Can I use this spot to admit a crush? No, he’s not some pasty teen vampire doing a washed out James Dean innovation. (I mean, forget blood—what that child needs is a sandwich.) No, I’m talking about a real MAN, a man of appetites, a man of food and—incidentally—a man of violet-colored capes and satin.
After reading this fascinating piece in the Times about our neighbor to the south, Justin Fornal, aka Baron Ambrosia, I, too, have become hooked. Fornal is a new brand of foodie gunslinger, now that Bourdain’s cookie/pirate act has become a bit strained. (Was I the only one cringing as a creaky Bourdain in his ubiquitous Dead Boys shirt wandered around a Las Vegas mall with an equally superannuated Marky Ramone?) With his punk regalia, Bourdain is stuck in New York, 1977—a seminal period, to be sure, but historic. Worse, that particular moment has already been mined by music writers and pop-culture historians; it’s the 20th-century version of Billy the Kid’s 1870’s Lincoln County.
What’s the new scene? Well, Bourdain’s New York in the late ’70s was abandoned by the middle class, and full of cheap, modest ethnic restaurants, and—let’s face it—the thrilling threat of crime. Not at all relevant to the Manhattan of today, but absolute just like today’s Bronx.
It’s still uncool. It’s rough around the edges. It hasn’t been picked to death by skinny-jeans-wearing, ex-suburbanite hipsters. But best of all, broke people—with their ethnic traditions still vibrant—can afford to live in the Bronx and operate modest restaurants. It’s foodie heaven. (And, P.S., I’ve already written about the Irish cuisine of Woodlawn—just a toe outside of Yonkers, here.
Cue Baron Ambrosia, pimp rolling in to the strains of bhangra, hip-hop, salsa, and klezmer. While Bourdain’s world is set to the angsty thrash of CBGB’s (now a tourist trap in an actual museum), check out Baron Ambrosia’s shtick: there’s definitely some base going on there. Ambrosia drives a lavender convertible with a tinkling crystal chandelier. He has an honest-to-God color story, full of winey burgundy velvets and gleaming, cheap-looking satins. (It kinda works for him. Imagine a Latin-lover Liberace, with the hetero frisson of Jack White and Zorro.) He drives his pimpmobile to various neighborhoods in the Bronx and has fictional, food-themed adventures: Ambrosia pursues veiled love interests, has disturbing encounters with durian fruit, and becomes embroiled in gangland intrigues. Best of all, he laughs his violet-clad butt off at pretentious foodies, while relishing exotic flavors with a lust long gone from that word-weary Bourdain.
Turgid act aside, Baron Ambrosia’s programs are deeply informative about the ethnic food scenes nearby in the Bronx, and range from expected investigations of Italian food on Arthur Avenue to more esoteric quests to find the best West African fufu. Check out the handy map on the Bronx Flavor website. While “The Bronx” might sound a little scary, many of these restaurants are located adjacent to Pelham Manor, Mount Vernon, and Yonkers—they’re essentially right next door.
So, I’m thinking. What does the Bronx have that, say, Port Chester doesn’t? How about the West Indian scenes of Mount Vernon, or the Mexican restaurants of New Rochelle? Or am I over-thinking this? Maybe we should go big. I’d like to invite Baron Ambrosia to Bedford Post Inn—that’s right, on me. I just wanna see him pull up to that horse-country enclave in his purple, chandelier-tinkling pimp mobile—maybe running into Martha Stewart, cocking an eyebrow, and kissing her hand. Yeah, baby. Holla.
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