Frugal feasts - Page 2

Our resident budget gourmet picks the best of the Bay's thrifty dishes
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Penny of Penny's Carribean Cafe
Photo by Charles Russo

I love them beyond numbers, alphabets, art, or laws of gravity and with all my hollow heart, until death do us part and then some.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN WINGS AT MEMPHIS MINNIE'S

There's this thing in folk music or blues, right, or ... I don't know where it comes from originally, but you have to have heard at least one take on it: "When I die, don't bury me at all/ Just pickle my bones in alcohol/ Put bottles of whiskey at my head and feet/ And then I know that I will keep."

My song substitutes butter for alcohol, of course, but in real life, between me and you, I would prefer to be preserved in barbecue sauce. I just couldn't think of anything that rhymes with it.

Since Cliff's closed, my go-to rib joint has been Memphis Minnie's in San Francisco, only I don't get no ribs. And — surprise — I don't much care for any of the three kinds of sauce they keep on the tables either. If you mix the so-so vinegar-based one with the so-so tomato-based one, that'll put you somewhere between North Carolina and Texas, or in other words, Birmingham, Ala., which has fine barbecue, but Christ, Flint's is just over the bridge in Oakland. If you want ribs or brisket, go to Flint's.

But if you want chicken wings, and I, for one, do, Memphis Minnie's not only has you covered, it's got you covered in the best barbecue sauce I know of right now. It's sticky, a little bit sweet, and a lot hot, and why it ain't in bottles on the tables with the so-so ones is for better minds than mine to figure out.

You have to order the Smoky Mountain Wings if you want that particular sauce. If you don't want the wings, get them anyway and lick and suck them dry. Chicken is hit or miss at barbecue joints, I know. But two out of every three times, you do want the wings. They're smoked and fried, for crying out loud — on the starters menu for $5.75. Order them twice, if you must, or once, with a side of my favorite slaw (no mayo!) and a big glass of sweet tea.

Who the hell else serves sweet tea around here? That in itself would make Memphis Minnie's one of my favorite favorite restaurants. The Smoky Mountain flap-flaps just seal the deal. And the tart and tangy slaw sweetens — or sours — it.

576 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7675, www.memphisminnies.com

MARINATED RAW BEEF AT LE CHEVAL

Now, I've been carrying on for years about fried barbecued chicken, or barbecued fried chicken (which is the order I do it in). But actually, my all-time favorite favorite way to cook meat is not to cook it, not even once.

I'm thinking specifically about that raw beef salad you sometimes find at Vietnamese restaurants. At Le Cheval, which is just a great place, period (although not undiscovered), the bò tái chanh ($9) will make you fly out of your seat and zip willy-rip-snort all over the place's considerable atmosphere like a blown-up-and-let-go balloon. I'm speaking figuratively. Although, if you're a vegetarian, you might in fact have visions.

Otherwise, expect to be instantly hooked and almost explosively happy when your teeth and tongue hit this thin-sliced, lemon-drenched meat, with 1) cilantro, 2) mint, 3) ginger, and 4) onions. I mean, come on. It's almost not fair to stack the deck like that. These are, if not the essential elements of our universe, the exact ingredients that make it wacky and wonderful and that cause the people in it to have to sing. Cilantro, mint, ginger, onions, lemons.

Not to mention peanuts and sesame.

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