Looming question marks -- and Looney's Southern BBQ
CHEAP EATS There's something reassuring about this, that, blink, 15 years later there's still a line outside Kate's Kitchen on Sunday morning. And they still haven't figured out how to make home fries taste like anything. And their homemade sausage patties are still only slightly more flavorful than hockey pucks but not nearly as succulent. And I will still wait in line for half an hour to eat there.
The good news is I won't have to do so again until 2024, at my current rate of amnesia.
There's more good news. I'd scored a goal in a soccer game that same Sunday morning, so while the Maze and me were waiting, he in his bicycle sweat and me in my soccer stink, I got to describe this great goal in great detail, the ins and outs, overs and unders, the intricacies, the outricacies ... there was all the time in the world.
Having seen me play soccer before, the lucky fuck, my Maze's amazement was palpable. His forehead wrinkling into a labyrinth of wonder, he asked, "You didn't get lonely?"
Now, to appreciate the excellence of this question, one would have to be an avid Cheap Eats reader, which I'm not. So he had to explain it to me, but I don't have the time to explain it to you because, contrary to all appearances to the contrary, this is not a review of Kate's Kitchen, and we haven't even sat down yet. Suffice to say, it was a good question, and the answer was, no, I didn't get lonely.
"Were you nervous you would miss?"
"I wasn't nervous," I said. "I was sure I would miss." Have I explained this already, to you nonathletes? There's the zone, see, and then there's the no-zone, and the cool thing is that in either of them anything at all is possible.
"Your table's ready" ... for example.
It was so loud inside Kate's that a little kid was holding his ears. It was so loud that, once seated, I kind of wished we were still standing outside on the sidewalk. And that was before our food was served.
Another thing about this day was that it was the San Francisco Marathon. So the Maze and me were not the only sweaty smelly people in town. We'd watched some of them staggering along Haight Street, way after the fact, looking like death and saying, "Thank you. Thank you." Because everyone was congratuutf8g them. Marathoners inspire me, too. Big time. I wanted to pat them on the back, but was afraid they might fall over.
The Maze tried to explain bike racing to me. The last stage of the Tour de France was that day, too, and he'd been watching and following it. These 'uns ride 100-plus miles a day for weeks and there are mountains and sprints and teams and packs and stages, and all I kept thinking about, the whole time he was talking, was their butts.
But that night we watched a little bit of it on his computer, and I thought I understood. Bike racing, like any other sport, has stories in it. And that's what makes it, and life, interesting. I think it was a Damon Runyon character who used to say this, about horses: "There's a story goes with it."
I say that sometimes about a restaurant. Maybe it's what used to be there before this place. Maybe it's something important that happened to you, like divorce. Or a particularly transcendent chili.
Looney's in Berkeley just opened a second Looney's in Oakland, on MLK Blvd., making it the closest barbecue to my house. I go by it many times a week. I've eaten their pulled pork sandwich, and french fries, and I've studied their menu, which is extensive for a barbecue joint and expensive, for a barbecue joint. I've sampled a few of their many sauces, but I still don't know their story. Sign says they were voted Alameda County's best barbecue. Really??? I might eat there four more times this week, in the company of 12 more question marks. They have a lunch buffet, beef stroganoff, and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls.
Something tells me they ain't going to make it until 2024. Help me understand.
LOONEY'S SOUTHERN BBQ
Daily: 11 a.m.10 p.m.
5319 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Oakl.
L.E. Leone's new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.