CHEAP EATS Let's see, last week I ate at TJ's Gingerbread House in West Oakland, and it wasn't cheap eats because it was dinnertime on Georgie Bundle's birthday. He'd always wanted to go there. As have I, and as has anyone else who rides BART and looks out the window.
Unless you have a very, very special occasion — which, if you don't know Georgie Bundle I can't even imagine what such a thing might be — satisfy your curiosity over breakfast. Get this: a salmon croquette, two scrambled eggs, grits, fruit salad, and orange juice for $6.95.
That's good. Lunch is ... reasonable. You can get jambalaya for $10.95, or crawfish pie, red beans and rice, or dirty rice for under 10.
The jambalaya's great. Dinnertime: $24.95!!!
So: not cheap eats, like I said. Moving right along. Another place I ate last week was I had boat sushi at Sushi Boat downtown. Earl Butter talked me into this. If I hadn't been sitting in the sun since eight in the morning on Hippy Hill, drinking free coffee and watching my new favorite surf band, the Del Mars, my brain might not have been sufficiently addled. But it was. Maybe it was all the surfy sounds that made me susceptible. Any case, I don't regret it, because sushi, as always, hit the spot. But ... not cheap eats.
Of course, sushi never exactly is cheap eats, give or take No Name Sushi. So what am I supposed to do, never ever write about sushi?
Earl Butter — what a card! First, during the tugging-on-my-sleeve portion of the enterprise, he insists to me that boat sushi is as cheap as No Name. I don't believe him. He insists. I still don't believe him.
But he continues to insist until, after we've finally found parking downtown and are hoofing the 37 blocks to Geary and whatever, he acknowledges that, oh, by the way, he hasn't been there since the ’90s, when he worked for Chuck Schwab and was generally flush. Whereas now he's a retired cabbie toiling tenuously for my little brother and only eating, I sometimes think, when I feed him.
So it's a little before noon on a Sunday, and while everyone else in the world is lined up out the door at all my favorite Sunday breakfast spots, like Just For You and, um, Just For You, me and Earl rock right into Sushi Boat, roll down the stairs, and buddy up to the counter, where the boats are docked — just setting there, no cargo, no go. We're the only ones there.
They seem to want us to order from the menu. But that defeats the purpose of boat sushi: to pull good-looking plates of sushi willy-nilly and at random from the cute little wooden boats as they circle around the moat. This is great fun for small children and Earl Butter, but I can see the restaurant's point too: why would they want to prepare all kinds of random sushi plates for two clowns to pick a few, on whims, and then have to throw everything else away if nobody else shows?
After hours of intense talks, threats, and heated negotiation (or, in the real world, about a half minute of pointing and one-word sentences) Earl Butter and our waitressperson have reached a historic compromise: they will set the boats a-spinning, and we will order from the menu. The boats are just atmosphere.
By the time we're done eating, however, there are a couple other pairs of people sitting around the counter, and the sushi chefs are starting to load cargo into the boats. So, instead of being done eating, we eat more.
Good, but not cheap eats.
Anyway, what I really wanted to tell you about was the amazing rooftop party I went to in the Tenderloin, where my new hero, a cat named Jerry, cooked this incredible load of paella — on a Weber! Watching that happen, and then getting some, was the highlight of my weekend, if not the whole summer so far.
But I only have space left to induct Jan Swearingsomething into the Cheap Eats Hall of Fame for inviting me.