When I was a young boy I loved visiting my grandparents, Sean and Nora, in New York City.
Sean was a big man with big appetites. He loved a good saloon where he could sing in
his beautiful Irish tenor voice and tell stories of the old country and his travels.
His travels always revolved around gatherings where local people celebrated with their
friends over great food and drink. He loved to tell stories of his visits to Mardi
Gras, the Italian feasts celebrating various Saint's days, Cinco De Mayo celebrations,
community food festivals and cooking competitions too numerous to mention.
Nora was, quite simply, the greatest cook I have ever known. She had no professional
training, having grown up on a farm in Ireland, but received plenty of practice cooking
for her thirteen younger brothers and sisters. She cooked and baked everything from
scratch, always preparing enough for the friends and family Sean would bring home with
him. She made simple, delicious food out of habit, but to keep Sean happy (no easy task),
she learned to cook the dishes of his travels.
She was the talk of the neighborhood, this Irish woman with a brogue as thick as butter,
who would ask immigrants in other neighborhoods for their recipes. Amazingly, during a
time when most people kept to "their own kind," she was welcomed into many homes and
offered recipes because of her charming nature and warm smile. She learned how to make
manicotti and leg of lamb with garlic and orzo pasta. She was taught how to make matzoh
ball soup and potato pancakes. She even searched out someone with relatives in Louisiana
so she could find out how to make Gumbo ("Ah Johnny, tis all in the roux"). In exchange,
she offered her recipes for roast chicken and stuffing, pound cake and Irish soda bread.
Nora quickly discovered her biggest challenge in creating these new dishes was getting
the right ingredients. It was not easy to find ricotta cheese, orzo pasta and filé powder
in the Irish section of Washington Heights in the 1950's . . . .and so, Nora's travels
began. She traveled throughout the neighborhoods of New York in search of elusive
imported ingredients. After I was born, my mother and I traveled with her. We spent
hours searching neighborhood delis and meat markets for the special ingredients she
needed to make the dishes Sean loved. As I got older, I got sent out alone, given
directions on what to buy in a thick Irish brogue that made me laugh.
I loved those days . . . traveling through foreign lands, with strange smells and
people who spoke foreign languages, all for the price of a subway ride. Best of all,
there was the food. Little pepper biscuits, wonderfully savory soups and stews, corned
beef sandwiches, smoked salmon and little snacks at shops whose names are lost in history.
My wife and partner, Shannon, and I love the concept of neighborhoods where people have
respect for traditions and for one another, places where shopkeepers believe that quality
and service are important. In our travels, we search out these neighborhoods with their
ethnic and regional dishes, these enclaves of food and service with a historical
perspective. We look for food prepared by people who see eating as a celebration of
life, something that friends and families share. We search out people who believe
using the best available ingredients and preparing them with care will result in fond
memories that can last a lifetime.
These ideas make up our core beliefs at Sean and Nora's. I hope the food we prepare
for you and the service we provide you will add to your fondest memories and bring you
back for more . . . . Sean and Nora would have liked that.
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