A school bus trip to a forgotten borough gets to the meat of the matter
It was an offer most folks could refuse.
“Show up at the City Reliquary at 11 a.m. Saturday, and we’ll ride a school bus…somewhere,” was my fancifully mustached pal Matt Levy’s pitch. He was orchestrating arts collective Flux Factory’s inaugural Going Places (Doing Stuff) outing. Rent a school bus, give the guide free reign and then ask passengers to depart to destinations unknown.
“Sign us up,” I reply, for I’m a man who enjoys mystery—meat and otherwise. My girlfriend and I arrive in Williamsburg with my stomach growling like a muffler-less Mustang.
“I told you to eat dinner,” my girlfriend says.
“Beer is not dinner.”
The previous eve we visited the recently revived International Bar (120 1/2 First Ave. betw. 7th St. & St. Marks Pl.). Though the grit and communicable diseases have been Mr. Cleaned, the drinks remain panhandler cheap: I pounded $4 whiskey-Schaefer couplings in lieu of solid food.
“Well, let’s eat before the bus leaves,” she says, leading me to cupcake-mad Cheeks Bakery (378 Metropolitan Ave. at Havemeyer St., Williamsburg, B’klyn; 718-599-3583). I order a strawberry scone the size of a mouse’s torso.
“Three dollars,” the counter lady says without irony—surprising, since we are in Williamsburg and the price is a joke.
I disappear the crumbly scone in two bites, then I investigate a bodega’s choices for sustenance. Amid Doritos I discover Engobi—caffeine-infused Energy Go Bites crackers, bearing an orange $.99 sticker reading value priced. The flavor is “lemon lift,” which inspires as much culinary confidence as Cheez-Whiz.
For experimentation’s sake, I purchase a bag and crunch brittle, scoop-shape crackers. Engobi tastes like puffed Fruit Loops rolled in crushed Lemonheads candy, sticking to my teeth like peanut brittle. Enough Engobi: It’s time to go places. And do stuff.
“Who think we’re going to Manhattan?” asks Matt, as adults pretzel into the cramped kiddie seating.
A couple hands.
“What about…Staten Island?”
As travelers clap and hoot like A-Rod smacked a World Series grand slam, we bounce across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the first stop, Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s grotto. It’s an artificial stone-and-seashell cave containing religious iconography, much like our next stop at the Castleton Hill Moravian Church.
“We’re going to a labyrinth!” Matt announces.
The group cheers. Then we discover that this labyrinth shares little with goblins or David Bowie: This labyrinth is a circular walking path for meditation.
“I’m not feeling too meditative,” I tell my girlfriend, sliding away to my ulterior motive: visiting thin-crust pizza shop Joe and Pat’s (1758 Victory Blvd. betw. Manor Rd. & Northrop Pl., Staten Island; 718-981-0887). Our tour craves pizza for lunch, so I accompany Matt to lend my expertise in ordering ’zas (about $20 apiece), including pesto, broccoli rabe, arugula and, umm…
“What’s scungilli?” Matt asks.
“Conch,” replies a chubby-cheeked counter boy.
“With garlic,” Matt says.
Twenty minutes later, our adventure posse attacks the crisply charred pies like fallen Slim-Fasters. In a cheesy tsunami, the pizzas—creamy pesto and crunchy broccoli rabe are clear winners, with briny scungilli far behind—are reduced to grease-stained cardboard.
“Sated,” I whisper to my girlfriend, rubbing my belly.
“I doubt that,” she says.
Fattened up, we mosey to the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. We learn how a child actor from Cincinnati, Ohio, married a chemical industrialist and created this verdant center for Himalayan art in Staten Island, complete with Zen-calm terraced gardens. Now filled with knowledge, too, our motley crew departs to our final stop.
“Who’s ready for beer and meat?”
“I am!” I shout.
“When are you not?” my girlfriend adds.
The bus disgorges us at 19th-century Killmeyer’s Old Bavarian Inn (4254 Arthur Kill Rd. at Sharrotts Rd., Staten Island; 718-984-1202). Though this is my second visit, I’m still in awe of the beer hall. Stuffed critters decorate ornately carved wood, while dirndl-wearing waitresses deliver half-liter mugs of wheaty, lemon-dunked Franziskaner Weiss ($6.50).
“Staten Island tastes good,” I say, sipping myself a beer mustache.
A perky blonde waitress saunters over. My meat-averse girlfriend orders a salad, but I go whole hog with a sausage platter ($15) and a “beer stick.”
“You eat it with beer,” the waitress instructs, delivering my thick, mild, chewy sausage. It’s lip-smacking with a liberal stripe of tangy mustard.
“Look, I’m smoking a meat cigar,” I tell my girlfriend, inserting a brown length into my mouth like Groucho Marx.
My girlfriend shakes her head, then she wisely averts her eyes when I receive my fat, nearly pornographic tubes of bratwurst, knackwurst and weisswurst. I knife clean juicy wheels, spin them in grainy mustard, chew and repeat, like I’m the hungriest, happiest worker on Staten Island’s heart-attack assembly line.