Providence AF

One night while sitting at a bar where I thought they served no food, we discovered they did indeed serve food, albeit only Spanish tinned seafood. Specifically: cockles in brine. Cockles in brine! We did not opt for it. By the time I got home, the first word had stretched to “cockerels;” “cockerels in brine,” I knew, was not right. Because cockerels in brine would be male chickens swimming. It took me entirely too long to get from cockles to cockerels and back again, but I got there with the help of a food writer who described foraging along the water line for cockles by looking for the little water spouts they created. She then got home and found that she “had too few cockles and no bacon to make a chowder.” It is unfortunate to have too few cockles and no bacon, but it is more unfortunate, I submit, to think you are going to eat pizza and then, because you are in Rhode Island, find yourself confronted with a pizza strip.

Many of the pizza strips I have squared up to have been resting next to the cash registers at convenience stores. I have also seen them sitting out on some cluttered surface, layered between wax paper, at parties. They come in a doughnut box. They are not pizza. They are doughy, damp focaccia-like bases with thick tomato sauce on them and no cheese. They are deliberately served at room temperature… because to heat such a thing might make it taste somewhat good? I’m not going to denigrate pizza strips, because people love them. And I am happy for those people who love pizza strips in the same way I am happy for people who love the expensive, diseased horse they bought off Craigslist, the horse whose many and complex medical needs prevent them from ever leaving home or sleeping for more than 3 hours at a time, zeroing out the possibility of ever taking a vacation or even just a long walk. Do I want that horse dead or gone? Of course not! I would just never buy that horse.

What I would buy, if I could, are resurrections of several departed Providence establishments. Tied for first place are the Safari Lounge and the original What Cheer, which technically still exists but surely does not. What Cheer was where I went after being bamboozled into serving as a no-body-to-guard bodyguard/communications lackey when Robert DeNiro came to town. My job was to stand around but not too close to DeNiro making sure no one did anything weird. I have never felt so useless or so ill-suited to any job. What Cheer provided a $4 midweek Old Fashioned and a version of poutine and no anxious standing-around. In addition, I wish for the return of the Red Fez, though I understand the need for restauranteurs to rest. And my most recent tiny heartache, Bombay, which was Northern Indian food and is now something else entirely. Bombay warmed the cockles of my heart. Now the cockles of my heart are spouting cool brine.

Holding strong, however, is a place I call Shouty Sushi. It is on Wickenden Street. The first time I went there and lost my shoes and knelt on the floor, two waitresses rotated through the space at extremely high speed arguing loudly with each other for a full hour. All of the customers kept flinching and getting lower to the ground, and the shouting only stopped long enough for the waitresses to exert immense pressure on each person trying to order, but the shouting would start up again before the person was done ordering, so people just got whatever the waitresses decided they’d get as we all crouched under a canopy of screams. The was also an unspoken rule that the waitresses would take people’s food whenever they felt like it and while still bickering, and long before anyone was done eating. I watched people reflexively lean back as the shouting waitresses reached across the table unexpectedly, and then whoosh, the table was cleared and a bill was slapped down. And no one stopped shouting or even looked at the customers. If you go there, you consider running out, but then don’t. Because you don’t exist there, and you will never go back, because you never were.

Shouty Sushi should not to be confused with Bossy Deli Sandwich. For a time when I worked near there, I would go to Venda Ravioli and carefully read the sandwich menu while maintaining a 12-step or minimum three-yard distance from the counter, to make clear that no, I was not bothering the staff or asking for anything. I would decide, memorize my order, and then place that order. I would receive a sandwich wrapped in paper and taped closed. I would walk home. I would unwrap the sandwich, and it would be nothing I had ordered, plus it would be covered with vendetta mayonnaise. Why? For offending the hams in the case. For not having the thudding hot heart energy needed to appreciate the frickin’ artichokes. For not being a beautiful flowing-haired princess. For not wanting or ordering the capicola when you are getting the frickin’ capicola!

At East Side Pockets, you can get whatever you want, except a straight answer on how to pronounce “gyro.” I asked, because for years I have purposely mumbled a word somewhere between the gyro in “gyroscope,” and hero!, but with a limply rolled R. The man there said one could pronounce it “many ways, different ways,” and because I’m now old enough to seem like a kooky old lady who just doesn’t give a shit, I kept after him and asked if there wasn’t a preferred way, or a way that would sound good to him. He shrugged. So now I will just maybe order a widening gyre, turning and turning. The falcon cannot hear the falconer, but I will get my confusing sandwich.

Or I will just bring my own sandwich! I have also tried making sushi at home. As it turns out, adding salt and sugar simmered in rice wine vinegar to sushi rice is absolutely delicious in and of itself. I maybe should have stopped with that small success, but I made vegetarian sushi with a bunch of avocado and cooked vegetables cut into matchsticks. I was listening closely to a breakup album as I was doing this, and I burned the bejesus out of the sweet potato sticks, because if I’d been paying attention to the instructions and not getting all involved in the whispery parts of the breakup album and then feeling very pleased when the singer varied the falsetto parts with some deep guttural stuff, I would have understood that the “sticks” of vegetables were not “matchsticks” that burn after 3 minutes. But stout sticks that can take the heat. The sushi rolls ended up wobbly and too full of rice, which is probably how every heartsick person sees sushi. It is the sushi of the robbed and gouged out and landlocked, right? Maybe.

But it is more likely that I will just eat cheese than make sandwiches or sushi that apes sandwiches and sushi made by professionals. Do you know how much cheese a semi-lactose intolerant person can eat in one sitting? A lot. All of the cheese, really. Unscientifically, I think my lactose tolerance problem peaked in my twenties and then curved downward and is now an asymptote that is so close to being parallel to lactose tolerance, and therefore so close to lactose tolerance, that it may as well just be the flourish that is the beginning of a signature on an affadavit that says, “Eat all the fucking cheese you want!” Which indeed I do. If your one true love is a pirate, will you just give up on love? Or rob some boats? You will put on a flouncy blouse; you will head for the sea.

FYI the x is lactose tolerance.

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