Up the game

Pub date February 19, 2013
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap Eats


CHEAP EATS K-3PO lives right in the neighborhood and claims to have played ping-pong with me in the ’90s. He also claims to have photographed my old band, and on this score I believe him.

We write at the same coffee shop. Right now, for example, I’m writing about him and he’s sitting across the room from me, either oblivious or not. Who knows?

He doesn’t have a cell phone. He has a weekly planner, with a black cover.

“Remember these?” he said, trying to make a dinner plan with me.

“Oh yeah. You’re old-fashioned,” I said, and he feigned offense. “I mean that as a compliment.” (The truth.)

Anyway, yeah, we had tried to go eat barbecue one night last week at the new neighborhood smokehouse, Hi-Lo, and luckily for all of us — but especially Hi-Lo, I’m thinking — they were closed for a private function.

I buy my pork steaks at that divey little market, 19th and Mission, and my bread at Duc Loi, so I walk past Hi-Lo pretty often, “doing the block.” There’s always some kind of friendliness marking the spot, lately. Like, a couple weeks ago a guy was standing outside and Hedgehog had already told me that barbecue was going in there, so I said: “Open?”

“Not yet,” he said, “but go on in and look around.”

I did. It must have been like a dress rehearsal, or something. Waitresspersonpeople were everywhere, the kitchen was all a-bustle, smelled like smoke . . . The one thing missing was customers. Of which I would have gladly been one, if they were open open.

I also wish they would have showed me to the basement, where they keep their three-ton smoker, but that didn’t seem to be going to happen, so I went on ahead to the market and got my pork steaks, and to Duc Loi, and home.

Then, when we tried to go with K-3PO, there was a sign on the door saying closed for private function. I must have looked sad, cause someone came out and gave me a little paper bag of cookies.

Those cookies were good! They were not barbecue, but they were sweet and salty. And buttery. I ate them at Baobab, while we were waiting for our red curry prawns, red curry chicken, and some other kind of chicken. With black-eyed peas.

None of which was barbecue, either. But: good. But, according to K-3PO, overpriced. I give up on anything ever being cheap anymore, in the Mission. I just wish that places would step up their game a little, to earn it. In addition to going, OK, it’s the Mission so let’s charge 20 to 30 percent more, go: it’s the Mission so let’s also make our food 20 to 30 percent more amazing.

It’s too close: I will, eventually, give Hi-Lo a chance, but people on Yelp are saying 15 clams for three to five slices of pretty dry brisket, without any sides. So they better step up their game. I can get friendliness and cookies for a lot cheaper than that, even without leaving the ‘hood, and I have a smoker of my own. Albeit not a three-ton one.

Wait. Why would you want a giant smoker? If the idea of barbecue is to impart smoke to meat (and it is) . . . seems to me that smaller spaces full of smoke would make meat smokier than bigger ones. But there’s probably something I’m not factoring in.

Anyway, this isn’t a review of Hi-Lo.

It’s a character study of K-3PO, who — this is what he’s been up to: “watching hundreds of archived mental hygiene films from the ’40s and ’50s,” he said.

Because that’s what he does. Here in the teens. He makes mentally hygienic films, hisself. I saw one, one time. It was freakin’ beautiful.

Another thing we talked about was almost dying, and how each of us has done it, in life. K-3PO told the story of a hike he took in Israel, in the desert, when he and a friend got stuck on the trail overnight and almost froze to death.

Hedgehog, turns out, just missed being torpedoed by an exploding fire extinguisher while she was in film school.

And I … I ate too many pancakes.