Epistle to Andrew


Hey Andy,

Had a yen for pupusas the other day, and pulled up your tip about the Cypress Hills Salvadoran. Brian and I jumped in his jalopy in Carroll Gardens just as the winter rain began to pelt down. With pedestrians pointing their umbrellas into the wind and leaping over snowdrifts like acrobats, we followed Fulton Street all the way to Broadway Junction, where several great thoroughfares and elevated tracks converge from odd angles to be squeezed nooselike before unraveling eastward. At this point Fulton suffers the humiliating fate of becoming one-way, following the overhead J tracks past unsung stations like Alabama Avenue and Cleveland Street. Your tip mentioned the intersection of Fulton and Norwood streets, just a few blocks short of the Queens frontier, but we blasted past without spotting the Salvadoran. Instead, we were drawn to a joint on the south side of the street with the beguiling and euphonious name Alice’s Palace. Makeshift signs in the window offered specials of pork curry (Friday and Saturday) and chicken cook-up (Saturday and Sunday).

Inside were six tables covered with oilcloths in autumn-leaf patterns and an L-shaped glass counter, behind which stood a distinguished gentleman sporting a clean white apron and gray hair rising in a low-altitude ‘fro parted in the middle. We inspected the Xeroxed menu he pushed toward us, noting a couple of soups; fried snacks; curries of beef, shrimp, and chicken; and several stews and rotis. There were also a handful of lo meins and fried rices. So far, the menu might have been Trinidadian, except for that pork curry, which didn’t jibe since Trini roti shops are usually halal. But the answer was right in front of us: a neat row of colorful Guyanese and West Indian brand sodas with a picture of a waterfall and the winsome slogan “As Famous as Kaieteur Falls.” It being Sunday, we went for the chicken cook-up ($6), four bone-in pieces cloaked in a dark, fragrant sauce, deposited on moist yellow rice and accompanied by a perfunctory salad. The faint sweetness of the coating betrayed coconut milk, and the lumps in the gravy turned out to be miniature black-eyed peas. Boasting a proportion of meat to potato of about four to one, the goat roti ($6) was equally good, oozing marrow from the broken bones. There were no chickpeas in the curry as in Trinidadian places, and a chunky and acidic red chile sauce came alongside in a plastic cup. We gained the proprietor’s admiration by using up all the hot sauce.

The following Saturday we retraced our steps to scarf the pork, which I have to admit was a bit disappointing—the jumble of skin, bones, fat, and flesh was both too rich and too tough. The Chinese stuff on the menu proved more interesting. The combo fried rice ($5.50) tasted enough like allspice to convince me the recipe had passed through Jamaica on the way from China. On top were a couple of pieces of excellent fried chicken and some sliced pork that was probably imported from the Chinese restaurant down the block. But the visit’s best came when we least expected it with the arrival of a trio of perfectly cooked butterfish, designated on the appetizer menu with disarming simplicity as “serving of fried fish” ($6). Unadorned save for a sprinkle of chopped scallions, they made us forget about everything else, including the insane impending war.

And by the way, as we drove back down Fulton, we finally spotted the blue awning of your Salvadoran—just a few steps shy of the intersection. We decided to save it for another day.