SOME BOYFRIENDS TICKLE their girlfriends’ fancy with roses, chocolates or tickets to Sex and the City 2, a plague upon mankind, our fair metropolis and cupcake fans alike.
Instead, my secret to romancing—or lack thereof—exists in a declarative statement: “Hon,” I said, on the first bright, sunny Sunday of summer, “let’s go to Rockaway Taco.”
My girlfriend’s eyes lit up like the night sky on the Fourth of July. “I’ve been waiting for this so long,” she said. “We’re biking, right?” “Of course,” I replied. I retrieved the bike pump in a manner that, 500 years ago, might’ve passed for chivalry. With our tires as hard as the helmets atop our noggins, we alighted south, toward the Atlantic Ocean and New York’s finest fish taco.
A few summers back, Rice and ñ proprietor David Selig and chef Andrew Field had the notion to bring San Diego– style sustenance to the East Coast. Though the local surfer population has swelled like waves during a nor’easter, there were precious few dining options outside of pizza and bodega sandwiches. So this twosome transformed a ramshackle shack into an alfresco, lovably weather-beaten taco stand. It was as if a polar bear had popped up in Palm Beach.
Well, that’s what I thought when I hit the Rockaways last summer. As I cruised through the area, I was saddened by how thoroughly developers had screwed the neighborhood. Boarded-up homes sagged beside empty lots and new-construction condos and townhouses as antiseptic as a dentist’s office. Pop, pop, pop went the housing bubble. It was a sad sight for very selfish reasons.
I’ve long dreamed of summering in a Rockaway Beach bungalow. These single-story abodes once defined the neighborhood, but most have met bulldozers’ cruel, indifferent blades. “That’s why you need to buy a house in the Rockaways,” my girlfriend often tells me. She grew up in New Hampshire, near the state’s vaunted 18 miles of seacoast. Thus, the scent of cool, salt-kissed air makes her happy as a clam. Me, too. The beach is one of our few subjects of certain agreement, so it’d make sense to live near crashing waves. However, my girlfriend has overestimated the earning potential of journalists, a career slightly less lucrative than window washer.
But I digress. We pedaled down Bedford Avenue to Sheepshead Bay, where I requested a pit stop at Roll-N-Roaster (2901 Emmons Ave., betw. E. 29th St. & Nostrand Ave., 718-769-6000) for a roast beef sandwich swaddled with delicious processed cheese. “No,” my veggie girlfriend said, before I could sell her on the fresh-squeezed lemonade. So we pushed on, powering past Floyd Bennett Field, across the Marine
Parkway bridge—pausing at Fort Tilden for a nippy Atlantic dip—and on to Rockaway Taco (95-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd. at Beach 96th St., 347-213-7466).
“Let’s get the whole menu,” my girlfriend said, queuing behind sunburned beachgoers and sandy surfers.
“That’s my girl,” I said, before reining in her ambitions.
We ordered fish tacos, lime-andchili–spiked cucumbers and mango, iced coffee and guacamole with chips. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. The first year the stand opened, you could order a taco and eat within 10 or 15 minutes. Now the secret’s out, and weekend waits can stretch to 45 minutes.
“I’m so goddamn hungry,” I complained, gripping a belly emptied by 20 miles of biking.
Instead, my secret to romancing—or lack thereof—exists in a declarative
statement: “Hon,” I said, on the first bright, sunny Sunday of summer,
“let’s go to Rockaway Taco.”
“It’ll just be a few more minutes,” she said, as patiently as a saint. This flips our normal script. I usually soothe her grumbles as her stomach rumbles. “Just check the baseball scores on your phone.” I did, the numbers serving as a pacifier till the counter staff cried, “Josh!” I retrieved the feast posthaste and thanked the heavens that this wasn’t our first date.
If it were, I’d take dainty, decorous bites to try to convince this young lady that I was no ape. But after four years together, any pretense has been abandoned. I snatched fistfuls of just-fried tortilla chips, coating them with bright, fresh guacamole and piquant tomatillo salsa. I popped cucumbers as if they were French fries. And then the tacos—oh lord, the tacos. Long, fat, batter-coated logs of tilapia are fried till carrot-crisp and as a golden as a beach sunset, then topped with radishes and cabbage for contrast. I reduced mine to crumbs in minutes. My girlfriend matched my pace. Love can take many forms, including gluttony.
“I’m so happy,” she said, her chin freckled with green salsa. She grabbed my hand and gave it a greasy, loving squeeze.
WANT TO RENT ME A SUMMER BEACH HOUSE THIS AUGUST IN THE ROCKAWAYS? WRITE ME AT JBERNSTEIN@ NYPRESS.COM.