Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Trentonian TV Production Notes: Tyrone Miller Episode 4 Live from Thomasena's Takeout

TRENTON -- Folks in the hood surrounding Spring and Calhoun are happier because one of their own, a 40-year-old man by the name of Venice Johnson, just opened a joint and hired a 42-year-old head chef by the name of Donald Riley to cook world-class fish and grits. That's not lip service to pump up two Trenton natives just because they have a new business in the dark heart of Trenton. No, the fish and grits at Thomasena's Takeout at 141 Spring will hook you on first bite. That's what everyone says about the place, and it's why the flow of traffic in and out of the front door is constant.

Friday marks the west-side eatery's 4-week anniversary.

After the live broadcast of Episode 4 of The Tyrone Miller Show from inside Thomasena's, I ate deep-fried "swai" and buttered grits -- the first time I've eaten grits. Not sure why I went 40 years and 7 months without grits -- maybe it's the name. Grits. Polly always told Mel to kiss her grits, and the visual of that isn't so appetizing, so that may have stuck in my brain as a 7-year-old every time I heard it and stayed with me for years afterward. Plus, I don't even know what grits are. Grits? They have an oatmeal-like consistency. Maybe tapioca pudding but hotter? I don't know. I do know that grits are bland unless you mix 'em with something. Looking forward to eating Thomasena's cheesy grits.

I'm pretty sure that Thomasena's cheesy grits > Polly's grits.

As for the fish ... my god. That deep-fried fish was as good as any deep-fried fish I've eaten -- and I ate plenty at fish fry joints in New England. The seasoned coating on the swai was strong, not too heavy, and Riley cooked it right. It was moist, juicy and maintained a subtle sweet flavor even with the hot sauce. It's 12:18 Wednesday morning, about 10 hours after I started this entry, and I keep thinking about that swai. 

So, what is "swai"? Yeah, I didn't know, either. A consumer guy on the Web who goes by the name of Tightwad Tod said THIS.

Tyrone's theme this week was "Finding Peace," and the energetic guy went off on a fine screed. But the point of this episode was to celebrate Venice Johnson, who named Thomasena's after his grandmother. "She helped raise me since I was 8," he told Tyrone amid the hustle and bustle of the 1 o'clock lunch crowd. "I'll be honest: She wasn't that good of a cook. But she was a heck of a woman. She had my back ... and I love her and miss her. And she was tough -- she gave it to you like it is. Just like we do here. We don't tell you basa is flounder when it's not flounder. We tell you basa is basa."

And basa is swai, and swai is great when Donald Riley makes it. The fish at Thomasena's is fresh, always fresh, be it whiting or tilapia or swai. Thomasena's also makes fresh burgers and turkey burgers.

"People are loving it," Venice said. "They deserve it. The hood deserves it."

Venice, who told Tyrone why his parents gave him that name, also shared his version of "The Secret." But you have to watch the episode to hear what it is.

From a production standpoint, you'll see how I had to set up the camera atop two cases of Snapple stacked on top of a tall chair. There was a ton of noise inside Thomasena's, so I told Tyrone to speak louder than usual, but he took it a notch higher than even I expected, and yet everything sounded fine by and large because Tyrone's booming voice balanced out the other noises. Also, it was equator-hot inside. Tyrone was sweatin' up a storm, as was I. Relief hit us every few minutes when patrons came through the front door. I also unintentionally appeared in the screen a few times -- at least my hands and arms did -- while trying to take some of the photos you'll see below. Traffic and blocking was a bit herky-jerky as was the lighting, but that's to be expected while shooting on location. Overall I was pleased with the production. I didn't like my still shots too much, though. I couldn't lock into the super-fine focus. I must improve upon my skills.

That said, here are photos from today's episode of the Tyrone Miller Show:

Spring Street

Corner of Spring and Calhoun, across from Thomasena's

Jovan Parham stands in front of the candy section at Thomasena's.

William Roman works prep at Thomasena's

The chef, Donald Riley

Fish oil

Hot fish, hotter sauce


Tyrone has begun his show

Tyrone pays homage to The Trentonian

Tyrone talks with Jeremiah from Bass Brothers Produce, a supplier of Thomasena's

Tyrone holds The Trentonian

Venice Johnson said people in his hood deserve a place like Thomasena's

Venice's right hand

Venice touts a fresh batch of fried fish and grits

A Trentonian celebrating a Trentonian

Tyrone interviews Roman

"The Mayor" in his Timbs touts his new CD

An older patron and his long, long ... long nails

My swai and grits. Outstanding food. Satisfied belly.

A man named Frank who was walking on Calhoun toward Spring

A woman named Tyhera who said she runs the block

Venice Johnson grew up on that side of Spring Street

Then moved to this side of Spring Street

Tyrone, always with his arm around a guest. Great guy.

A man and his business castle: Venice in front of Thomasena's Takeout

And now here is Episode 4 of The Tyrone Miller Show: