Fathers Day

robin_sm.jpgAt six years old, I sat down after Sunday morning cartoons and wrote my very first story.  The illustrations were nothing to speak of, but the premise went something like this:

Bugs Bunny becomes a priest and takes over my parish church, Good Shepherd. 

Unexpectedly, he looks very sharp in a vestment.  He delivers a sermon that lasts only one minute long, and then Mass is over.  From the pulpit, a carrot is loudly, unabashedly chewed.  Before we all genuflect and skedaddle, one young lady is called forth from the congregation (myself, of course.)  And in an exercise of Divine intervention, Bugs makes an exception for me, little two-more-years-till-communion me, and lets me taste the sacramental wafer.  The end.

I gave the story to my father, a British Catholic in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh, and he loved it.  At a time when he mainly intimidated me (his accent, his suits and cigars, his bowls of spicy radishes) I found in his appreciation of this story a common thread for the two of us to hang onto. 

Read more ...

freddeanddukeWhen I think of my dad -- and if you know me, you know I always do think of him – it’s often Saturday morning and Duke is surrounded by his “crew” in his regular booth at Nate n’ Al’s. But next Sunday, Father’s Day, I’ll think of Duke as he was most Sundays – in his other regular booth at Matteo’s. What can I say, he liked to eat and he loved to schmooze.

I realize I write WAY too much about my dad. But, here is a story you haven’t heard. One night at Matty’s, as we called this trapped-in-a-time-warp, Rat Pack era, Italian bistro on Westwood Boulevard, my dad was eating in his regular red leather booth; first to the right as you walked into the “correct” (celebrity-filled) room.

I should mention that Sunday nights at Matteo’s was tradition among a certain show business crowd. It wasn’t unusual to see Sinatra dining with Steve & Eydie, or the Reagans, or even Clint Eastwood… but to me, Sunday at Matteo’s was mostly about the comedians.

On this night, Red Buttons walked in. My dad was always the first person anyone greeted. He was hard to miss. Short of stature, but big of mouth, and loudly holding court at a spot you had to pass to enter. Except for Shecky, my father called all comics he knew by their last name. It was just Dangerfield. Or Youngman. You get it.

Read more ...

howardjohnsonFor more than 20 years, my dad, Howard Johnson, owned a very popular restaurant on the Upper Westside of Manhattan called the Cellar. The Cellar was a special place and at the time of its inception in 1973, there were very few, if any, black-owned restaurants outside of Harlem below 110th street. Ironically, my father bought the Cellar from another Black man, who owned it for a few years but decided to sell after having lost his appetite for the place. Despite its location in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, the clientele had become “too Black” for him.

In the early ’70s, my father was working for Paul Stewart a well-known men’s clothing store and hanging out at some of the popular watering holes of the day, Vic and Terry’s, Jocks and Teachers, among others. Those that knew my dad would be quick to agree he had great taste, and a certain social prowess, easily mixing in any group. This combination made him a natural for his new venture as a restaurateur.

To say my father was a risk taker would be accurate, both in his private life—he married my mother Phyllis Martha Notarangelo, an Italian woman, when interracial marriage was still illegal in most states—and in business, where he jumped head first into an industry that other than a fondness for Jack Daniels, he had no experience in.

Read more ...

grilledlobsterSince Father's Day coincides with the start of summer, grilling is the best way to celebrate male parenting.

For me, nothing is better than a platter of grilled Italian sausages with sautéed onions, deveined shrimp seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, corn on the cob, charred red peppers mixed with capers and garlic and lobsters split open and doused with pats of sweet butter.  With a tossed arugula and carrot salad, a loaf of freshly baked bread and a fresh fruit salad and I am happy.

When the boys come to the house to celebrate a birthday, mother's day or father's day, they frequently take command of the grill. As my younger son, Michael, reminds me, they are my sons so of course they are good cooks. And that makes me very very happy.

Our other son, Franklin, doesn't regard a meal a proper meal unless there are appetizers. So to add to the celebration, I offer three of my favorites. They are all easy-to-make. The tapenade and lavash crisps can be made a day or two ahead. The grilled corn salsa is best made fresh.

All three are addictive so you may find you'll be eating them all summer long.

Read more ...