Fresh Kill: Noir at the Bar Burger!

After reading at Noir at the Bar NYC, Firecracker and I went out for burgers with friends Paula Pahnke (a writer whose work appears in the Lost Children anthology) and her man Dennis. Paula led us through the freezing cold to Cozy Soup ‘n Burger on Broadway, a diner institution offering much more than burgers and soup. We all had burgers. But first things first… here is the greatest shirt in creation. Photo by Glenn Gray. I reviewed Giovanni’s a while back. They make-a nice sangweech, paisans.


They make a good burger but they overcook it a bit. Not competition for Krug’s, but this is a top tier diner burger.  I had the Santorini Burger- spinach and feta on an English Muffin- with purloined avocado and onion ring added.

cozy burger

Noir at the Bar was a blast again. Thanks to Glenn Gray and “Big Daddy Thug” Todd Robinson for having me again. This time the lineup had Hilary Davidson, Al Tucher, Matthew McBride, Kathleen Gernert Ryan, Reed Farrel Coleman, Justin Porter, Terence McCauley, SJ Rozan, and Seamus Scanlon. Glenn, Todd, and Laurie- bartender extraordinaire- plus all the crew at Shade NYC– thanks again for a great evening.noirbar

Also in attendance was Josh Bazell, author of BEAT THE REAPER, one of my favorites of the last decade. I reviewed it ages ago. It’s one of the books that showed me you could write a crazy story if you were good enough, and Josh sure is. Here’s my reading of “Tiger Mother,” a short story that appears in Noir Nation #2.


Fresh Kill: The Drunken 10n Burger

Drunken n10 burger

That thar’s the Drunken 10n Burger from Nicole’s Ten, an upscale gastropub in Randolph, New Jersey. They have 150 craft beers available; I sampled the excellent County Line IPA from Neshaminy Creek brewing, hoppy to an almost syrupy extreme, and the Muddy Creek Lager from Defiant Brewing, which had a nice chocolaty flavor, but needed to be a bit more defiant.

But let’s get to the burger. This one is a real fancy pants deal- black Wagyu beef and wild boar cooked in “cranberried old vine Zinfandel” and topped with Havarti cheese, maple pepper bacon, and a peach bourbon BBQ sauce. It was voted one of the top 10 burgers in New Jersey at the NJ Wine & Food Festival, and it belongs there. The beef, bacon and peach flavors work well together, though I couldn’t taste the herbs de provence or the “old vine Zinfandel.” The cheese coats the burger in a thin layer of creaminess. For me, a burger is all about the meat, and the “Kobe” black Wagyu cut with wild boar made for a firm yet tender and flavorful burger, even if it seemed a bit more medium than rare.

The sweet potato fries were creamy inside and crisp on the outside, probably the best I’ve had. Everyone else’s meals were well received- we shared a lobster mac ‘n cheese with whole claws and chunks, tasty crab wontons, and the fish in the grouper taco was perfect. Crisp, not overcooked, lots of flavor. The seafood pot pie looked insanely good, and Firecracker’s “Going Coastal” pasta was a delicious take on frutti di mare. Even the kids menu mac ‘n cheese was delicious.

The desserts were as crazy as you’d expect from such a place, the type of decadent, over the top food meant to make you forget that  the world uses your face for toilet paper, and damn it, you deserve a devil’s food cake on top of a cheesecake covered in frosting, because hard drugs are so gauche.

Anyway, good place for a burger and a beer if you have forty bucks to drop on them with tax & tip.

The Book of Mormon

My first anniversary present (paper) to Sarah was tickets to The Book of Mormon, and we saw it last night in New York. (my present was tickets to midget car racing, which was awesome). I’ve been a fan of South Park since before it existed, when I first saw the videotape of “The Spirit of Christmas” that was commissioned as a video Christmas card. I had some friends in the Disney and animation community who’d got their hands on it, and is still one of the funniest Christmas parodies ever made. The show has had its ups and downs, but the movies Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made are mostly terrific. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut can still make me crack up. Team America: World Police is one of the few satires of the post-9/11 landscape. And The Book of Mormon is perhaps the most popular musical to say that in general, religion is just crazy shit someone makes up to distract people in horrible situations.

Now, the Mormons get poked fun at in this, but I don’t think their religion is singled out in particular, except to make the audience think why they are laughing at some of the off-the-wall beliefs of strict Mormons when their own beliefs are only slightly less ‘out there.’ Mormons are hardly the only target. American consumerism, symbolized by Orlando Florida, gets a heavy ribbing. The characters are sympathetic, but there is a lot of brutally cynical humor about the dire situation in some areas of rural Africa, such as the AIDS epidemic, violent warlords, and female circumcision. The performers are fantastic, and the humor works on many levels. I don’t know if many Mormons are going to see it, but I don’t find it malicious. In the end, the missionaries are flawed because they are human and entitled Americans, not because of their religion.

All the Broadway shows I’ve seen in order, from childhood are… Cats, Show Boat, Avenue Q, Spring Awakening, Spamalot!, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Hair, Young Frankenstein, Hairspray, and You’re Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush. Not counting Will Ferrell- which was a one-man show and not a musical- I’d say Book of Mormon is hands down, the funniest, with Spamalot second. The best all around? I really liked the revival of Hair, and think the Hairspray musical was damn good (and better than the movie musical).

Tickets are still crazy expensive, but this one will be running for a long time. I hope they make an insane movie out of it. It is incredibly filthy, absurd, hilarious, endearing, and daring.

And speaking of Mormons, to read a free story of mine about two Mormons who ring the doorbell of the wrong man, check out We’re All Guys Here, at [PANK] Magazine.



It is time for the annual Plucker year in review.

What have I done this year? It’s never enough. I always feel like a slacker, even when I sit at my writing desk every night from dinner (or after Modern Family) until bedtime.

I began the rewrite of my novel “The Garage” in earnest on approximately June 15th last year, and I wrote 135,000 bloated words, currently entitled “Bury the Hatchet.” I begin editing in July, and Imagine it will be 100k or less, as I wrote three concurrent storylines, two of which were backstory, and they will be incorporated into the main one, after all the fat has been cut. I find it easiest to write the scenes that define the character in detail and then cut them out later.

I’ve written (and had accepted) around 22 stories since last June, from little humorous pieces to a 7500 word monster. Flash fiction is still my favorite challenge, but my ideas are more character based lately, and I’ve been writing long. The latest is a 3500 word Denny story for the Watery Grave Invitational, at Naomi Johnson’s Drowning Machine, entitled “Train.”

I broke two personal records in the weight room in December- a 555lb trap bar deadlift, and a 260lb bench press (I have two torn rotator cuffs). This is nowhere near my max potential, and we have reset after my Achilles tendon became inflamed, but I am lifting heavy again. There are setbacks. You don’t quit. You do the most you can do.

In September, my story “Black-Eyed Susan” won the 1st place Bullet award. I forgot to enter for the Derringer, and would like to have seen how I would have done. It was a tough year, and some great stories won that one. The e-book Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, in which “Susan” appears, won the Spinetingler for best anthology. I’ve had a lot of readers compliment my writing, including one who compared me to Andrew Vachss, and I can think of no greater honor.

I published Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, a collection of 30 flash fiction stories inspired by my friend Fiona Johnson’s writing challenge. Together we’ve raised over $1600 for PROTECT and Children 1st. I have a second volume in the works, set for a September 1st release.

Sarah and I celebrated our first anniversary of marriage, and a great year it was. We’re both fiercely independent, but fit together so well. It’s only been a few years together, and I can’t imagine not being with her. Her support has been essential to all these accomplishments, and in the next issue of Hardboiled Magazine, you’ll get to read a little tribute to her, when my story “Firecracker” is published.

Thanks for a great year, Firecracker. Here’s to 41 more.

The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is one of my heroes. He was my favorite part of The Daily Show, and I was happily surprised when he got his own show. Its rampant success amazed me, for satire is not always appreciated in American culture, but he did it. His show continues to raise the bar for television comedy and news, going places that “real” news shows won’t dare. He keeps his principles and uses his character to fight for them, and after the Presidential Correspondents’ dinner with George W. Bush, you know he’s pretty much got the biggest balls of any comedian on the planet. As influential Lenny Bruce without the heroin addiction, if you ask me. I got tickets to his show by following them on Facebook and jumping when they were available. As you can see, I have ticket #57, so that’s my Wesley Snipes face:
That’s Drossarian behind me. We have a trick camera that does the reverse effect of how they made Gandalf look so much taller than the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, so we can be in the same frame. He is actually 8 feet tall. Firecracker and “Beast” Katie East filled out our group. We waited quite a while for Stephen and crew to get ready, because they had to set up a crazy harem tent that would be used for a gag later. We got to watch the warm-up comic whose name I forget, but he was very good. He’s a local NYC comedian who should say his name more often. He was very good at poking fun at audience members without being unnecessarily cruel, even when they are named “Dong.” Now that’s talent. He did call our two gals “bitchy” because they kept yelling about Steel Magnolias being a play before it was a movie. He didn’t know that movie is sacred to Louisiana ladies.
I met Stephen in the lobby. He was in character, but felt a little flat. He must have had a rough night. Before the show, he does a Q&A session out of character. He was very gracious and funny, answering questions and reciting anecdotes. I wanted to ask if he’d do voice work for the Venture Bros. show again, but I didn’t get chosen. His wife came to the show and was watching from the sidelines. What I like most about Mr. Colbert is not just that he’s funny, but that he’s genuine and has principles. I love when you can see them sneaking through his character and he has to nail someone that “Stephen” would love but that he personally disagrees with vehemently. He’s very fast on his feet and like myself, has no dignity; anything for a joke. He had 11 siblings to compete with, I was a firstborn, so what’s my excuse?
This was one of the better episodes in recent memory, with a pun so bad that he made himself fight a minotaur and conquer a harem for uttering it. He also calls Stephen Hawking an “a-hole,” goes after Fox News”s attempts to make the Goldman-Sachs CEO seem like a regular guy, and interviews author Conn Iggulden, who wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys, and his newest, The Dangerous Book of Heroes. You can see us in the audience when the mascot fires the t-shirt cannon; I’m in the red striped shirt to the right of the gal who caught the first shirt, clapping my hands off. If I’d been paying attention, I would have tackled her for it. Katie caught one of many WristStrong bracelets that Stephen shot into the audience, so we didn’t go home empty-handed. Or empty-hearted; these memories will last a lifetime, and I’ll tell my grandchildren I saw Stephen Colbert defeat a minotaur.

Here’s a screencap thanks to Julie, who is far more patient than I! The clip follows, and a link to the full episode is at the bottom of the post.]

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Hawking Is Such an A-Hole
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

Watch the Full Episode on Comedy Central.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips are one of my favorite bands. Pigeonholed as a stoner band, they began as a punk act out of Oklahoma City before their single “She Don’t Use Jelly,” off their more indie-friendly Transmissions from the Satellite Heart album became a hit. Since then they’ve evolved into a more ambient sound collage that varies from sweet and introspective to heart-hammering rhythms, none of it ever boring or predictable. They do concept albums now, from the anime-influenced Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to their latest, Pink Floyd-esque Embryonic double disc. And speaking of Floyd, they recorded their own version of Dark Side of the Moon for iTunes, and while that album is iconic, their version is quite interesting and enjoyable.
At the Wellmont in Montclair, their first encore was the end of that Floyd album, a minimalist emotional barrage of “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” with the audience singing along. They really are a band that must be experienced in concert. I was told this, but they mostly play festivals, which I normally loathe for their expense, remote location, weekend-long length, and the faux Woodstock feel of a place that charges $5 for a bottle of water. So when they booked a local show, I jumped on it. I ended up going with Firecracker and Milky, who’d both listened to the band but weren’t as big a fan as I am, but they also had a great time. I bet you’d have a great time even if you didn’t know any of the songs. Singer and front man Wayne Coyne is a charismatic and caring showman, and tells you straight up that they don’t do a lot of shows because they want each one to be a unique experience.
Before they played, he warned that the light show might be disorienting, and that he was going to crowdsurf in a giant hamsterball- an inflatable sphere he calls his spaceball- so get to the sides if you don’t want to hold it up. He got really close to us as they opened up and he rolled out. The show starts with a bang, with confetti cannons blasting, and a few dozen 3 foot wide balloons being released onto the audience, so you can play volleyball. They really engage the audience beyond all expectations, and make their show a memorable experience. There’s a video screen behind them, which they walk out of an image of a woman giving birth- embryonic indeed. The stage is full of singers and dancers in costumes wearing cyborg sunglasses, giraffe masks, and day-glo orange clothes, who’ll bounce the balloons back into the audience. Sometimes the band will pop the confetti-filled balloons with their guitars, or Wayne will put on a pair of enormous hands that shoot green lasers into the smoke-filled air. And they say thank you after every song, reminding you that they’re having just as good a time as you are.
They played a good mix of their repertoire, new and old, but few songs off their biggest albums: Yoshimi, and The Soft Bulletin. That album was a fave of mine for a long time, but I didn’t miss it. They did a sing-along of Yoshimi, a few acoustic versions of shorter songs, and a crowd-blasting rendition of last album’s “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” off of At War with the Mystics, a favorite. The final encore was possibly their most famous song, dedicated to a 16-year old friend of the band who lost his father to cancer last Christmas. It’s a song that’s been used at funerals in movies, and the one that made me a fan of the band: “Do You Realize?” It has truly beautiful lyrics that simply remind you of the fragility of life and to keep focused on what’s important.

Do You Realize – that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize – we’re floating in space –

Do You Realize – that happiness makes you cry

Do You Realize – that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes –
let them know You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last

You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

They also kept their promise of playing “Taps” at every show until the Iraq War is over, showing the audience a mechanical bugle that the military now uses for funerals, because there aren’t enough trumpet players to keep up with the demand. I liked that even seven years later they kept to it, reminding us that we have soldiers overseas in harm’s way. May they all come home safe and soon.
Amusingly enough, they sell a silvery t-shirt that reads, “I saw the Flaming Lips in concert and it made me a better human being!” And I think they mean it without irony, because it truly seems what they want to accomplish by making their music and playing it for us. There are a lot of gracious showmen out there, but Wayne Coyne seems the most authentic. I’m glad I finally got to see them perform, and I hope to catch them again the next time they come around. It may not make you a better human being, but you’ll want to try, at least for a couple of days. Then play one of their albums to remind yourself again.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

An ode to the vanishing char-broiler

My love of burgers started in the womb. My mother used to send my father for grilled hot dogs, burgers, and fried clams at the Three Acre Grill in Lyndhurst, a grease pit lost to urban development. /The photo is from the ’40s, when dining and dancing were offered; by the late ’60s it was less fancy. Beef patties broiled crisp, frankfurters seared with grill marks, that blend of tantalizing char and rich fat melted under flame. Science has proven it is more addictive than cocaine, but at least it won’t make you look like these guys.
Growing up, we’d stop for a summer treat at one of Route 3’s many char-broil grills. The long-gone Red Chimney was my favorite, with its ridiculous ’50s-era smokestack and counter-top dining. When it was gone, the historically named Anthony Wayne, after Revolutionary War Brigadier General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, took its place. They seared their thin patties on what fry cooks would call a “salamander,” a brutally hot grill that finished burgers in minutes, then they slapped them on gummy white hamburger buns. You could get American or cheddar, but the hot burger relish was what made them memorable to me. They served orange whips and the usual deep-fryer fare, but the burgers with their crisp, carcinogenic broiled crust were the star.
The Anthony was in a horrible location in the armpit of where three major highways merged, and required dodging multiple lanes of traffic full of mall-seeking moms and teenagers headed for their driving tests at the Wayne DMV. You truly risked death to get one of their burgers, and it made them taste even better. You’d want one for the road, wrapped in wax paper. The little cozy restaurant was decorated log cabin style with pictures of the Mad General and his exploits. I bet in the old days they had fake flintlocks and Daniel Boone accessories festooning the rafters with the odd ratty stuffed raccoon. It too, has been relegated to Jersey grease stain history.
So when I was driving to High Point State Park for a hike with Firecracker and saw the garish brown and orange cabin decor of The Elias Cole, I knew I had to stop there for a bite. I’d seen the place years ago when I hiked there with Milky, but we were broke and they take CASH ONLY. Wow, they really take this retro thing seriously, don’t they? Inside, we grabbed a booth and were served by friendly waitresses wearing bunny ears, for the Easter holiday. It was like stepping back in time to my char-broil days of youth- I prefer that term to “salad days.” The menu was simple: burgers, franks, shrimp in a basket; the char-broil staples. This being Saturday, they had dinner specials of hot roast beef, chicken or pork with mashed potatoes and gravy, and several older couples were there to partake of the plates piled high with meat-stuffs. We of course, went for the cheeseburgers.
They come on a freshly baked French sandwich roll, and they make the burger shaped to fit it. It’s capsule shaped, and seared with a fine grill crust that brings memories of summer when you bite into it. Just juicy enough and full of classic beef flavor, topped with two slices of American cheese melted to the roll and optional lettuce, tomato, and pickle, this is a classic roadstand burger with great taste. The roll really helps, crisp on the outside and still soft enough to absorb juices and squish down to make the burger easily edible. They also make great fries, standard and sweet potato. In fact, the sweets are some of the best I’ve had, better than the Cloverleaf Tavern, my previous fave.
You owe it to yourself to visit the highest point in the state of New Jersey- 1800 feet above sea level, and home to the Veteran’s obelisk monument- and then drive on down to the Elias Cole on Route 23 for a burger. Who’s Elias Cole? I don’t know. It’s not the name of the current owners. But it’s a fitting name for a classic char-broiler joint like this. It rings of the ’50s era frontier revival that these roadside restaurants thrived in. Some googling suggests he lead an Ohio regiment of volunteers in the Civil War. Next time I’ll ask.
Some other char-broils I recall are St.Paul’s excellent St. Clare Broiler, where I used to get liver and onions with Deneen “The Neener” Gannon in my Twin Cities days; she loved a good diner and the St. Clare reminded me of Jersey. One I have yet to try is the Montclair Char-Coal Broil on Valley Road, which is newer but has the right style. They’re a dying breed, killed off by fast food chains that barely serve things that can be called meat anymore. Do your mouth a favor and visit one of these anachronisms while they remain, and remember what a burger was supposed to taste like.
But most importantly, if you visit High Point State Park, be on the watch for zombies and vampires, which infest the place:,+sussex+nj&sll=42.209587,-70.923657&sspn=0.04571,0.062656&ie=UTF8&hq=elias+cole,&hnear=Sussex,+NJ&z=12&iwloc=A&cid=733807904828223293&ll=41.305924,-74.631844&output=embed
View Larger Map

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.