My early investigations into yaroa, three years ago, revealed very little. Empanadas Monumental, which by all accounts brought this heavily layered Dominican dish to Upper Manhattan, has roots in the provincial capital of Santiago de los Caballeros — Santiago, in common speech. There, I've since discovered, yaroa became a beloved nighttime street food at the turn of the last century.
Caridad offers a domesticated rendition, a casserole, albeit one topped with mayoketchup. (I haven't partaken.) Though "Santiaguera" identifies it with the D.R.'s second city, the original dish may be named for an outlying town where a home cook first prepared it for family and friends: Gurabito de Yaroa. The word "yaroa" itself is in Taíno, a language spoken by some of the indigenous inhabitants of the region; its meaning is a mystery, to me.
That's a lot of text for a roadside ad. Usually such signs are much more terse, but this one can afford the verbiage because it's directed toward drivers and passengers in a stopped line of traffic. The bottle shape quickly frames the subject; the text, which emphasizes lower sales tax and no bottle deposits, also suggests that a two-minute drive from Staten Island might save you $8 to $10 on both beer and liquor. No telling if that's before, or after, the toll for the Outerbridge Crossing.
Fun fact: That cantilivered span across the Arthur Kill, shown below from a nearby vantage at low tide, was named for the Port Authority's first chairman, Eugenius H. Outerbridge.
Outerbridge Liquors 45 West Pond Rd., Perth Amboy, New Jersey Sign posted at the corner of Ellis St. with Arthur Kill Rd., Tottenville, Staten Island
This flatiron-shaped building, designed to accommodate a wedgelike lot, opened its doors in 1887. The Burnham company was established in the 1890s just down the block and seems to have become the prime tenant of this building not long after. Canned clams, clam chowder, and clam bouillon were Burnham mainstays; so was an instant gelatin called Hasty Jellycon, whose faded name is now only faintly readable, in the best light, in the middle band of signage. Though the founding date is a matter of some dispute, it's generally agreed that the company did business here until about 1929.
In its 2003 designation report of the district as a whole, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission succinctly captured the changing character of the neighborhood in the roster of this building's commercial tenants. It begins with New England Biscuit Works, whose painted name is still plain to see, and Burnham; continues with three dozen businesses, most of them food-related, over the course of a hundred years; and concludes, at the turn of the 21st century, with "Hell, club (1999-2003)."
This three-story building — cast iron on the ground floor, brick and stone above — was the site of the namesake wholesale grocery business from 1902 to 1964. It dates from 1887, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, "during one of the major phases of development of the district, when produce-related businesses were constructing buildings in the area," though the profession of its original owner is unknown. The taller, paler structure to the left, built for the business partners in 1918, is marked at the roofline by a simple "M-R".
Middendorf & Rohrs Grocers Surviving signage, 1 Little West 12th St. (Hudson-Greenwich Sts.), Manhattan
Thomas Adams had been a man of many trades, none of them wholly successful, when he met the exiled Mexican general Antonio de Santa Anna in 1869. Santa Anna provided Adams with large quantities of chicle, a natural gum obtained from certain tropical evergreen trees. Presumably, the general hoped that the chicle could be transformed into a substitute for rubber, form the basis of a new, profitable industry, and pave the way for his return to power in Mexico. (It didn't work.)
Ever inventive, however, Adams quickly found another use for the leftover chicle. In 1871 he began manufacturing Adams New York Gum No. 1, an unflavored chewing gum; a decade later Adams Sons and Co. introduced the licorice-flavored Black Jack gum, which bears the family name to this day. Adams California Fruit Gum seems to have first appeared about a century ago, when the flavors of fresh fruits from the West Coast were not readily available nationwide; it has long since disappeared. The sign shown here was painted no later than 1920.
Adams California Fruit Gum Surviving signage, New Main St. between Palisade and Nepperhan Aves., Yonkers, New York
"Breweries" caught my eye, but only after several years. In April 2010, when I first photographed this overlapping set of signs for a custom supplier of pipe and fittings, it was difficult enough just to make out the company name. Appliquéd artwork and spray-painted tags have since added to the visual hubbub. On a recent return visit, I saw this building in a different light, literally.
It's fascinating to imagine a time, a century ago, when many breweries were opening and expanding nearby. So many, in fact, that they would be called out in business-to-business advertising — not only in the papers but also in public, painted signs.
How it must rankle the media buyers to rely on telephone kiosks! The second ad does make an attempt, it seems, to shake off the landline legacy by using the grammar and stacatto text associated with doge, an internet meme that subverts conventional grammar by pairing nouns and modifiers in dissonant phrases. However, by the time this campaign was conceived, approved, executed, and placed, doge had already lost much of its currency. In short: So last year.
Ads for GrubHub and Seamless "Outdated paper menus are full of lies. Lies, I tell you!" Tremont, Bronx "Such takeout. No calls. Very amaze." Flushing, Queens