The eyeball-popping parking lot mural was a harbinger of what was to follow.
It was a gothic conclusion to a very gothic day. It started out with a trip on the Staten Island Ferry to New Brighton, to a neighborhood overlooking New York’s Upper Bay that was once the site of a Revolutionary War fort, which had honeycombed the ground underneath with secret passages.
The house/gallery that was our objective in Staten Island.
A friend and I had gone there to see the art of Cynthia von Buhler, who plays feminist rifs on Renaissance paintings and retrofits carnie machines with contemporary messages. The art was ensconced in a four-story house on a very high promontory that had been built by a Spanish couple in the 1920s, and seemed very Addams family. Room after room was painted in a garish color, and a series of terraces climbed a hill out back, punctuated with wrought-iron arches and wooden patio furniture.
One painting showed a female St. Sebastian pierced by arrows with a bottle of Ajax poised overhead; another showed a many-breasted woman lactating into the mouths of beasts. In the basement, a hollowed-out male figure had a literal rat-race in his stomach — a Plexiglas cage in which lab animals were deposited during an exhibition, and there were Mason jars in which were displayed menstrual blood, fingernails, and other body products.
Climbing up and down the stairs made us peckish, so we headed off late in the afternoon for a Mexican restaurant another friend had tipped me to in Port Richmond. Taqueria Puebla (1285 Castleton Avenue, 718-720-1447) — referring to a southern Mexican state from which many new New Yorkers have emigrated — shared a strip mall with a bodega and a martial arts academy, whose parking lot logo was a fighter with eyeballs popping out.
The eyeball taco ($2.50), glob of vitreous humor to the forefront.
The place was flooded with autumnal sunlight, casting a burnished glow on a handful of tables, one occupied by a mother with a couple of children, the other by a pair of female sweethearts. The minute I picked the menu up, I got excited. The focus was on the corn-based collection of antojitos — things like enchiladas, tacos, hand-formed huaraches, and the like — but what arrested me were organ meats offered as options. I’m accustomed to taco trucks and taquerias that sell cabeza (face meat), lengua (tongue), and tripe of intestinal origin, but I’ve rarely seen ojo (eyeballs) offered.
I ordered an eyeball taco, as my friends looked on with some disgust. I’d eaten plenty of eyeballs before, but I still felt a little giddy. What arrived, deposited in a pair of soft white-corn tortillas, and topped with cilantro and onions, were eyeballs that had been roughly chopped with meat from around the sockets and the animal’s brow. While there were no eyeballs actually looking up at me, there were clods of gooey yellowish stuff, and I could also make out part of the optic nerve.
As I bit into the taco, the flavor was agreeable — with a mellow, steamy goat taste familiar to anyone who’s eaten weekend barbacoa. But then I hit a rough patch. The eyeball goo had a texture somewhere between gristle and grape jelly, and had to be chewed, with each chew breaking down more of the congealed vitreous humor. Eating it was a task, and not a particularly pleasant one. Between bites, I turned to the wonderful tongue taco, which was tender and fantastically meaty, like a superior version of pot roast.
We ate vegetarian quesadillas made with squash flower and corn smut, both really great, and a bang-up rendition of the breakfast dish called chilaquiles, and, mightily satisfied, resolved to return to the place again. But not necessarily for more eyeballs.
The tongue taco (top) and chilaquiles (below) were somewhat more agreeable.
Some of Cynthia von Buhler’s art follows.
Cats, one with a human face, drink milk from a many-titted Renaissance figure.
Von Buhler poses with her rat-cage sculpture.
In the basement, icky things put up in jars.
Uncle Sam, with the voice of Bill Clinton and an assortment of other presidents.
A peacock in the living room.