Tough mustard

Pub date December 20, 2011
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap Eats

CHEAP EATS Zeni said she’d been cooking for three days. But the shopping was the hardest part. She had to go all over town, she said, to get the right sausages and other meat … things.

Such as knuckles.

I have a new favorite butcher shop, but first I have to tell you about Zeni’s feijoada. Her man Nutmeg, who plays soccer with me and Alice Shaw the Person (and some other people) has been talking up Zeni’s feijoada for many, many seasons. Most often after the game, when all of us are hungry. But since our team conducts its games in Portuguese, a language I don’t understand, it’s all pretty much feijoada to me.

There’s always all this hollering on the field: feijoada, feijoada.

"I’m trying," I say, whenever it seems like they might be talking to me.

Generally speaking, we win.

But now Nutmeg and Zeni are moving back to Brazil, and as soon as we learned this our post-game chatter shifted from feijoada to feijoada-with-a-sense-of-urgency.

Then the next thing I knew I had died and gone to heaven. Which I readily identified by the smell of it, and then by this steaming plate of rice and black beans with sausage, pork, and everything but the chicken sink. The dish was sided by finely chopped collard greens, or couve, garnished with orange slices, and sprinkled with farofa — which is cassava flour toasted with butter and bacon.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I could have gone straight from that meal to the firing squad, uncomplainingly, but as it was I got to go to Berkeley, instead, and make some kitchen noodle soup with Crawdad’s kids.

Now, my friend Papa is learning to be a butcher, which is about as admirable and honest a line of work as is out there, to my way of thinking. So every time I saw her I would ask about her career and she would say, among other things, "Steak sandwich!" with the same kind of reverence with which Brazilians say feijoada.

I pictured raw, sawed beef on a roll, which made me happy. Then one day, eventually, we climbed that hill to Avedano’s, on Cortland St. in Bernal. Or Holly Park. In any case, Avedano’s is a butcherer of local grass-fed beef and other responsibly-raised animals, and they don’t only just saw and hack them for you to take home; they’ll also make you a nice (and entirely cooked) samwich. If you want.

Hedgehog had the Tuscan pork sandwich, with pickled onions and tomato. I got the steak with pecorino, arugula, and pickled tomatoes.

And these things did we eat on a bench. Outside. There, in the sunlight and warmth of mid-day, San Francisco, my love and I got in a huge fight over mustard. I won’t bore you with the details, cause I don’t remember them. But suffice to say that I loved my sandwich, and Hedgehog loved hers.

I’m not a very experienced sandwich eater, though. With my first bite, I lost a big juicy piece of steak to the sidewalk. It landed right between my feet, where other people’s dogs sit on their asses, between other people’s feet, and stare at other people’s sandwiches, panting and trying to make just the right face.

"Pick it up and eat it," Hedgehog said.

So I did.

I might have pushed the limit of the five-second rule, but it’s the spirit of the rule that matters.

And the steak was that good, I’m saying. Slightly rare, succulent … I couldn’t let some dumbass Bernal dog come and lap it up. It was mine!

And it was delicious, even with residual sidewalk all over it. Anyway, I didn’t get any dog ass cooties, or other exotic diseases. That I know of. Yet.

Although: a big dumb dog did come along, only moments later, and sniff and lick a little at the spot, before it’s owner tugged him away. "Ha," I said.

I am not, as you know, a dog lover.


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