Monday, March 3, 2008

House of Roy...mmmm, special

So many of you requested the back-story on the “House of Roy” (or at least one of you), that I feel obliged to explain. You’ll be sorry you asked.

“House of Roy” was THE Chinese restaurant of my childhood. This was way before the days of Mandarin and Szechwan cuisine, when all Chinese food came swimming in a brown oyster-style sauce. My Dad would regale us with tales of him going there when he was younger, when the menus were chiseled on tablets. (Really, who would of thought my father…telling stories? Hi Dad, just kidding…). We all have these places; I know someone that always went to Moon Palace and ordered Hong Sue Guy…

This place defined “craphole”. The place was a few steps up literally, but several steps down, figuratively. It was separated into two dining rooms, shaped like a “U”. You walked in at the top left, then through one dining room down and around into the other. The floor was collapsing, so you were always leaning left when you walked in. The bathroom floors weren’t much better, and if you’ve ever been in a bathroom in an old Chinatown building…well, you don’t need any further information.

Well, for years, at least twice a month, we’d truck into Boston’s Chinatown, and dine at the “House of Roy” on Tyler Street. We were hooked. We were addicted to that place, like Drago to those injections from Bridgette Nielson. Sometimes we’d meet other families, sometimes just us, but two things never changed: the greatest fortune cookie joke ever (“Help, I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune-cookie factory.” Flip it over: “Never mind, I escaped.” I still use this joke to this day.) Second, the House of Roy Special, and boy, was this special.

Long before I avoided foods that were biblically not kosher (shellfish and pork, for you fans keeping score at home), the “Special” was the apex of gastronomical pleasures. I only wish I had an old menu so I could explain everything in this bucket of food. It was a mélange of beef, chicken, shrimp, peapods, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots tossed in the brown sauce. Poured onto a platter, it was surrounded by fried wontons, and covered with pork strips. Here me now and believe me later…this was an orgiastic feast for the senses.

My parents promised me that I could have my own Special, the week before my bar mitzvah, as my ticket to manhood. My Dad said I could never finish it off, as it was really made for 14 people. Well, I was determined to show him…I went deep into training. I ate light that whole weekend, and didn’t eat at all on Sunday, preparing for Sunday night’s repast. Well, we ordered two, one for the rest of the table, and one for me.

The anticipation was more than I could bear…I dug into that thing like John Henry, swinging his mighty hammer. I ate, and ate, and ate some more, and I didn’t make a frigging dent! It’s like the thing was haunted, regenerating itself after every bite I took. I vaguely recall my father taking the rest, after I passed out into my food coma. I ate so much; I still think I have some left in me, over 30 years later.

When we left, I don’t think I made it 10 feet from the steps, but I’m sure Roy appreciated it when I decided to decorate the parking lot instead of his rest room. It was immense, intense, and a fine “how do you do” into the landscape of bingeing, and apparently purging. Unlike my father, who can consume and immense amount of food, and ate 19 lobsters in a sitting once, I am a mere amateur.

Roy’s is gone now, and Roy himself, who was probably a classmate of Confucious, is gone as well.

Viva House of Roy!

You've been great...enjoy Toshiko Akioshi...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

amazing that u remember it all after all these years...but that is what makes life ... memories ....
people are going to think that i eat like a hog after u telling them about my 19 lobsters ...

dad ( gil )

Eric Weinstein said...

I've seen you eat...people know the truth!

Chatter said...

House of Roy was by far my favorite place to eat when I was an undergrad at MIT in the early 70's. I'd go with friends 2, 3, 4 times a week; when it closed finally (unannounced), it was one of the saddest days of my life. My friends and I literally mourned its passing; there was simply no better food in Chinatown.

Marc

Eric Weinstein said...

Marc: welcome to the Critical Palate. I, too, miss the House of Roy. Seems that every MIT student passed through there. A right of passage on your way to getting a "brass rat", which they might have served...

I do miss that place...

Eric

Matteo Fagin said...

I have an original menu from House of Roy and I just posted it to my Facebook account(Matteo Fagin). This is what I love best about the internet. I was just looking at the menu which I have framed on my kitchen wall(it's priceless to me and I would not sell it for all the funny fortune cookies in the world.) I happened to take the menu out of its frame tonight to look at it. It's a blast from the past and I suddenly remembered THAT DISH of oyster sauce and fried wontons...it had been totally forgotten. I was actually looking for the recipe and to see if any place still made it.
What a joint...it was my family childhood place. I was born in 1969 and grew up going there every few months to see my uncles and aunts. I guess there weren't enough loyal Jews to keep it going in Boston. We should find the recipes somehow!

Eric Weinstein said...

Matteo-like you, we frequented the House of Roy, though maybe more frequent. I would love to see the "House of Roy Special" just one last time.

Eric

MaldenGuy said...

A lot of your post about House of Roy is a carboncopy of my childhood. Grew up in Malden, Jewish (reform)..my parents had their favorites and stuck with them. I don't remember the Special, fondly recall the spare ribs in black bean sauce and those bright red pork strips and pork ends (possibly why I'be been a vegetarian for years).

My brother ended up at the U. of Florida in Gainesville in the early 70's...he couldn't get any decent Chinese there, so when he came back to Boston to visit he and his wife would stop at Filene's Basement and buy a couple of cheap suitcases, then go to House of Roy or another Chinatown restaurant, fill the bags with as much as they could afford, then head to Logan and fly back to Florida with a couple months stash of food for their freezer.

Anonymous said...

I grew up w/the same story... House of Roy was *the* Chinese restaurant in Boston!

Anonymous said...

MIT friends (hi ARL) related some tales involving taking a neophyte (N) to House of Roy. Roy (R) loved the MIT guys and was willing to participate in jokes.

N: Is this real Chinese food?
R: Yes, real Chinese food.
N: How about the water? Is this Chinese water?
R: So sorry. Not Chinese water. Japanese water. Much cheaper. But good enough for you.

You only got chopsticks at Roy's.

N: Can I get a knife and fork?
R: Not have knife and fork.
N: But that man over there has knife and fork.
R: Must have brought with.
N: How can he use a knife and fork and I can't?
R: Very difficult. Have to practice long time.

Roy's food was a mystery.

MIT: This is very good sweet and sour, not like any other. What is in it.
R: Honey and vinegar.
MIT: Whatkind of honey? What kind of vinegar?
R: NOT TELL!

Anonymous said...

A fan of house of Roy from the 1950's till he closed.I recall his smile with a gold tooth in front. I am searching for his lobster sauce recipe it was unequaled. Harry

Anonymous said...

My son, now 46 and a physician in Atlanta, was born following a Saturday evening dinner at House of Roy.

Anonymous said...

I think my first visit to House of Roy was in 1953 when I was a frosh at MIT. I'd never eaten with chopsticks before but the classmates who took me there said their rules were that everyone at the table had to use chopsticks, so I learned quickly. My memory may be rusty, but I think the place was originally on the ground floor/basement before it moved upstairs. I also remember Roy telling me he'd left his wife behind in China and then married someone else in the USA.

Ellis Golub said...

I was also a regular customer at the House of Roy, from '63 to '69, when I was a grad student at Tufts, across the street. I'd love to see that menu.

Dan Schuman said...

My wife is going to Boston on business and I suggested to her that she stop in for a touch of my past...now I realize with a pang (or is it old heartburn?) for the very first time that Roy is gone...we used to walk up Harrison Avenue from Tufts medical school all the time...
Dan Schuman

Anonymous said...

House of Roy was far from being being merely a haunt of MIT students. I started eating there in about 1954 as an 8 year old. My family had first been loyal diners at Cathay House on Beach St. at the end of Tyler St. A waiter there who was a friend of ours recommended House of Roy, and I proceeded to dine there regularly there for the next 28 years. Before the mid-60s, the patrons were mostly just local Bostonians who had been clued in. I can remember when the groups of MIT people started showing up on weekend nights -- that's when we began to have waiting lines, which we had never had before! Roy (who was like a godfather to me) passed away in 1982 and the restaurant immediately closed. Their food was just incomparable -- the sweet & sour sauce was a golden brown that was so pungent it made you cough if you breathed in the aroma when it first arrived at the table. The beef with black bean sauce and peapods was beyond description. The dried chicken with spice powder -- never saw it anywhere else until I went to live in Hong Kong -- was unique. I am glad to see I am not the only one who sorely misses this wonderful place.

---J. Kane, Myrtle Beach, SC

Anonymous said...

Like many of your correspondents, I was an MIT student. One Saturday, a captain of the student staff asked me to join him and some Chinese staff members to have lunch. The student staff did lightweight tasks around the dorms like floor polishing, sweeping, and linen changing. When he told me they were going to the House of Roy, I readily accepted. We took the MTA and arrived soon after. Apparently the "captain" and his entourage were regular customers. They ordered their standard fare and modified a few plates. When the first serving plate arrived, it was given to the "captain", who shoveled off most of the meat onto his plate and then passed the serving plate to the Chinese staff member next to him. When the second plate arrived, the same thing happened. Being directly opposite the "captain" I wound up getting the dregs of the serving plate; completely devoid of meat and hardly enough vegetables to sustain a young college student. I surmised that the Chinese staff members did not object to the "captain" taking most of the food because their culture tolerated abuse by superiors. I am not Chinese. I was born in the USA. Before the third plate arrived, I told the "captain" that I would like to be the first to get the serving plate the next time. He agreed. When the third plate arrived he took it and generously supplied himself with most of the meat. I reminded him of his promise. He said he "forgot". I told him that since I did not receive a fair share of the food, I would "forget" where my wallet was. Nevertheless, when the fourth plate arrived and I asked the waiter for the plate, the waiter gave it to the "captain". He again performed his act, saying, "I really like this dish." I then told him I was leaving. He said that he would let the waiter give me the next, an last, plate. He did. I happily anticipated getting some meat for a change. The waiter presented me with the last dish. It was a vegetable plate. I never ate with the "captain" anywhere again. However, I did meet him some twenty years later and greeted him. He said, "I don't know who you are, but I'm outta here!" At least he didn't invite me to lunch.

Anonymous said...

Like many of your correspondents, I was an MIT student. One Saturday, a captain of the student staff asked me to join him and some Chinese staff members to have lunch. The student staff did lightweight tasks around the dorms like floor polishing, sweeping, and linen changing. When he told me they were going to the House of Roy, I readily accepted. We took the MTA and arrived soon after. Apparently the "captain" and his entourage were regular customers. They ordered their standard fare and modified a few plates. When the first serving plate arrived, it was given to the "captain", who shoveled off most of the meat onto his plate and then passed the serving plate to the Chinese staff member next to him. When the second plate arrived, the same thing happened. Being directly opposite the "captain" I wound up getting the dregs of the serving plate; completely devoid of meat and hardly enough vegetables to sustain a young college student. I surmised that the Chinese staff members did not object to the "captain" taking most of the food because their culture tolerated abuse by superiors. I am not Chinese. I was born in the USA. Before the third plate arrived, I told the "captain" that I would like to be the first to get the serving plate the next time. He agreed. When the third plate arrived he took it and generously supplied himself with most of the meat. I reminded him of his promise. He said he "forgot". I told him that since I did not receive a fair share of the food, I would "forget" where my wallet was. Nevertheless, when the fourth plate arrived and I asked the waiter for the plate, the waiter gave it to the "captain". He again performed his act, saying, "I really like this dish." I then told him I was leaving. He said that he would let the waiter give me the next, an last, plate. He did. I happily anticipated getting some meat for a change. The waiter presented me with the last dish. It was a vegetable plate. I never ate with the "captain" anywhere again. However, I did meet him some twenty years later and greeted him. He said, "I don't know who you are, but I'm outta here!" At least he didn't invite me to lunch.

Anonymous said...

House Of Roy was the BEST. Shrimp w/Lobster Sauce, Shrimp w/Tomato Sauce, Sweet & Sour Pork (Unique), Moo Goo Gai Pan, Beef w/Oyster Sauce, Beef w/Green Peppers & Tomatos, Egg Rolls were fabulous. We'd go there once a week (or more) 1966-1969. Steve Callis, MIT, '69