I’ve written about Spicy’s for 30 years, so often people assume the folks there must give me free food or something.
The truth is even though I’ve been in Spicy’s hundreds of times and my picture is in the newspaper, no one there has ever acknowledged me.
That’s fine with me — I don’t go for the acclaim, I go for the food.
I’m a picky eater. We lived on Second Avenue in Manhattan down the block from all the great Indian restaurants people love — but not me. We had a great Thai restaurant, too, or so I’m told. I didn’t like that, either.
I lived in New Orleans for a couple years and loved the Cajun food, though, and I love what I call Soul Food. When you think about it, these are American foods, the roots deep in the South.
When I was about 13 and lived in Brooklyn, I played basketball all the time. It got kind of embarrassing to show up for games with my Goombah friends from Flatbush, many of whom wore Thom McAn pointed shoes to play in. You got no respect if you didn’t have Cons — Converse Allstars, that is.
Pretty soon I was playing with the black kids and starting hanging out in the hood.
My friend Victor introduced me to sweet potato pie, served fresh out of the oven by his grandmother, with a hunk of soft butter melting on it. Man, that was good! I also loved her collard greens, with bits of smoked ham hock and a little hot pepper.
In fact, for years I grew collard greens in my Sag Harbor garden, and they soar to enormous heights — but they were always tough and bitter no matter how I cooked them up.
There’s something about Spicy’s that conjures up those big meals Victor’s grandmother would make. The closest I ever came to heaven was 15 years ago, when The Independent hired me to be the editor of the Riverhead paper. I could walk up to Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and walk down to Spicy’s for lunch. Pretty soon I started driving because I’d be too full to walk back to my office.
I love the fish and chips, fresh daily, battered and deep fried. The ribs, of course, are legendary, and the fried scallops, a delicacy. Dinner is $7 to 8 bucks a pop. You get something like, five ribs, or three or four pieces of fish, along with fries and a side. The macaroni salad, by the way, is to die for. There is fried chicken of course, and corn bread. And ya gotta grab some collard greens and sweet potato pie for the road, and the unique, honey colored BBQ sauce.
It’s like a Southern Baptist Sunday afternoon picnic in old Georgia.
When I met Karen, I took her to Spicy’s. There were Motown albums on the jukebox and fly paper to keep them little critters off the goodies. It doesn’t get more romantic than that.
Tuesday afternoon at Spicy’s: A bucket of 50 wings for $20, a cold beer, and Smokey Robinson. That, folks, is nirvana. By the way, the beer is American and the soda is cherry and grape and the like. There are no fancy foreign beers, alcohol-free beer, and no sugar-free drinks. This ain’t the gym — it’s a Soul Food diner.
I’ve asked many times for substitutions. “Can I get potato salad instead of coleslaw?”
“No,” comes the curt reply.
I ask for extra crispy French fries every single time. I never get them.
There is something perversely comforting about the attitude. It’s like Victor’s grandmother — she’ll feed you, but don’t be playing with her by getting out of line. You’ll eat what’s put in front of you.
The day before our trip to Riverhead we heard the terrible news that Spicy’s had closed. After hitting all the stores, I headed east on Route 58, planning on cutting down 105 to Flanders Road. I abruptly turned around.
“You wanna go look, right?” Karen asked. Yeah, I had to see for myself. Spicy’s was indeed boarded up.
Once we got over the Shinnecock Bridge it occurred to us there was nothing to eat at home.
“Wanna pick up something?” Karen asked.
“Naw,” I answered. I wasn’t very hungry.
Truth is we noticed a few visits ago the ribs weren’t up to par. They were not their usual fall-off-the-bone tender. Karen was going to say something next time we went, but it never came to that.
Who knows what happened?
All I know is every time I go to Riverhead, I’m going to drive past there, wishin’ and hoping.