Thursday, September 17, 2009

Try A Little Tenderness: Clark's Pizza Restaurant and Tropical Delight

Part One: Velvet Elvis
Your two humble bloggers have driven past Clark's Dairy for years. Clark's stands on the corner of Church and Trumbull, most notable for two neighboring Asian markets and young business upstarts Subway and Dunkin' Donuts. We vowed to visit intrigued by the unknown. With the wind mild and our hunger level high, we walked with a fellow conspirator to nestle in for a luncheon or snack. Unfamiliar as we were with Clark's Dairy, we strolled in the door of its neighbor: Clark's Pizza and Restaurant.

Nothing about Clark’s Pizza Restaurant can be considered cool. It is located in a part of the downtown area so far removed from the glitz and glamour of Crown Street; it might as well be Wallingford. The waitresses are attentive, but unattractive; the clientele consists of quiet inconspicuous people. There are no blue-tooths, mini-skirts, Nike shoes, or the designer labels of Chapel street. This is not a place to go to be seen or to see anything of any interest or importance. This is a place to eat.

Clark's immediately stands out for its retro decor. Not because the general manager thinks retro is cool, or will gain a clientele based on kitsch, but because the original vinyl booths are just as comfortable now as when the first diners sat in them. The walls at Clark’s are covered in framed pictures of the Beatles, the Kennedy's at Hyannisport, and a velvet Elvis Presley. Ringo's eyes are doeish and soulful. Again, this is not contrived mid-century Americana like a Johnny Rockets, but at one time, the staff really did believe that Elvis was the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

The menu is similar to a diner- you have subs, omelette's, burgers, and fries: The latter two being the building blocks for American cuisine. The food is out of this world. Simple American dishes done right. The tuna salad of the tuna melt could not be contained in the toast requiring a fork to eat it all. When was the last time your local Greek joint gave you that much tuna salad in your sandwich? The split pea soup was thick and flavorful, a real relief for a windy afternoon. The grilled cheese with bacon and tomato, simply the best we have ever had. The perfectly cooked tomato added a marinara quality to the sandwich; the tomato juice picking up the salty flavor of the bacon.

However, with much regret, we report that the French fries are not recommended. Not in a health watch sense of the word recommend either. Clearly, you should be eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially those damned brussel sprouts. French fries are the cigarettes of the food world. They look cool, especially in black and white movies, but have only led fools to an untimely death. These French fries were golden but tasted like Gordon's Fish Sticks. We looked for a bearded man in a slicker in the kitchen but none were found.

The deal breaker of this cuisine rests on the milkshake. Clark's is bountiful in shake goodness. Some places will only hand you a glass, keeping the excess shake for themselves. Clark's blesses you with a silver chalice; two milkshakes for the price of one. Although a little heavy on the chocolate syrup, the shake hits the desired spot and snuggles gloriously in the belly.

If you are anywhere in the area you must go to Clark’s for lunch. Clark’s serves American comfort food to people who understand the importance of a tasty and hardy lunch. It serves people in need of a little comfort and who amongst us isn’t?

Part Two: A Personal Coda for Comfort Food

The day after I visited Clark’s I was tired, hung over and in need of some comfort. The superb tuna melt I had enjoyed for lunch the day before was a fond memory. The night of my shared Clark's experience with my brother in blog, Hans and our friend Franklin, was filled with two dollar Tom Collins and crashed Yale frat party beer. The editors of GQ would like to make a correction to their August issue: Brown is not the douchiest Ivy League school.

The day after our trip to Clark's I returned to Southern Connecticut State University, my alma mater, to take advantage of a career fair that never really took place. The fair was as if a white gloved somlier shook a chilled bottle of Prosecco, popped the cork and nothing but sour milk oozed into your champagne flute. I was bummed. On top of the career fair being a bust, a hangover, and a rainy Friday, everything about my once attended and beloved Southern has changed. Printers are no longer where they once where in the computer lab, the library is in a new building and the hall ways that were once crowded with familiar faces with up stretched hands eager to high-five, are replaced by strangers and “Tapout” t-shirts. It was a very “Caroline No” afternoon when I was hoping for a very Bob Seger’s “Still the Same”.

I did not revisit Clark’s to cure my hang over and life threatening case of the blues, but instead a small Jamaican takeout restaurant, Tropical Delight. It is a constant. Something from a personal era that can not change, erode away from the environment like the memories of SCSU. Like Adderal and sleep deprivation, it nourished me during my days of academic pursuit. It has always been a special place to me, a restaurant all of my own. My vegetarian friends would not go with in ten feet of it and the Southern population does not know that it exist even though this restauanrt is a three minute walk from the university’s campus.

My hangover could only be cured by starches and fat. The “Happy Days” vibe of Clark’s would only add to my misery, to my longing of days long since gone. I needed a beef patty on cocoa bread. Tropical Delight obliged me and for the first time all morning (it was actually 3 o’clock in the after noon, but I had only been awake for a few hours) I felt like I was home. I sat alone at the lunch counter flipping through hand bills for dance parties with almost naked black women on them, the really good parts being covered by foam or school girl outfits. I was not transposed to Jamaica or a tropical paradise. Instead I was transposed to a time in life when there were never enough hours in a day, Charlotte Bronte was somehow sexy, biting the end of your glasses wether for a stigmatism or fashion was a sign of intellect, and when chugging three beers in a row was considered to be exemplary table manners, which is exactly where I wanted Tropical Delight to send me to any way.

New Haven is a beautiful city with bright lights and bloated price tags, but it is also home. It is where real people work, play and eat. Both Clark’s and Tropical Delight showcase the diversity of the cuisine found in New Haven. Not everything in New Haven is a bistro and not every meal costs more than a pair of blue jeans. These restaurants are for a quiet lunch with your grandmother, which any warm blooded human would pick over a lunch with a Hungarian beauty queen, even one that puts out.