoons spent gobbling up Ms. Mable’s sandwiches in the back of the bodega, when I should’ve been restocking the refrigerators.

The collard greens, cooked with ham bone and diced onions, were wonderful and the candied yams were also a treat! I love it when candied yams are sweet and have a cinnamon taste to them as well. The potato salad was good, but it had a bit too much mayonnaise for me. Despite the excess mayo, it had all the wonderful elements you expect from southern potato salad, such as celery, green and red peppers, relish, and hardboiled eggs.

After having a wonderful dinner, I had to finish off the meal with a good dessert. Miss Maude’s dessert menu features: Coconut Layer cake, Sweet potato pie, Homemade peach cobbler, red velvet cake, and Miss Maude’s Signature banana pudding. Overwhelmed by the potential deliciousness of all the desserts, I asked my server what he recommended and he told me his favorite dessert was the banana pudding; so I ordered it.

The banana pudding was rich and delicious; the whipped cream topping was sweet, but not heavy, and complimented the banana pieces in the pudding. The cinnamon vanilla wafer piecrust bottom was also an extra treat! My server was right when he said, “It’s off the hook good!”

One of the many reasons I am a proud to be a Harlem boy is that we have the best soul food in New York City (Sorry Brooklyn, face facts, you come in second)! Every so often, I head downtown to Harlem to feed my heart, mind, and soul; nothing satiates that hunger better than the food at Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too! Go Taste for yourself!

¡Buen Provecho!

Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too
547 Lenox Avenue
(Between 137th St. & 138th St.)

HOURS: Sunday 11:30am-9pm, Monday-Thursday 12:00pm-9:30pm, Friday-Saturday 12:00pm-10:30pm.

ATMOSPHERE: Friendly, laidback and comfortable.

SERVICE: A bit slow, but the servers are very nice.

SOUND LEVEL: Good for Conversations!

KID FRIENDLY: Bring the kids!


BEVERAGES: Sodas, Homemade iced Tea, Fresh Squeezed lemonade, Spoonbread Punch (made with fruit juices), Coffee, Hot tea, and Strawberry Wine ($2.00-$3.95)

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers/Salads/Soup ($3.95-$7.95), Entrees ($12.95-$16.95), and Desserts ($3.50-$4.95)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sofrito Spot-of-the-week (mini-review): ¡El Chevere is Chevere!

by Benjamin Ramos Rosado

From time to time, I will post Sofrito Spot-of-the-week mini-reviews of small take out spots or "mom'n'pop" places that I feel are worth sharing!

When Spanish speakers see something amazing or experience something significant we say “¡Que chevere!” (How cool/amazing/awesome)! Well, there’s this little hole-in-the-wall “Mom’n’Pop” place in El Barrio called “El Chevere” (They let you know how cool they are off the bat!) and their cuchifritos (koo-chee-free-tohs) will make you SCREAM “¡Que chevere!”

Cuchifritos are a small subsection of Puerto Rican cuisine, which includes a variety of dishes such as: morcillas (blood sausage), papas rellenas (fried potato balls stuffed with meat), bacalaitos (fried salt cod fish fritters) chicharrones (fried pork skin), and other pork products fried in manteca (lard). These fried delicacies are incredible and sinfully decadent!

El Chevere serves all of the above and much more! Unlike other cuchifrito spots, they also a lunch/dinner menu that includes: Rice and Beans; various Puerto Rican guisados (stews); baked and fried chicken; and pernil (roasted pork shoulder). Also, they sell fresh fruit juices-passion fruit, papaya and mango-and make batidas (Puerto Rican smoothies made with fruit and condensed milk).

I know what some of you might be thinking: How can you recommend greasy and unhealthy food like cuchifritos?

My answer is simple: I don’t believe eating cuchifritos on occasion is unhealthy; the over consumption of them or any fried food is unhealthy. When eaten infrequently and in moderation, cuchifritos are wonderful treat! If you practice good judgment and self- control, you can have a bacalaito or a papa rellena and not worry about your cholesterol spiking.

It’s about moderation, not deprivation.

Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!

El Chevere
200 3rd Avenue (on E. 110th St.)
Price Range: $1-10

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yummy Thai Home Cooking: Lives up to its name!

by Benjamin Ramos Rosado

Naming your restaurant Yummy Thai Home Cooking may seem pretentious and overconfident, but when the atmosphere is mellow; the service is on point; and the food is delicious, then it isn’t conceit: It’s being accurate!

Located in Inwood, the northern most neighborhood of Manhattan, Yummy Thai Home Cooking opened its doors 3 years ago and has become very popular with the neighbors. The restaurant is moderately sized with beautiful lacquered wood tables, and a chic looking bar that seats 5 people. With beautiful red paneled mirrors with lit tea lights underneath and dim lighting, Yummy Thai Home Cooking is perfect for a first date or romantic rendezvous.

The night I visited, I noticed an Asian family having dinner with their adorable daughter who was slurping noodles from a bowl. The little girl waved at me and told me to try the chicken noodle soup, because it was “goooooooooood!” She practically growled the word. Kids make the best food critics, because they have no social filter to hold back their honesty. Her parents laughed and told her not to bother me any more. She giggled, wiped her broth-covered face with her arm and waved again, she was so cute I giggled and waved back.

After that wonderful welcome, my server enthusiastically greeted me and handed me a menu. Her service was impeccable. She was attentive and very friendly. After each dish, she asked what I thought of it and recommended similar dishes for my future visits. When she complimented me on my new long sleeve shirt, “You look handsome in that shirt, sir. Blue is your color! It matches your eyes.” her tip skyrocketed from 15% to 25%. The way to this man’s heart is through my stomach and generous compliments!

Feeling handsome and hungry, I looked over Yummy Thai’s appetizer menu. The Chicken Curry puffs, Duck rolls, Thai dumplings and Golden Tofu immediately piqued my curiosity. No stranger to Thai appetizers, I eagerly ordered the Thai dumplings (stuffed with mushrooms, ground chicken and shrimp) and the Chicken Curry puff (a puff pastry filled with ground chicken curry with onions).

Coupled with a vinegar dipping sauce, the dumplings were delicious! They were moist, hot and the meat filling was well seasoned. The Chicken Curry puff was also excellent! The puff pastry was light and crispy; the ground chicken curry was flavorful and moist. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten chicken curry puffs that were drier than sawdust and tasted like curried shoe leather.

Although I skipped the salad, I did notice the interesting selection, which included: a Thai salad (fresh greens, tomatoes, tofu, beans sprouts with a choice of peanut or ginger dressing); a Yum Pork salad (same as above except with a lime dressing or Thai herbs); and a Papaya Salad (Shredded green papaya with chili, peanut and lime dressing). My next visit, I plan on trying the Papaya Salad, it sounds amazing!

After my yummy appetizers, I was ready for an entrée. The entrée selections were divided into three categories: Sautéed, Noodles and Fried Rice and Curry. Any of the entrees can be served with chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, squid, duck, scallop, whole red snapper, mixed vegetables or tofu. Vegetarians rejoice! The entire menu is veggie-friendly!

Torn between the Red Curry (Sautéed with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, pepper, basil and chili), Traditional Thai Chicken (Ground Chicken in basil sauce with a fried egg) and Tom Yum Fried Rice (Fried Rice sautéed with fried egg, lemongrass, shrimp paste and chili curry), I buckled down and ordered the Tom Yum Fried rice with pork.

The fried rice was delicious and beautiful! Good fried rice is fluffy and light; it should be a dull yellowish white color, not the brown, oily and heavy rice we’re all accustomed to from our local take out eateries.

The lemongrass- a common Thai herb with a lemon and gingery taste- was fragrant and amazing. The shrimp paste and chili curry gave the dish a spicy yet, sweet taste that went well with the savory and wonderful pork. Also, the dish’s angel hair carrot garnish and cucumber slices provided a sweet and crunchy texture to the meal.

After a flavorful dinner, I needed a sweet dessert to top it off! Unfortunately, the dessert menu wasn’t as extensive as the other sections. I had to choose from Fried Ice cream; banana fritters with chocolate sauce; green tea ice cream; or mango with sticky rice. Salivating from the idea of chocolate sauce, I ordered the banana fritter.

This dessert was simple; it was a banana cut into pieces, fried in rice paper, drizzled with chocolate sauce, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Served on a small plate, the fried bananas were good, but were overpowered by the excessive amount of chocolate sauce. Overall the dessert was okay, but very rich! Next time, I think I’ll order the green tea ice cream instead.

Inwood has many fantastic restaurants and Yummy Thai Home Cooking has joined the ranks of some of the best! Yummy Thai truly lives up to its name! As the little girl I met would say, it was “goooooooood!” Go taste for yourself!

¡Buen provecho!

Yummy Thai Home Cooking
4959 Broadway
New York, N.Y. 10034

HOURS: Mon-Thu, Sun 12 pm - 11 pm, Fri-Sat 12 pm -12 am

ATMOSPHERE: Friendly, mostly young couples and young urban professionals.

SERVICE: Friendly, attentive and timely.

SOUND LEVEL: Great for conversation.

KID FRIENDLY: Bring the kids!


BEVERAGES: Soda, Thai Ice Tea, Regular Ice tea, Beer, Wine and Liquor at the bar.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers ($3.95-$7.95), Salad ($5.95-$7.95), Soup ($4.95-$8.50), Entrees ($11.95-$18.95), and Desserts ($4.25-$5.95)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A little bit of “De Bayou” in El Barrio!


By Benjamin Ramos Rosado

Nestled in the heart of 3rd avenue is a place where the corn bread is freshly baked; where the gumbo is rich and delicious; and where the heart and soul of the bayou is served to you on every plate! So if you are craving down home N‘Awlins flavor, then head to El Barrio and visit Creole!

Creole is an amazing restaurant and music supper club that serves authentic Louisiana Creole cooking. This unique cuisine combines French, Spanish, African, and Native American culinary influences together with classic southern cooking.  Creole cooking evolved in the kitchens of the country plantation estates of well-to-do aristocrats of French descent in Louisiana.

Despite this cuisine’s haughty origins, Creole, the restaurant, is unpretentious and has a welcoming atmosphere.  When you walk in, there’s a small stage to the right-where live jazz is performed a few nights out of the week- and on the left is an exposed brick wall with framed pictures of the performers that have graced their stage. Creole’s decor is uncomplicated and beautiful; there’s artwork everywhere, a large mural of their logo on the back wall, and a fully stocked six-stool bar.

Creole’s wait staff has written the book on good service.  When I arrived, servers greeted me as I passed by them on my way to my table.  My server provided me with great insight into the menu and answered all my questions with a smile. Good service is extremely difficult to find in this city and Creole’s staff sets the bar high.

As I looked over the menu, my server placed a small square of hot freshly baked corn bread with a pat of butter in front of me.  The tantalizing aroma took me back to my childhood in Harlem!

When I was a kid, I would stop by our local soul food restaurant every morning, before school, to buy a piece of their fresh baked corn bread with butter.  Ms. Mable, the owner and cook, always gave me an extra large piece because she was knew my father, the local bodagero, and according to her, “You are de cutest thang in de world!” She was right! With my rosy chubby cheeks and Navy blue catholic school uniform, I was adorable!

Sweet and moist, the corn bread was the perfect start to what would be an amazing meal. Menu open and appetite stimulated, I couldn’t wait to begin my culinary adventure to N’awlins.

Creole’s appetizers/tapas menu features classic Po boy sandwiches; Fried Okra; Louisiana crab cakes; Creole catfish strips and Baby back ribs.  I ordered the Fried catfish Po boy sandwich-made with Italian bread, Mesculin, tomatoes with house dressing- and it was excellent. The catfish was well seasoned, moist and its breading was crispy, but not oily.

If you’ve never had a Po boy or have eaten that miserable excuse of a sandwich sold at Popeye’s, please run, don’t walk, to Creole and order a Po Boy.  The genius behind a Po Boy is in its simplicity: Good bread, well-cooked meat, and delicious greens and tomatoes naturally leads to an awesome sandwich. 

Also, I ordered The Fried Okra and it was excellent! I know okra isn’t popular because of the snot-like goo it secretes when cooked, but I beg you to look past this gooey prejudice and try this appetizer.  With salt, pepper and butter, fried okra can be a delicacy! Don’t be afraid of the goo!

After two impressive appetizers, I eagerly skimmed the entrees and I couldn’t decide between: the Southern fried chicken (with Creole seasoning); Okra Gumbo (which is served with shrimp, chicken, sausage or vegetarian); or the Gator etouffe (alligator cooked in a tomato based wine and butter sauce with peppers, onions, garlic and Creole spices over coconut rice).  With the exception of the gumbo and Alfredo dishes, Creole’s entrees are served with two classic southern sides, such as: Collard greens, vegetarian jambalaya rice, Black beans, 4 cheese baked macaroni, and candied yams.

After much thought, I ordered the Okra Gumbo with shrimp (Yes, I’m on an okra crusade!) and a side of collard greens.  Usually, the gumbo is served with white rice, but I asked my server to substitute the white rice for the vegetarian jambalaya rice to kick it up a notch. 

The gumbo arrived piping hot with a heavenly aroma.  The gumbo’s roux- a creole spicy sauce made of fat and flour- was hearty and delicious. The celery, peppers and onions added a wonderful aldente crunch to the stew; the shrimp were perfectly cooked.  The okra provided a soft yet firm texture to the gumbo that brought all the elements together harmoniously. 

Good gumbo feels like a mother’s hug after a rough day and that’s exactly how I felt while eating it: comforted and loved. 

The moist and flavorful vegetarian jambalaya rice added an extra kick of spice to the gumbo and the collard greens, prepared with garlic and onions, were good, but a bit over cooked.

Fully carbo-loaded, I decided to be a good diabetic and forgo dessert.  It was painful to look through the dessert menu and realize I was missing out on a Key Lime tart; Sweet potato bread pudding with caramel and pecan sauce; and a Hot Sweet Potato Beignet -sautéed sweet potatoes with cinnamon, butter, and sugar stuffed into a puff pastry and baked until golden brown. 

Next time I visit, the Hot Sweet Potato Beignet is going to be my appetizer!  There is no way I’m missing out on this dessert again.  Even writing the dessert’s description has me anxious to go back.

Amongst all the taquerias, cuchifritos and fondas, Creole is one of El Barrio’s best-kept secrets!  So get on the 6 train and make your way uptown, or downtown, to this amazing bit of “de bayou” in El Barrio!  You won’t be disappointed.

¡Buen provecho!

2167 3rd Ave @ E. 118 St.
(212) 876-8838

HOURS:  Mon. closed, Tues.-Fri. 12pm-11pm, Sat. 3pm-11pm, and Sun. 2-7pm

ATMOSPHERE: Laid-back and warm.

SERVICE: Friendly, attentive and timely.

SOUND LEVEL: Satisfactory, but remember some nights there is live jazz.

KID FRIENDLY: Bring the kids!


DRINKS AND WINE: Sorry folks, I don’t drink, but they did have wine, beer, and soda.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers ($5.95-$15), salads ($10.95), main courses ($12.95-$28.95)
    And desserts ($5.50-$6.50)