by Dan Leone
the pretty salads
DAMN, MAN , I drive all the way to fucking Vallejo yesterday
to look at a van like my ex-one, Rocco (R.I.P.), and I'd have had to
laugh if it weren't for the all-out dark-as-a-dungeon depression. Thing's
got a flat tire and no air in the spare. He brings out a battery charger
to get it started. Runs great! But a test drive on three wheels strikes
me as ... well, it just doesn't strike me, I guess, to be honest. Completely
gutted inside, no back seats, shredded front ones, anything remotely
electrical has been removed from the dash, and not even the little lever
that opens the little gas-fill door works. Did I mention the steering
wheel was twisted at a rakish, jaunty, devil-may-care angle, so that
any driver with any kind of a spine would require chiropractic adjustments
every 50 miles or so?
So, OK, bought it ...
Just kidding. I could have strangled the guy. I wanted to, but didn't,
but only out of consideration for the possibility that he'd have strangled
I'd also like to strangle Norman the Insurance Man, who values my spectacular
ex-van at $500 less than Mr. Vallejo values his piece of crap.
And, finally, so long as we're strangling things, I'd like to strangle
the city of Vallejo for not having any funky-looking dive restaurants
for me to duck into and drown my sorrows, starving as I was. Not that
I exhausted all the possible side streets. Not that I exhausted any
of them, actually. But all I saw on my beeline back to Highway 37 was
fast food, fast food, and fast food. I'd rather fast.
Anyway, I already have a place to tell you about: Great City Deli.
It's great. It's on the corner of Divisadero and Bush. You'll see a
sign says, "King of Falafel," and "Billy Award Winner,"
and "Bud's Ice Cream." Inside it's bustling (at lunch time,
at least) and bright, with big windows and a tall ceiling. Classic deli-style
decor, meaning basically none. There's a TV on a stand in the back corner
and an open indoor window up above, in which a guy was chopping stuff.
The cooking gets done down below, behind the counter where you order
and the glass display case of all the pretty salads and stuff.
Hummus, shawarma, kabobs, sandwiches ... everything goes for under
or barely over five bucks. And they do it up with character. I ordered
a large falafel ($4.50), thinking "King of Falafel," and I
asked for tabbouleh on it instead of hummus and tahini. They gave me
all three, no extra charge. But the woman behind the counter couldn't
get the credit card machine to work, and the guy helping her didn't
seem to know what to do, either. They bickered and laughed at themselves
and rolled their eyes at each other, and finally she said, "We
have to wait for my son to get here. He'll fix it, and then you can
sign. Sit down and eat."
I sat down and ate. I should tell you that I love falafel. You wouldn't
know this about me because I never eat it, even though it's generally
cheap and definitely eats. Reason why is because, no matter how much
I love it, it always gives me a big bellyache later. Don't know if that's
the chickpeas talking, the friedness, or the combination.
In any case, Great City's falafel, while no exception to the laws of
gastro-personal repercussivity (as I realized five or six hours later),
was great. It was not at all dry, like falafel sometimes is. The hummus
and tahini did not drown out or sog down the whole deal, as they sometimes
do. The bonus tabbouleh was excellent, and, speaking of bonus, one little
piece of meat even managed to find its way inside the grilled pita pocket!
But maybe I shouldn't mention that.
But I already did, so just shut up and plug your ears, vegetarians.
Which ... why are you reading this column, anyway?
Anyway, the son showed up and figured out the credit card machine,
and he turned out to be as much of a character as mom, if not more of
one. One of those giant dudes with one of those mean looking physiques
and one of those deep, gravelly voices all of which somehow manage
to add up to about as pleasant and lighthearted a disposition as you
could ever hope to find behind a counter in a place. Every time I looked
over he was smiling sweetly or joking around with someone.
The Billy Award, by the way, means that Bill Mandel, of the San
Francisco Examiner, swears by the place. Put me on board, too.
Great City Deli. 1801 Divisadero (at Bush), S.F. (415) 931-5455.
Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Takeout available. Beer
and wine. American Express, MasterCard, Visa. 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).