February 19, 2003

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PLACE A CLASSIFIED AD |PERSONALS | MOVIE CLOCK | REP CLOCK | SEARCH

Cheap Eats
by Dan Leone

The bad luck club

LAST WEEK WAS just a bad luck week for me, starting out with broken glasses and ending up on crutches. In between I had to throw one of my shoes at a hawk for trying to make love with one of my chickens. Never did find the shoe, and I couldn't lift my arm up afterwards, on account of no glasses and not warming up properly, respectively.

All week all else I did, best as I can remember, was reglue and rebreak my glasses about 85 times, until finally I remembered the teachings of my old Zen guru, Roy, and smashed the motherfuckers with a sledgehammer. Seven to 10 business days before Costco comes through with the new ones, and as for my deboned calf muscle, I'm on the 21-day disabled list, Doc says, best-case scenario. Worst case scenario: Doc's right.

Between you and me, I plan to be playing ball again next weekend, even if I have to play on crutches. You ever been on crutches? Me neither, until now. One thing: people are nice to you. They open doors, get out of your way, smile. I'm thinking a feller could score some goals this way. "Excuse me. Coming through."

I'm eating good. That's something else. Crawdad made a gigantic pot of consolation gumbo, and then our neighbors invited us over for jambalaya, with shrimp and chicken and sausage – and they're vegetarians! But as far as eating out goes, as far as I've been able to get, on crutches, is downtown Sebastopol, to the world-famous Pine Cone Restaurant. And I say "world-famous" even though I live in Sebastopol and never knew about the Pine Cone, because last weekend, before bad luck knocked me over, I was sitting around at John's Ocean Beach Café with a bunch of soccer players talking about soccer and chickens and Sebastopol and someone said, I bet you probably hang out at the Pine Cone, and someone else said, Oh, I love the Pine Cone. And this was in San Francisco, so if they're talking about the Pine Cone in San Francisco, I call that world-famous.

And so I said, Oh, yeah, the Pine Cone – I go there all the time. Because what kind of a Cheap Eats Guy wouldn't even know about a world-famous diner in his own backyard, so to speak?

The Pine Cone Restaurant. It's right downtown on North Main Street, must've drove by it a million times on my way back and forth from the feed store, never even noticed the 45-year-old "Fountain, Good Food" sign. Or maybe I did notice it, only no one ever opened the door for me. There's something about someone holding open a door for you.... Ladies know. You feel welcome. You feel like you exist.

And then the waitressperson starts cracking every joke in the book, while you're still finding your place at the counter, making you feel even more welcome and existential. To the customer at the cash register: "You see what I did to the last wise guy give me a hard time?"

To me: "How'd you do it?"

Soccer.

"Shoulda waited till you was at work."

Some waitressperson. Chatty as all get-out, and just right, in other words, for an old-time diner in downtown Sebastopol.

Chicken-fried steak is $5.95 with eggs and potatoes and toast (or one biscuit), and she made me promise not to tell anyone she let me get two biscuits instead of eggs, so I ain't saying nothing ... except what's she worried about, because who in their right mind would rather have one more biscuit than two eggs?

A) a chicken farmer who eats fresh-laid free-range ones every day. Last thing in the world I'll ever order in a restaurant again is eggs.

But getting back to the point, the chicken-fried was top-notch – a pretty good-size slab of beef, cubed, or whatever that's called, and battered, and cooked to a curl, so that it held onto the gravy like a canoe. You couldn't ask more of a chicken-fried steak.

The potatoes weren't nothing to write home about, but they were just fine. And the biscuits were good, although they'd've been even better with a big pile of that gravy on them.

Here's something you don't often hear in diners: "French roast or Colombian?"

Otherwise, it's a classic: the counter, the high-back booths, row of colorful cereal boxes up top of the ice-cream-a-ma-jig, brick wall with standard diner prints, and behind the counter a big mirror embossed with an apple orchard probably fixing to turn into grape vines.

I'm going. Somebody get the door.

Pine Cone Restaurant. 162 N. Main (at McKinley Ave.), Sebastopol. (707) 823-1375. Daily, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Takeout available. No alcohol. Credit cards not accepted. 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).