The Ho Sai Gai was the place where I learned to eat Chinese food. Run by Henry and frequented for its bar, its food and camaraderie by my father, the restaurant was dimly lit with comfortable booths in addition to tables.
I learned to eat Chinese food at Henry’s but didn’t learn chop sticks until many, many years later. I say learned to eat the food not because it was the first place I ate Chinese (it was) but because for many years I refused to try the food. Thank goodness Henry was a kind soul and always had lamb chops he broiled for me.
The restaurant was located on the North side of West 80th Street just East of Broadway which made it very accessible to the residents of apartment 9E at 222 West 83rd.
We ate Chinese frequently. Dad always had shrimp in black bean sauce. After several years, it became my dish too. That sauce is still on my Chinese menu (just more likely to be a vegetable in black bean sauce).
Beside the booths there were tables of various sizes. The biggest table was a large round one right in front of the kitchen doors. You could often find it in use by the kitchen and wait staff at their meal time.
Back there, you could also find a wood phone booth with the traditional pay phone. In the front of the restaurant was a sizable wooden bar with old fashioned stools without backs. One of the bars frequented by dad.
The Ho Sai Guy was directly across from the Food City supermarket, our shopping spot until our Schrafft’s closed and was replaced, later, with a Red Apple supermarket which is now Barnes & Noble. I knew everybody in Food City just as I would later, as a homeowner on Long Island, know everyone in my local Foodtown. I guess they trained me well on 80th Street. I think it may have been the place I learned to respect working people no matter what their trade or profession.
Another hangout was the Hungarian Rendezvous on Broadway between 82nd and 83rd. Unlike the Chinese restaurant this was a small place owned and operated under the watchful gaze of Tom. Here, I learned to eat cucumber salad (delicious) and various dishes. Dad drank here too.
Downtown, there was The Headquarters Restaurant, an establishment founded and run by two veterans, the pictures of whom adorned the walls. The bartender was Johnny. I was not allowed to sit at the bar (too young under the law). but dad sat and drank here too. When I got my draft card dad took me to Headquarters and sat me on a stool. Johnny looked at me and asked for proof of age. I proudly whipped out the little card.
Headquarters had a balcony seating area above the main floor. I don’t recall ever eating up there but I do recall the night that someone eating up there popped a contact lens that landed in mom’s food. It was mostly funny.
My other favorite, also downtown, was a restaurant called The Three Crowns. It was a smorgasbord with a big round, multi-layered turntable at the back. You walked up to the turntable and watched the food going around until you saw something you wanted and took it back to your seat. Items were replaced as the giant platters turned through the kitchen. I loved going there for dinner. Dad drank there too.
Don’t get me wrong, mom was no slouch about drinks with dinner. She was typically not on a seat at the bar but always with a gin and tonic at our table.
Comments are also welcome at Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com