Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mystic coffee

July 2,

"Hi, I'd like a large, black, unsweetened iced coffee, please."
That seems like a really straightforward way to ask for a large, black, unsweetened iced coffee, but it has confused two people in a row, who tried to give me hot coffee. I'm in the Northeastern United States, where iced coffee is an extremely common thing to order in July, so I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.
The first person to give me hot coffee was in New York's Penn Station. She seemed to be a recent Slavic immigrant, so maybe I was just speaking too quickly or something. At any rate, I thought my train was about to leave so I just took it and got on the train, which sat there for another 40 minutes.
The train was waiting for another train that was nine (9!) hours late, I presume due to flooding. I was on the last train to Boston for the evening, and I guess the conductor or whoever decides when to delay a train thought it was reasonable for us to wait for those passengers. It seemed reasonable to me, too.
But it meant I pulled into my destination, Mystic, Connecticut, 50 minutes late. It was close to 11 when I got to my hotel, and I flipped through the guide in my room to see if anything other than the 24-hour Tim Hortons might still be open. Angie's Pizza Restaurant & Pier 27 serves until 1 a.m. on weekends and was a short walk away, so I took the opportunity to study Connecticut pizza culture a bit.
Don't laugh. Connecticut has a complex pizza culture, most notably in New Haven, where the super-thin crusts of a couple of local pizza places are greatly admired by pizza cognoscenti nationwide.
Pier 27 — the bar side of Angie's Pizza Restaurant & Pier 27, and the only part that stays open after 11, it seems — is a friendly neighborhood place whose mostly-middle aged guests yesterday evening seemed to really enjoy their Jimmy Buffett and Eagles and other music of that genre. Two raucous women were doing shots — one was drinking tequila, the other vodka — although the bartender said the Jagermeister tap got a lot of usage and was one of the most popular shots in the bar.
I shuddered and dug into my small sausage pizza.
Pier 27’s pizza has a pretty thick crust, perhaps midway between New York- and Chicago-style. It was crisp while the pizza was too hot to eat, but it got kind of soggy as the pizza cooled down.
My first and only back-of-the-house restaurant job was as a cook at a three-unit chain in Denver called Pizza Bug (the pizza was delivered in Volkswagen bugs), but I’ve never been a fussy pizza guy. I mean, I had tomato sauce, cheese and sausage in front of me, what was there to complain about?
This morning I had my typical splurge-in-a-diner breakfast of coffee, two eggs over-easy with sausage, home fries and whole wheat toast. Then I walked around Mystic and had lunch of fried clam strips at Sea Swirl. They were mild clam strips, overwhelmed by the tartar sauce that was served with it, so I didn’t eat the tartar sauce.
On the way back to my hotel I stopped by Tim Hortons and ordered a large, black, unsweetened iced coffee. The person at the counter, who seemed like a native English speaker, handed me a large, black, unsweetened hot coffee.
Is it me? I wondered. Am I swallowing my words?
I apologized and said I actually wanted iced coffee. She gave me a "why didn't you say so?" look and gave me the iced coffee I'm still drinking now. It's in a gigantic styrofoam cup called "The Tank" that contains at least a quart of liquid. The coffee itself is a delicious medium-roast so the beans’ nice fruity, acidic nuances are coming through. A+.
I like this town of Mystic. It’s quaint and pretty in the way that many New England towns are, but the people are really warm. They greet you on the street as you walk by, and some random customer at 41 North, the restaurant where I had breakfast, made eye-contact with me as I left and said “I hope you have a good day.” I wished him the same.
This is not typical New England behavior, where people tend to be quite standoffish, and it’s certainly not typical behavior of people in touristy towns. It deserves further investigation.

I’m in Mystic to attend the wedding of my friend and colleague Erica Duecy. She’s marrying jeweler, potter, artist and all-around nice guy Jono Pandolfi, who is a member of quite a talented family. Brother Chris plays the banjo down south somewhere. Other brother Nick, an NYU student, is an aspiring chef. His brothers tell stories of Nick’s gingerbread house with stained glass windows that he made from smashed, melted rock candy. Smart!
Since I’m a food writer, people often (almost always) ask me to pass judgment on the food at weddings. I always say it scores 10 out of 10.

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