CHEAP EATS Tell you, I loved making chili with Coach’s mom. Her refrigerator was broke, so everything we needed was downstairs in Grandma’s fridge. Except in most cases it wasn’t there either.
Coach is of course a vegetarian. Grandma didn’t want beans, or spicy. Neither refrigerator had any peppers of any kind. Nor could I find chili powder.
Now, as you may know, I pride myself on my sense of show-must-go-onmanpersonship. I didn’t panic, sulk, or give up. No. At every twist, turn, and sheer drop-off, I shrugged, I laughed, I chopped onward. And stirred and opened cans and stirred and tasted until at a certain point I found myself standing over this colorful pot of simmering something-or-other and decided to make an announcement.
“It’s not chili,” I announced.
Coach and Coach’s mom, who had been situating Grandma at the dining room table, soothing her with promises of chili and chili and chili, came running into the kitchen, stood beside me, and looked into the pot. Grandma doesn’t get around so easily, or I’m sure she’d have looked too.
“That’s all right,” they said.
And I knew that it was, but had no idea what to call it, until they told me about slumgolian. Slumgolian, in the Coach family, was a surreal meal probably somewhat akin to what I call refrigerator soup. Other people have other names for it.
The point is that I learned a new word for a new thing I’d never seen before, and in truth it didn’t taste all that half bad, over tortillas.
Thanks to Kayday and her little red car, I got to git me to Joshua Tree, my favorite place on the planet, for Christmas. We sat on some rocks in the middle of the desert and ate Turkey Jerky, Wheat Thins, walnuts, and raisins, by way of marking the spot, and it was my favorite Christmas in many years.
But not my favorite meal. Neither was slumgolian.
No, for that we have to wind back the clock to Papa’s birthday, which falls a couple days shy of Christ’s. We gathered that evening at the Taco Shop @ Underdogs, in the Sunset. It was Papa, Pappy, Cola, Mikey Bike, Fiver, Flavor, a bunch of people I didn’t know, and Kentucky Fried Woman, whom I did know but had lost track of.
Coach was in San Diego already by then, lining scrimmage fields and setting up blocking dummies and car tires for our training camp/New Year’s Eve brouhaha, reportage/repercussions of which will dominate the next couple weeks if not months of Cheap Eats. Just to warn you.
As her coaching staff, I’d be next to arrive in the land of sun, slumgolian, and tacos. In fact, Kayday dumped me there after Joshua Tree, on her way back up to San Fran.
And I would like to point out up front and out of order, that nothing I have eaten in SoCal, so far, has even come close to the Taco Shop for all-around Mexcellence.
I can’t remember if I ever wrote about Nick’s Crispy Tacos or not, but in any case, the deal is: same thing. “Nick’s way,” as they say, is two corn tortillas — one crispy, one soft — with cheese, beans, salsa, guac, and whatever else you like.
I like carnitas. I like fish. The fish is fried and therefore juicy, tender, and oh-so satisfying. Really, honestly, you only need one.
Plus maybe another, plus chips.
In any case, whether it’s Nick Crispy or the Taco Shop, the pico de gallo is great, the guac is great, the meat is juicy, and the combination of soft and crispy tacos … well, go figure: it works.
Underdogs, I guess, is the name of the bar the Taco Shop is in. Sports on TV. In the back corner they have one of those basketball things where you see how many hoops you can make in a certain number of seconds. And while I was catching up with KFW on one side of me, and talking writing and music shop with Mikey Bike on the other, I also watched, out of the corner of my eye, several of my friends “step up to the line,” so to speak.
All I will say is that I am glad our football team is not going to be a basketball team. Although … well, never mind. We will see.
THE TACO SHOP @ UNDERDOGS
Sun.–Wed. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.;
Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.– midnight
1824 Irving, SF