Friday, August 27, 2010


From the moment I saw their full page back cover ad in the Bergen News I knew I had to try the Dog Bar. I admit, I'm a fool for advertising and without question, they hooked me with their logo. Of course, marrying the words "hot dogs" and "beer" doesn't hurt either. So today I decided to take a trip down the hill to Edgewater with my hot dog afficianado 8 year old son to see if The Dog Bar was as cool as its logo implied. 

Admittedly, I had trouble finding it, and ended up taking an unintended mini-tour of old downtown Edgewater. I can't tell you the last time I was on Old River Road, and it startled me to see that the once vibrant Edgewater artery had turned into a dead-ended pass through, but there were some really cool places I made a mental checklist to come back to visit. (Especially a cute trattoria "Mangia.") 

In my effort to get back onto River Road, I also took a tour of old Cliffside Park and my heart leapt for joy when I saw that "Gill's" was still alive and well. (If you have to ask what "Gill's" is, then you never went to a true neighborhood corner bar. From 1983-1991 I made more deals with God from the amonia-scented bathroom of Gill's that I would swear-off drinking if I could just make it through the door to go home than any other place I ever frequented.)

So after we made the loop from Gorge Road up to Cliffside Park to turn around and go back down Gorge Road to River Road we angled the mini-van into the parking lot of the Dog Bar. The Dog Bar is an outdoor tiki bar lined with padded wooden stools with a beer tap and a chalkboard menu. We happened to be the only ones there, and the man behind the bar stood up to greet us. My 8 year old loved the idea of sitting at an outdoor bar and with flip-flop feet dangling he ordered a hot dog and a Coke. I said, "Make that two." The man behind the counter gave us our Cokes and went to put our order in. The menu is simple: hot dogs, french fries, burgers, cheeseburgers. Sauerkraut & relish are free. There's beer and some specialty drinks, but that's about it.  I imagine this place is hopping at night and I plan to go back to see. 

I'm happy to say that next to Hiram's, these hot dogs were the best I've ever tasted. I'm going out on a culinary limb, but I'm guessing that the dogs were deep fried in oil with a possible beer infusion. The buns were ever so lightly toasted. I had sauerkraut on my dog and it was fresh and moist and lighlty warmed, but not steaming hot which was perfect. We didn't order the fries and I'm glad because that one hot dog was filling enough. But don't take it from me, take it from my son who heartily gave the Dog Bar 2 enthusiastic thumbs up.  It is definitely worth visiting. In fact, it's a great summer place to hang out and forget all that ails you. I encourage you to give it a try! It was the best $8 I've spent in a long time!

Monday, August 23, 2010


The First Amendment is Overrated!

(Hey Folks, here's the column that my editor at the Bergen News, Doug Hall, refused to print because it would upset the readership. All the news that's fit to print except mine. So, if I offend, please read no further. Otherwise, I'd love to hear from you.)

In 1972, George Carlin immortalized himself through his “7 Words You Can’t Say…” monologue and talk of it trickled down to the schoolyard as a topic of conversation at recess. I remember the outrage provoked by George’s monologue, but none of the older kids would let me in on what exactly those seven words were. I pleaded, I begged, I eavesdropped on the upper classes at recess. Nothing. I mean, even in my Tween years, words were my bag, man. The good, the bad, but most especially, the ugly. If only someone would tell me what they were!
          Unfortunately for me, I was born into a house where swearing was less a part of the vernacular and more an inadvertent slip of the tongue. The dropping of potent potables were limited to emphasizing physical pain, as in “son of a ***** my toe!” or, to exhibit frustration “********* listen to your mother!” or, the trigger that released airbags of anger “Wipe that ******* smirk off your face right now!” There was an occasional slip of a ****, or a temperate ***-******, but nothing operatic or symphonic.
          On the other hand, my friend’s mother, who was a waitress at the Fort Lee Diner, crafted curse words with the same artistic precision that Michelangelo carved his masterpiece, the Statue of David. Her accomplished and pointed tongue demonstrated extraordinary technical skill that displayed the strength of her symbolic imagination. I would spend hours at my friend’s house following her mother around, my ears the tuning fork for her *-*’s and her go **** **** ****’s that she tatted into her conversation like finely webbed heirloom lace.
          So, imagine my surprise when while visiting the newsroom last week, my editor took me aside and informed me that I could not use the word **** in my columns anymore. Frankly, I don’t even remember typing ****, but it sounded like me. And I never considered **** to be an expletive especially since a priest I know regularly peppers his conversations with it. However, he said, there were complaints. People were offended. Really? Complaints? Well, I’ll be—that means somebody other than my mother is reading! (Wait. Mom, did you lodge a complaint?)
Standing there I felt like I was back in Junior year at Paramus Catholic Girls Regional High School being publicly excoriated by Sr. Lawrence wishing she’d just give me the demerit for whatever archaic rule I had violated and save the “Hell hath no fury” sermon for a Freshman. Here’s the rub: no one can curse quite like a Catholic School girl can. Some of the girls in my class could hold their own with any salty sailor; in fact, most our tongues were tinged with Tourette’s. We could profanely roll our tongues as adeptly as we could roll our skirts. And with the same minimal amount of effort.
If he thought the word **** was a profanity, he should spend an afternoon with me or any overworked, overtired, overstressed, underpaid mom on her way to pick up this kid from his friend’s house, drop that kid off at soccer, and take another kid and his friends to the movies at the same time her husband is calling to ask what she’s cooking for dinner. Better yet, stand next to a mom at the check-out line at Shop Rite when she finds out her debit card has been declined and she has 18 bags of groceries sitting in her shopping cart and her screaming toddler is poised to impale himself onto the pointed bag of frozen shoestring French fries. Or accompany a mom to Model’s and witness her reaction when while purchasing her son’s cleats, socks, and shin guards is informed by the 17-year-old sales clerk that she is no longer the Master of her Card when he announces to the entire store, “Oh great! Your card is no good!” I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m going to guess that “darn-it” isn’t quite the descriptive word these moms are reaching for.    
          So, from mom-to-mom, I apologize if I’ve linguistically offended any of you. I’m going to **** (hint: that’s the word that got me into trouble!) on a bar of LifeBoy to clean up my language. But for old times’ sake, here’s a final “*!@??%%??%??@??@?%****” to all my saucy-tongued stressed-out sisters!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I married a fireman. With that comes great benefits. There are always fresh batteries in the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. There’s a fire extinguisher in just about every room where there’s an outlet, and there’s a separate refrigerator in the basement just for beer. Oh, and there’s a neatly folded rope ladder in a box stored in our attic should the house burn in the middle of the night and we need to Swiss Family Robinson it outside. My husband keeps his rope ladder tucked away on a shelf in the attic so the kids and their friends don’t play with it. However, I’m not quite sure if, while our house is being engulfed by flames, it would be quicker to run up to the attic, take the rope ladder out of the box, and then go back down to the second floor to find a window big enough for all of us to climb through or just chance running down the stairs and out the front door. Jim says I don’t understand because I don’t have the value of all his years of training and preparation. 
There’s one great big disadvantage to being the wife of a fireman. There’s no way in hell Jim would ever call 9-1-1 if there’s even the hint of smoke in our house for fear of being embarrassed by his brothers. Considering my track record with oven fires, and randy fireplaces, that’s a problem for me. During a romantic dinner at home, I lit the kitchen fireplace. As we sipped wine, the house shook like the A Train was coming through. Jim jumped up and physically threw me out of the kitchen. As I flew backwards through the air a huge ball of fire came shooting from the fireplace and I felt like an extra in the movie “Backdraft.” Forced to call the fire department, Jim suffered through the taunts and teasing of his brothers as they all sat around our dinner table, in full gear, sharing our romantic meal and our bottle of wine.  
One night, out of the blue, Jim offered to do the laundry. (Bear with me, there is a connection here.) However, the next day I couldn’t find where he put the clean laundry. Shocked by my inquiry, he said that the laundry was still in the washing machine. As I stomped down to the basement to retrieve the molding laundry, I shouted that the little laundry fairies who take the wash out of the washing machine and put it into the dryer is a myth.
Jim’s laundry and the fire department have a connected history. Before we were married I used to do his laundry at the laundrymat. One night, he sent some of the firehouse boys to help me. I was so mad that I had them follow me back to the firehouse where they helped me hoist all of his laundry up the flag pole. Unfortunately, by the time he noticed there was a family of four bird’s nesting comfortably in his boxers.
Recently, he offered to do the wash again. It took him 2 minutes to summon me to the basement. I slowly made my way down the stairs to find him staring at the washing machine as smoke poured out of it. He asked me, in all seriousness, if smoke pouring out of the washer seemed normal to me. Now, I don't have the firefighting training or years of firefighting experience that he has under his belt; nor was I, like him, a fire chief, but I was pretty certain that the washing machine was on fire. When I gave him my verdict, he slowly leaned his head into the plume of smoke, sniffed twice, and told me that I might be right. However, he didn’t want to rush to judgment and call the fire department and be embarrassed. I replied that I agreed it would be better to burn with dignity than to have the fire department come and check it out. 
Instead, he unplugged the washer, took me in his arms and said it was a good thing he did the laundry or else God knows what could have happened if I had thrown the wash in and walked away. "Well," I thought to myself, "We'd probably have clean laundry."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review of Cafe Italiano in Englewood Cliffs

Located on 9W, just over the border of Fort Lee in Englewood Cliffs, Cafe Italiano is one of those neighborhood restaurants that always pleases. In my past life I reviewed restaurants and Cafe Italiano can stand up with the best of them. 

Through the years, Cafe Italiano has been the place I've hosted birthday parties, bridal showers, and baby showers. What I like most about it is that the interior space is small and intimate, and lined with windows that allow sunlight to pour through giving it a very Mediterranean feel. For history buffs, the restaurant was the summer house of Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York City from 1926-1932.

Tonight our family gathered here for a birthday celebration for my mom. You have a choice of  sitting outdoors on their beautifully appointed patio, or indoors. Because the skies threatened rain, we dined indoors.  From the moment we entered the service was impeccable. We told the maitre de that it was my mom's birthday and they went overboard making sure that she was treated like a queen, complimenting her on every turn. 

Now, we had the kids with us and I have to say that the waitstaff was more than accomodating. They took great effort to make sure that the kids felt special. They delivered to my daughter a Shirley Temple in a "fancy" glass making her feel very grown up. And they made sure that very little time elapsed from the time that we ordered our drinks to the time that they were delivered. There's nothing worse than waiting more than five minutes for your drinks to arrive. When you host a dinner party at your house you don't keep your guests waiting for a drink, so why would you want to wait when you're paying?

A complimentary dish of bruschetta is served and the tomatoes were ripe, the onions fresh, and the olive oil of the highest quality. The bread in the basket arrived perfectly warmed and tasted freshly made, not soggy as some bread baskets can taste. For appetizers we ordered plates of oysters and mussels in white wine sauce. I am extremely particular about shellfish and the oysters were fresh and the mussels were tender and fragrant in a light white wine garlic sauce. It was so good that my picky nine-year-old ate the oysters and the mussels and announced them terrific! She has never eaten shellfish before, but said it all looked too good not to try.

All of our dinners were over the moon. I ordered the special, Tilapia Francese. A huge portion of fish arrived on my plate with fresh vegetables. The fish was flaky, moist and perfectly sauteed in butter, egg and lemon. My son ordered the fried calamari and I have to say, it was one of the best prepared calamari I've ever tasted. It would stand up to Rudy's in Cliffside Park and Garden Pizza in Fairview. My daughter had fussili with eggplant, zucchini and fresh mozzarella in a red sauce--OMG--to die for! My mom had linguine in clam sauce and it was loaded with fresh clams. It was the perfect balance of garlic and oil. And the clams were soooo fresh! My husband ordered veal wrapped in prosciutto in a brown sauce. I almost stole the plate from him--I never make veal at home and CI's veal is among the best I've ever tasted! My brother had chicken breast topped with mozzarella in a red sauce. I didn't get a chance to taste it because he pretty much inhaled it! He said it was out of this world.

We skipped dessert only because we had a cake waiting for us at home, but my daughter almost pushed the dessert cart out the door to bring home with us. 

So, in a nutshell, if you want a small, romantic restaurant in Bergen County with an Italian Meditteranean flare, try Cafe Italiano. It never gets old to me!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached that part of the summer where I’m completely feast-ed, street-fair-ed, and carnival-ed out. I don’t think I can toss another
dented ping-pong ball into another table-full of fish bowls, or pop another balloon with a dart, or whack another mole. I can’t bury another fish at sea, fix another broken sword, or find a place for yet another dollar store stuffed animal that cost me $50 to win. Nor can I stomach the smell of cotton candy, candy apples, zeppoles, popcorn, or funnel cakes. In other words, I’m done. And so is my husband, but for entirely different reasons. You see, SpongeBob kicked Jim’s ***. Well, not really SpongeBob, but SpongeBob was the reason that a tattooed Carny went after my husband.

Like many young boys, my son Jack absorbs episodes of SpongeBob as if his brain was, well, a square porous sponge. Jack repeats anything SpongeBob says that he finds remotely funny, even if he doesn’t quite understand the adult implications of the meaning. There’s a particular episode that my son likes where SpongeBob shouts out, "Let's take it down Carny-style" (at least that's how he repeats it) referring to carnival workers. The phrase sounds awfully funny coming out of the mouth of a seven year old--until that seven-year old uses the phrase in front of a carnival worker, as he did one night at a carnival while we were waiting to get onto the bumper car ride.

Seven-year old boys fall into that peculiar category of being too small to ride the big carnival rides and too big (and embarrassed) to ride the small kiddie rides. When Jack saw the Bumper Cars, he begged his father to go on with him. I was game for a challenge, so my daughter and I decided to go on the ride as well. We got on the end of a very long line, our tail of pink tickets trailing the ground behind us.

I noticed that the nearer we came to the front of the line the more Jim began to show signs of panic, but I remained silent. When we finally reached the front of the line he announced, "I don't think I can fit in the bumper cars." In his defense, he's 6'4 and very big, but he couldn't have said something when we were number 40 in line and not when we were next to board? My son said, "No problem, I'll ride by myself," but the ride operator (Carny) informed him that he was too short to ride alone. My son, being very height-sensitive given the Amazonian size of his father, blurted out, "Let's take this down Carny-style."

Now, the tattoos on the ride operator's arms gave no indication that he was a fan of SpongeBob and recognized that this seven-year old was just repeating a line from a cartoon. I nearly fainted from fear waiting for the weight of the reaction I could feel he was contemplating. My husband, unable to hear anything over the blasting heavy metal music blaring from the five-foot speakers just stood there and smiled, giving the impression that he was pleased with what my son had just said. The ride operator (Carny) shouted at my husband, "You think that's funny?" What sucks more than my husband’s hearing is his ability to read lips, so he nodded like someone on a weekend pass from an institution, if you know what I mean. I quickly tried to salvage the situation by screaming thinly-veiled obscenities (like a true mother of a "Carny") at Jack, while profusely apologizing. I then told the "Carny" that my husband was deaf.

Unhappily accepting that information, he let us on the ride. Like Annie Sullivan, I pushed Jim through the gate and into a car with Jack, and then got into a car with my daughter. Jim's knees were literally resting on his chin and the safety bar looked like it was perforating his stomach every time I rammed my car into Jim's. Every bump caused his knees to ram into his face. I could almost feel his pain. This did not go unnoticed by my "Carny" friend, and that's why he let the ride go on for almost 20 minutes. Let's just say, he took Jim down Carny style.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Time Warner Stinks more than me!

This summer has taken such pathetic twists and turns that I deserve to beat myself up and steal my own lunch money. First, my mother’s cable box died the Fourth of July weekend. This wasn’t the first time this has happened. Last time the repair man said that she got a bad box, adding that there’s no such thing as a new cable box because all of Time Warner cable boxes are refurbished. I’m so glad we’re paying top dollar for a monopoly that provides equipment that requires a coin-toss to determine functionality. Customer Service informed my mother she had to wait five days for an appointment. (Oh, and by the way, on the fifth day they casually forgot!)
I’d like to “out” the cable of every Time Warner executive’s mother and then lock them together into a room for six days. I’m deducting one month from my cable bill for each cable-less day so that I can pay for the therapy that my brother and I need after having to deal with a Lifetime Movie Network-less Italian mother for SIX DAYS! GO FIOS YOURSELF TIME WARNER!
With that stench lingering in the air, my son asked if some of his friends could come over last night. I’m going on record to say that when eight-year olds gather they morph into an uncontrollable mob of midgets. Fast forward to the third time someone left the door open and Bad Dog escaped. Threats were issued that caused the children to dissipate in search of the dog. From a distance I heard the miniature mob victoriously declaring that they had captured the dog followed by my husband’s proclamation, “Ann! The kids got sprayed by a skunk!”
After a half hour of separating each child from the pack and nasally examining them like bomb-sniffing K-9’s we determined they weren’t sprayed. However, Bad Dog was. Immediately, I became a trained Shakespearean actor practicing vocal exercises and enthralling my audience with a series of perfectly pitched scales of nuclear F-Bombs.
Before undertaking the de-skunking task, Jim & I decided to change. I commandeered a pair of size 6x leggings from my daughter’s “old clothes pile.” Jim put on a pair of old sweats that had a huge hole in a spot no hole, huge or otherwise, should be.
“What?” he said as I stared at him from across the expanse of our bed.
“You’re wearing them?”
“I’m sorry. My de-skunking tux is at the cleaners!”
“How convenient for you to start an argument when we have guests!” I countered.
“Think of the column you’ll get out of this.”
“Don’t talk to me about a column. There’s nothing funny about this!” I seethed battle-ready.
This is where you need a recorder (or, maybe not) because the conversation went from disbelief that we had to de-skunk the dog to me questioning our entire marriage. There’s nothing more exhilarating to a woman than putting wings on a bad situation and flying to the Island of Insanity. It’s liberating!
          Outside we trudged, snarling. Jim confidently sporting his torn sweats and me walking like Morticia Adams in my size 6x shorts. While his left hand held the unsightly tear of his crotch together, my right hand was tugging at the waistband that seemed to have disappeared into the remote folds of my skin.  Our friend, Matt, expertly snapped my petite yellow rubber dishwashing gloves onto Jim’s massive hands. Jim winced as the rubber ripped the hair from his arms, but avoided crying out in pain lest he shatter his appearance of manliness in front of the assembled crowd of eight-year olds and a stinky dog.
          Bad Dog, feeling sorry for us, actually complied as Jim massaged a mixture of Arm & Hammer, hydrogen peroxide, and Dawn dishwashing detergent into her skunked fur as expertly as an anti-BP environmentalist cleansing the oil-stained animals down at the Gulf. As I knelt holding the dog, face-to-face with the tear in Jim’s sweats, I thought, “If I quickly lunge and bite him, he’ll think it’s the dog.” But there were too many witnesses, so I refrained and decided to save my biting for sarcasm and not genitalia.
          When Bad Dog was successfully de-skunked, the children left probably more emotionally scarred then when they arrived. But hey, that’s life with the Piccirillo’s.