by Gene Goldfarb
a chocolate egg cream
For some reason I always remember eating in Manhattan on days where I was breaking up with a girl, or the waiter or the maitre d’ said something seemingly clever or sounded real cool, or just one thing that stood out. Besides, in the Bronx or Brooklyn waiters were called Tony or Frank; in Manhattan you found waiters named Kassim.
I had always wanted to eat at La Fonda Del Sol on 6th Avenue in the then Time-Life Building, across from Radio City Music Hall. It looked so jazzy and beautiful, but a bit too expensive for me. So that’s where I decided to break up with Mary, this Irish girl from Orange, New Jersey. She was really cool, a cross between Tuesday Weld who played the college heartthrob on The Dobie Gillis Show and the Zelda Gilroy character, whose name escapes me these many years later, a devastating combo of moderately cute and plenty smart. This luncheon, yes a luncheon date, came some time after I had sex with her the only time, and she had whimpered on my shoulder on the cab back to her apartment.
You might wonder why I broke up with her. Simple. I saw I couldn’t hold on to her in the first place. She was getting more difficult to arrange dates with and her heart was clearly set on the son of a Greek shipping magnate, who liked wearing black Tee shirts over his bemuscled arms and torso. The closest I came to matching him was singing to my rubber ducky in the bathtub when I was five. So, short answer: yes, I felt for her, but I determined to drop her before she dropped me. And doing it in a classy La-Fonda-style way would make both of us feel better. The food there was pretty good as I remember, but the check hurt. I had never paid that much at a restaurant before. Still, it made me feel like a hero, mostly.
Then there was Cleopatra, a restaurant on Broadway up in the mid-eighties. I had a very tasty chicken in a place that looked like the inside of an Egyptian pyramid with a chunky maize-like cubicle layout. I was on a date, but don’t remember the girl. The maitre d’ was a mustachioed fat guy who reminded me of the actor Walter Slezak, the type of guy who hung around airports and sold fake passports. While eating, I kept drinking one glass of water after another. Walter Slezak was very attentive in keeping my glass filled, finally chirping, “Ah sir, your glass must have a hole in it.” That I thought was the height of Old-World coolness.
Lastly, my super cool Uncle Philip owned a yard goods store on Broadway in the upper eighties. When my father dropped me off there, I was bored as hell. But at noon, Uncle Philip would close shop and take me down to Steinberg’s Dairy Restaurant on 82nd and Broadway. I would always order a chicken chow mein. It was scrumptious and indescribably delicious, unlike the chicken a regular Chinese restaurant would serve. When I asked Uncle Philip how come, he laughed, “My boy. This is a vegetarian restaurant. There’s no chicken in your meal. I felt like a jerk, but really didn’t mind. It was a mystery solved.
Alas, La Fonda, Cleopatra and Steinberg’s have long disappeared into Manhattan’s mists of time. Returning to this magical borough after an absence of decades, I look for companionship and chicken, but I’ll settle for good bread.
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