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Friday, May 05, 2006

Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood

You know, the San Francisco Bay Area really has such a great foodie scene.

I mean, if you just look at the sheer number of food-related blogs that originate from here, some of which rank very high on the food blog chain, you'll realize that we Bay Areans (ok, bad choice of words) loves us some grub.

While there are many notable foodie thingys about the Bay Area, like

- a prestigious (despite some legitimate criticisms) Food Section in our largest daily paper
- amazing Farmers' Markets
- a crazy number of restaurants per capita, some of them hidden
- several culinary schools and ongoing classes
- unique, region-specific foods and dishes
- innovators in the organic food movement
- and innovative chefs and authors,

one new and notable development is the rise of a new species of foodie referred to as the Locavore.

And since many of these Locavores are also bloggers, well it was only inevitable that an Eat Local Challenge would strike the food blogosphere with a resounding clang. Last August, I think it was, was the first Eat Local Challenge, followed by a very unsuccessful "Eat Uncomfortable Challenge" put forth by yours truly at Bacon Press. You could say I was given as much attention from the food blogger status quo as Stephen Colbert was by the MSM following that dinner last Saturday night.

But I'm not bitter!

Anyway. While I think, for the most part, it's a worthy goal, Theme Months are beginning to take on the air of kitsch. I, of course, love kitsch. In fact, I've begun collecting and wearing vintage colognes from the 70s and 80's, such as High Karate, Jovan, Brut, English Leather, Aramis, and Drakkar Noir. I call it Olfactory Retro-Camp.

So, even though I'll often pick up the tomato grown in Tracy rather than Mexico, I'd like to think of myself as an Eat Globally, Shop Locally type of guy.

In otherwords, there ain't no month that I'm going without my bananas, my Roquefort Carles, my Parm, or my sardines. But if I can buy strawberries in front of the field in which they were picked...

Like these were last weekend

...or avocados, eggs, milk, bread, and so on picked, raised, grown, made locally, and I can buy them in an independently owned shop or at least one that has local ties to where I live, then hell yes I'll buy them! But please. Any absolutes on anything or high fallutin preachin' and you'll see me marching in the opposite direction.

As far as preachers and sinners are concerned, I consider myself a lifelong habitual latter, though I've had more than enough good times with the children of the former.

I've already said what I have to say about elitism and "eating locally" on someone else's blog (me = bacon press), so I won't go back over it here.

But I will entertain this notion of an Eat Local Month, if only because it currently jives with an excuse to post about dives that I don't have to venture into the TL or the southern part of the city for. In fact, I can walk 5 minutes down the street and be diving long and deep for your reading pleasure.

Thus I present to you:

DIVE's Eat Local Challenge
A month of eating and reviewing dives within the author's immediate neighborhood so that he can come back home, type this shit up, and get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Some background on my immediate neighborhood:

I live in the area that consists of the southern half of Rincon Hill, South Park, and Tar Flats (a term no longer used in the local vernacular). This neighborhood in the last decade has taken on the nickname Multimedia Gulch.

There is a deep and rich history to this area, starting with the fact that it was home to the first wealthy enclave in San Francisco, as well as the first slum. These days we have a fair mix of both. There are neglected streets here where the concrete has been worn away reveal the original brick foundations...

...and that are used predominantly by high-priced cars of the paleo, nouveau, or in this case, used-to-be riche.

In this area is the former location of the first public school West of the Rockies, which benefitted mostly the poor and orphaned children of Tar Flats.

Rincon Hill was once a magnificent and wealthy enclave...for a short time. A myriad of factors changed it forever into the original skid row of San Francisco, but in a weirdly circular way, it's once again becoming an enclave to the rich. In the 1980s, South Park was a hardcore wino and junkie park. Within a matter of years, in the early 90s, it had significantly gentrified. The flagship of this gentrification, was/is the South Park Café (duck confit with your Night Train, ladies?).

The alley that runs parallel between South Park and Bryant during this period of the late 80s/early 90s was being used at least twice a month for television and movie scenes since it was one of the grittiest, graffitti-ridden (thus, photogenic) alleys in San Francisco.

Jack London was born a few blocks down from where I live at 3rd and Brannan. Recently, Borders Books opened 1 block down in a new mixed-use development consisting of market rate housing (in SF that means $700,000 for 1,100 square feet) and chain retail stores that one can find in any generic suburb. I asked the clerk at Borders why there were no prominent Jack London displays in their local authors' section (being a former bookstore clerk myself) seeing as though his birthplace is right down the street.

The guy didn't even know who I was talking about.

Good thing I didn't mention another Jack - Jack Kerouac. He wrote a lot about this area. He use to work and live and play and write and get in trouble around here. You've read or heard "October in the Railroad Earth", right? I love that piece.

When I think about what he would've felt seeing the Hotel W at Third and Howard (or Little Harlem), I feel as drawn to hit the bottle as hard as he did. Maybe it's a good thing he died early.

But as gentrified as the area has become and is becoming, it still has its, eh hmmm, charm. For one thing, as long as 88 Perry Street exists, there will always be a constant supply of women walking around in SpongeBob SquarePants slippers and stretched-out, stained, white t-shirts while buying cheap liquor at Jacks on the corner of Stillman and 3rd.

Added to that is the fact that the 15 from the Bayview, aka SF's most violent and depressing ghetto, runs towards downtown up 3rd and back on 2nd. Or that two large drop-in shelters for homeless men sit both on 1st and Harrison and 5th and Brannan. The methedone clinic on 3rd and Bryant is gone, although we now have a psychiatric outpatient clinic of the VA, complete with an oversize portrait of W staring from the inside at you, sitting on the eastern corner of 3rd and Harrison.

Of course, there are the bootie clubs (such as the western corner of 3rd and Harrison) that draw 18 and 19 year olds from the Outer Mission and the immediate suburbs into the city every weekend (and some weekdays); the majority whom generally are well-behaved except for the occasional graffiti, the drunken screaming, bottles of Hennessy and Bombay Saphire strewn about, and the endless stream of broken glass from car windows caused by petty thieves who prey on the weekenders.

Jack's Market, the neighborhood flagship of sin which has the dubious honor as the one-stop-shop vice market on 3rd, has it's own interesting history. For years it was owned by a short, fat Jewish guy named Maz whose claim to fame was that he starred in a California Grapes commercial where he was dressed in a bellboy's uniform holding a tray of grapes. Afterwards, he had a picture of himself from the commercial taped up to the register. He would also always take your last coin and roll it on edge when he'd give you your change. Apparently, from what I've been told, Maz was also too busy to excuse himself to pee and had a trough sitting below his seat where he sat at the register.

I found out this interesting fact out from the new owners...Palestinians. In an interesting twist of Arab/Jewish cooperation and equitable land swapping, Maz had sold Jack's to a group of Palestinian men whom I've grown to know as Mazen, Mahmoud, and...oh, now I forget his name, but it should've been "Buddy", cause that's what he called everyone else.

Mazen and Buddy have moved on and at first I wasn't sure if they had joined the Intifada or what (ok, stereotype, I know), but recently I saw both of them in business suits looking like they were moving up in the world of convenience store ownership. This was a startling change from years of seeing both in raggedy blue jeans and white undershirts. I was happy, to say the least, that they hadn't travelled back to join in the struggle.

Now Mahmoud, the guy I previously referred to as "The Oaf", runs the joint with his sometimes Asian girlfriend and a young, but super-nice, fella by the name of Khalid. Now that I've gotten to know him better, I no longer think of Mahmoud as an oaf, and he's actually helped me out when I've been stupid myself.

The neighborhood lowlifes now latch on to them like they did Buddy and Mazen and it seems as though things never change, although the introduction of the young kid and the Asian lady has provided some relaxation. Buddy and Mazen were always no-nonsense, straight-up, "what'll you have" business. It took me years to get acknowledged as something other than a crack whore by them.

Mazen always loved to talk about politics. He was the smartest one of the bunch. Buddy...well, Buddy was nice, but I wouldn't trust him to deliver my mail. But if you ever needed malt liquor, cigarettes, rolling papers, plenty of porn mags, a lotto ticket, and a bottle of Ginseng Royal Jelly, which you can smoke your rocks out of now that those Miniature Roses have been cracked down on, he's your guy.

During the crazy real-estate speculation phase that accompanied the dot-com boom, I thanked the bums and crazies everyday, often giving out money to make sure they stayed on my street. Call it what you will: It was my form of housing security. It seemed like everyone was being evicted in those days, and of course, many were. Even the sweatshops on my street were forced out. And now that it's gaining strength again, these bums may be the frontline against a economic assault that will eventually cleanse, ethnically or otherwise, the neighborhood.

But, for now, they're still here and thankfully so am I.



At 5:06 PM, Blogger Kris Ardent said...

Could we see a map containing the boundaries of your eating neighborhood, or is it fuzzier than that?

I recommend Linda's Place on Mission near First, for the Pad Thai.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Dive said...


I've been inside of Linda's but have never eaten there. I'll have to try the pad thai.

I'd say the borders are (to the north) Folsom between 2nd and 4th and (to the south) Townsend between 2nd and 4th, though I'll be willing to extend those for a very special dive.

Would you consider Linda's dive worthy?


At 6:03 AM, Blogger Kris Ardent said...

Linda's is totally dive worthy. Even drive worthy.

Although I've only had the Pad Thai, they seem to have a great variety of Chinese/Thai/vaguely Asian dishes. The Pad Thai is a little greasy (an office mate would use paper towels to sop up some of the red grease before diving in), but the flavor is perfect, with crispy mung bean sprouts, sliced lemon, and always one shrimp. Just one. Chicken or "vegetarian" available, but still with one shrimp. And you can skip the bean sprouts if you want.

It's always packed with financial district folks at lunch time, eating a great variety of dishes. The lady behind the counter (Linda?) has a great memory for regulars, and a lovely smile. The floor is dingy, the signs handmade, the tables and chairs kinda shabby hotel banquet room-ish, and they only take cash.

Mmm. I'm missing it right now.


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