Fanning the flames

Pub date January 14, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


CHEAP EATS When your rats grow bigger than your chickens and you can hear them at night in the chicken coop, laughing at your traps … them’s hard times.

I mean to pack it in, as a chicken farmer. But what am I going to farm? Rats?

What am I going to eat for lunch? What am I going to give to my friends for their birthdays?

What am I going to give to complete strangers when I love them for one reason or another? Besides eggs, eggs, and eggs, respectively?

Is it even possible for a chicken farmer not to be a chicken farmer? I have gone through brief periods of chickenlessness in my life, but I forget what they were like. Purgatory, probably. And in my theological opinion, purgatory is worse than hell. Hell, you can bring hot dogs and a stick, settle in. But purgatory is waiting by the phone, or running to the mailbox, or checking your e-mail 999 times an hour, wondering if you got the job.

I looked down and my slippers were on the wrong feet. Instead of switching them, I stood up and walked around like that for a while. I’m eating leftovers that are more than a week old now, and when repercussions happen, instead of throwing out the rest I go, hmm, better eat this for dinner too, to get rid of it.

Hey, maybe that’s why my chickens are smaller than my rats. The rats are eating their feed, and the farmer’s eating their scraps. That’s hard times.

I intentionally left Fanny’s off my little list of Hard Times Handbook cheap cheap chirpies because I wanted to give it a whole fat column of words to itself. Not that it’s the best, or the cheapest place out there, but it’s good and cheap, and it’s my new favorite restaurant simply for having duck soup, which is rare for Chinese restaurants, period. It’s even rarer for Chinese/American greasy-spoon dives.

Which is of course what Fanny’s is. South of Market, Bryant and Eighth streets, plain, spacious, and unspectacular. But the pa of the presumed "ma and pa" was talking passionately to their one sit-down customer about some recipe or cooking technique when I walked in, and I took this as a good omen.

An even better omen: how easy it is to eat for under $5. Two eggs with bacon or sausage, hash browns, and toast, omelets, French toast, pancakes, sandwiches, or two-item combos of Chinese food … all five and under. And then even if you’re going to splurge, say, on a big bowl of roast duck soup with wontons or noodles, you’re still talking sixes and sevens.

Not bad!

The catch is that I haven’t actually tried the duck soup, because I went there at eight in the morning on my pre-caffeinated way to work, ordered off the wall, to go, and grabbed a take-out menu (by way of reading material) on the way out.

I didn’t read my reading material until days later, the same way I read everything I read: rocking chair, toasty fire, cat on lap, hot tea … ah, literature!

Under the chapter heading, Soup (Wonton or Noodle), I read the words "roast duck" and followed the dots to the six and the fitty. My rocking chair squeaked to a stop, Weirdo the Cat woke up, the fire popped, I bookmarked my little fold-up take-out menu, and set it on the side table.

My eyes blurred with hot tears (I am easily moved), I scanned the bookshelves next to my wood stove: Jane Austen, Robert Benchley, Chekhov, Dickens … I didn’t have any E’s, so would file Fanny’s between Dostoyevsky and Fante.

I would go there again first chance I got — for lunch, because they’re not open for dinner. If anything is amiss or astounding, I will get word to you. Meanwhile, for me, it’s enough to know that it’s there, like Moby Dick.

And I can vouch for the breakfast: great hash browns, eggs done right, toast whatever. True, I ate these things in my car, driving over the Bay Bridge and listening to a recording of an old Booker T & the MGs LP played at 45 rpm … but that doesn’t mean I’m not a real restaurant reviewer.

Does it?


Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

1010 Bryant, SF

(415) 626-1543

No alcohol


L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.