after week sixteen

Things I’ve Learned:

1) Damn, Fox 5, your weekend anchor is fiiiiiiiiiiine:

2) Anyone else notice that it’s not raining anymore? (UPDATE: My friends and family in Florida probably disagree with me on this point at the moment).  When I did this job last spring, it rained a bunch while I was trying to work my way around New England and New York State. Meanwhile, friends back home in Nashville were texting me or posting stuff on Facebook about the latest killstorm that was ravaging Tennessee. This spring, I had one day of work in which it rained the whole time, which was a couple weeks ago in Chicago. And Nashville’s been bone dry, as has been every place I’ve ended up at during my travels this year. I know it rained like hell last week in the Pensacola area, but that’s all I’ve heard about bad storms in the states during spring. Maybe things will change now that summer’s here (an impressively-savage thunderstorm actually passed by my hotel window in Hartford this Friday).  Or maybe this is the nascent beginnings of our inevitable water wars, pitting different parched parts of the country (and Canada) against each other in the battle for few remaining precious drops of freshwater as government scientists scramble to finally come up with an effective desalinization process so that the east coast cities can be saved and hipsters in Brooklyn don’t have to move back home to the suburbs outside Cleveland, a city that will suddenly thrive due to its location next to Lake Erie but will not be able to defend itself from the better-equipped Western militias that will storm the city (note: “storm” as a verb will take on ironic, wistful meaning during this time – oh, to see it storm just once more) and take control of all the territory around the lake so that they can start sending the water back towards their much-missed loved ones back in Bakersfield (kinda like water remittances, as water will be more valuable than money by that point) who hopefully haven’t died from lack of water by then, because – if they have – then what’s the point, why bother if my dear Denise is dead, oh Denise, why did this have to happen, why didn’t we listen, Denise, DENISE!!

All of this will be diligently reported by the Fox 5 weekend anchor lady.  Damn, she’s fine.

3) There’s a wonderful Hispanic neighborhood in Hartford that has somehow not been gentrified, and oh goodness how I hope it stays that way.  It’s a couple blocks south of downtown and runs along Park Street.  After a mile or so, Park Street turns into Park Road, which leads into West Hartford, where a couple trendy-looking restaurants appear to be popping up.  But let’s go back to Park Street:  for about 5 blocks, it’s full of Hispanic and Latin American businesses.  Puerto Rican flags are abundant.  It’s all pretty awesome.  And it’s proximity to downtown – combined with an abundance of nice, old, affordable houses (according to Zillow) – makes me surprised that it hasn’t been carved up yet by white kids with Daddy’s money.

At a Cuban bakery on Park Street, I purchased 2 guava pastries, 2 cheese pastries, and a Cuban sandwich for $5.90.  The gentrified equivalent would be getting 2 cupcakes, 2 macarons, and a seitan sandwich with benne seed dressing, pan-fired chickpeas, and squash.  It would cost you at least $20.  Meanwhile, the Cuban bakery would be replaced by a yoga studio, making cheap and delicious eats impossible to find in a once-charming, vibrant neighborhood.

And that’s why gentrification blows.

The Week In Hotels:

The week started at a fine Howard Johnsons in Bethel, Connecticut.  Late Monday afternoon, the fire alarm started going off.  A couple minutes later, a fire truck and several cop cars showed up.  I never saw or smelled anything smoky, so I stayed in my room the whole time (I was on the first floor, and my window could be opened, so a quick escape would have been easy, or so I told myself).

Three nights were then spent at a dingy Super 8 in Hartford.  When I left for work on Wednesday morning, there were a bunch of cops in the lobby (and four cop cars outside), looking at the hotel’s surveillance tape.  I didn’t bother to ask.

For the weekend, I moved over to a Days Inn, also in Hartford.  It’s in the process of being remodeled, so the outside and the hallways look rough, but the rooms are great.  To the best of my knowledge, no cops or firemen have had to come here during my stay.

Restaurant Reviews (In Which The Pictures I Took Do No Justice To The Amazing Quality Of Everything I Ate This Week):

1) Frank’s Food Court – Elmsford, New York

Last year, I stumbled upon this place while doing some work around the White Plains area.  I don’t know why they call themselves a food court, as it’s pretty much just a deli with an overwhelming number of tasty-sounding sandwiches available.  I chose a Hot Balboa – roast beef, swiss cheese, and garlic dressing – and ate it in the parking lot of the out-of-business Syms next door.  It was amazing.

This year, I did the exact same thing (though I only ate half of it and had the other half for dinner).  Once again, it was amazing.

2) Nardelli’s Grinder Shoppe – Waterbury, Connecticut

Home of Connecticut’s best grinders, according to them.  After having a pulled pork grinder – which came with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, diced vegetables, hot sauce, and olives – I’m pretty sure they’re right.

They also get bonus points for having my favorite potato chips, which – due to their regional specificity – I hadn’t eaten in almost a year.  I devoured an entire bag in about 45 seconds.

3) Jerk Pit Cafe – Hartford

Oh my.  Just . . . oh my.

A quick sidenote:  Google’s Local app (formerly known as Places) is wonderful when it comes to finding good food, especially when you’re in a part of town where it looks like fast food is the only option.  That’s how I found Frank’s Food Court last year.  And that’s how I found the Jerk Pit Cafe this year.  Given that it’s tucked away in a nondescript building in a rough-looking neighborhood, there’s no way I would have found it otherwise.

So thank you, Google – as long as you keep helping me find awesome food options, feel free to mine and exploit all my personal information as much as you want.

Back to the food:  the picture below is a large plate of jerk pork, served with some vegetables (cabbage and carrots), rice and peas, and all covered in jerk sauce.  It was heavenly – I was on a happy pork high for the rest of the day.  And happy pork highs are just the fucking best.

4) Bombay Olive – West Hartford

An Indian and Persian grill whose lunch buffet featured chicken lo mein for no real reason.   The veggies in the buffet were great – all the chicken dishes had really dry chicken.  I didn’t try the lo mein.

5) Jerk Pit Cafe – Hartford (again)

Yep.  I went back two days later, and it was even better.  Really, I could eat this every day for the rest of my life (and I plan on going at least one more time before leaving Hartford).

6) A Cuban bakery in Hartford whose name I don’t remember because I was so excited about finding a Cuban bakery in Hartford – fuckin’ Hartford! – that I never bothered to check out the name of the place.  This was where the aforementioned pastries and Cuban sandwiches were purchased.  The pastries are pictured below:

I ate hundreds of these as a kid in Tampa and Miami.  They taste just as good in Hartford.

The Cuban sandwich, though, was a mess – inexplicably served on a generic roll instead of the Cuban bread that could be found in abundance all over the bakery.  Also, it came with American cheese instead of Swiss, had salami as a third meat (it’s normally “just” ham and roast pork), and lacked mustard and pickles (that part was fine with me).  So it wasn’t great, but that failed to put a damper on my joy over finding the guava and cheese pastries.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, it was a damn fantastic week for food.

Booze:

Kennebunkport Brewing Company’s Blueberry Wheat Ale.  I picked this up at the Trader Joe’s in West Hartford.  Fruity beer isn’t my thing at all, so I really don’t know why I chose it (actually, I’m pretty sure I just didn’t bother to read the label, as I didn’t feel like spending too much time picking a beer, so I just grabbed the closest 6-pack).  The blueberry taste is overwhelming and artificial (even though the ingredients mention “natural flavors”).  I had 2 bottles Saturday night – I really don’t think I’ll be able to finish the other 4.

Up Next:

Two more Connecticut days, then it’s Masshole time.

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