Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lechon In The Suburbs From Hell

I'm Filipino.

It's true. I really am.

Because I've lived in Honolulu and because I started Jay's Shave Ice, many people think I'm "Hawaiian." Understandable, but I'm not.

Day in and day out, friends and people I know constantly ask me to open more food places because they too want to eat something beyond the typical national chain restaurants and fast food outlets that comprise this suburban hell known as Baltimore County. It's a horrible way to live. I mean, I sit around all day long trying to figure out where to eat something tasty and delicious that wasn't cryo-vac-packed by the corporate kitchen somewhere in Middle America, trucked in frozen boxes, sent to the restaurant by Sysco and reheated in the steamer by some cooking school hopeful who takes ladlefuls of alfredo sauce and sloshes it in a saute pan with some penne and sliced grilled chicken.

The problem is that it takes a herculean effort to open any sort of business, much less one that's food related. I know, you want a place where you can order a Chicken Katsu Curry plate just like L&L back home in Honolulu, I want a place to eat serious Japanese-style ramen at 3am, but if you're waiting for me to build it, it ain't happening. I cannot afford to go out and start a new company simply because I'm hungry for something unavailable in the Baltimore Metro Area.

Thank God for other people who are interested in pursuing serious ethnic food. This morning I stopped by the local 7-Eleven owned by Wilma, the Filipino lady, to pick up a couple gallons of milk because we're running short at the shop and I cannot afford to run out of milk. While there, I spy a little green brochure with the promise of Filipino Food next door at Tako Seafood Market.

This can't be real. This is Timonium. And everyone knows there's no good ethnic food in Timonium. Okay, outside of Jay's Shave Ice, there's no serious ethnic food in Timonium.

Filipino Food is an interesting anomaly in the restaurant world. It's a misunderstood category. No one really knows what Filipino food is all about and that's a shame. It's not the firery spices of Thai cuisine, or the succulence of lamb curry and naan that is Indian, or the delicate harmony of sushi that is Japanese. Of course, it isn't bastardized into something that no longer resembles anything traditional, like General Tso's Chicken that is suspiciously posing as "Chinese."

Filipino food is wide and varied, and like it's people, the cuisine absorbs influences from the SouthEast Asian region that it comes from. There's kilawin tanigue, that spicy raw fish concoction that mimics Spanish ceviche, to the down-home traditional adobo, a chicken and/or pork dish sauteed in garlic, oil, vinegar and soy sauce - with a little bay leaf and black pepper thrown in for good measure. The cuisine is much more sublime and subdued than the rest of Asia, but once you get to know it, it's heaven. It's comfort food defined.

So, after a long day of working behind the bar slinging coffee for a living, I decided to give this place a try. Turns out the owner, Jojo, is the brother of Wilma who owns the 7-Eleven next door. The menu is simple. Just printed on an inkjet. The offerings are limited. The experience is True Filipino. Just some guys hanging out, waiting to cook you up some food. Today's special was Lechon Kawali, should be known as the "heart attack special." Roasted pork belly that's cubed and then deep fried 'til crispy. I had to order that. Add a small order of Pork Adobo and Pancit Bihon, a quick fried dish of vermicelli rice noodles, chicken broth, veggies and some sliced shrimp and I was out the door and on the way home to where I knew a cooker of rice was chugging on it's way.

Let me state upfront that taking the Kawali home in a styro container is no way to treat this fine treat. It deserves to be eaten hot. Eaten right away. With San Miguel Beer. But reality is reality and I want to eat this with rice dammit!

How was the food? Delicious. The Kawali was everything I hoped for. Fried just right so it's barely oily. Jojo also gave me some lumpiang isda, strips of tuna wrapped in lumpia wrappers then deep-fried. Deelish. The Adobo was money. Just the right balance of soy sauce and vinegar. The only stumble was the pancit. The dish was on the dry side which left it wanting for flavor. Oh well, three out of four is great - especially in suburban hell.

The sad part of all this is that I must limit myself to one visit a month if I want to avoid a heart attack.

Calls From The Morning Rush

Dateline: Typical Weekday, 8:47am

"Spro Coffee Towson."
"Yes, this is Daniel from Excelsior Merchant Services is the owner available?"
"Do you accept credit cards? Because we're ready to offer you great rates..."
"Do you know what company you're calling?"
"Yes, Sapporo Coffee."
"Do you know what time it is?"
"And do you know what we do?"
"Yes, coffee."

This usually results with me slamming down the phone on its' cradle for effect.

I've opened a new shop in Towson called Spro Coffee, even went so far as to call Verizon for a new phone line to process credit cards. I haven't released the number to the public so the only people that call are merchant services soliciting business. I've learned that most of these merchant services don't want to talk to a shop owned by a corporation so when they do call on the off-hours, I tell them that we're corporate owned (which we are) and they usually hang up.

I've decided though that as long as they are going to call, I'm going to challenge them. Give me a rate of 1.19%, swipe fee under fifteen cents and no monthly fee and I'll give you a listen.

So call now, I'm standing by.