Indulgence: Fried Chicken and Cuban Ice Cream
Two friends invited me to accompany them to dinner the other day. Onewhom well call Jimbo to protect the guiltyhad found the best fried chicken hed ever eaten. I was not surprised when he said he found the best golden-brown bird at the Palios brothers fry shack on MacDill. Our mutual friend Adam is one of those poor souls condemned to eternal health food and rice cakes for medical reasons. The doctor makes the rules, and Adams vigilant wife enforces them.
Jimbo had learned that Adams wife would be out of town on this night and he discreetly called him to arrange our meeting. I fasted in preparation, and Im sure my buddies did, too. Unfortunately for Adam, he had a doctors appointment the next morning, in part to have his cholesterol tested.
Walking into Palioswhich is named after the brothers who run itis like taking a few steps back in time. The board on the wall displays their entire menu, almost all of which is fried. Fried chicken, fried shrimp, onion rings, etc., all served with Cole slaw and French fries. For those wary of grease, they make a good Greek salad, too. The only proof that time has elapsed in the building is the prices on the hand-painted board. When decades of cost of living increases forced them to raise prices, the brothers nailed new boards over the old prices rather than paint them over again.
Jimbo and I started off with some great onion rings while we waited for Adam. We did not have to wait longAdam could hardly contain himself. We ordered a big plate of chicken and Adam ate the crumbs of the onion rings directly off the table, relishing the only grease hed tasted in many months.
Then, the chicken arrived and we dove in. The most striking thing about Palios chicken is the slightly burnt flavor that lends a bold heartiness where there normally would be simple breaded saltiness. The best fried chicken is not uniformly cooked, but has slightly burnt edges around the browned surface. Although I suspect it is deep-fried, their chicken tastes more like it comes from moms cast iron skillet, and everyone should know that taste at least once.
Before long, we sat wiping the grease from our lips, eyes rolling back in bliss. Adam could not resist eating the crumbs from the table once again. We had not even finished lavishing praise on Palios fried chicken when Jimbo suggested another indulgence, ice cream. The place looks like a 7-11, Jimbo said of the store he had in mind, but they have great Cuban ice cream. Do you want to go? Without a tinge of guilt, newly-liberated Adam nodded, and we were off, a two-car convoy on a classified mission to indulge in Cuban ice cream.
Snack City is a simple-looking store, an utterly unremarkable structure at Howard and Columbus that one can drive by without so much as a glance. Even inside, the building looks slightly run-down with a few tables and a counter. The robust, friendly man behind the counter had just finished taking an order for one hundred one-gallon buckets of mango ice cream from an Indian gentleman. People from India are crazy about mangoes, Jimbo quipped. When asked about the ice cream, the Indian gentleman said simply, It is the best Ive had. His massive order would supply a party he planned on throwing. Images of a vast ice cream orgy sprung to mind, except that the participants would be fully clothed and the moans would be mango-induced.
There are many flavors to choose from, but Jimbo insisted we try the maméy (pronounced ma-meh) flavor, derived from a Cuban fruit of the same name. Maméy is considered to be Cubas national fruit, and looks somewhat like an avocado with a red interior. The ice cream resembles a pink sorbet, with a subtle and intriguing flavor, somewhat like guava and not too sweet. After hearing the Indian mans praise, we tried some mango as well. The mango and maméy contrasted each other in glorious fashion, but shared qualities delicate and delicious, light and refreshing. Cuban ice cream is neither as sweet nor as creamy as its counterpart here in the U.S. Unlike the decadence of American Heath Bar Crunch and Cookies n Cream flavors, Snack City offers ice cream made with dignity and restraint that seems to touch off subtle possibilities instead of cloying extremes.
We thought wed done it all at Palios, but Snack City offered something more exotic and slightly less sinful. Once again with our eyes rolling about, Adam and I thanked Jimbo for the generous invitation to explore Tampas culinary delights.
In parting, Adam said, After all this, I think Im going to reschedule my doctors appointment. He rescheduled the appointment for one week later. His cholesterol went through the ceiling, but it sure tasted good.