The perfect pork chop.

Note to restaurant owners: if your place smells like a chemical toilet, you will drive away customers. Or, at least, that’s the theory I came up with while sitting in the nearly-empty Pink Teacup, an apparently-august West Village institution, and my lunch destination yesterday. Unlike my usual eating trips, this one was unpremeditated: I was walking on Grove St. between 7th and Hudson and needed to get lunch – my new (not New Year’s) resolution not to pay any ATM fees having led me a few blocks out of the way.

Despite the odor, the sudden stop was well worth it. Advertising a lunch special set at $7, I chose the fried pork chop option, with sides of collard greens and black eyed peas. The meal began with a perfunctory salad and soup – the salad greens were fresh but a choice between French (actually more like Russian) and creamy Italian dressings left me a bit cold. I’m kind of surprised to find salad in a soul food restaurant, in any case, and the soup may as well have been vegetable-flavored Progresso.

Considering the bland starters and the irritating odor, I wondered how the Teacup could possibly have stayed in business for so long. The décor sure isn’t the reason: the primary paint color is pink (though, oddly, the teacups aren’t), and signed headshots, primarily by black actors, decorate one wall. I realize that this photographic name-checking is kind of a NYC tradition, but I prefer Katz’s method, where the celebs are proven to have been there. Of course, there’s the unintentional comedy – no matter how bad they look standing under the florescent light, the portly owner next to them looks worse.

Fortunately, my entrée arrived to save the day: far and away the best fried pork chop I’ve ever had. Seriously flavorful, not too greasy, and tender and juicy in a way that La Taza De Oro’s, for example, wasn’t, this chop was a strong contender for best pork I’ve had in any format. I actually wanted another chop after I was finished – at La Taza’s, by contrast, I finished one of two and was more than satisfied.

The sides I selected were collard greens and black eyed peas – the greens were bland until I fired them up with the hot sauce the waiter provided (with the entrée and almost ceremonially, in a way that suggested that the use was mandatory – I can’t disagree). The peas had a smoky flavor that might have come from bacon, but they weren’t cooked perfectly. The hybrid cornbread/dinner roll was warm when it arrived, which always makes me happy – so does butter that’s not too cold to spread.

For just over $9 with tax and tip, this isn’t a bad lunch choice for the discerning carnivore lost in the wilds of the West Village. I’ll brave the faint stench of urinal cake for more chops, and probably to try other dishes, too. Actually the combo also included dessert – I took the tasty bread pudding to go, but the Italian tourists (guidebooks, maps and all) across the restaurant sampled what I imagine to be their first Jell-O salad. I never thought “dolce far niente” could apply to eating Jell-O, but I think the slogan might be a more effective marketing tool than Bill Cosby, at this point.

Note: Taking the day off Monday – Vermont skiing beckons. Back Tuesday with more shizzle-sizzle.

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