Friday, January 05, 2007

Rock & Roll and Cubanos in Union City


Yesterday, Homey Mulebagger flew in from Des Moines to join Mr. Thowmbpsin, Schpilk, and me in rehearsals for the Thowmbpsin/Schpilk album we're recording this weekend in Brooklyn.

We rehearsed at my band's studio in Union City. Our little practice room is nestled in a dank and dingy and practically plumbing-free complex of small spaces with padded walls and double doors, each occupied by a scruffy pack of Jersey misfits -- metal bands, hip-hop acts, an amazing Latin group... Recently we actually heard someone playing a Beatles song, a rare wisp of melody snaking through the rhythm-packed hallway.

Anyhow, my "regular" band usually meets for evening practice, plays, and splits, and we rarely get a chance to sample the local color. These two days, however, were a different story. The recording ensemble of Homey (bass), Thowmbpsin (guitar/vox), Schpilk (vox), and me (drums) -- no name yet for this not-quite-a-band -- was to spend longer hours than ever before in the tiny windowless room. That meant we eventually had to go and prowl for food.

Years ago I had eaten at a great, cheap no-frills Cuban restaurant in Union City, but I never took note of the name. This week I did a little Web research, but in the end we just decided to pound the pavement and see what we could find. Last night, when we couldn't play another note without getting an infusion of pork, we walked up to a busy little neighborhood on and around Bergenline Avenue, and we spotted the Latin American Restaurant, a big, bright place that sent us the right vibe. Our quartet sat down at table 13.

Oh, the dinner we had for forty bucks. I enjoyed a huge, tasty piece of pounded chicken alla plancha with plantains, rice, and salad ($6.95). To satisfy my piggy desires, I made sure to get a few bites of Mr. Thowmbpsin's smoked pork chops, which were tender and delicious and had just the right amount of smoke. The Presidente was cold and refreshing, the café con leche was hot and creamy. We felt like kings.

This afternoon we returned to table 13. At the front of the restaurant there's a nice-looking sandwich counter, and we sent our orders its way. Minutes later the four of us were digging into crisp, warm, satisfying Cubanos, stuffed with perfect lechón asado, or marinated pork roast. We had an avocado salad, and I couldn't resist ordering a thick mango shake. (Mmm!) Again we finished up with excellent coffee. And this time the bill was even less.

Our mission in Union City now complete, we set out for the Brooklyn recording studio with more than just a batch of songs under our belt.

Photo credit: Homey Mulebagger

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