Tuesday, March 29, 2011

IEM Session #16.2

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(continued from 16.1)

Eating Day: Again, March 19, 2011

ACTUAL CAFE- 6334 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland- 10:40am- Real Big Salad- $7.00

Photo by Tigerlily

Like Tomate, this place had a similar rustic, bohemian bent, except it was appropriately more North Oakland than Berkeley. The clientele was younger than at Tomate. There was a framed t-shirt on the wall reading, "Oakland, CA- Dyke City." The counter lady who took my order had a thicker beard than I have. There was a bike rack (bicycle docking station) on the wall inside the restaurant. As usual, there were lots of sad-looking women who seemed far too mature to have borne the toddlers on their knees. The seating is long, communal, Oliver Twist-style wooden tables and benches. Best of all, there was a sign near the cash register proclaiming weekends as "laptop free." As far as I am concerned, the only thing worse than people loitering at cafes on their laptops is a cafe that tries to appear high and mighty by banning said devices two days a week. In general, Actual Cafe is not the type of place I would normally spend an entire meal on my own volition, but the $7 pricetag for the "Real Big Salad" was a welcome sight. Sadly, I was unable to repudiate this establishment out of hand.

True to its name, this salad was almost twice the size as the Tomate salas. It was built on a bed of mixed greens, with nary a leaf of romaine in sight. The greens were topped with a goodly amount of pickled vegetables (I detected cauliflowers and zucchini), currants, avocado, and toasted almonds, plus some shaved parmesan. Actual offered a choice of three different fruit add-ins: pears, apples, or strawberries. I figured that the berries were the best of these three choices, as they are a relatively "high-percentage fruit," with close to 70% of strawberry specimens being of good to excellent quality. Conversely, pears and apples hover around 50% or lower, depending on variety. The mustard vinaigrette was wonderfully zesty and added some bite to the salad. Even though I really enjoyed the dressing, I was glad Actual did not ladle it on with a heavy hand, as I had forgotten to specify to the bearded lady that I wanted my dressing on the side. It was as if they had read my mind and had administered the correct amount of vinaigrette for my taste.

Under normal conditions, my distaste for the atmosphere and clientele of Actual Cafe would deter me from spending measurable amounts of time on its premises. Food notwithstanding, I would rather sit unnoticed in a filthy noodle outlet in the Eastlake district while the staff and customers look at me suspiciously for daring to cross their threshold. I am not yet sure whether I love Actual's salad more than I hate their conspicuously "progressive" ambiance. If I am ever able to visit on a day when laptops are permitted, however, perhaps I can enjoy their delicious bargain salad immersed in wi-fi pornography or an episode of Murder, She Wrote, unencumbered by the trappings of North Oakland artisanal chumpitude.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

IEM Session #16.1- You Don't Make Friends with Salad

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

I am calling the new format of Inhuman Eating Machine (IEM) a singular success. I published seven entries on seven consecutive Tuesdays- unprecedented regularity in the history of this blog. A couple of naysayers claim that there was more drama in the original format. They feel that the new installment plan eliminates some of the tension present in the previous saga-like configuration. I can understand this assertion, but I have to humbly disagree. The new format is here to stay, my friends. Climb aboard the modern bandwagon of my tales of crapulence, lest ye be left behind.

Let me explain why I feel the new format is a good fit for IEM. Firstly, I am a big fan of episodic adventure stories, be it a three-part account of the Brady Bunch in Hawaii, or a season-long story arc about the Ice Princess diamond on General Hospital. Breaking a story up into episodes leaves me coming back for more to see whether or not Vincent Price viciously disembowels Greg, Peter, and Bobby, and whether Mrs. Garret and Natalie get into a nasty three-way with George (Clooney), the handyman. Also, the installment approach is the only possible way for me to publish IEM on a regular basis. It parses my burden into manageable chunks. I have discovered that I can compose one entry per week with little difficulty. I don't want to curse myself, but with the new format, I can sincerely envision publishing a consistent stream of IEM sessions- one stop per week, a new session every 7-8 weeks. If you prefer to get your IEM in one massive dose, I suggest you wait eight weeks before accessing the blog in order to digest the entire session all at once.

From the previous 15 sessions of IEM, one might make the supposition that I eschew vegetables in favor of fat-laden-carbohydrate-and-greasefests. Yes, in a perfect world, I would probably eat fried starch and meat 5 meals a day for the rest of my life, possibly "forgetting" about the existence of the healthier fruits of the earth. In reality, though, I actually eat quite a bit of roughage. Between IEM sessions, when I am usually trying to maintain or lose weight, the bulk of my diet consists of vegetables. On some days, I eat enough vegetables to get the USRDA of said food group for an entire city block. Alas, vegetables just do not satisfy hunger the way bread or grain or Hot Pockets do. I could eat an entire farm before reaching the satiety I feel after downing a single 20" pizza. Lest it be said that I eat vegetables only out of health obligations, I want it to be known that I actually enjoy almost every vegetable. There must be a vegetable I don't like, but I can't think of one. I gladly eat vegetables as a side order or as a main course. I will even eat them when they accompany something far sexier and flavorful. I would happily devour a colossal pile of steamed cauliflower, even if it shared a plate with a chicken fried steak the size of a manhole cover. If vegetables are served, I am glad to have them- and do not ingest them as a mere health regimen component. After 15 sessions of eating foods containing enough oil to run a city bus for a week, I decided to do a session paying tribute to salad- vegetables in their most obvious setting.

Before I moved to the Bay Area for the third time in 1996, I imagined that people here must be eating salads for every meal. I soon realized that, while there are indeed salads available at many restaurants here, they generally play a supporting role, just like in the rest of the country. The salads here tend to have more exotic ingredients than you'd find in Sheboygan, but in most East Bay locales, you can't really make a full meal out of a salad, especially if you are a disgusting pig like I am. It was actually quite a challenge to compile a sizeable list of eateries who seemed to have an entree-size salad, a "big salad," if you will. If you recall, there are two episodes of Seinfeld where the big salad appears. In the "Big Salad" episode, George becomes irate when he doesn't get adequate credit for paying for Elaine's big salad. In "The Soup," Elaine is upset that she can't get a big salad at Reggie's after the gang can't go to their usual hangout (Monk's), due to George's bumbling.

(Outside of Monk's)
Jerry: We can't eat here anymore, 'cause he took a waitress out for a walk.
: What's the difference? Let's go to Reggie’s.

: Reggie’s? I can't eat anything there.

: It's the same menu.

: There's no “Big Salad.”

: They'll make you a “Big Salad.” What do you think, they're the only one that makes a “Big Salad”?

: All right. Let's go, to Reggie’s.

(At Reggie's)

: I'll have the turkey club without the bacon.

: And I'll have the bacon club without the turkey.

: Can I have a big salad?

: A big salad?

: You see?!

: [irritated] Just tell them what you want. They'll make it for you.

: It's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it.

: I can bring you two small salads.

: Could you put it in a big bowl?

: We don't have big bowls.

: All right, just get me a cup of decaf.

: We have Sanka.

With a pedigree like that, how could I NOT devote an entire session to eating salads with lots of stuff in them?

Eating Day: March 19, 2011

TOMATE- 1998 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley- 9:44am- Simple House Salad w/Tri-Tip (Full) $9.50

Photo by Tigerlily

Before I began this session, I found myself more than 10lbs. heavier than usual. I could tell you that I have been eating unwisely lately, due to new obligations at school and work. I could explain that the session occurred only two days after a St. Patrick's Day party where I ate my weight in corned beef and colcannon. Or, I could use the old standby, "I was retaining water because of my period." Unfortunately, the truth is I am just a disgusting individual who finds it hard to stop eating anything that is not nailed down. With my brain more occupied these days than at any time in the last two years, it was very easy for me to take my eyes off the scale and really let myself go, but if I wasn't such a slave to my stomach, I could have kept myself in check. I probably should have postponed this session until I got back to a reasonable weight, but after seven consecutive weeks of posting IEM, I felt I owed it to you all to keep the streak alive. I rationalized my salad gorging by explaining both of the following to myself:

  1. "They're just salads. It's not like I am doing a session on MILKSHAKES!" (Coming soon!)
  2. With any luck, 90% of the plant-based food ingested during the session will exit the premises of my gastrointestinal system with 24 hours of the session.
  3. If the salads don't jettison themselves in the timely manner I predict, I can always starve myself after the session.
The session began on what seemed like the 943rd consecutive day of rain in the Bay Area. I know I shouldn't complain about a little inclement weather a week after Japan was destroyed and irradiated, but I live in California, where seven days without sunshine seems like an eternity. People commit suicide here for far less. On a cold and rainy day, salad was the last thing I wanted to eat, but the die was already cast. I had been planning the big salad session for months and had done extensive research on the subject. It was far too late to switch the featured food of the session. I picked up my friend Lily, who had decided she wanted to come along and videotape my sojourn. She had accompanied me with her camera on two previous IEM sessions. The first time, along with Chris Anderson, she created the epic torta video. Next, she shot the pupusa session. Footage from that session wound up in D. Silva's Inhuman Eating Machine documentary, which recently screened at the SF Indiefest film festival. I am grateful that she has found it worth her while to provide yet another visual document of my mission.

Tomate is located in an industrial district not far from the Berkeley Marina, populated by warehouses and the galleries of local artists/artisans. The cafe is very "Berkeley" in both its design and clientele. The majority of the customers were middle aged or older; mostly clad in earth tones and sandals. There was ambient electronic music playing softly in the background. The bulletin board was packed with flyers for various causes and performances, like every other cafe in Berkeley. The ceiling has high exposed rafters, which is a nice design feature, but very hard to heat, so I was shocked to find Tomate so warm inside. I was even able to remove my coat, which would have been a near impossibility at any restaurant within the Oakland city limits.

The salad came in an 8" diameter bowl; its contents packed about 2" deep. The base was heavy on the romaine lettuce and light on the fancy mixed greens. The greenery was topped with red onions, cucumber slices, radish coins, shredded carrots, tomato wedges, and alfalfa sprouts. You may remember that I have an aversion to alfalfa sprouts, because they smell exactly like fresh semen. Under normal conditions, I would have ordered the salad sans-sprouts, but for this vege-centric session, I felt it my duty to eat everything they gave me. The vegetables were the bed for what I reckon was no more than 3 ounces of grilled tri-tip beef. The meat was juicy, marinated, and still warm, but a little overdone for my tastes. I took the balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side, like I would for all the salads, provided I remembered to make this specification when ordering. Tomate's vinaigrette was quite good- heavy on the balsamic and garlic added conservatively.

This was supposedly a full-sized entree salad, but unless you're a Berkeley goofball, Tomate's offering is not large enough to constitute an entire meal for anyone who has reached the age of majority. If I wasn't in the midst of a session, I would have been furious with the relative scantiness of this salad. $9.50 is steep for any salad, unless it is loaded with fried chicken, seafood, or a whole steak, but charging such a hefty sum for a sprinkling of meat atop what is scarcely more than a side salad- that is an atrocity!

It would become clear throughout the session that "big" means very little when you discuss the big salad. Unlike a quarter pounder, which must actually contain 1/4 pound of beef (weight prior to cooking), "big" is in the eye of the beholder. A gluten-free Berkeleyite coming to lunch after a high colonic and a game of ultimate frisbee might find this salad substantial, but to the right-thinking people of the real world, there is nothing big about the Tomate simple house salad, other than the price.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

IEM Session #15.8- The BBQ Beef Wrap-Up

Apparently, some IEM readers wanted a list of the BBQ joints I felt were the best. At first, I was gonna say, "Read the damn blog! Which places sound the best to YOU?" I give the people what they want, though, so I have acquiesced and provided you with a Top 3 and Bottom 1 list.

Keep in mind, BBQ around here is inconsistent, especially the meat component of the BBQ. A place with good product today could be iffy tomorrow. And vice versa.

TOP 3 BBQ Beef Sandwiches (On April 29, 2010)

1. Elve's

2. Maggie Ray's

3. Tomm's

Last Place:

Old South

If you want to read the whole damn episode at once, here are links to all eight stops in chronological order.

  1. Chef Edwards
  2. Uncle Willie's
  3. Elve's
  4. Maggie Ray's
  5. Old South
  6. Phatt Matt
  7. Tomm's/Everett & Jones

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!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

IEM Session #15.6

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(continued from

Eating Day: Yet again, April 29, 2010

PHAT MATT- 3415 Telegraph Ave.- 6:20pm- $8.00

I took the remains of the Old South sandwich back to Mitch and Clark's place. Vinnie, Mitch, and I sat on the couch watching a marathon of Tool Academy. As I slipped in and out of consciousness, I kept wondering, "Why can't they bring back The Pick-Up Artist?" We sat in silence for close to 3 hours in total when I began to get antsy to return to the session before every bbq joint in the East Bay closed its doors before I had a chance to visit eight establishments. Unfortunately, I was still quite full and in no condition to eat additional sandwiches. After another few minutes, kismet sent a shockwave through my guts. It was as if I had swallowed a taser set to "auto-fire." I was doubling over in pain. I rushed to Clark's bathroom, disengaging my belt and pants as I ran.

I began my bombardment before I could fully mount the seat. A mix of brown foam spewed forth like the Red Sea drowning the Egyptians in The Ten Commandments, along with a trio of graven images. The resulting product brought to mind three self-immolated Russ© troll dolls drowning in roast beef gravy. This was a fecal spectacle to behold, but its slushy nature did little to relieve the pressure in my internal beef bag. I was slightly less stuffed than before I had initiated my onslaught, but I knew I would be unable to eat with much vigor. Regardless, I had to take advantage of this brief interlude from utter agony.

Phat Matt's recently took over a space with a long bbq pedigree. For many years, this storefront was the site of an Everett and Jones location. I ate at that particular E&J branch a mere three times or so, but it always struck me as one of the weaker E&J outposts. In addition to some very inconsistent meat, the place was almost always empty. Oakland had clearly decided there were far better E&J restaurants to visit. After Everett and Jones had left the building, the place was vacant for a couple of years. For a few months, it was the home of Smokey Blues, a bbq spot that tried to go "upscale." Like the Jack London Everett and Jones, Smokey Blues had a full bar and live music on some nights. On my sole visit to Smokey Blues', the meat was cold and incredibly fatty and the sauce was unremarkable. I intended to give them a chance to redeem themselves, but they closed before I could return.

The space was empty again for a year or so before Phat Matt came in. Apparently, Phatt Matt's modus operandi is to provide many different regional bbq styles. They have Memphis-style pork ribs, "N. Carolina- style pulled pork," "marinated tri-tip" (California), and Texas-style brisket. On the surface, this concept seems a noble undertaking, but it is usually a bad idea to try and do too much in the bbq biz. It's hard enough to get one style of bbq right, let alone four. According to their menu, Phat Matt's is run by a couple who have been married for 20 years and partners in barbecue for six. The dude (Matt) runs the smoker and the wife (Charlotte) runs the front of the house. Charlotte, who calls everybody "sweetheart," seems genuinely glad to be running this business. If you live anywhere outside of Oakland, it might seem strange to mention this fact. In Oakland, though, many mom-and-pops are staffed by people whose demeanor says, "I'd rather have a root canal than converse with and serve food to strangers."

I greatly appreciated Charlotte's sunny disposition, but the brisket sandwich she brought me was a letdown. The sauce was cold and tasted mostly of garlic. I like garlic in bbq sauce, but it shouldn't be the predominant flavor. Next, I noticed that the thick-cut brisket was dry and not juicy in the least. It was gamey-tasting and lacked any trace of smoke. It was so gamey, in fact, that the gaminess even overwhelmed the garlic-laden sauce. The whole mess was served on a flattened hamburger bun that looked as if it had spent time in somebody's back pocket. If they last long enough, I will eventually give this place another chance. The proprietors are too enthusiastic to be dismissed out of hand. Perhaps they're just getting their sea legs. My next visit might yield better beef and sauce. And it's possible they excel with the other regional bbq styles.

But what if Matt's is a victim of a barbecue curse particular to 3415 Telegraph Avenue? They may never figure out how to make stellar barbecue in that building if it was built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground or a vegan outhouse. If a curse precludes them from success in this building, they might consider a move elsewhere in order to excel at their craft. I suggest the next tenants of this address consider opening a nail salon, a weave shop, or a Korean restaurant. It would take a lot more than a common curse to stop these Telegraph Ave. stalwarts.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

IEM Session #15.5

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

(continued from 15.4)

Eating Day: April 29, 2010, yet again

OLD SOUTH- 4115 Concord Blvd, Concord- 2:22pm- $6.50

My gut was seriously taxed, yet I felt I had least one more portion of meat in me before I would be forced to take myself out of the game for a while. Concord is not geographically far from Alamo, but it is a world away from Alamo and its fancy-pants counterparts, San Ramon and Walnut Creek. Concord is full of trashy girls and tweakers and heshers and middle class families dressed without flair. There are plenty of "ethnics" here, too, so the prospects for good bbq here didn't seem as unlikely as in Alamo.

Old South is in an older strip shopping center. In urban settings, you generally don't expect much from eating establishments in strip malls. In the 'burbs, though, strip malls are everywhere, so you're as likely to find interesting grub in a strip mall as in a free standing eatery with "character." In fact, a lot of suburban strip malls are now so old and decrepit, they're starting to become "vintage" themselves. Old South is a clean, orderly place, with dated (not vintage) decor. The proprietors are black folks. They were playing good R&B. The brisket sandwich was the second cheapest I encountered. All of these elements boded well for an "authentic bbq experience," but if this is what authentic bbq entails, you can keep it, because this was some shoddy meat. It was cut too thin. It was more like a Steak-Um than brisket. And it came on a french roll that was far too crusty for this super-thin meat. You couldn't tell where the bread ended and the meat began. Old South's sauce was the hottest I ate during the session. I like my bbq sauce ludicrously spicy, so this should have been sufficient to garner some serious points from me, but with barbecue sauce, you should be able to taste something other than hot- even when the sauce is excruciating. Where was the garlic and paprika? Where was the sweetness?

A few bites into this sandwich and I was stopped in my tracks. I simply could not eat another bite. Beefy daggers were impaling me from within. This lackluster barbecue did nothing to spur me on to conquer my fullness. When I felt what I thought were nascent fecal twinges, I availed myself of Old South's clean, one-person restroom. I was hoping to clear enough space to allow me to finish the sandwich here and maybe even make one more attempt in Concord. I strained as I read an old copy of Jet with Steve Harvey featured on the cover. With Steve's help, I coaxed out roughly one tablespoon of a substance that was the color and consistency of store brand strawberry preserves. This minor seepage did nothing to allay my fullness. In fact, the stress exerted on my exhaust pipe made me feel even more miserable than before I had tried to take care of business. Clearly, I would have to take the Old South sandwich back to Oakland and work on it later.

During my sojourn to Contra Costa, the whitest of white barbecue joints soundly beat a place that seemed as genuine as any spot I might encounter in the depths of East Oakland or Memphis. This incident is proof that great barbecue is not the provenance of any race or class. It can be produced by anybody with the love of the meat. The most translucent of Caucasians is capable of making great barbecue if he has a mind to do so. Conversely, a bbq shop in the ghetto is not afforded any advantage in the game. If they do a half-assed job, people will know about it. There is no affirmative action when it comes to smoked meat. Rosa Parks did not move from the back of the bus so she could eat second-rate barbecue.