Cheese bits

Wagon wheels with butter sauce and lots of cheese aren't the only culinary comforts at Caffe Venezia

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS K. Chunk's favorite restaurant is Caffe Venezia so that's where we went for her third birthday. She was having a fruitful, productive, and all-around happy day until — just before dinner — she fell off the slide and cut her mouth. Now some things were going to be hard to eat, like crusty bread. Poor little carb loader.

I tried to distract her from her discomfort in the usual way: by talking about mine.

I'm kidding! We talked about love, of course. I had just come back from Nola for the umpteenth time, and was, well, in it. But I'm not going back for the rest of the year, because Hedgehog won't be there. And Li'l Edible's fambly already up and moved to Los Angeles, damn em, so I wouldn't have any kind of babies to squeeze at all. Ergo: what's the point?

Hedgehog is driving up to Pennsylvania as we speak, stopping to watch Minor League Baseball games along the way. She has work in New York, and then back to Nola, and then back to New York, and then we're going to go camping a little out here before I leave the country for a couple months, to write.

She keeps score. She sent me a snapshot of the scorecard from last night's single-A game in Hagerstown, Md., and in a blank square where she'd missed an at-bat she'd written: "BBQ pork."

So you see?

"I see," K. Chunk said. "Did she meet your mommy?"

K. Chunk's ma and pa looked at me like, Yeah, what about that? Are you going to introduce her to your mom?

"Sure, if she wants to meet her," I said. "I want everyone in the world to meet my mom. Then they'll finally cut me some slack for being like I am."

But it's my dad who's really going to hit it off with this pokey, spiny, pointy critter of mine when they cross paths at my nephew's wedding in the fall. I wish I could say he'll like her 'cause she obviously makes me happy and proud and inspires me to make songs and other things, and treats me with more care and respect than any of my other recent loves. But really it will be because she keeps score at baseball games.

Our food came.

Wagon wheels with butter sauce and lots of cheese for the birthday girl. Her older sister, whose birthday it wasn't, had ordered wagon wheels too, but seemed to prefer eating all the little seafoods out of my linguine de mare. Her favorite — get this — was calamari. She might just have been trying to impress me, though, like when she sat with me on the couch in the dark, when she was three, and ate raw onions.

I was impressed with Venezia's fare. I didn't expect to like it that much, because it seemed at first glance like a place place, where the point was going to be the village square setting, complete with a fountain, muraled store fronts, fake pigeons, and line-hung laundry.

Cheese city, in other words. I loved it!

Mind you, it's not cheap eats, but it's good uns. The pasta was great, the tomato cream sauce was perfect, and the calamari, shrimp, clams, and mussels were not only fresh and delicious, but plentiful.

I got to taste some carbonara too. Next time I'm getting that. And I might not even wait for K. Chunk to turn four.

Venezia is a great place for a big group, and, of course, the childerns. They bring out little plates of carrot sticks, celery and olives for them right away, and they get jars of crayons to color on the paper tablecloths.

In this case, the kids were tired, bleeding from the mouth, and whatnot, so perhaps not surprisingly nobody finished their wagon wheels. Still, pennies were tossed into fountains, pigeons were spotted on rooftops, nourishment was achieved, and all-in-all somebody fantastically special to me turned three. So happy birthday to her.

And happy Father's Day to her dad, and mine. And yours, I guess. Why not?

CAFFE VENEZIA

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