Friday, July 29, 2011

The Amazing Adventures Of R.O.I. and The Duke of Ducati

The outside
It's worthwhile to invest time on your friends. Once a week—generally on Wednesdays—Return On Investment (R.O.I.) breaks free from his wife and daughter and heads out for beers and cholesterol-on-a-plate with The Duke of Ducati and a few other of his boys. I tag along only every two weeks or so because my return on investment is greater when I spend my hours with The Wife, Ph.D., who with a phone call or two can have me dispossessed of all those things that are near and dear to my heart. However, I do guarantee myself one thing when I go out with R.O.I. and The Duke of Ducati: a slew of totally inappropriate jokes involving gender, race, sex, weight, religion, politics, hair color, culinary preferences, musical tastes and Chuck Norris. You see, R.O.I. is one of those guys who has an encyclopedic collection of jokes hanging onto his memory like stubborn fleas and he loves to share them with an audience as long as there are ice-cold brews flowing through his veins.

The inside
Since The Duke of Ducati is somewhere in central France (hopefully) cavorting with plenty of refined and distinguished ladies, two nights ago I chose to accompany R.O.I. on his weekly getaway to Brewfellas, our newest hangout and home to what I consider The Rock's most eclectic beer selection. Wedged between several abandoned stores at the end of Ledras Street, this tiny bar is unpretentious yet cool. A few wooden tables and benches nestled on the sidewalk provide visitors with decent sitting room, while inside, a small rounded bar serves as sales counter and rustic wooden shelves leaning against the exposed brick walls stock craft bottled beers from the USA, Belgium, England and Scotland, among others. Besides its attitude, what I love the most about this joint is their passion for India Pale Ales, something I obsess with as regularly as The Wife, PhD., refers to me as a loser. In case you ask, that'd be a lot. Brewfellas carries at least seven IPAs, four of which I sampled that night with R.O.I.: Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA and Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA (MD, USA); Anderson Valley Brewing Company Hop' Ottin IPA (CA, USA), and; Great Divide Brewing Company Hercules Double IPA (CO, USA). They also sell San Francisco's iconic Anchor Steam, Scotland's Brew Dog (which produces my latest mistress Punk IPA) and Harviestoun Brewery's Old Engine Oil Porter, and Belgium's Gulden Draak, a wonderful dark sweet beer we shared that evening as a sort of nightcap.

Who thought this was possible on The Rock?

"Alcohol is like love, " he said. "The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off."

- Raymond Chandler, The Long Good-Bye

The only good kind of Raging Bitch
Brewfellas plans to expand into one of the adjacent stores to offer more seating to Nicosia's beer lovers. Once they have the extra space, I hope they add a few edible items to their menu; the bar is the perfect place to unwind after a tough day at work on this blog (cough, cough) with a bottle in hand and maybe a charcoal grilled cheeseburger or assorted sausage platter. For now, though, management allows Brewfellas' patrons to bring their own food as long as it's not too messy, stinky or plain bizarre. My guess is that if management asks nicely, R.O.I., The Duke of Ducati and the rest of the boys wouldn't mind chipping in a few hundred Euros each as silent (drunk) partners for a large Weber gas grill with the necessary burger-flippin' tools, a set of plastic IKEA plates and cutlery, some beer-themed napkins and jars of spicy English mustard, and the hiring of a couple of colorful waitresses dressed to the nines in scant Brewfellas (the devilish logo is great) halter-tops and Daisy Dukes. I bet R.O.I. will even throw in a few sausage casings gratis. Hell, if all that ever happens, I might just start investing those wasted hours on Wednesday evenings with my friends. Joke anyone?

Whine On The Rocks' Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Frugal Traveler On The Rock

My Zolpidem Supplier must really miss America and its people. She jumped at the chance of meeting up with The New York Times' Frugal Traveler during his one-week sojourn on The Rock. About a month ago, she emailed him, offering her services as tour guide and interpreter and several suggestions (seconded by The Wife, Ph.D., and me) on cheap yet compelling tourist attractions, foods and beverages including Avo's Lahmajoun, Sawa's €8 lunch buffet, bakery savories, pints of KEO (Carslberg sucks), the Pafos Mosaics, the painted churches of Troodos, pittas of souvlaki, the Akamas Peninsula, Jar in Kato Drys and street cat orgies. He must have found the email relatively amusing because on the night of his arrival we met up in Nicosia for kontosouvli, large bottles of KEO, anti-establishment protests and The Rock's finest. Of course, I picked the wine. Here's his account of our night out:
"Joanna gathered her friends to take me for my first Cypriot meal, a feast of salads, skewered meats and raw onions served at an outdoor table at To Kontosouvli (2E Kallipoleos Avenue). The highlights: shieftalies, crumbly ground pork wrapped in stomach membrane, and  kontosouvli, skewered chunks of pork butt. All that was just 10 euros each, with beer. Then it was off for Cypriot wine at a chic-looking but affordable wine bar, Academy 32."
For the full article (a mixed review of our beloved Rock that has elicited all sorts of catty comments), go here. And, in case anyone is wondering, the Baths of Aphrodite near Latsi do indeed blow disappoint.

2010 Zambartas Semillon Sauvignon Blanc - Honey, lemon peel, white flowers and red apples on the nose. Red apples on the palate with an appealing peach fuzz and minty finish. Perfect for a hot summer day, this wine was commended in the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards. 87/100.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Condors, Cosmeticians And Ticking Clocks

Turning back the clock ain't easy. At the very least, you need to diet and spend endless hours at a gym or yoga studio toning a body that sags with every passing second. Add to that a modern coloring job, a close shave and/or some heavy waxing and you might be lucky to drop your age by seven years. If you have the capital, you can then head to Tijuana or Los Angeles where some renowned cosmetician can puff up your lips like a blowfish, tighten your skin so that it moves less than escargot on a plate, or, if you favor the X chromosome and have exes for boobs, build you a nice rack that can be used either as flotation devices or magnets for younger gentlemen with chronic mommy issues. Since I have learned to accept my flab and whitening beard, I chose this year to stand up to aging by attending the 24th EDON Festival, a massive concert and breeding ground for pseudo-socialists staged annually by the "communist" party's youth organization.

I always thought AKEL, the Progressive Party of Working People, was a far cry from a traditional communist party. Logic states that in this day and age, with the crumbling of the last socialist experiments, communist parties specially in a united Europe would only be that in name. However, as I walked through the Famagusta Gate and into the moats, I was magically transported back to the height of the Cold War. Booths upon booths spread party propaganda. Posters of Marx and Lenin and radical slogans printed on gigantic banners hung everywhere. Representatives from other European communist youth groups manned their stations and spoke to the impressionable attendees. Che Guevara, hammer and sickle, and EDON t-shirts sold like pints at a pub. If it weren't for all the designer jeans and handbags, American sneakers, iPhones, keys to German luxury sedans, colorful mohawks and tattoos, and spoken Greek in attendance, I would have seriously thought I was somewhere in La Habana circa 1964 witnessing a pro-Soviet rally. It felt so prehistoric I loved it.

Led by the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child and his brother, we pushed our way to within five meters of the stage. Last time I was this close to a band, I was sixteen years old and spent most of the Aerosmith concert in Buenos Aires making out with my then girlfriend instead of paying attention to Steve Tyler's tonguing of "Love In An Elevator." The average age of the crowd that night in the Nicosia moat was seventeen. The older fans stayed away and sat towards the back of the field where plastic chairs were lined up for the occasion. What's most admirable is that the performers—Thanos Mikroutsikos and Christos Thiveos as openers and Vassilis Papakonstantinou as the headliner—have been part of Greece's music scene for more than thirty years, yet year after year they manage to maintain a rabid following among teenagers, particularly in the case of Papakonstantinou, Greece's greatest rock star. The young crowd erupted in excitement as soon as Vassilis—yes, we are now on a first-name basis—took to the stage and began rocking with his deep, powerful voice. A mosh pit of shirtless sweaty teens broke out next to us. Those who refused to partake in the violence nevertheless pumped their fists, banged their heads and pogoed to the beat of the drums. To my left, a couple of girls—they couldn't have been older than eleven—got on their tiptoes and stretched their necks like giraffes hoping to get a short glimpse of the stage while passionately belting out the same songs that were sung by their parents in the past. Between songs, the crowd chanted in unison, "Vassili, we live to listen to you," a saying that rhymes in Greek and extols the God-like status of the artist. Nowhere else have I seen such passion for an established legend; I don't think sixteen year old Americans attend Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen concerts, let alone memorize their songs' lyrics. Maybe this is explained by the Greek population's pride in their heritage. Just like many people hark back to the apogee of Ancient Greece, maybe teenagers see in Papakonstantinou the remnants of a better time. Who the hell knows.

Then again, maybe he just makes people laugh. I cannot help but crack up whenever he appears on stage dressed in washed-up rocker attire (an Ann Taylor white t-shirt and shiny black cargo pants on this occasion) and resembling Sam The Eagle's long-lost Greek cousin but with a humongous grin painted across his ugly mug. All attention obviously falls on his noseit extends flat like a plateau from the bottom of his forehead, then suddenly drops at least three centimeters away from his face and curls back in like a condor's beak. His stringy hair, which has probably never met a flattening iron or a comb-over, adds to his unattractiveness, while his thin lips and crooked teeth spread out in a smile that give his persona an uneasy, mischievous aura. Despite his physical shortcomings and old age, Vassilis knows how to captivate an audience; for more than two hours that night, he led us in passionate singalongs and spoke to our inner child. Maybe once Greece pulls out of its current financial predicament, it's time for the populace to chip in, send the man on the first flight bound for Sao Paulo and buy him a handsome nose job.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

War Stories and Heartburn

Hole in the walls are fun. Specially if there is nowhere to sit and you are forced to eat with your paws. You know how it is. Pretension or comfort isn't part of the script when you chug a cold beer while standing or drop a blob of grease, ketchup, mayo and mustard on the sidewalk a few milliseconds into biting into a bloody burger. Once you are done, drunk and suffering from digestive ailments, you stumble along the road with plenty of new war stories to pass on to the children, a stinging heartburn, and food stains like battle wounds spotting your clothes.

To my surprise, a Friday night a few weeks ago, The Wife, Ph.D., asked me to take her to what is rapidly becoming my favorite Cyprus dive eatery, Avo's Lahmajoun, practically a small counter on Onasagorou Street that sells, in my opinion, the best Armenian lahmajoun and halloumi pies in Nicosia. Yes, there are two or three tables next door for those who want to stuff their faces in situ, but using them would take away from the fun of wrapping your upper and lower incisors around those pies while risking loitering charges from the restaurants nearby. Yes, the service is slow, but only because the pies are made to order and the joint is so damn popular people twirl their thumbs or thumb through their phones for thirty minutes while waiting for their grub. Yes, Avo's team of Armenian Acrobats also make kebab, but who really wants chunks of meat when it can be ground and mixed with tomatoes and spread like lukewarm butter or Nutella or Beluga caviar or Jennifer Connelly on perfectly baked dough? And, yes, it is dirt cheap (€1.30 per largish lahmajoun) to boot.

Armenian pie, Ecuadorian beer belly.
For those of you in the dark, here's the gist of it all. Lahmajoun is a thin, pizza-like dough topped with minced lamb or beef, onions and tomato puree and baked for a few minutes in a brick oven. Once its cooked, you can add chopped parsley and/or hot peppers and squeeze some lemon juice on top. Then, if preferred for the purpose of cleanliness, you can fold it like a poor man's version of a crepe and hope for the best. The dough at Avo's is light and malleable, and it is removed from the fire before it becomes too crunchy. The savory topping is packed with flavor but remains easy to digest. For the sake of this blog, I already envision myself hosting the First Annual Lahmajoun Eating Contest and anointing one of my fancy friends as the Cypriot illiterate beggar version of Takeru Kobayashi, a sensei to all of us who love food but hate putting on the kilos.

Unfortunately, we could not find a bench to call our dining table that night, and The Wife, Ph.D., refused to sit on the dirty sidewalk (my suggestion) like a couple of youthful gypsies out on a second date. Depressed, we headed home and uncorked a bottle of island wine. A week later, though, I was back at Avo's with the boys who couldn't care less where we rested our bums.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

2010 Hadjiantonas Rose (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) - Beautiful cranberry color. Luscious bouquet reminiscent of candied strawberries and cherries and rose petals. An explosion of candied strawberries and raspberries in the mouth with a tangy, medium-length finish. Off-dry. 88/100.