Sometimes we dip into the darkness. Even the most diligent of us wander from the righteous path and make choices that are met with a knee-jerk reaction of disdain and regret. We pray to be transported back to a purer time, but we know, in our heart of hearts, there is some blood that no amount of washing can remove from our hands.
I went to a Yankees game last Saturday and they weren't even playing the Red Sox. They were playing the friggin' Twins. I felt so dirty.
My sixteen-year-old self would cry out in agony for such a fiendish act of betrayal. But as a budding New Yorker, I felt I needed to experience it, to see what this so-called “Evil Empire” was truly made of.
Arriving at the park, I found myself immersed in sea of navy, where people actually pronounced their “R’s.” It was unnerving, then terrifying. I expected them to sniff me out, somehow detect the Sox DNA lurking inside my veins, and viciously tear me apart, limb from limb. But it didn’t happen.
I entered the mammoth stadium and made my way to my seat. There, looking down upon the enemy field from my lofty nosebleed location, I anticipated a culture shock, something new and terrible. Maybe they would begin a bizarre satanic chant or offer a ritualistic human sacrifice to appease the Yankee gods. At the very least, I pictured a physical cloud of shame would be floating above Elsberry's traitorous form.
But the Yankee Stadium experience did not feature any of these occurrences. Rather, it was benign and, as much as I hate to write this, strangely similar to Fenway. Instead of solid grays with red lettering, there were pinstripe blues. In place of Fenway Franks, they featured Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs. Where Fenway has the Green Monster and Pesky's Pole, there was...well, really just an outfield (that one was kinda lame). But still, fans came out in droves, there was a profound, borderline evangelistic love for the home team, and shitty draft beers cost over ten bucks a pop. And while the Sox fan inside me still quivers at the thought of Aaron Boone's bullshit home run in 2003, it was fun and strangely familiar. And it was worth it to see Jeter in his final season.
It was only after the game that it got a little weird. We found ourselves in Billy’s Sports Bar and Restaurant, featuring quite possibly the largest dance floor of any dive bar in the free world. Watching a bunch of trashed Yankee-aficionados bumping and grinding to “Baby Got Back” was perhaps the most horrific sight these eyes have ever witnessed.
But the game simply whet my appetite for the subsequent exploration of the Bronx, one of the few times the sandwich adventure was more about the experience than the sandwich
Week 22: Tino’s Delicatessen
This was my first visit to the Bronx in twelve years. My only trip prior was a disturbing excursion to the Bronx Zoo in eighth grade involving disgruntled monkeys. But after nine months of living in New York, I thought it was about time. Of the Four Boroughs (not counting Staten Island), the Bronx has the least draw for those lucky enough to have disposable income. To the typical Manhattanite, Brooklynite, or Queen, the Bronx is seen a journey, a trek, one with much risk and little reward.
Venturing in after Yankee Stadium in search of a sandwich, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Danger? Boredom? Quicksand? Quickly I realized I knew absolutely nothing about this northern borough of nearly one and a half million people.
Getting off at the Fordham Stop and traversing into Bedford, what I discovered were…neighborhoods. Actual neighborhoods. Accompanied by a lady friend, I sauntered through streets where fathers were teaching their daughters to ride bikes, old ladies quibbled with one another on porch stoops, and little boys obnoxiously hit each other and ran away screaming, because all little boys are secretly demons. Perhaps the highlight of the walk to this sandwich was the Latina woman sitting on the porch, who called out to my half-Spanish friend. "Hey Mami," she yelled. "Teach me how to get a white boyfriend!"
We made our way into Belmont, in a section comprised of an old-style Italian neighborhood. There was Tino's Delicatessen, adjacent to a park, with al fresco seating and an undeniable warmth. Here was a proper Italian deli, one that produces fresh mozzarella every day and contains a slew of imported sodas I had never heard of before (seriously, what the hell is flower soda?)
The sandwiches were prime, there was no question. I ordered the Bocca di Fuoco (a.k.a. the Mouth of Fire), layered with hot soppressata, hot cappicola, fresh mozzarella, and hot peppers. My friend opted for the Eggplant Supreme, with fried eggplant, fresh mozzarella, tomato, oil, and fresh basil. You can’t go wrong with imported ingredients and a venue that has been in business over fifty years. They also feature a slew of brick oven pizzas, fresh-made cannolis, and gelato.
Perhaps this is a tad existential, but there was something about this place that resonated with me. This was not some absurd Brooklyn hipster destination where trust-fund kids with neck tattoos sip ironic beverages or some region in Manhattan that has gone from ghetto to prime real estate overnight and is dominated by day-drinking Yuppies. It was a real neighborhood, steeped in tradition, run by families who had existed there for generations. And you could feel it. There was a comfort, a trust in the surroundings, an ease to the people that doesn’t exist in most neighborhoods in this town.
Tino’s is a special place. But so is the Bronx. Yankees aside, it’s certainly worth the trip.