Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jack Riepe, Piss Clams And The Jersey Shore

Even I in my cultural cave have heard of the Jersey Shore. Permit me to astonish you, I rode my Vespa through here in May 1981 on my way to Key West, though I remember not very much of the place, nor do I have pictures to prove it. My awareness these days of the delights of the Garden State is gleaned mostly from watching HBOs The Sopranos, thus I can confidently say New Jersey is a mystery to me. However looking out across the acres of parking lots while enjoying the preposterous 25 mph speed limit on Central Avenue in Seaside Park, a crushingly slow speed heavily enforced, I did manage to figure out that as a vacation destination Key West does look miraculously suave and exotic by comparison.
People apparently hole up in these apartments and enjoy the massive sandy beach next door while admiring their rides. I am not a car aficionado but I always please readers when I photograph something like this so I did:
The purpose of this excursion from the gruesome Garden State Parkway and it's infantile 65mph speed limit roundly ignored by all was to have lunch. Jack Riepe instructed us to meet him here, so we did, like contract killers for the CIA. I naturally managed to get completely turned around so when my wife went ahead while I walked Cheyenne I marched confidently into the fish market. Clearly not a restaurant so I tried again. There was a nice lady bartender in the downstairs bar and she redirected me to the large sign that indicated the restaurant was upstairs, where it had been lurking all the time.
The young waitress managed Riepe masterfully entering into his Jersey conspiracy with the big smile of a waitress bored by the sincerity and puzzlement of ordinary patrons who were just looking for food.
Jack Riepe of Twisted Roads fame wanted to introduce us to the delights of New Jersey seafood, much of which we've never heard of before, never mind eaten. Crab cakes? Sure we know those, and these were good of course, but here we were on familiar ground. I loved the decor of the Berkely Seafood Restaurant...
...and ladies that lunch showed up too which completed my delight at the place.
Jack ordered oysters which my wife enjoyed though I am reluctant to eat live raw animals. Cover them in spinach and cheese and grill them, and I'm in. Raw they look like, and taste like snot.
Then came the appetizer we had been waiting for, piss clams nectar of the Gods we are told. I nearly had some at DJs on Duval once, Key West Diary: Clams And Cronuts but I didn't and failed to realise what I was missing. The salesman at DJs was no good at all. A clam's a clam, right? Think again and try these things.
Jack instructed us in the fine art of removing the cover, dunking the steamed clam in the broth to remove impurities then dunking it in molten butter to ...add fat/enhance the flavor. I followed suit.
Oddly enough they were delicious and I will look forward to some on Duval and seeing if they match the real thing which I now have experienced. Then we tried something called basa fish which is reputedly popular in New Jersey and Vietnam? Aren't I surprised there is controversy surrounding this fish and how it's raised and so forth. It's an odd creature and I'm not sure I'd eat it again, but we enjoyed it. It has a strange jelly like consistency, not flakey and a milky mild taste. Supposedly it is of the catfish family and that makes sense in retrospect. I love trying new foods!
Jack ordered soft shell crab and we tried it. It's crab, fair enough, and tasted good even if it was fiddly to eat. I'd try this again for sure. Looks odd though.
Our waitress was a delight all the way through. Nice woman and a great server, with a fine sense of humor, needed when Jack is employing his battered bay seal look (copyright reserved).
I took a few shots of Jack as he kept us in stitches with his stories of love gained and lost and the ten dollar tip to the manager of London's swankiest hotel for discreet services rendered. Then I figured these pictures record the maestro at work. Priceless.

We stumbled out into the sunlight, me having refused chocolate pudding on the grounds, reasonable I thought, of feeling stuffed. The lovely Jersey Shore, from upstairs.
Cheyenne enjoying the cool sea breeze chose to ignore the old seducer. Good girl.
It was lovely seeing you Jack, thanks for the food and the laughs.
Order his book and you will have an idea of how delightful our lunch really was. It's selling like Jersey Shore crab cakes, and it's twice as good. Conversations With a Motorcycle by Jack Riepe | McNally Jackson Books


RMachida said...

Nice write-up with plenty of pictures! He doesn't look any worse for wear.

No audio recordings? ;-)

Anonymous said...

My high school shop teacher in Paramus warned me about guys like Riepe.

David Masse said...

Michael, lunch with Jack Riepe. What more can anyone say.

Trobairitz said...

Sounds like you three had a fabulous time. How could you not, right?

Jack Riepe said...

I can't believe I missed this post until today. It was great meeting Layne and Cheyenne. Naturally, seeing you is always a bit of a cultural shock. It it hard to explain to the curious and idle that you are a bona fide Italian nobleman, albeit with a British accent. Of course, it also difficult to shrug off Cheyenne's driving the car.

The "piss" clam is better known in New Jersey café society as the "ipswich" clam. It is a super-sweet bivalve, with an easily broken shell, that is best steamed, swirled in hot clam broth, and dunked in melted butter.

These are ordered by the bucket, and as you saw, I ordered two buckets: one for Layne and you, and one for myself. Some folks decline to eat the foot, or the "pisser," but with the "sock" removed, I find this to be tasty. (Note I did not refer to the "pisser" as the "dick."

The oysters were good too, though they were not Cape May Salts. Raw, ice cold oysters, with a hint of natural sea salt and a smear of Tabasco sauce are better than a French kiss from Jessica Alba.

I find it hard to believe that Michael does not experiment with seafood living in the Florida Keys. If I lived in the Keys, I'd fish from the beach three days a week. I am partial to soft-shell crab and Michael reacted as if I was eating a huge spider. I always get these gently sauteed, with a hint of garlic.

The conversation at the table was initially tense. Michael is always edgy during the first few minutes of our reunions, in anticipation of "the discussion." The discussion focuses on the episode in which he crashed his Triumph on a visit to me, skidding in a damp spot (about the size of quarter). Two elderly women — the last two surviving camp followers from the battle of Gettysburg — picked the motorcycle off him. They also bought him ice cream and a balloon.

This was the first time I ever met Layne. She is a charming woman who did her best to overlook my foibles, which requires 20/20 foresight. And when my response to her question "How do you like living in New Jersey" was to burst into tears, she handed me a scented hanky.

Layne thanked me for showing them authentic New Jersey cuisine. I explained that they were too early for the best New Jersey has to offer, the corn and the tomatoes. But I promised to meet them next time in the Depression-era dining room of Rutt's Hutt, rated in the top 10 hot dog joints in the country (CNN).

It was great to see them. Cheyenne has that "God-help-me-I-am-Michael-Beattie's-Dog-look on her sweet face.