That July day two years ago was brutally hot. Records were set in some parts of the city, but George, just a few days shy of his 82nd birthday, wanted to do everything with us that day. We walked around the Botanical Gardens for at least an hour in the afternoon heat; I asked him several times how he was doing. "Fine" was the answer each time, and I could sense a growing annoyance that I actually thought he might be having a hard time keeping up with two people a half-century younger than he.
Uncle George passed away last week. It was no surprise, he had been ill for all of 2012 and his sickness confined him to a wheelchair; one got the feeling the inability to walk around his beloved neighborhood was a fate worse than death.
Several times over the last months of his life, George had reminded Elizabeth's dad, Rick, of a last order: when he passed, he wanted all of his good friends to visit Queen Italian Restaurant for lunch, on him. Yesterday, 15 of us gathered there for a late lunch.
To be honest, Queen is not a restaurant I would have ever visited myself. Wedged between a McDonald's and a bank, I'd noticed it almost every day but never peered inside, never even looked at the menu in the window.
"If there were only 11 of us, Liz and I could just go next door to McDonald's to knock that price-per down to $28.50," I said to Rick.
"Did you enjoy the mozzarella?" the waiter asked me as he cleared my plate.
"It was outstanding," I said.
"Good, good. We make it in-house, twice a day."
(Would it have bothered me that they were keeping an eye on the game if the service had been terrible? Yes, probably. But I can say without a moment's hesitation that the service at Queen was by far the best service I have had in the last ten weeks in Brooklyn. No place else is even close.)
I have not had cheesecake in I don't know how long. Possibly my entire adult life. So I may not be qualified to make this statement, but then again when do I ever let ignorance stop me from saying something: it was the best cheesecake I have ever had. In my memory, cheesecake is so rich and heavy (wait, do those two adjectives mean the same thing?) and I really didn't have any desire to try it again. But this was really good, surprisingly light, and complemented nicely by the two fruit sauces.
Everyone enjoyed this lunch. The funny thing is, despite Uncle George stating several times his desire for everyone to come dine here on him when he passed, none of his friends ever remembered coming to Queen with him. Rick, whom as I mentioned earlier had been visiting his uncle in New York City for close to 60 years and shared hundreds of meal with Uncle George, had never been to Queen before.
I am by no means an expert on Italian food. Not even close. I know more about almost all Asian cuisines than I do Italian, and I could tell you at least a half-dozen fast food promotions that are scheduled to be released in 2012 before I could tell you the provenance of Mozzarella alla Caprese. So take my opinion here with a grain of salt, but this was one of the best Italian meals I have ever had.