The New York Post dubbed 2013 "The Year of the Cronut," celebrating the heavily hyped, often bootlegged, first pastry to be scalped like concert tickets, hybrid of a croissant and a donut. The Ansel Dominique bakery in Soho has lines for over three hours for the Prius of pastry. I jogged there and had one for my birthday breakfast in December and although rich in taste, I liked the other signature item -- the DMK -- much better and there was no waiting for this popover/cruller combo. Since then the mad bakers have invented a shot glass made of cookie dough (filled with milk) and are soon releasing some sort of Frankenstein waffle-cone float with espresso and ice cream as if an angry barista and a carnival concession worker collided mid-order. I personally have noticed an uptick in my pastry consumption (and its resulting waistline increase). Even for a competitive eater such as myself, I have travelled NYC re-tasting cannolis, sampling tiramisu, and quaffing sfogliatelli (my favorite). I have pushed beyond the basic Italian pastries and searched Bruno's on LaGuardia Place for a tall donut like pastry that had layers like onion-skin made of sugar. I went to the bakery beyond at DiRoberta's and tried to chew their Ossa di Mortu (bones of the dead), a chalky rectangle of sugar that when cooked oozes out caramelized brown liquid that petrifies. It is rough on the jaw and teeth, but nothing compared to the hard bread, split bagel shaped taralli that require old Italian men with no teeth to dip it in their coffee, and "gum it down." The taralli is a placeholder for the saying, "Finire a tarallucci e vino;" A reminder that all disagreements or unpleasantries end with biscuits and wine.
As I looked beyond the table at the Pork in the Park Eastern Shore Wing War, as I looked beyond my bowl of ten pounds of Mountaire Farms chicken wings, I saw my biscuits and wine, or rather a cigar stand next to a beer stand, and wished that my argument with the chicken wings would end sooner than the allotted twelve minutes. I had worked my way through all my flats (the two boned paddle) and was treating the drumsticks with some disdain as I stripped the meat with my hands and stuffed it into my mouth, chewing more thoughtfully than with the recklessness that competitive eating requires. Chicken wings in record numbers were the dreams of others like Joey "Jaws" Chestnut who would win the event with 220, or Adrian "The Rabbit" Morgan who would place second with a courageous 186. My thoughts were still on dessert and unfinished plans, unrecognized dreams. I would find my solace in a dive bar later with my favorite beverage in the world, National Bohemian Beer, or "Natty Boh." I would buy plenty of the cheap beers with the puzzles on the cap for my fellow competitor eaters at the after party for the event. Eaters had flown in from California, Vegas, New Orleans, and up and down the East Coast and I always insist on an after-party. We gathered at Roadie Joe's, a dive bar in a mini-mall that features a bridal store and a grand piano in the lobby. Wicomico County was pleased to have pseudo-celeb Joey Chestnut drinking in their bars (Joey was promised a frat party in the woods later with a 30-foot bonfire). I was pleased to have Natty Boh beer even without the answers to the beer cap puzzles. I cornered Adrian Morgan and discussed the idea I had for a New Orleans bakery called, "Dat Bakery" which would sell our invention, The Croneignet (pronounced "Cro-yeah"), a combination of the New Orleans beignet and a croissant. The subtitle of the bakery would be, "NOLA pastries with a little NYC grease." And I imagined a place in the French Quarter that would turn out lighter fried goodness than the nearby belly bomb beignets and over-cooked café-au-lait. The suds in my Natty Boh beer bottle slide down the inside of the glass, like the dreams of the bakery, settling to evaporate, recycle and disappear. Our bakery is likely not to happen or at least not by us, as many of my goals of late have disappeared into the ether. I can't say what it's been - heartbreak, financial limitations, or a complacently where my beard grows as long as Grizzly Adams, and I don't recognize the face in the mirror or the voice in the thought balloons above the dreadlocked head. I still have the goal to live off my creative endeavors in writing, film, and TV, but without a show in the food space, or a sold screenplay, my goals are easily drown in Natty Boh (I brought back to NYC a thirty pack and a tall-boy six pack of the Mr. Boh dressed as a Baltimore Oriole - the beer is only sold in Maryland) I spend a lot of time at Coyote Ugly with some very decrepit regulars, losing myself in beer and the jukebox, playing old Billy Joel, The Tubes, or Ace Frehley's "NY Groove." I imagine myself hearing Ace's chorus of being back in the NY Groove, if I can qualify for the July 4th frankfest at Coney Island (one must win a Nathan's qualifier to earn a spot at the final table). It is another goal of this year that will hard to accomplish. Despite excelling at debris foods like corn and crawfish, hot dogs and buns are my personal hell, and I have yet to break the 30 hdbs in ten minute barrier that would help me win a qualifier.
I am happy to delay my NYC return in Salisbury, MD where the Natty Boh is cheap and plentiful, the women tattooed and tight-shirted, and the promise of a bon fire to burn away the boredom is enough to look forward to. After twenty years, I find NYC to be as tough as ever - a harsh city for dreamers as snow, concrete, and the rush of technology seems to weigh heavily on one's soul. Perhaps I would be better in NOLA, taste testing Adrian Morgan's confectionary recipes, writing during the day with open windows and drinking Abita beer. Perhaps I should hole up in the woods of Maine, writing as much as the hours will fill and eating lobster and drinking Geary's Pale Ale. Perhaps I should set out to LA, as I almost did post-college, but instead pointed a beat up pick-up truck toward the New York film world rather than the LA Television one. I found it harder to make art in NYC and the fake laughter of my time in LA made me crave the authenticity of NYC. What beer do they drink in LA anyway?
I've digested those wonderful Mountaire Farms chicken wings (a paltry 68 in the contest) and started a diet of Siggi's yogurt and peanut butter sandwiches. I want to crave Nathan's hot dogs and meat by the time my first qualifier takes place. I want to hunger, literally and figuratively, for the July 4th goal. Will I hear Ace Frehley's strain? Will I sip a victory beer at the Professor Thom's July 4th afterparty? Or will it all be bittersweet - like an imaginary bakery, an unsold screenplay, or an aging competitive eater. I don't know anything about Emily Dickenson's dietary habits, but she wrote,
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory
As he defeated--dying--
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!
Who knew that an all-you-can-eat hot dog contest could be so poetic?
Crazy Legs Conti can be reached at www.crazylegsconti.com or tapped on the shoulder at a bar near you soon.