Those who enjoy strolling amidst a certain vibrant stretch of 24th Street in the Mission might be under a common misguided belief that the world is flat and ends east of Potrero Avenue. But just as Christopher Columbus proved the world was round by sailing west, I confirmed this is false by sailing east — one block east of Potrero, that is. What I found was Tasty’s Creole Cajun Kitchen, a new world filled with rare goods and spices. Among them, signature po’ boy sandwiches, southern brunch specialties, gumbo, red beans and rice, hush puppies, sweet tea, even French rolls flown in from Louisiana. What wonders the new world holds!
Although… perhaps Tasty’s seemed so exotic due to entirely different challenges to accessibility — it’s discretely tucked away inside a local bar, Jack’s. Jack’s Club has been operating on the corner of 24th and Utah for over 80 years. It is itself a relic from another time, its art deco interior, with stucco ceilings and wood paneling an homage to how little has changed inside of this building over time.
On a typical Tuesday afternoon Jack’s Club is dark and cave-like, acting as a refuge for a few regulars playing pool, drinking at the bar, and carrying on with bartender and current owner, Erma. Jack’s consists of a large front room that doubles as a dining room and a bar with counter seating, a pool room in the back, a pinball room in between, and a small kitchen alongside the bar. This kitchen, equipped with one stove and one deep fryer, is where all of Tasty’s cajun magic happens.
And it’s a lot of magic, for one stove. With over 10 kinds of po’ boy sandwiches, four authentic creole entrees, an assortment of bar appetizers and sides that range from oysters remoulade to sweet potato fries, and a Monday through Friday special of the day, it’s hard to imagine how this kitchen works. This is what I was pondering as I sat at a small table and read over the mouth-wateringly affordable menu. Most entrees are around 10 bucks, and all of the generously portioned sides are less than five. I finally decided on a fried oyster po’ boy with creole slaw on the side.
Dive bar with a side of delicious. Photo by Hannah Tepper
It was promptly served on a modest tray. I took a bite of my first fried oyster with hesitation. Fried oysters are a tricky business—when they are good they are really good, and vice versa. But this time I was happy, and almost surprised to find that Tasty’s fried oysters were delicious, crispy, with a thin cornmeal crust on the outside, smooth and tender on the inside. How did this come out of that? I thought, looking back and forth between my oysters and the utterly modest kitchen with no door. My creole slaw was without a doubt one of the best coleslaw experiences of my life. Theirs is made in a sweet, mellow mustard-y dressing that you have to taste to truly understand, but take heed—this kind of slaw will leave a woman wanting more.
By the end of my meal I had questions and I wanted answers. Why here? Why so good? What is happening? Is life real? Luckily I found owner and bartender du jour, Erma, happily talking home-renovations with Tasty’s head chef, Cullen Quave. I interrupted them with a interrogative bombardment, and they kindly told me everything I wanted to know about Jack’s, Tasty’s, and the metaphysics of reality.
Erma, who would rather not disclose her last name, has owned Jack’s with her family for the last nine years. She is a self-identified “kid from the area,” and grew up only a few blocks away from Jack’s Club. It was her idea to run an authentic creole restaurant out of Jack’s small kitchen, but it took a few tries to get it right.
“The menu is all authentic and created by me. Before Tasty’s we had rented the kitchen to another party but I’ve always managed the restaurant,” she says. Then Erma met Quave, a like-minded home chef from New Orleans who wandered into Jack’s on his birthday looking for an authentic po’ boy sandwich to satisfy his creole cravings. “I was going to fly a po’ boy in from New Orleans,” Quave says, “but luckily my buddy told me about this place and so I came here and it was delicious.” The two got to talking and decided soon after to start Tasty’s with Quave as head cook and Erma providing her own recipes. I can attest that the result is delicious food, a big authentic menu, and a weird, cozy atmosphere.
Five stars in my book, but Erma and Quave say that business on the Potrero side of 24th is slow at times. “This is a place where people just like to hang out. I enjoy the fact that there are a lot of locals and regulars that come in here. I enjoy seeing some of the people that I actually grew up with coming by,” Erma says. Meanwhile, newcomers—like myself—are always welcome to come by and eat some jambalaya. Some other great reasons to get over to Tasty’s Creole Cajun Kitchen at Jack’s Bar—live jazz every Friday night and a Mardi Gras shindig coming up on March 8th. Their Mardi Gras celebration will be happening all afternoon, and will include a live jazz band, King Cake, Tasty’s serving up specialty dishes, and of course plenty of booze.
As I packed up my things to go, I had one last question for Quave—“How do you fry them oysters so good?” I asked. His answer: “You have to be a really good fryer.”
Tasty’s Creole Cajun Kitchen at Jack’s Bar
Mon. – Sun., 10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Brunch: Sat.-Sun. 10:30 a.m.- 2 p.m.
2545 24th St., SF