Chow, Baby: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Drink Me

What’s the story on Poly Pop? From untrustworthy web sites, Chow, Baby has learned only that one Paul Hollis, who may have lived near Polytechnic High School and may now be buried in Polytechnic Cemetery, invented this powdered drink mix in his garage back in the 1920s, or something like that. Apparently it was quite popular for a couple of decades, until Kool-Aid came along, in yet another example of corporate giant glass pitcher crushing the little man.
Interesting yarn — and if you know more about it, please clue curious Chow, Baby in — but a dreadful drink, unless your sweet tooth is the size of Poly High. Chow, Baby had its first-ever glass of Poly Pop ($1.50) at Marilyn’s Café (1104 Miller Av., which is more Stop Six than Polytechnic, but close enough) and figures that Mr. Hollis must have simply modified a period hummingbird nectar recipe (one part sugar, four parts water, red color) by doubling the sugar. Alas, Marilyn was out of the house that day, and nobody else knew if this was the real original Poly Pop or just a modern re-creation. So Chow, Baby set aside that little question in favor of investigating two huge, tender pork chops (plate $8.25) smothered in a brown sauce that was nicely onioned but didn’t have much drippings flavor.
Chow, Baby was more impressed with its take-away “barbecued” chicken (plate $8.25), which was not sauced but instead had been rubbed and smoked until the skin was black with flavor. Awesome. With sides of tender black-eyed peas and yams, this dish was a glorious summer complement to Chow, Baby’s new backyard eating area (thank you, dearest) and its much-preferred summer drink. Why yes, Chow, Baby does have a song about the experience: “I’m drinking a mojito / Out in the gazebo / Eating yummy chicken-o / Swinging gently to and fro.” Let’s see if that’s still around in 80 years.
No, Drink Me
Chow, Baby doesn’t know why it feels guilty. All it did was glance at a menu and say, “Ooh, salty lemon soda!” It didn’t say, “I command th’all (that’s the Southern plural of ‘thee’) to order this drink” — but everybody at the table did anyway. And they didn’t care for it, because Ba-Le Vietnamese Restaurant (2240 Browning Dr., Arlington) makes salty lemon soda ($2) the old-fashioned way, with funky-preserved lemon instead of fresh-squeezed. It’s an acquired taste, and Chow, Baby wound up acquiring three barely touched glasses of the stuff.
The rest of the table — the beloved, on best behavior, and Chow, Baby’s visiting mom and stepdad — filled up on appetizers like banh mi pate cha lua ($2.25), juicy pork slices, pickled veggies, and pâté on French bread. (They don’t like yummy preserved lemon, but they like yecchy liver. Non gustibus etc.) Actually much of Ba-Le’s menu is beginner-friendly: They’ve got your light, fresh spring rolls ($4.25), your rare-steak pho ($6.25), your vermicelli bowls (shrimp, pork, and egg roll, $6.75), your soursop smoothies ($2.50), all magnificent. But the restaurant has been here almost 25 years and is definitely old-school, from the gloomy décor to the laissez-faire service. If you value authentic Vietnamese food and salty lemon soda more than a promptly cleared table and family harmony, Ba-Le is your place.

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