Tuesday, March 15, 2011

IEM Session #15.7

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(continued from 15.6)

Eating Day: For the last time, April 29, 2010

TOMM'S- 3446 Market St- 6:54pm- $5.99

EVERETT AND JONES- 3700 E. 12th. St- 7:19pm- $8.60

I dropped Vinnie off at MacArthur BART. He had apparently had his fill of watching someone old enough to be his father eat barbecued beef. I think he chose wisely, as I was now filling my surroundings with a veil of gaseous despair. The stench was reminiscent of the time I inadvertently left a Quarter Pounder under the seat of my car, where it sat to ripen for a fortnight. Vinnie is a young man, a bon vivant, a man about town. He has better things to do than subject himself to the odors of a geriatric fellow-traveler with gluttonous tendencies.

I was able to complete the Phat Matt's sandwich without too much difficulty, but afterwards, I knew I had to pause again. I was now forced to corral two more sandwiches and take them home to finish later
once a modicum of space was freed up in my innards. I had to complete the session before the witching hour, when the only bbq available in town would have been a McRib. I apologize that this method has become a staple of most of the sessions. I realize that taking meals to go, rather than eating them in the restaurant where they were purchased, reduces my chances of witnessing the life-changing scenarios that often occur within a restaurant. But what choice do I have? I am but a man; mere flesh and blood and stomach acid. I can only eat so much. When tasked with the completion of eight meals in one day, I am exposed to the same mortal shortcomings that you are. I simply cannot put away food non-stop while on these excursions. I gorge and I rest. Gorge and rest. These resting periods can last for hours, depending on the day, the food, and portion size. But as I rest, my options start to shrink. Due to the East Bay's hatred of nocturnal dining, at a certain point, ALL of my choices for a featured food will disappear entirely. At 10pm, my appetite may be fully restored, but the point will be moot, because at that hour, there are close to zero options afforded to Oakland gourmands. One can only stockpile during the daylight hours like the Ant in Aesop's Ant and the Grasshopper. Otherwise, come the wee hours, there will be no food available. Starvation will ensue, and the session will be lost. For true comparative purposes, I always try to take at least a taste of each to-go meal immediately after ordering, to ensure that I can experience the food in ideal conditions. I will not penalize an establishment's food for becoming coagulated before I am able to finish it.

If you recall, I had stopped at Tomm's around 10am. It was supposed to be the first stop of the day. Unfortunately, they had no bbq beef available at that time. I wasn't holding my breath when the girl behind the counter said they would have brisket later in the day. I had recently tried Tomm's for the first time. On that visit, I ordered the Jumbo Pork sandwich. It was a god-send. It was huge. It was cheap ($4.69 for a massive sandwich.) It was very Memphis-esque. From that visit, I had high hopes that Tomm's would be a major contender in the bbq beef sweepstakes.

When I returned to Tomm's, almost nine hours after my visit in the morning, I was pleasantly surprised when the girl behind the counter recognized me and said, "We finally have brisket!" Other than the flagship Everett and Jones near Jack London Square, Tomm's is the largest bbq restaurant in Oakland. But it is haphazardly decorated with a lot of space gone to waste. For no apparent reason, there is an old cruiser-style bicycle perched over a massive bank of soft drink coolers- coolers that are only 1/4 filled with drinks. There are also some motel-style paintings here and there and a plastic plant, which a friend described as, "The only plastic plant I've ever seen that looked like it was about to die." Yes, the inside of Tomm's is drab and uninspired. The shop's appearance belies no trace of effort. It has the kind of look you'd expect at a wholesale operation where customers don't come around. But I didn't come there for the atmosphere or to impress gentiles.

The brisket here is as consistent as the pulled pork. I opened up the yellow wrapper and I found a massive pile of beef topped with an even larger pile of coleslaw. I was distended beyond comfort, but I took a single bite of the sandwich so I could sample the creation while it was still warm. The slaw would have been too soupy served a la carte, but it complemented the meat perfectly, soaking into the beef and adding a nice level of tangy creaminess. The meat was a thing of beauty- smokey with lots of crispy ends throughout and a good degree of oily juiciness mingling with the slaw dressing. The bun was a pedestrian store-bought sesame burger bun, but at least it was fresh. The bbq sauce isn't exactly a showstopper here. It's neither sweet, nor hot, nor highly-seasoned. But it doesn't get in the way, either. En toto, Tomm's sandwiches are in the upper echelon of the East Bay bbq world, but the iffy sauce keeps it from reaching perfection.

Everett & Jones, on the other hand, are sauce masters. And they know it. E&J's sauce is sweet and smokey with notes of paprika throughout and just the right amount of garlic. The hot bbq sauce is actually quite spicy on occasion. The sauce is so renowned, that they even sell the stuff at area supermarkets. But they rest on the laurels of their sauce the way the New York Yankees rub their 27 championships in the faces of the world, even during the years the Yankees have a lousy season. There is absolutely no consistency among E&J branches and not much of it within the same location. There is no pulled pork here, but the beef and ribs here are a crapshoot. (Mitch claims that the E&J hot links are always stellar, but I never order those at a barbecue joint, as they don't seem to require the pit expertise needed with pork or beef or ribs.) E&J seems to think that we should just be grateful for their sauce, even if they give you rubbery pieces of what could have been a Pomeranian, along with stale wheat bread. They could at least provide bigger portions of the mysterious offal-like meat, but they generally serve a mere few sinewy strips swimming in the famous sauce. Yes, the sauce is a world-beater, but even it was unable to disguise all of the connective tissue in the Styro container they gave me during this session. My mandible had to work overtime after I took a small bite in the car on the way back home. One might think you'd be more likely to receive low-rent meat at E&J outposts in the hinterlands, but I've had some funky-ass gristle from both the "fancy" location in Jack London and the E&J on San Pablo in Berkeley.

When I arrived home, I was still stuffed, but I knew I'd be able to eat soon. And with less than a pound of sandwiches remaining to polish off, failure was out of the question. After about an hour, I returned to the toilet and produced a single offering- an oblong scat sculpture in the shape of a souvenir mini-football. With the sauce fused with the cold meat and slaw on the Tomm's sandwich, the whole congealed affair was easy to eat- firm like an individual pecan pie. It was gone in less than a minute.

The E&J sandwich, however, was a little more work. It wasn't really a sandwich, but the commonly-seen meat-with-a side-of-wheat bread swimming in sauce. There wasn't much meat, but the excess fat and cartilage was rough work to finish. (I think E&J may be getting their meat from the same place where Pho restaurants get their adventurous cuts.)

My hunger was back, but for how long? Gristle be damned, I had to seize the opportunity. After it became too arduous a task to chew many of the challenging pieces of "meat" I had received, I devised a brilliant strategy. I began taking spoonfuls of sauce and small pieces of the tendon-y stuff and swallowing the whole thing whole. This was how my mother used to get me to take aspirin as a kid, except she used grape jelly instead of barbecue sauce. In a few minutes, the whole unappetizing thing was gone. I didn't even choke to death, due to the lack of chewing. My apologies to the many E&J devotees I know, but I refuse to talk about E&J in the hushed tones you seem to feel it deserves. Until the meat at E&J is as consistent as their sauce, they get no special treatment from me.

The food was gone well before 10pm. I probably could have put down at least three more sandwiches before midnight- if only such a possibility existed in the East Bay. On an Inhuman Eating Machine gorging session, I went to bed not fully satiated! A travesty! New Oakland Mayor Jean Quan needs to get on the stick and create some sort of business incubator that enables me to make a pig out of myself after 9pm. A single IEM session would stimulate the economy so much, an entire elementary school could provide Reading is Fundamental (RIF) for a week.

NEXT WEEK- IEM #16 begins- The Big Salad!


Mitch Cardwell said...

So who holds the East Bay best-in-show bbq beef title?

Chilebrown said...

EJ does have the best sauce. It is actually cheaper to buy it at BevMo than at the Jack London restaurant. EJ Jack London Square was a bad experience unless you like attitude from mediorce meat from rude servers.

Jez said...

That picture from Tomm's made me think someone had cut out their heart and served it to you on a bun. Or else, you coughed up blood into a wrapper.