July 10, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
LIFE'S A FUNNY thing. I forget who said that, but that's exactly how they said it. Some real old-timer baseball player or boxer, I think. Probably boxer, because a baseball player would have to take an awful lot of beanballs to the bean or foul tips off the mask to get all the verbs knocked out of them, even "is."
My point is that just when you finish scratching your head down to the bone over one of life's big mysteries, such as Who Let the Dogs Out, here comes another one. One day, for example, I just all of a sudden had it all worked out. Finally: the meaning of life, the meaninglessness of life, what to do about my mom, money, taxes, love. There it all was, after two too many cups of coffee, revealed to me like I was my own personal Moses or something. I had me a philosophy of life, in other words. In other words: for a change, shit made sense.
Next day I'm bent over a four-piece chicken dinner wondering how in the hell three pieces of a four-piece chicken dinner can have bones in them and the other one doesn't. The other one, the breast (by the process of elimination), looks less like a chicken breast than a fire-sale-sold peewee catcher's mitt, rounded and pounded and breaded in an entirely different breading than the rest of the half of the bird.
Do you understand what I'm saying? This is fried chicken I'm talking about. This is not soup and sandwiches. And if fried chicken doesn't equal life itself, then I don't know what does. So where the fuck is the bone to that chicken breast? That's what I'm saying.
I'm not naive. I realize that when you sit down in a restaurant (especially one of the ones I like) and order half of a chicken, you're not necessarily going to be eating a whole half of one single chicken. Especially if it's fried chicken, because fried chicken always comes in parts and pieces. I'm down with that.
And if the cooker batters up three of them and then runs out of batter and has to shake up something else real quick, that's cool too. Even if that piece, the breast, comes out dry inside ... white meat'll do that. That's why you leave the bone in, and that's what worries my whiskers here, because bones don't just fall out.
There's got to be an explanation maybe even a good one. But I'll be damned if I know what it is, and until I do I'm going to have to recommend you to stick with the fish if you ever go to Gramtee's soul food place in Oakland.
I don't mind recommending you to go there, even though they wouldn't let my brother use the bathroom (but that's another mystery), because it's a great place with great big plates of food. Great places and big plates are two things I'll stand behind, and anyway my brother says he didn't have to go that bad.
Phenomenon's the one who clued me to Gramtee's from the get-go. Showed up to practice one night with enough leftover snapper to feed a horn section provided at least some of them had already eaten.
So another night, before practice, me and him and Crawdad stopped in for dinner. We knew to only order two things, and those were fried chickens and fried fishes catfish this time. For a whopping total of $20, counting the extra side of mac and cheese, we stuffed the three of us and then me again for lunch next day. So that's 4 into 20 equals 5. That's cheap.
You get two sides with a fish order, two with a chicken dinner, plus two big corn bread muffins. Get greens and get yams. Don't bother with the beans or mac and cheese. And I don't know what to tell you about pork chops, oxtails, burgers, or breakfasts (served until 11, weekend mornings).
I do know this: for the size of the place, which is very small (a five-seat counter and five or six tables), Gramtee's has the movingest air of any restaurant in restaurant history. Four ceiling fans, a stand-up oscillator, and two little mini window fans. That's one, two, three ... I lost count. Anyway, Gramtee's has more fans than the A's do.
But the best atmospheric touch is outside on the sidewalk, where it smells exactly like Gravy's. Unfortunately, the invocation to the king stops there. Inside, while the fried snapper and catfish are about as close to perfect as you can get (without being Gravy's itself), the mysterious chicken and bland sides fall way short.
Gramtee's. 906 Stanford Ave. (at 59th St.), Oakl. (510) 655-8454. Wed.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Takeout available. No alcohol. Credit cards not accepted. Not wheelchair accessible. Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).