A Japanese Food Story (sort of)


Frank Greenhalgh April 10, 2011

            In the mid 90s I worked as director of sales for a Japanese company. As the only American in the company I would coordinate travel for people coming and going from Japan. Yoshie (Sales Manager) and Besho (Engineering Manager) were returning to Japan after visiting a customer in Ohio. They would arrive at JFK early Tuesday evening and fly to Tokyo on JAL Wednesday morning. I made the arrangements for them.

            My plan was to meet them at JFK, have dinner at a local restaurant and then drop them at an Airport Hotel with bus service to JFK for the morning. The Hotel was easy. I reserved two rooms at the Best Western at JFK. Next was the question "Where to eat?” I had no idea where I could find a place near the airport that would please my Japanese friends. Steak or fish always works. I decided to check Zagat’s on the Internet. It seems that the area around JFK is empty of restaurants. The closest fish restaurant listed was "Lundy's" (not very good) in Sheepshead Bay.

             The only restaurant close to the airport that had a review was called "Don Peppe." It was not a Spanish restaurant but an Italian (red sauce) restaurant in Ozone Park that served food “Family Style.”  The Zagat’s review gave Don Peppe a high rating on food (26) but mediocre on environment and service. Family style means everything you order is for two or more people, so we would all have to share the food ordered. Don Peppe did not take credit cards, only cash. The wine list consisted of two choices, White Homemade wine or Red Homemade wine. So far everything was intimidating, but then the review also said “ It’s worth the shlep from the city to Ozone Park for the Linguine and White Clam Sauce.”

I love Linguine and White Clam Sauce. So Don Peppe here we come.

 

I picked up Yoshie and Besho at JFK and we headed to Don Peppe. The restaurant was a single, very large room, covered with inexpensive wooden tables and chairs. At one end was an open kitchen, to the left of the kitchen was a menu suspended high on a large board. The menu was large with pasta dishes, chicken, shellfish and other Italian specialties. I ordered baked clams, Linguine and White Clam Sauce, Veal Don Peppe and a bottle of white wine. These were all items that received praise in the Zagat’s review.

Shortly the food came out. The baked clams were wonderful. Small little necks smothered in garlic and wrapped with breadcrumbs. We finished the clams quickly and soon the Linguine and Veal came out. Zagat’s was right, the Linguine and White Clam Sauce is the best I ever tasted. It was served al dente, full of freshly shucked little neck clams, covered with garlic and oil, plus whatever ingredients gave it the award winning taste. One of the qualities was that the linguine itself tasted of the clams and garlic. Whether it was the sauce sticking to the linguine or the pasta absorbing it (they make their own pasta), who knows, but it sure was good. The Veal consisted of a number of beautifully breaded fried veal cutlets, covered with fresh tomatoes, another very tasty dish.

            I knew I had hit on a winner as I watched my friends take their second helpings. Actually the linguine and clams represents a noodle dish they never before tasted but enjoyed very much.  After Espresso and Cannoli we left for the Best Western and their return trip home.

              It didn’t take long before I realized that “It’s worth the shlep from Amityville to Ozone Park for the Linguine and White Clam Sauce.”

            Don Peppe has become a favorite of ours and our friends. We find it is best to go with a large number of people, so we have celebrated a few birthday parties there with 15-20 people. The inexpensive homemade wine, ($17 a bottle) helps the cost. As our parties usually take place on Sunday afternoon, parking is no problem. At other times I have heard it can be.

            Rumor has it that Don Peppe is a mafia owned restaurant, and I wouldn’t be surprised. The cash only, and untaxed wine does seem sort of strange. I was told that Don Peppe had opened to be close to Aqueduct Race Track, and originally was open only during the racing season. Today they are open all year and writing this makes me want to go back very soon.