Luna's was dark and claustrophobic. In the farthest corner, two, tiny but scary-looking women dressed in black continuously husked and diced garlic. On the brighter side, I ordered zuppa di clams (red sauce…of course) and it was the biggest portion of the most delicious clams I ever had, (an extra loaf of bread was needed to sop up every drop of the liquid goodness). Even better, my brother-in-law picked up the check.
I always wanted to return to Luna’s but never made it. In 1979, I moved to Las Vegas. Five years later, I returned to the east coast and settled near Atlantic City. Over the years, I built-up Luna’s as one of the tastiest marvels of modern mankind. That’s why it’s so puzzling that during my numerous visits to adjacent Chinatown, (since 1984), I never made it a point to eat at Luna’s.
Today, my only guess is that over time, I forgot about it. Then about ten years ago, I started reading Kinky Friedman’s humorous detective novels. For a New Yorker like me, one of the allures of his work was the use real locations, mostly in lower Manhattan, as backdrops.
|RICHARD "KINKY" FRIEDMAN (NOVEMBER 1, 1944 to PRESENT), IS A SINGER, SONG WRITER, HUMORIST, AUTHOR AND POLITICIAN, (IN 2006, HE RAN FOR GOVERNOR OF TEXAS. HE PLACED 4th OUT OF SIX AND RECEOVED 12.6% OF THE VOTE).|
Friedman had me salivating by having his characters eating well…in places that I was familiar with. A spot he liked to wine and dine potential clients was…Luna’s. While reading a couple of sentences, Friedman would transport me back to the elfin women slicing fresh garlic, a mountain of the best zuppa di clams and my brother-in-law insisting on paying the check.
I shared anecdotes from Friedman’s books with my son Andrew. My boy especially liked when I quoted Kinky’s descriptions of Luna's food and atmosphere. I vowed to take Andrew there and he was on board…but like I said, it NEVER happened.
I read six of Friedman’s twenty novels before the similarity of each story grew tiresome. So once again, Luna’s drifted off my radar. The idea of eating there became so remote that when nearby on other occasions. it never crossed my mind to stop in.
We fast-forward to June 2006. My wife Sue got a new job a month before our family vacation. We discussed the matter and decided that Andrew and I would go alone on a whirlwind, six-day jaunt that included; Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky Ohio, the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Niagara Falls in Ontario Canada, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York and a visit to my mother’s house in Brooklyn (Canarsie).
For those of you fortunate enough to know Andrew, you know that even as a pre-teen, he was an interesting conversationalist. To our mutual benefit, he and I yakked and yakked. So the first and longest leg, (ten-hours) of our journey to north-central Ohio, was a pleasure.
Cedar Point was rated the number one amusement park in the world that summer, (maybe it still is?). It lived up to the hype by being picturesque, (along Lake Erie) while dazzling us with huge roller coasters and other fun activities.
The next day we drove an hour to Cleveland. Andrew had a decent knowledge of music so he (and I) loved the six and a half hours we spent in the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.
|PRIOR TO THIS VACATION, I NEVER SET FOOT IN OHIO. BETWEEN CEDAR POINT AND THE ROCK-N-ROLL HALL OF FAME, (above) EVERY PERSON WE MET IN THE BUCKEYE STATE WAS FRIENDLY AND POLITE. KUDOS INDEED TO MY READERS WTW AND NEIL.|
We drove to Canada that night. We were on such a high from our musical history lesson that the first three hours zoomed by. Unfortunately, the last ninety minutes became anti-climatic. Andrew and I were passing Buffalo when to fill the last half hour, I told him a story that might have been better suited for a more mature audience.
The condensed version involved a jerk I knew making a drug reference at the border. In a short time, the jokester was pulled from his car, interrogated, stripped, chained to the floor and given a full (anal) cavity search.
At the border, all vehicles stop at a toll booth-like station. Innocent cars are spot-checked however most drivers are asked basic questions and are allowed to proceed. It was still the pre-passport-era, so we were just asked if we were American citizens, where in Canada we were going and how long we were planning to stay. Bing, bang, boom the border guard smiled and said, “Enjoy.” Three seconds later Andrew let out a tremendous sigh of relief. I was pretty exhausted so I was clueless to what was on his mind. I said, “What was all that about?” Andrew said, “You said if you say the wrong thing…they chain you to the floor and…” I cut him off. And being the supportive father that I am I said, “No, no, no, they don’t do that in Canada. On the way home, it’s the American guards who are afraid of drug smugglers…”
We saw the falls after dark. Andrew was impressed especially by the light show but he was more anxious to use our hotel’s indoor pool. In the morning, we went on the Maid of Mist boat ride between the falls.
|ANDREW CALLED HIS FRIENDS TO SAY HE WS SAILING BETWEEN THE USA (left) AND CANADA (right)...OR MAYBE HE HAD SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY.|
An hour of sightseeing later, I suggested lunch. Andrew wanted a snack instead. I told him about “TIM HORTONS, A PLACE FOR PIE.”
|IN 1964, TIM HORTON, (NOW AN NHL HALL OF FAMER), FOUNDED THIS FRANCHISED CAFE AND BAKE SHOP. THERE ARE 3,000 LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT CANADA MAKING IT THE BIGGEST FAST-FOOD CHAIN IN THE GREAT WHITE NORTH, (SURPASSING McDONALD'S).|
The Tim Hortons franchise there was like walking into a Dunkin’ Donuts that OD’d on steroids. This massive shrine to baked goods had ten separate specialty areas with their own cash register. Andrew's expectation produced a thundering sugar rush. His mouth watered enough to dwarf Niagara's falls and make Pavlov proud. He confided that he was hankering for apple pie but he wanted to see what the cherry looked like first.
We went to a random register after failing to find the pie station. Andrew said, “A slice of apple pie, please.” The lady said, “Sweetie, we don’t serve pie.” Unlike the folks we met in Ohio, the tone of her voice was condescending and reminiscent of the guide doing the Alamo tour in the 1985 movie, “PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.”
I was anticipating the bitch laughing in my boy’s face. I snapped, “The name of the place is TIM HORTONS, A PLACE FOR PIE, isn’t it?” She fought off a budding grin and smirked, “No sugar, the name is just Tim Horton’s. We have cookies, cake, doughnuts and…” I nudged Andrew away. We headed for the farthest station away from her, he got a brownie.
I was pissed-off that I was wrong about them specializing in pies. Hell with everything else they had...why not pies too? Maybe they hate money...maybe it's a non-profit orgin-eyes-ation? Those stupid asses didn't even take advantage of Tim Horton himself. He's a national hero and there was no hockey memorabilia to be found...
We went to the car with a sour taste for Canada and returned to the good old USA.
We had no trouble passing through customs and back into our country. But Andrew let out a colossal sigh of relief just to punctuate the poor judgment I used, in telling him the drug joke story.
For several hours, we traveled through western New York. When we got off the thruway, the scenic country road to Cooperstown was beautiful…except recent rainstorms had flooded the area. It was sad to see farmers and other people using canoes to get around in low-lying areas, (we were lucky because three days earlier, the road we were on was closed).
Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing baseball in Cooperstown. He would have been hard pressed to find a more remote spot in the whole state of New York.
In the summer, tons of youth organizations gravitate to this tiny berg. That puts a premuim on finding a room because the rest of the year is slow, (the flooding also forced some of the few motels to close). We drove out of town and couldn’t find a pace to stay for twenty miles.
We found a cheap motel ($114.00) in the town of Oneonta. The manager pointed across the way to the over flowed banks of the Allegheny River and said, “See those branches sticking out of the water, that’s the top of a fifteen-foot tree.” Then she suggested, “If you like ribs and barbecued chicken, try the Brooks Family Restaurant.”
The restaurant was like being inside a domed football field...and every seat was taken. During our wait, I was afraid of an instant replay of Tim Horton’s. Luckily they actually had ribs and barbecued chicken...and it was great!
In the morning, I got gas in Cooperstown. The attendant (nametag; Doc) was a friendly twenty-year old. I mentioned that we had to go to Oneonta to find a room. He said, “Considering we're still in a state of emergency, you're lucky. Some people go further.”
Andrew is not a baseball fan. But he was smart enough to treat the Hall of Fame like any museum. One of his best traits is that he is not only a good speaker but a good listener as well. That means, he let me blither about my baseball memories ad nauseam.
|ANDREW'S PATIENCE WITH ME EARNED HIM "THE MVS TROPHY," FOR MOST VALUABLE SON.|
Today if you asked him what the best part of the hall was, I’d bet he’d say…seeing the Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First,” routine.
He gave me close to two hours before asking, "Is it okay if we leave?" I agreed but I wanted to make one more stop before we left town...Doubleday Field. My father had taken me to the Hall of Fame in 1963 and had the foresight to bring a ball and baseball gloves. Dad and I played catch on Doubleday Field, (I think I won the MVS trophy that day). Unbeknownst to Andrew, I did the same and he made my day by throwing a ball around with me.
|NO PRESSURE BUT HOW COOL WOULD IT BE IF ANDREW PLAYED CATCH ON THAT FIELD WITH HIS KID(S) THERE SOME DAY.|
Before hitting the road, I stopped at the gas station. I saw Doc and said, “What’s the best way back to Manhattan?” He said, “You want gas?” I said, “No. Just...” He said, “Well, I don’t rightly know…” I said, “I got gas with you this morning…remember I said we had to go to Oneonta for a room…” He huffed, “Oh yeah,” and told me.
Maybe they misspelled his name-tag because that dick took us hours out of our way.
Our odyssey through the never-ending back roads was boring. Andrew took a long nap until we caught up with the New York State Thruway, (not far from where Woodstock took place).
At a pit stop, I called my mother. I told her we were going to get to her house about at about nine. Andrew wanted lunch but I suggested eating light because while he was asleep, I got a great idea to have dinner at Luna’s.
Two hours later, we were stuck in Saturday night, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Washington Bridge. It would take an eternity to reach lower Manhattan. Andrew and I were dressed shabbily, starved, burnt-out by the road and irritable.
It was already dark as we finally approached Little Italy. Our spirits brightened when we got a primo parking spot (without praying to Joe Vanilla, the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces).
Mulberry Street was a mob scene. But as we marched towards Mecca, I felt an electric impulse of pride shuddering my body when I saw the gigantic vertical neon sign that read; L-U-N-A-’S. I was so joyous that I didn’t notice that the sign was not lit!
Seconds later, I was horrified to discover the handwritten sign on the front door that read; THANKS FOR YOUR 43 YEARS OF PATRONAGE. What a slap in the face, Luna's closed for good a few weeks before. It felt like I was mooned by Luna’s.
|"MOONING" EXPRESSES PROTEST, SCORN, DISRESPECT, PROVOCATION OR THE FUN OF SHOCK VALUE. ITS USE FOR SHAMING AN ENEMY GOES BACK TO 66 AD DURING THE FIRST ROMAN-JEWISH WAR.|
I searched Mulberry Street for a consolation prize but the other Italian restaurants were so elegant. Mired in regret I said, “Andrew, let’s go to Chinatown.”
We waited on line to get into my favorite WO HOP, (17 Mott Street). I over heard someone say; they only take cash. Now I had to find an ATM. When we got back, the line had tripled. We wound up in Big Wong’s, (the Chinese restaurant that Kinky Friedman took his clients to). It was gravely disappointing.
My mother greeted us at midnight and we all went immediately to bed. In the morning, we brought a nice Sunday breakfast in for grandma, (no, there wasn't a Tom Hortons in Canarsie...try find a stinkin' decent bialy in all of Canada). We shared the highlights of our vacation and left.
To cap our trip, just when I thought I had been in the car long enough, we got caught in the height of the shore traffic. The ride home was a horrendous four-hour ordeal (nearly double the usual time). At least I had a great conversationist with me to while away the time.
In any event, Andrew and I had a great time. But the funny thing is, a different Luna’s has opened across the street from the original Luna’s. We were at the San Gennaro feast in 2009 but the streets are so crowded, we didn’t notice the new addition.
|INTERESTINGLY, WE HAD LUNCH IN CHINATOWN THAT DAY. SO SEEING THE NEW LUNA'S WOULDN'T HAVE DONE US ANY GOOD.|
To avoid getting mooned by this Luna’s, read the reviews yourself. You’ll see, most of the comments are harshly negative; too expensive, commercial tasting food and an indifferent staff looking to gouge naïve tourists by rounding the 8.25% sales tax up to 10% and secretly adding a hefty gratuity onto the bill.