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Dec 9, 2008 05:14 PM

If I get sick, I'll kill you or don't judge a book by its cover

Have any favorite restaurants that that most people wouldn't venture into on a bet? There was a Greek/seafood restaurant in Houston that had the best fried shrimp I've ever tasted. When I first started going there it was in an old shack off Main street. The roof was in such bad shape that they had to close when it rained. The booths didn't have cushions so your nose came to table level when you sat in one. I took a friend there for her birthday and had to convince her to go in. When we got in she said "if I get sick, I'll kill you". She stayed, ate the shrimp and it became her favorite restaurant. If you were in Houston in the 70s you might remember a place called Zorba the Greek.

I live in the Raleigh/Durham area now and while none of my favorite restaurants can compare with Zorba's in the early days We do have a few you might bypass based on their outside appearance.

1) Wimpy's. A Durham Hamburger institution. They make great burgers and other things. I can't get past the burgers, but I've heard their biscuits, beans and soups are good.

2) Roast Grill. They only serve hot dogs. No chips, no fries and no ketchup, but great dogs. Oh, they do have pound cake and baklava.

3) Merrit's General Store. They have several things on the menu but the BLTs are the reason to go there. They come in three sizes, but the small is big enough for me.

I was just looking at Google Earth and found that the three North Carolins places are showing up in street view. Would you stop at one of them?

In order we have Wimpy's, Roast Grill and Merrit's.

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  1. There is almost literally a hole in the wall here in TO. If you blink, you'd miss it. If you saw it, you'd think it wasn't worth the effort to open the door.
    It also makes some of the best Jerk Chicken in the city.


    5 Replies
    1. re: Davwud

      I remember another hole in the wall in TO in the early 90s. Looked like nothing from the outside, I have memories of it being dimly lit, and older wood floors. They had the BEST pie I've ever seen and tasted. Slices were unbelievably tall, pastry was beautiful, berries tasted fresh picked. Unfortunately I have no idea what the name is/was and my friend who took me there passed away a few years afterwards. :(

        1. re: Morganna

          i think davwud is referring to toronto, ontario, canada.

          ps, cute blog, davwud!

          happy new year!

          1. re: alkapal

            Thanks alk

            I've updated it since you were last there.


            1. re: Davwud

              davwud, do you need some of my alka-seltzer after that trip to gizzard city?!? holy-moly -- a deep fried, battered burger, indeed! ;-).

    2. Ah...Wimpy's. So great. I'll have to head back to check out Roast Grill and Merritt's...

      In rural Louisiana, particularly Cajun country, some of the best eating spots are within gas stations, tucked away behind cash registers and lotto tickets, with florescent lights and a faint whiff of gasoline. But you can eat amazingly well for very cheap! I had a lot of visitors who almost refused to enter and eat at such places, but once I got them to take some bites, they were sold.

      2 Replies
      1. re: RosemaryHoney

        In Boston there is an excellent Mexican takeout inside a gas station.

        1. re: emilief

          Indeed, Villa Mexico has the best burritos I've had in Boston; off-putting location, but not actually scary:

      2. Visualize one story cinder block building painted green. I can’t remember if there were any windows; if there were, they were cinder block sized. It was also a block away from the airport in Des Moines, Iowa. Its name was Bammies.

        There was a pool table, some ratty booths (light blue vinyl? Maybe green), a few tables, and a bar that ran across the back. The ceiling was a heavily stained drop down with a siren light (like on a police car) mounted near the door. It was also very, very dark.

        I went there for the first time when I was eight years old and had some of the best pizza of my (very short) life and I also met the owner -Frank Bonanno (Bammie). I thought he was insane.
        Whenever certain songs came up on the jukebox, a huge siren would go off and the light by the door would start flashing. Frank would come in through the front door wearing a fireman’s coat and helmet with a hand-held fire extinguisher. He’d run around the restaurant spraying up under the tables where there were kids and generally scaring the crap out of anyone who’d never been there before. A lot of people left before they even ordered food. Too bad for them, because it was the best pizza in town in the 70’s and early 80’s.

        Frank had incredible energy, charisma, and was amazingly kind. When he found out that I had asked to go there on my 13th Birthday, he leapt over the bar (short man, very tall bar), gave me big smooch on the cheek, and totally loaded me up with candy before I left (gigantor box of dum-dums and bazooka joe gum). I also enjoyed shocking the parents of the other kids on my swim team when I insisted on going there after meets when I was the captain.

        Sadly, Frank died in the 1990’s and I think the building was demolished because it was determined to be too close to the airport. But it’s one of the few places that will live forever in my heart.

        Oh, just called my Mom to get an adult confirmation re: the pizza: 'It was darn good'!

        7 Replies
        1. re: sebetti

          Wow, thanks so much for posting something about Bammie's. I figured it/he was long gone. Nice that it can be remembered.

          When I was in junior high in Des Moines I had a friend whose dad was an old school buddy of Bammie and he took us a few times to the place. It was something you had to experience. What a nut. Like you mentioned, Bammie was a fright at first encounter and I would not be surprised if he scared away 30/40 % of the customers. But, the place was usually packed and I remember no one being overly concerned about fast service.

          I also experienced the fireman drill - a riot. I also remember a few others.

          He loved to walk into the eating area holding a large pizza tray way up high. He would stumble a bit and then let it fall. He would have three or four more trays on top and they
          would crash all over.

          Sometimes he would come out of the kitchen with a trombone with a boxing glove on the end. He would blow some notes and take punches at poor patrons.

          I am afraid I cannot remember the bit but it seems he used to do something when YMCA got played on the juke box.

          I am sure there were others I never saw.

          1. re: sebetti

            I remember Bamie's well. By the way, that is the correct spelling. He was my wife's uncle and the best, most generous, man I have ever known. Some months after my wife, (then girlfriend) and I met in the summer of '75 we took a road trip from our home in Austin, Tx. to Des Moines to "meet the family" it included a trip to Bamie's where family always entered through the back door to the kitchen. There we enjoyed pizza, on the house of course, for the family and were amused by Bamie's antics out front. Bamie insisted he pack us a lunch for the road trip back home which consisted of several of his equally delicious stromboli sandwiches individually wrapped in foil and bagged to go. Once we were several hours down the road, we attacked the strombolis and lo and behold, he had hidden a handful of $20 bills between the stroms. At the time we didn't have a lot of money and his generosity was welcome and much appreciated. A few years later, he and his family made a road trip to Austin in his motorhome. We were honored to have him park in our driveway for a few days while we showed him the sights and attractions in Austin. Of course sightseeing and entertainment is never completely free but he insisted on footing the bill wherever we went. Sadly, he passed away due to a massive heart attack several years ago after spending several years in "forced retirement" due to "The Joint" as we called it being purchased and condemned by the city. As mentioned earlier, it was too close to the airport. The funeral wake was attended by hundreds, maybe over a thousand people and got a spot in statewide Iowa news coverage. He is still missed by family, friends and customers alike.

            1. re: hank_b

              I, too, was a very devoted fan of Bamie's. Frank Bonanno was just an incredible guy and the pizzas he made (to this day 30 years later)were the best pizza I have ever had. Several of my Simpson Collefge SAE fraternity brothers and I made regular trips to Bamie's in the mid to late 1970s after a link was established by Frank's son, Ron. I well remember Frank's many routines, the falling tray gag, the fire extinguisher bit and the trombone playing. He also used to love to yell "South Side" at the appropriarte spot every time someone played "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" on the juke box. It was great to take the unintiated there (especially dates) and watch their faces as Frank did his schtick. Often my friends and I would "help" a bit behind the bar serving beer and pop or wiping down tables, which Frank tolerated for a few minutes before he was pay us with a free pizza and about a pound of those little suckers. I don't know what his secret was, but that combination of sauce, crust and lots of cheese was just incredible. I had moved out of state by the time he was shut down, but I was still distraught. God I miss Bamie's.

              1. re: sportsed1

                I don't have clue as to the place you're talking about and hated frat boys when I was in university and grad school - but you've just provided one of the greatest, sincerest, and well written tributes to a man I don't know but now which I had. Congrats!

                1. re: sportsed1

                  I too have some very fond memories of Bamie's. I grew up on that pizza. That place used to scare the hell out of me when I was little what with Frank making such a clatter up at the bar dropping trays or beating the rubber chicken with the over sized mallet. I loved that juke box. I still search the internet for some of the songs that were played on there. Still can't find the chickens clucking "In the Mood". One of my most favorite things to do was to go back to the kitchen and watch them make the pizzas. My father gave Frank his first trombone. I to went to Frank's funeral. It was very touching to see all those many people there, to know he touched that many people's lives.

                  1. re: faubio

                    All I know Bamies had the best Stromboli sandwiches! I've spent a life time trying to find another to match it. My story is once Frank asked if anyone was thirsty and promptly nailed them with the fire extinguisher. I took my then girlfriend on one of our first dates there and later our family. I'm still looking for a sandwich that matches his Stromboli

            2. What a coincidence! I had posted on the Texas board not long ago about Zorba's in Houston. My first taste of greek food, which I promptly fell in love with. Man that was a crazy place.

              There are many hole in the wall places that scare people off, but they usually have some of the best food. One place I like is such an old rickety building that if you dropped a ball on the floor it would quickly roll across the room, but they have some of the best burgers in town. I'm game to try these places out but my DH isn't that adventurous, so I find someone else to go with me.

              1. That's really sort of my key criterion for a restaurant (since I'm far from a "fine dining" kinda guy):

                10 points if I'm the only anglo in there;

                10 points if the menu isn't in English;

                10 points if the decor is clearly left over from a previous restaurant (pictures of Vesuvius and the Collosseum in an Ethiopian restaurant)

                10 points if it's in a strip mall (extra 5 points if it's in the BACK side of a strip mall)

                10 points if I have to worry if my car will still be there when I leave.

                6 Replies
                1. re: wayne keyser

                  I can agree with almost all of those. I do like to be able to read the menu and since my English is the only language I have a grasp of (and people will argue that) it would have problems.


                  1. re: wayne keyser

                    10 points if the plastic plants are dusty & have cobwebs
                    10 points if the TV is onto a language that I don't speak
                    10 points if the owner has pancake makeup and is smoking
                    (but minus 10 points if that same owner is a man)
                    10 points if the lighting is florescent, making everything look green
                    10 points ifthe Hello Kitty posters on the wall clash with the design of the plastic tablecloths
                    25 points if there is a big tray of many sauces and condiments

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      50 bonus points if one of those sauces is sriracha.


                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        sam, you just get better and better!!!! LOL!

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Yes to all of the above!!!!!!!!!!!

                      2. re: wayne keyser

                        I love it! Couldn't have said it better myself.