Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lunch at "the Office" in Scranton, Coney Dog Style. Or, how about Dallas?

Post by Brian Castellani

Okay, so those of us who are fans of British humor or, here in the states, watch The Daily Show, know that the American version of The Office takes place in Scranton Pennsylvania.  And, like Cleveland, Scranton gets a bad wrap.

So, before discussing the food for this post, a bit of history is necessary. 

Coal Son, It's all about the Coal

Scranton and its history are grounded in COAL.  It's all about the coal, Son, and how coal helped fuel the industrial revolution in the United States.  My grandfathers, on both my mother and father's side, were coal miners, and my Dad's father died in a coal mining accident when my Dad was just nine.  It is a tough, no-nonsense, democratic, blue-collar town--Vice President Biden's family is from here--with lots of first and second generation immigrants: Italians, Irish, Slovaks, Brits, etc. 

For example, my Dad's father is first-generation Italian (Spoleto, Italy); my Dad's mother is second-generation British (Lincolnshire, UK) and both of my mother's parents are first-generation Slovaks, coming to the states from Bratislava (Slovakia), via the Danube river and Vienna.  These folks were part of the massive immigration wave of the early 1900s; and they were the ones who suffered the Great Depression, World War I and World War II and spent the 1940s and 1950s building the second wave of middle-class America. 

However, since the collapse of industry, the move away from coal, and the onset of post-industrialism, Scranton has, to put it mildly, struggled.  According to The Guardian, circa July 2012, Scranton was close to bankruptcy, with an estimated 5,000 dollars in the bank account---click here to read more. 

Presently, my parents are living in Pittston, located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, the other major coal-mining, industrial city, just down the road.  Pittston was a major hub for coal and rail--all of which went "bust" by the 1970s.  At present, the median household income in Pittston is $27 thousand, with 62 percent of families living below the poverty line.  On the hill where my parents live, for example, about 20 years ago, basements regularly collapsed due to the vacant mine shafts located below.  Wow!  Can you imagine.

Skyline of Pittston, PA

History and Beauty are in the Eyes of the Beholder

But, do not let these statistics throw you.  These towns (and, more generally, this region of the country) were once the center of the 1900s industrial world, with all things new and innovative and exciting happening--downtowns, grocery stores, trains, cars, movie theaters, universities, new ways of immigration, and so forth.  The result is a rich, rich history waiting to be uncovered---but only if you are patient and willing to tilt your head slightly to the side to "see things anew."  For example, as the above picture of the skyline of Pittston shows, Pittston is, in many ways, as historically beautiful as many of the small towns I have visited in Eastern and Western Europe.

There are times, for example, when I go back to visit my parents and "going back" in time is exactly what it feels like.  There are towns and neighborhoods here that look and feel as if time forgot them, trapped in the 1920s or the 1950s or the 1970s.  

Case in point: The Coney Island Texas Lunch in downtown Scranton.

Located down a nondescript side road in the heart of the city, the Coney Island has been serving the same great food for over 90 years. As stated on their website, 

It all started out in 1923 when Steve Karampilas (at right), having left Greece three years earlier, set up shop as a tenant in the basement of a circa 1865 building in downtown Scranton on the corner of Cedar and Lackawanna Avenues. He named his luncheonette Coney Island Texas Lunch and did what he knew best, serving affordable and quality food to hard working friends--click here to read more.
All good dogs go to heaven
My Dad and I usually go there for lunch, after "tooling around" in the city.  What makes it so good are the ingredients.  The Coney sauce is good product, so it doesn't burn a hole in your stomach; neither are you 'tasting it' as they say, five hours later.  Just good old fashioned dogs with sauce, great fries, and root-beer on the side--and don't forget lots of napkins!  This stuff is not something you want to chance eating with a nice, new shirt.

And, for reasons that are not entire clear to me--other than he is insane--my Dad always likes to drive while eating these things.  It makes for a cheap thrill!!!  Anyway, bon appétit!  

This place gets THREE SOUPS

Below are a few pictures of us shoving food in our faces.  

Yes, my Dad is freaking driving while shoving this in his face--and don't forget the drink between his legs or the fact that he is not even watching the road

My Mom could care less that we are about to run into a wall, as she is in Coney Island heaven

Ruby, my daughter, is chowing down as our car somersaults down the road

Meanwhile, on the side of the country, Pho Boy Rob sent along these pictures of him and his family chowing down at a similarly awesome BBQ joint in Dallas Texas.... 

It's called Peggy Sue's and it is near Southern Methodist University.


This place gets THREE SOUPS


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pork, Pork, Pork-- Or, a Piggy Roast in Concord

Post by Brian Castellani

This past weekend Pho Boy Rob attended the annual Rocket Party at a friend's house in Concord Ohio.  The main attraction was a piggy roast.  Here are live-on-the-scene pictures Rob sent along as his report.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

You can't get this in a restaurant....

Post by Brian Castellani

Happy Father's Day, everyone!  Speaking of fathers....

Back in the day, in Parma, Ohio, my wife's dad, Len Rusnak (one of my heroes in life), was fond of saying, after a great home-cooked meal, "You can't get this in a restaurant," to which all the kids would moan, "Daaaaad"  They moaned because what they heard him saying is, "This meal you are eating, here, is why we are not going to a restaurant tonight."

Okay, so maybe it was meatloaf and scalloped potatoes, but still, it was cooked with love by Maggie's mom, Helen, and it was from fresh ingredients. (That's Len, by the way, getting ready to chow down on some birthday cake!)

Twenty years later, in the 1970s, Maggie's sister, Cathy, would come back from The Ohio State  (Go Buckeyes!) and everything would change.  The Rusnak clan would switch its eating behaviors, moving toward bulk, natural, organic, fresh, local, and at-home-eating.  Going to visit Len and Helen, for example, meant drinking fresh juice from the juicer, taking your vitamins, and it meant, if Maggie's sisters were over, from Cathy to Mary to Annie, fantastic, freaking food cooked by three awesome chefs.  All very inspiring, and ultimately the impetus for me to learn how to cook, one horrible meal at a time, until I actually started getting good.

Now, I do not know exactly when, but it was a few years ago, and the Rusnak gang was together and we were partying and eating our way through some fantastic food when someone, I don't know who, said, "Wow, I will tell you, this food is so fantastic, you can't get this in a restaurant."  Suddenly there was a pause in the room, and it hit us, "Dang it if Len wasn't right!"  And he is.  I saw a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain and he was talking with one of my favorite chefs, Eric Ripert.  They both made the point: if they could get Americans to do one thing, it would be to learn, again, how to cook!  Amen.

Anyway, here is some of my recent cooking.  As a Pho Boy, I had to learn to cook Pho.  So, here is my first try.

So, what is the moral to this story?  Go buy a cookbook, or pick one of your favorite meals and try to cook it!  What's the worst that can happen?  I will tell you, as someone who loves to cook, when my friends and family say to me, after eating a meal I have cooked, "You can't get this in a restaurant," I feel like a million bucks!

Here, as requested, is the recipe I used--click here.  I cheated on a couple things after trying a few times.  I used different forms of beef from the butcher at our local grocery store, Heinens, instead of ox tail.  Also, I got lazy the one day and bought, from the deli, some very nice eye of round, sliced.  I also like the fish sauce, which you can get at any Asian grocery store, such as the ones downtown Cleveland, which I recommend visiting.  Also, you can get, for very cheap, Asian basil, which almost tastes like black licorice.  I also use thin rice noodles as I do not like and am allergic to the heavy wheat noodles some restaurants use.  One last word of warning, go easy with the ingredients, such as the anise.  Just keep trying, you cannot get this stuff right on your first try, plus everyone has different tastes.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stop, Stay Away from that Fancy Steak House. Eat local, Instead; Go to a French Cafe, anything!

Post by Brian

Rob and I had a food conversation today while fishing with the kids at Veteran's Park---c'mon now, cuz that's how we roll....

Anyway, Rob and family recently went to Minnesota for a wedding.  While there, friends recommended they go to this 'top notch' steak house.  You know what the Pho Boys think about that: bad idea.  And it was.  Several ridiculous dollars later, they had bad service, bad steaks, and a bad experience.  Fortunately, the manager threw out the bill.

But, it goes to one of the Pho Boys main points: eat local, eat awesome, eat something other than steak.

Case in point.  My brother John just sent along the following pictures of a fantastic new French restaurant in Washington D.C., where he lives.  The place is called Le Diplomate.  Check it out.  Why, by the way, does French look better in italics?

Good service, good price, good food, good experience....

You only get one life to live, enjoy it!!!

I remember watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain, a Pho Boy's hero, and he was in Provence, France--a place named as such as it was the first providence outside Rome.  A place of farmers, working the hard, hard soil.  People without a lot.  And yet they ate like kings and queens.  Bourdain said to the one guy, "Do you realize you live the way most Americans have to make lots of money to live?"  The reply he got goes right to my bone marrow. "Eating well is not a privilege here; it is a right!"  Amen!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fan Pho. Southern Cooking, Tupelo Honey Style

Fan Pho... 

is an important addition to the What the Pho Boys Food Network

Fan Pho gives our friends, families and readers a chance to comment on their own food experiences, favorite cook books, restaurants, or just post up some damn good food they recently cooked or ate.

Our first entry comes from my sister-in-law, Cathy Geib--a cooking genius and food enthusiast extraordinaire!

All my best cookbooks, some of which I will highlight over the next few months, were given to me by Cathy.  So, here is what Cathy had to say:

"On a road trip to Asheville, NC last week I had my first friend green tomato.  So, I've got six of brother Jim's tomatoes planted out back to try it out on my own.  My latest chef-inspired, locally sourced, foodie inspiration is Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville's New South Kitchen."

On Cathy's advice, I checked out the blog for the book and restaurant--just click on the book title above.  It is no wonder that southern cookbooks reside at the top of the market--it's all about flavor!!!!!!!!!