Weighing the options

SIR: St. George, Staten Island

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring break for the Salisbury (CT) public schools usually means Camp Viveca for my nieces., only this year niece number one turned into a teenager, so she went away with a friend instead of coming to stay with me. Niece number two, who just turned ten (whoo-hoo: double digits!), came anyway, and even though only one of us was officially on vacation, we had a great time.

Eden’s spring break overlapped with the limited time Damaso was back in the city, so we decided she could be the first guest to join us for one of our forays to the end of the line. We even decided to let her choose where we’d go. Well, theoretically she chose; I may have biased her by how I described the options, but in any case all three of us were delighted by the decision to go back to Staten Island to explore the other end of the Staten Island Railway line at St. George.

Staten Island ferry terminal

Staten Island ferry terminal

Ferry schedule

In the terminal

In the terminal

Shoes: Eden's and Viveca's

The catch? The one train that ends at St. George doesn’t get there from anywhere that any of us would be, so we wouldn’t actually take it. The three of us met where I was working near Cooper Square, took the subway down to Bowling Green, and walked to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal just in time to miss a boat. No problem. It was rush hour, and another one came soon enough. I was surprised that Eden wanted to sit “somewhere comfortable” more than she wanted to stand outside and see the sites. She had already been to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on school field trips, but hey, I’ve seen them too, and I still get a thrill out of watching them from the boat. One funny thing about being with other people, especially kids, is the way you always want to see everything through them. I was disappointed that she didn’t find the boat trip more exciting, but it’s a freaking ferry for crying out loud! I don’t find it that exciting either, so why was I disappointed that she didn’t? It’s not just me, either. Working in the circus business, I frequently hear parents narrating entire shows for kids who are watching the exact same thing, and it’s generally clear that the narration only improves the experience for the adult eager to mediate rather than for the child subjected to the amateur voiceover.

Riding the ferry

On the ferry

After debarking, we were still in the ferry building when Eden pointed to the Statue of Liberty Deli. Damaso and I nix it immediately. I wanted to explore historic St. George, and it didn’t look particularly hospitable anyway; I’m not sure it even had seating. Eden looked confused, “I thought we had to eat at the first place we saw,” she stated. I may have stopped following the agenda before I even started, but I’m a nut for arbitrary rules, and I was proud of her for wanting to follow them.

Ferry to subway connection

MTA area map

We passed through the terminal building and skirted the shoreline, 9-11 monument, and ballpark to get to Richmond Terrace. From the distance, I thought the street would be lined with delicious and quaint places to eat, but up close we didn’t find anything so we cut through a path beside what turns out to be the Richmond County Supreme Court to Stuyvesant Place and spotted the fantastic 1960s-era Lunch Depot, which unfortunately for us may have been shuttered for decades for all we could tell. We turned up Hyatt Street and saw Steiny’s Pub, which proudly proclaimed that it welcomes tourists and regulars. Tourists go to Staten Island? Well, I guess we’re tourists there, so we turned in. I wasn’t convinced yet that we wanted to eat there, but when I asked the waitress where the historic strip was she said, “this is it,” so we stayed.

Steiny's Pub

Steiny's Pub

Maybe if the bar hadn’t been so crowded we would have continued my tradition of taking my rural nieces to inappropriate watering holes, but we got seated at a giant, tall table in the window with a bench around three sides of it. The waitress warned us that they’d only be serving food for another 20 minutes, so we quickly chose from the limited menu. Our decision was made even easier when we found out they were out of pizza and didn’t have anything fried.

Weighing the options

Eden, who is an extremely picky eater, asked the waitress whether the chicken noodle soup had anything “extra” in it, and once satisfied that it only had chicken and small pieces of celery and carrot, ordered a bowl. I was relieved and surprised that she was willing to put up with that much vegetable content, but she told me you always get that with chicken noodle soup.

“So what were you worried about?” I asked.

“Sometimes they put in something really weird,” she answered, “you know, like tomatoes.”

I don’t much like tomatoes either, so I had to support her on that one. Now I can start worrying about finding them in chicken noodle soup.

Steiny's interior

Jimmy Steiny's



Damaso, who’s been acting all healthy, ordered the chicken garden salad, and I was delighted to see that the day’s special was my former favorite meal: a veggie burger with bacon and cheddar. I didn’t eat meat or poultry from ages 12 through 26, and when I first started eating meat again, I wasn’t quite ready to face a whole slab of hamburger, but I was hungry for all the bacon I could get, so I used to order veggie burgers with bacon all the time, and everyone laughed at me. In Staten Island, however, that’s a special of the day, and it came with cole slaw.

All three meals were disappointing. Damaso’s salad was wilted and boring, and they didn’t have any dressings he liked, and my burger was bland and unsatisfying. Eden liked her soup fine, actually, but she was full after about half a bowl, and since both of us were still hungry, we tried to eat it, but it was bland and oily with mushy, overcooked vegetables. Yuck.

Chicken noodle soup

Veggie bacon cheddar burger

Chicken garden salad

While we ate, Eden charged her iPod touch and played games on it, Damaso charged his camera battery and checked out the Yankees on one television and the Mets on another, and I admired the giant baseball trophy by the bar and grooved to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Eden wasn’t the only kid in the bar either. A boy about her age was eating with his father at the only normally sized table in the joint. They were also the only other people not at the bar watching the game. I think the majority of customers were watching the Mets, although I would have made St. George for Yankees given that the Yankees’ farm team is right there.



We were still hungry after our skimpy and bland meal, but when we asked to see the menus again, our waitress reminded us that the 20 minutes was up and the kitchen was closed. She brought us a bowl of tortilla chips though, and they were the best food we’d had yet, fresh and salty.

We decided to have dessert somewhere else, so we settled up and went back out to explore St. George. One restaurant was open; it looked expensive but not good, and the menu in the glass box outside the front door showed lots of wines but no desserts, so we gave up and walked back to the ferry terminal. After checking out all the available dessert options, we chose the random little deli because it had a countertop display with tiers of giant, beautiful cup cakes. Damaso and I were overwhelmed with delicious options, but Eden said she didn’t like cup cakes. What?! She was, however, excited by something Damaso and I hadn’t even noticed, though: a cooler of MiniMelts, those gummy ice cream pellets, and she carefully selected the perfect package.

Damaso and I made our selections and wanted to order our cup cakes, which by the way might have been the only non-packaged/processed items in the store, but the man behind the counter ignored us because he was busy shouting at the man behind the opposite counter on the other side of the store. Damaso and Eden stood by waiting politely for at least a pause in the stream of what I’m guessing was Urdu invective, but it looked like it might take a while, so I just walked up and said, “We’d like cupcakes please,” which jarred the counterman out of his yelling frenzy enough for him to pay attention to us. Damaso got a red velvet-chocolate cupcake, and I asked for the “seasonal,” which turned out to be… damn I am the worst food journalist ever! I forgot! I think it had Oreos in it. I’ve got to learn to write these as soon as I get home.

In any case, we had dessert on the ferry home. The cup cakes were too sweet to finish, so Damaso and I each took home leftovers, but Eden had no trouble polishing off the MiniMelts. When we got back to Manhattan, our walking route back to the subway took us through the Canyon of Heroes, the section of lower Broadway that ticker tape parades pass through. Embedded in the sidewalks are granite strips with the names and dates of past honorees, many of whom are comically anti-climactic, perhaps like this journey or even this whole idea. Hey, it may not have a snappy moral or a good meal, but I got to ride a ferry and spend decent time with good people. It’s not over. It ain’t exploring if you know what you’ll find, and I’ve got a lot more lines to ride.

Photographs by Damaso Reyes

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