Menckens's pearl of a place serves burritos, fajitas and now opera


April 03, 1995|By DAN RODRICKS

Martha Gatewood's fiercely original artwork, fat and flavorful burritos, annual appearances by Our Lady of the Hot Sauces -- and now they tell me Mencken's Cultured Pearl Cafe also features two crazy opera-singing cooks, Perry "Rock" Williams and Kevin Moore.

The other night, Jackie Andrews was eating fajitas with her friend Evelyn Nichols when the burrito boys broke into an Italian duet. The women found them fabulous.

"They ought to turn the music down in that place when they sing," Jackie says. "It isn't everywhere you can eat a burrito and hear live opera." I like the concept. Once there was a production of Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutti" set in a diner; why not "Don Carlo" in a burrito bar?

Teddy Getzel, who owns the Pearl, appreciates the compliment but says that wasn't exactly a Verdi duet his cooks crooned in the kitchen. "Scat opera is what Rock and Kevin sing," he says. "But, look, if people want to think it's real opera, great."

Anonymous altruism

So Irv Samuels, whom I first met at a roof party in Little Italy on New Year's Eve about a decade ago, calls me over the weekend with this story about a mysterious and charitable woman at the Gucci Giant in Pikesville. (That bit about where Irv and I first met has nothing to do with the story, but how often does a columnist get to mention that he partied on a roof in Little Italy?) "I see her go by," Irv says of the mystery woman. "And she has a stack of coupons in her hand, a big stack of them. She's looking on the shelves for products that match the coupons. Nothing unusual about that. But each time she finds the product, she puts the coupon next to it, leaves it there and walks away." Irv couldn't figure. So he approached the woman and asked what she was doing. The answer was simple: She didn't need the coupons, their expiration dates were approaching, and she wanted to leave them for someone else, perhaps an elderly person, who might need to save a dollar. Irv asked if he could get the woman's name (figuring that, after 10 years, it was about time to call me with a story) and that answer was simple, too: No. "She wasn't doing it for any personal recognition," Irv says.

Neither was the young woman who stuck a crumpled dollar bill in Pauline Parker's hand the other day as the two of them passed each other in the crosswalk at Fayette and Calvert. Pauline, on her way to catch a bus for St. Agnes Hospital, says the other woman kept walking after leaving her with the buck. "I don't know why she gave me the dollar," Pauline says, "but please let her know I said thank you."

That's also what Bernadette Shephard wants -- to extend gratitude to another Good Sam out there. Bernadette was in Lexington Market, ordering a pit-beef sandwich, when a man tapped her on the shoulder. "As I turned around, he handed me my wallet," she says. "I was so shocked that I could barely say, 'Thank you.' The gentleman walked away so fast that he disappeared in the lunchtime crowd. I did not remember dropping my wallet, and I would never have known what happened to it. I want to thank that kind man and let him know that I will always be grateful to him for restoring my faith in mankind, which has been diminishing in the past few years. Perhaps I could treat him to a pit-beef sandwich."


If you work downtown and want to donate blood at a convenient place, take note: The Red Cross has a donor center on Redwood Street. It opened about a year ago, but notice to the public has been less than extraordinary. "We haven't had the visibility we had hoped for," says Pat Lakatta, Red Cross communications director. So here's some visibility: The donor center is at 20 Redwood, open Tuesday through Friday, as early as 8 a.m. some days, as late as 7 p.m. others. Call 1-800-GIVEBLOOD. This has been a public service, if I do say so myself.

Spring planting

Wednesday is Maryland's Arbor Day, and up Jarrettsville Pike at Willow Oaks Farm, more than 8,000 walnut, ash and dogwood seedlings will be going into the ground along a treeless stretch of the Little Gunpowder River. Jerry Stautberg of Jerry's Chevrolet and Willow Oaks agreed to cooperate with this creation of forest buffer along the Little Gunpowder at the Baltimore County-Harford County line.

It's an ambitious and important project, part of the state Department of Natural Resource's grand plan to improve water quality in the Chesapeake by restoring the leafy canopies that once protected the rivers and streams flowing to it. The state Forest Service helps landowners defray some of the cost of the plantings. Over the past three years, seedlings have been planted along more than 17 miles of rivers and streams that haven't seen a tree line for a couple of centuries. Good stuff. Tree-huggers, I salute us!

Good reads

Appealing reading: "Devolution Chic," this month's Washington Monthly cover story about the Newtonian effort to shrink the federal government and return power and money to the states; Bill McKibben's article in the current Atlantic on reforestation in the Eastern states (speaking of things arboreal); "Woodholme: A Black Man's Story of Growing Up Alone," an autobiographical book by DeWayne Wickham, syndicated columnist for USA Today and former Sun reporter, to be published in May by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; and "The Crawlspace Conspiracy," the first novel by Thomas Keech, an assistant Maryland attorney general, published by Bakersville.

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