Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chouriça a Go-Go

Name: Sagres
Location: 181 Columbia Street, Fall River, MA
Personnel: Jesse, Me
What We Ate: Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá; Porco a Alentajana; Complimentary Bread and Butter
Observations: We had the pleasure of eating two great Portuguese meals, on our way to and from Cape Cod, respectively. In Fall River, we stopped for a white-tablecloth lunch at Sagres, a tidy spot just blocks from I-95 — not a stripmall or even a suburb but as an old babysitter used to say to me and my sisters, who's counting? — let's enjoy. We had bacalhau à gomes de sá, that rich casserole of salt cod, potatoes and caramelized onion that's punctuated by hard-boiled egg and olives. It was steamingly, tongue-scorchingly hot, with the sweet onions practically melting into the feathery potatoes. Then there was a bubbling platter of porco a alentajana, clams, potato wedges and spicy sausage sauteed in a pungent wine sauce. Both were excellent — almost too good to eat on the road. My only complaint was the persistent odor of air freshener which interfered with the more delicious smells of our lunch.

Name: Clark BBQ
Location: 1419 Raritan Road, Clark, NJ
Personnel: Jesse, Me
What We Ate: BBQ Chicken Platter with Rice and Salad; Chouriça Portugese meal with fries and rice; Diet Pepsi.
Observations: We stumbled, or whatever the verb for stumbling via automobile might be, onto Clark BBQ after pulling off the Garden State Parkway in Clark. There were plenty of interesting stripmall choices around but the festive sign outside caught our eye. It's a tiny little place, packed on this particular Sunday evening, and when our food came we found out why. There's a small bar next to a refrigerator case stocked with beer and vinho verde. They also, we were told, make a mean sangria. We didn't have time to indulge in beverages but we did each get a ridiculously cheap plateful of homey, earnest and simple cooking. Mine was the smokey and tender barbecue chicken — practically a half-bird in the "small" platter, with a mountain of golden rice and salad. Jesse had the chouriça, slices of the snappy pink sausage grilled to crispness, with more rice and airy battered fries. I would definitely hit this place again if we're in that part of NJ or the chouriça craving strikes — whichever comes first, I guess.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Surprise

Name: Pirosmani
Location: 9309 Krewstown Rd., Philadelphia
Personnel: Erin, Catherine, Me
What We Ate: Fried eggplant with walnuts, Red bean salad with walnuts, Khinkali, Khachapuri imeruli, Chashushuli, Black tea with lemon.
Bill Total: $54
Observations: When we first arrived to this Georgian gem on Easter Sunday, the lights were half-on. The man vacuuming told us we could be seated, and that despite all signs suggesting otherwise, the kitchen would serve us. We then saw him make a phone call. Five minutes later, an on-call server showed up and explained she'd been there until very late the night before as people partied on the dance floor in back. Clearly, we'd come too early — or maybe just too late. Unfazed, she kindly helped us navigate the menu, suggesting the kidney bean salad slathered with thick walnut paste and fried podlike segments of eggplants tinged with cumin and cinnamon, also topped with walnut paste. We remarked on — but did not order — the $99 roast piglet listed under the entrees. Of our choices, there were two obvious favorites. One was the khachapuri, a warm focaccia-like bread stuffed with gooey imeruli, a salty white cheese. The other was the khinkali, puffy and pleated dumplings that burst open to reveal a juicy pork filling flecked with red pepper flakes. We were advised to top them only with black pepper, though our server said she'd give us sour cream if we really wanted. We didn't. We were comfortable, and sat for a few hours, admiring the original artwork on the walls. By then, the restaurant started filling up with families toting bottles of wine. A takeout customer came in and headed for the kitchen. Minutes later, he left carrying a tray draped in a napkin. Beneath it was the unmistakeable snout and ears of a piglet to go.