Old Bronx Courthouse Hosts Most Exclusive Dinner Of The Year

This past Saturday, the Old Bronx Courthouse in Melrose was open yet again.  This time it wasn’t for a tour but for a special dinner for the First Annual Bronx Pipe Smoking Society.  The email invitation was quite simple:  Do not tell a soul of the event, dress code is to be “warm” formal (due to the lack of heat in the empty shell of a building), bring your favorite wine glass and arrive at 7PM SHARP.  Password to get in: Perique.  The fare?  Small game such as possum, fisher, muskrat, raccoon, beaver (yes…beaver…and raccoon).

I arrived at the old, grey landmarked beauty with 3 minutes to spare before show time.  Several other guests also began congregating at the gate all eager to get inside out of the cold – and into the cold again.  At exactly 7PM a gentleman came out to unlock the gate and welcome us to the event.  He asked that we simply follow the candles to the our destination.  As we made our way from the foyer and into the lobby we made a left and followed the trail of tea lights into a pitch black room.  The trail of lights led us to another room with tons of steel debris and a decrepit staircase lined with candles all the way to the top.  We braced ourselves for an awkward climb and within seconds we ascended into a large, cavernous chamber.

A long banquet table was set up to accommodate approximately 30 guests, candle lit and all.  Slowly but surely the guests began to arrive, many with dishes of the rather exotic menu.  Baron Ambrosia, our very own Bronx Culinary Ambassador, was the brainchild of this event and only someone like the Baron could pull this off.

The dishes were all prepared by various chefs and foodies with whatever game was trapped by Jim DeStephano, who the Baron became friends with at native american event.  It was very interesting to listen to the challenges the chef had to prepare something that they typically won’t find at a local market further complicated by not having experience in preparing such dishes.  That, however, didn’t stop them from creating quite the exquisite dishes.

The Raccoon Sexton, prepared by Julia Sexton, was deliciously sweet and was done as a confit of Adirondack raccoon with juniper berries, sage and rosemary served on a Balthezar baguette.  Rafael Mata Sr. owner of local Melrose Mexican restaurant, Xochimilco, made the Marta Pescadora Con Salsa De Guaje – fisher cooked with guajes and Chile morita served with chayotes over green rice.  Both of these dishes were particular hits.

These small mammals weren’t the only exotic dishes on the menu.  In no particular order of exoticness were, Columbian Big Butt Ants (lightly pan-fried and pretty much tasted like popcorn), Dak Dae (a Thai dish of fried silk worm pupae) and last but definitely not least, Som Tum with Maengda which is a mixture of shredded green papaya, tomato, string beans and ground peanuts with giant water bugs.  Yes…water bugs.  And no…I did not try that last one.  I stopped at the Dak Dae which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Mostly everyone tried a little bit of each but there were a few, like myself, who were a little too squeamish to even consider trying the water bug dish.  All in all it was a great evening with great people, sharing stories of their experiences with exotic fare and if anything, we all basically learned how to survive in case of war or disaster.

I wonder what Baron Ambrosia will think of next?

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.