CHEAP EATS My favorite novel is Don Quixote. I’ve been reading it since I was three. Or so. Over and over and over and over. But I’d never seen Man of La Mancha, even though it was Crawdad de la Cooter’s favorite musical. On road trips, we would listen to her old tape over and over, singing along, dreaming the impossible dream, and so on.
Then I saw Man of La Mancha. The Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa was putting it on, and my woodsy neighbor Slim Jimmy Jack James, meat eater, landed the role of Don Quixote’s horse. He told me and Mountain Sam about it around the smoker, and we patted him on the back and hooted and tipped our beers and wine bottles and clinked pork ribs.
"That’s my favorite musical," I said. "I’ve always kind of thought I should see it some day."
"June and July," Slim J.J.J. said, and while he and Sam were playing with the catapult, shooting rocks into buckets and putting each other’s eyes out, etc., I went inside and found a calendar. It had pictures of food on it, recipes, and nothing at all marked for June or July. I circled both months with a big black marker and went back outside to administer to the wounded.
That was a couple months ago. Cut to a couple months later, and I don’t think I ever in my life looked at that calendar again. I don’t even know where it came from. Maybe it wasn’t mine, but I was sitting somewhere in Noe Valley, with my head in my hands, reminiscing about the pond where me and Mrs. Jimmy Jack would be sitting right now with our feet in the water, watching turtles, if I hadn’t closed up shop at the shack and sallied back to the city, dopey me.
Hey, the play! I found a phone, called up Mrs. Jimmy Jack, and said just that: "Hey!" I said. "The play!"
It was still July. Yeah, there was one more weekend, she said. So then I called up the Mountains, and then I called the box office, and we threw a combined $60 to the wind, in advance, demonstrating an almost uncanny commitment to the arts. (So long as we are personally acquainted with Don Quixote’s horse.)
My point is this: go figure. For three years I shack in Sonoma County and conduct all of my cultural and most of my social life in the city. Then, in the 10 days I’m stationed in San Francisco, between life as I know it and my next cross-country adventure, I keep finding reasons to go out up there. Willie Bird’s Restaurant. Fourth of July. The Hellhounds are playing at the pub.
In this case, of course, I mean, you know, the cat who’s playing Don Quixote’s horse … it’s a no-brainer. And, granted, I’m no theater reviewer, but Slim Jimmy Jack James, meat eater, is long and tall and entirely skinnier than a lot of vegetarians. Plus hairy, so he got to be Jesus in a play within the play within the play, and then he really stole the show.
Seriously, I don’t know how to tell you how great Man of La Mancha was, so let me see what I can do about Willie Bird’s Restaurant.
The thing about me and Mountain Veronica is that, like twins or sisters or something, we get hungry at the exact same time, always. On a day that I’m thinking of, we coincidentally had doctors’ appointments at the same time, right around the corner from each other, and Mountain Sam was along for the air-conditioning, kicking back in V.’s doctor’s waiting room, then mine, then hers, and then finally we were all checked up and MRI’d and together in one place, and me and Mountain V. said, almost in unison, "I’m starving."
"Willie Bird’s," Sam said. I’ve been wanting to check this place out ever since the first time I lived in Sonoma County. It’s Santa Rosa’s famous family restaurant. Big food, drinks. Homegrown turkeys, turkey this, and turkey that, stroganoff … I got whatever sounded closest to smoked, because that’s my favorite way to eat turkeys. And everything was delicious. And everything was more than we could eat, even me and V.
It comes with soups and salads, and before that they load you up with bread and butter and antipasto stuff like salami, olives, and artichoke hearts.
Big food in Santa Rosa. And I don’t know where in the world I’ll be next week, but the time to sally is nigh. So … *
WILLIE BIRD’S RESTAURANT
Daily, 7 a.m.9 p.m.
1150 Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa