‘Believe the Hype’ Column: Standout Asian Cuisine & Migration of Two Kinds

By Christine Stoddard | cstoddard@queensledger.com

The best meal I had on the go this week–and, yes, I am so often on the go–was the Braised Chicken Congee Bowl at Maya Congee Café. Though I have passed the Fulton St. location in Clinton Hill on many occasions, this was my first visit. Decked out in red and gold, the quaint spot, which houses a small market, cheerfully reminded me that it was Lunar New Year. We are in the Year of the Dragon, which happens to be my Chinese Zodiac sign. How fortuitous.

View of Maya Congee Café front door. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Chino Grande

Now, my best sit-down meal of the week goes to Chino Grande, owned by Josh Ku of Win Son fame. Nestled on Grand St. in South Williamsburg, the Asian/Latin fusion restaurant even boasts regular karaoke. While I did not stay to sing my heart out, I have no regrets. The chic Mid-century design immediately pulled me in, setting a tone of relaxed sophistication. The green booths felt serene and the friendly staff contributed to the comfy atmosphere. My date and I delighted in the Chips (plantain, taro, and sweet potato) with the Sauce Caddy (Green Sauce, Ketchupmayo, Spicy Duck Sauce). We also shared the Crab Rangoon Toast and Pilón Smashed Cucumbers, and each ordered a Chorizo Egg Roll. For large dishes, I was very pleased with the presentation of the Twice Cooked Chicharrón de Cerdo (leeks, shishitos, fermented chili paste) and the lightness of the Salchicha Arroz Chaufa (longaniza, lap cheong, chorizo, red peppers, peas), which was the most guilt-free fried rice I can remember tasting. For a cocktail, I opted for the popular Chiquita Chinita (Mezcal, Red Bull Pepper, Toasted Rice), while my partner ordered the Ni Haody! (Rye, Jujube, Black Walnut, Sweet Vermouth). We finished with the tantalizing Ice Cream Sandwich (Maria cookies, guava, and cheese), which just so happened to combine some of my childhood favorites.

Chips and sauce caddy at Chino Grande. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Hardware & Discount Store

My biggest shock in the local business community this week was seeing that Fulton Home Center and Hardware Corporation is moving. You, like me, may better know this neighborhood shop simply as “Hardware & Discount Store,” as that is what’s printed on its awning. It is, or shall I say was, located near the Nostrand Ave. stop on the A/C. Now it is moving to 1507 Fulton St., by Kingston and Fulton. According to hand-written signs taped to the windows, the shop lost its lease after 40 years. I popped my head inside as movers cleared decades of inventory, and briefly spoke to the understandably frazzled owner, who took my business card and then had to get back to work. Any tips are appreciated.

Sign taped to the window of Hardware & Discount Store on Fulton St. in Bed-Stuy. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Floyd Bennett Field Migrant Shelter Bus Service

Family tent shelter at Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Ever since I heard about the migrant family shelter opening at Floyd Bennett Field, I have had concerns. The park is a known flood plain; on virtually any visit after a rainstorm, I have noticed soggy ground and huge puddles. In January, a rainstorm sent the city scrambling to relocate 2,000 parents and children from the tent shelter to James Madison High School in Midwood. Some Madison parents protested and there were complaints about how much sense the last-minute, poorly planned move made for a one-night respite.

Q35 bus stop outside of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Apart from the flood plain issue, I have wondered about public transportation there. I have only ever driven to Floyd Bennett Field, located on the tailend of Flatbush Ave., going toward the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. There is a no-man’s-land quality to the park, which is littered with abandoned buildings and empty lots. The Q35 bus stop, which you will find just outside of the park, is a solid 5-7-minute walk from where the shelter tents are stationed. Make it 10 for the parents walking with younger children and strollers. In the nearly two hours I observed there on a windy Friday afternoon (after-school hours), the bus came three times. Many migrants waiting for the bus did not have proper winter coats. Their situation is dire.

Large empty lots stand in the way between the family shelter and the Q35 stop at Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

‘Badass Lady-Folk TV’: Clinton Hill Comedian Hollie Harper

By Christine Stoddard | cstoddard@queensledger.com

The following is an excerpt from an episode of the TV talk show Badass Lady-Folk, featuring guest Hollie Harper, a comedian and actress based in Clinton Hill. Hosted by Christine Stoddard and filmed at Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Badass Lady-Folk is a feminist talk show that originated on Radio Free Brooklyn, where it airs on Fridays at 9am. This transcript has been edited and condensed for print purposes:

Badass Lady-Folk talk show

Badass Lady-Folk talk show episode featuring guest Hollie Harper and host Christine Stoddard.

Christine: Hello there, you’re watching or listening to Badass Lady Folk. I’m your host, Christine Stoddard. And this episode, my guest is Hollie Harper. Welcome, Hollie.

Hollie: Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Christine: Yeah, of course. I had the director, who you know, Melanie Goodreaux on the show.

Hollie: Yes, yes.

Christine: She was our first guest.

Hollie: Oh!

Christine: And that, dear listeners, is how Hollie and I met working on this production, [“The White Blacks” at Theater for the New City]. But Hollie is really just a brilliant all-around actress.

Hollie: Thank you.

Christine: Comedian especially.

Hollie: Thank you. I’m silly. You are silly. I say inappropriate things and then I realize that’s my strength.

Christine: I like how everywhere on your branding it’s comedy nerd.

Hollie: Yes.

Christine: So tell me, what is that about? A comedy nerd.

Hollie: Okay. It took me a long time to realize I was a comedy nerd. But, okay, it started when I was like eight or nine, nine years old with Mad Magazine. And I was like,

Christine: R .I .P.

Hollie: Yes. (laughing) And then it was Cracked, you know what I mean? But I felt like, I remember when I saw it the first time I was like, “Is this real?” I was like, “Oh my God, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Like, and then Cracked was like a shoot off of Mad. I just, I was religious with it. And then any kind of comedy sitcom, any kind of comedy movie. And I love funny songs, I love sketch shows, I love sitcoms, I love funny moments on talk shows. And I realized you’re, you’re a freaking comedy nerd. Like I love stand-up, I love to do funny plays. So, I am just a nerd, a nerd for things that are comedic.

Christine: Yeah, what were some of–besides Mad and besides Cracked–what were some of the early references, some of the sitcoms and movies and whatever else you just adored as a kid?

Hollie: Okay, this is so great: Three’s Company. That stuff was trash, it was trash. But it was high art trash. And I realized, I started getting to the point. where I started keeping a journal. I kept a diary from five to 25. It’s the strangest thing, to go back, I kept a consistent diary for 20 years. From kindergarten until the second year out of theater school.

Christine: Did your parents read it?

Hollie: They’ve read a couple things. I got grounded a few times. I was like, why y’all reading my stuff? Like, what’s wrong with you? But I was not a bad kid. I was just like, damn. (chuckles) Guess I thought I could write here but it was not a safe space. Why are you–just to get intel, but I would keep a diary and I would watch sitcoms and I would start listing different types of jokes and I didn’t realize that I was really just breaking down what comedy was to the point where I’d be watching Three’s Company and I remember realizing when there were double entendres, telling things that meant two things. Like, I remember Jack and Chrissy were, like, moving a couch, moving a mattress in the bedroom, and Janet would be in the living room and they’d be like, “It’s too big !” And she’d be like, “So, it’s too big.”

Christine: Yeah.

Hollie: So that just, yo.

Christine: That show was not for children.

Hollie: It was not.

Christine: But so many people watched it as little kids.

Hollie: Okay, my son is in the sixth grade, right, and let me tell you something, when you have kids, you get these crazy flashbacks of things you did when you see them at that age you long forgot. So my son had a science project (and I went through this with my 16-year-old, too). I went through this last night. BS they do. It’ll be like 10 o ‘clock at night, they be like. “I got a science project.”

Christine: Oh no.

Hollie: You’re like, what? Look, I got to rush. You got to come up with a hypothesis and like, remember that [three-sided presentation board].

Christine: They’re so big.

Hollie: It was a nightmare. They’re huge, and they still do it. They still do it. You know, just once, I want to do adult science projects with comedians.[When I was a kid], I had some science project. I don’t even know what it was, but I waited. And all of a sudden I was like, “Oh my God, I’m just gonna have to dazzle them with a performance.” And my dad was like, “No, like you need–”

Christine: This is middle or high school?

Hollie: I was 11, in sixth grade. And everyone had to go up and present this project. And I don’t know what I was thinking, but I just came up in front of the class and they’re all just sitting there ‘cause they knew I was a little silly They’re like, “What is this girl gonna do?” And all of a sudden I just said, “Hit the lights,” and I had a friend, he was on the lights, and the lights went out and the teacher was like, “What’s going on?” And the lights came on and it went poof! This big, like, baby powder and then came on Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and I started, like, moonwalking and, like, doing this whole dance. And I was just something like, “Oh, the clouds, really, the clouds.” But it was ridiculous. I got, like, an A for presentation and then, like, a D for my report.

Christine: Was the teacher laughing during all that?

Hollie: The teacher was dying. The teacher was like 28 years old and like, “What is happening?” I was like dancing all around, I felt the desk, I was like leaping over the desk…oh my God, it was ridiculous. I changed, I had an outfit and I went on the hallway and I put an outfit on and came back in.

Christine: Wow.

Hollie: They were just like, “Why’d you do all that?” And I was just like, “I had nothing prepared.” And I was like, “I think if I could just razzle -bazzle them, they would just…” And it worked. All of the teachers looked at me for a week. Like, “You’re the kid with the baby powder?” And the janitor’s like, “I had to clean that sh*t out.” Janitor was pissed.

Christine:  Early improv, right?

Hollie: I think back on it, I’m like, “If my son did that now, I’d be so pissed.” I told him that, and he was like, “You didn’t…why didn’t you do your project?” I was like, “No, I danced it out and had sound effects. It was ridiculous.”

Christine: So let’s fast forward to theater school. What made you decide to do that? well it was crazy to

Hollie: When I was a little kid, I got into acting in Philly. I was Tinkerbell at a community theater in a suburb of Philadelphia. My  mom  got  remarried and we moved to South  Jersey.  I  had  a  teacher  who  really  hated  me  in  the  sixth  grade.  But  I  tried  out  for  the  play.  and  I  hadn’t  done  any  acting  since  I  left  Philly  when  I  was  nine.  So  I  was  like  11.  And  I  was  like,  I  auditioned  for  this  play,  but  my  mom  had  a  dentist  appointment. She’s  gonna  pick  me  up  and  the  callback  sheet  wasn’t  going  up  to  the  end  of  the  day.  So  I  was  like,  “Mr.  Dixon,  did  I  make  it  in  the  callback?”  And  she  goes,  “No,  and  you  aren’t  very  good.”

Christine: (gasps) No!

Hollie: Yo. She,  like,  crushed  the  acting  me  for  years.

Christine: How  could  she  crush  a  child  like  that?

Hollie: Evil -hearted  woman.

Christine: Yeah,  when  I  hear  people  say,  “Oh,  anyone  can  be  a  teacher,”  that  is  not  true.

Hollie: No,  they  can  pass  the  test, but  you  actually  being…no,  she  was  horrible.  She  hated  me.

Christine: I’m  so  sorry.

Hollie: That’s  okay. It  wasn’t  till  I  was  almost  17  that  I  started  acting  again.  And  then  I  was  at  a  boarding  school  and  this  girl  on my  cheerleading  squad  was  like, “You  know,  my  mom’s  a  director  and  she’s  going  to  be  directing  the  play  here.  Why  don’t  you  just  try  out  for  it?”  And  I  was  like,  “Oh, no.”

Christine: Did you tell  that  friend  about  what  happened  to  you?

Hollie: No,  I  didn’t.

Christine: But  she  sensed.

Hollie: Yeah,  ‘cause  I  was  like,  we  talked  about  movies  all  time.  And  she  was  a  Broadway  actress,  a  child  Broadway  actress  that  was  just  in  our  boarding  school. And  so  I  auditioned  for  the  play.  I  got  the  lead  in  the  play  and  her  mother  and  then  the  new  acting  teacher  at  our  school  were  all “Gung  ho,  Hollie Harper.” They  changed  the  trajectory  of  my  life.  They  taught  me  what  theater school was. And  so  they  found  the  auditions,  they  were  like,  this  is  where  you  need  to  go,  this  is  what  you  need  to  do.  They  helped  me  do  everything.  They  really  changed  the  path  of  my  life.  And  that  director,  I  still  talk  to  her  on  Facebook  at  least  once  a  month.  This  is  like  30  years  later.  I  still  talk  to  her.  It  was  precious. She’s  just  a  really  good  person.

Christine: So  you  went  to  DePaul.

Hollie: Yeah,  I  went  to  DePaul  Theatre  School.

Christine: Okay,  you’re  gonna  talk  sh*t  or  sing  your  praises or was it both?

Hollie: Okay,  it  was  a  horrible  time  in  my  life  and  it  was  a beautiful  time  in  my  life.  I  had  to  really  sort  this  out  in  2020  with  the  racial  reckoning  because  I  saw   something  with  Jon  Baptiste  and  all  these  different  black  actors  and  musicians  were  talking  about  what  it’s  like  to  be  Black  at  music  and  theater  conservatories  and  I  was  like,   I  don’t  think  a  lot  people  really  understand. But  the  actual  instruction  I  got I  think  is  second  to  nothing.  Okay,  ‘cause my  mom  got  remarried, I  got  new  siblings.  They’re  awesome,  but  I  went  from  being  in  Philly,  which  was  like  Brooklyn, very  multicultural,  to  being  like  in  a  Trump  pants  land in  South  Jersey. I was the only  black  kid  in  the  class.   I  remember  being  in  the  first  day  of  school,  like  getting  on  a  school  bus  and  there  were,  you  know,  all  white  kids  and  me,  and  like  nobody  even  wanna  sit  next  to  me.

Christine: Gross.

Hollie: I  dealt  with  a  lot  of  racism  when  I  was  little  and  it was  crazy.  What’s crazy  is  the  fact  that  I  see  these  people  now  and  we’re  adults  and  we’re  like,  “Hey,  how  are  you?”  I  don’t  think  they  really  processed  how  they  affected  a  kid.  Do  you  know  what  I  mean?  I  went  there  and  then  I  went  to  boarding  school.  My  favorite  place  on  earth  is  my  boarding  school.  Like,  when  I  go  back  to  my  boarding  school  now,  I   lay  on  the  grass  and  I  cry.  Like  I  wanna  be  buried  there. Like  I  love  that  place.

Christine: How  many  years  were  you  there?

Hollie:  I  was  there  for  three  years.

Christine: Okay,  wow.

Hollie: I  went  back  and  I  taught  sketch  comedy  this  past  January.  I  love  that  place, they  changed  my  life.  But  it  was  mostly  a  white  space.  And  then  by  the  time  I  got  to  theater  school, there  was  a  part  in  me  that  was  just  burnt  out  from  being  in  white  spaces.  Like,  it  was  funny  how  there  was  like  the  racial  reckoning  in  2020. That  sh*t  happened  for  me  in  1988.  I  was  a  teenager,  that  happened  for  me.  All  of  a  sudden  I  just  started  really  looking  around  at  power  structures,  class, gender,  race,  just  capitalism,  just  being  an  American.  ‘Cause our school was  a  Quaker  boarding  school.  All  you  do  is  talk  about  ideas. And  you  live  there, so  there’s  no  off  button.  You  know  what  I  mean?  And you  either fit  in  or  you  don’t.  You  know  what  I  mean?  If  you’re  like,  I  just  think  America’s  cool,  you’re  not  gonna  fit  in.  You  know  what  I  mean?  They’re  gonna  be  like,  uh,  you  don’t  have  questions?  So  by  the  time I  got  to  theater  school,  racially,  it  was  a  nightmare,  but  for  me,  like  internally,  there  was  nobody  beating  me  down.  There  was  nobody  mean, you  know  what  I  mean?

Watch the full episode at YouTube.com/@badassladyfolk. Find out more about Badass Lady-Folk at BadassLadyFolk.com.

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