Cheese Puffery: Part III
Corrado Cafe is a busy, welcoming spot in the East 70s, catering to ladies who lunch and school girls in pleated uniform mini skirts. I like many things about it: the outside dining area, the fact that, tiny as it is, it has a bathroom, that, in an area with the highest concentration of billionaires in the city, its prices are miraculously low, especially for ritzy items like prosciutto wrapped focaccia sticks ($2.75) or mini pepper brioches stuffed with chicken and basil or tuna and watercress ($3.50).
The Corrado counter, replete with bounties, is a treat for when I’m in the neighborhood, which is rare. However, when I was saddled with the sad task of visiting four nursing homes in a single day, to find my mother a bed, the thought of Corrado became more than just a passing fancy but a beacon. I had just seen a phalanx of elderly people in wheelchairs, parked, glazed, near the nursing station of Mary Manning Walsh on York Avenue and 71st. In Dewitt, on 79th and Lex., their residents' glum, lifeless demeanor was a sad counterpart to the over-jaunty sounds coming out of the community room--a loud man in a garish vest playing “kitten on the keys.” I arrived at the Corrado counter like a Beduin traveler at an oasis.
And I like the cheese puff ($1.50). It’s hard to distinguish the Corrado puff from the O café one; both are made from the same gluten-free cassava flour and minas currado cheese, light colored and about the size of an irregular tennis ball, but Corrado ups the ante by stuffing its puff. You can have it with a neatly sliced hard boiled egg, tomato and pesto or with smoked ham, tomato, and truffle butter--that mysterious substance that doesn't have a hint of truffle but which somehow manages to give any food a luxurious flourish ($3.50/ea.)
And then, why stop at a cheese puff when you can have a Turkish spinach Gozleme ($5.00). Maybe it stands for “God, let me…” Let me savor this floppy blanket of Turkish flatbread—made from unleavened “yufka" flour-- encasing the thinnest layer of buttery spinach. You will not eat another heavy-as-a-brick spinach pie after you’ve had the Gozleme, and it is the international surprises like these—the gozleme, the Brazilian cheese puff, or the Italian focaccia pizetta ($4.50) that make Corrado, not only a stand-out in the often characterless Upper East Side but also a place to find sustenance.
I think of my mother sitting in the bland day room of the Cobble Hill nursing home where she now lives. When I come upon her, she is sitting in her wheelchair, drawn into herself, just like the people I saw when I toured the "homes." My sister Carol said it aptly: "Somebody is in there, but the lights are off." Yet, when we bring her homemade soup to heat in the industrial microwave, she scrapes the bowl eagerly with a plastic spoon, or when she gnaws happily at the stump of a thick almond horn from The Hungarian Pastry Shop, the lights come on. Her eyes gleam, and she is my mother again. Sometimes a snack is more than just a snack: it’s a reason to live
960 Lexington Avenue (@ 70th St.)