951 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach
Me thinks a trend is happening. A new wave of small-scale, back-to-the-future neighborhood bars. The Cheers thing. You see downtown blossoming with places like, well, Neighborhood (Eighth and G), or, in South Park, Hamilton’s (30th and Beech), or Whistle Stop (2236 Fern).
Imperial Beach has beautiful never-change outfits like Ye Olde Plank (24 Palm Avenue, right on the beach), a local watering hole plastered with customers’ souvenirs and portholes and puffer fish…I’d be there now, except they don’t do food anymore.
I’m mulling all this as I amble up Palm Avenue in IB. I mean, face it, Palm Avenue isn’t exactly the coziest street in town. It’s a mix of auto shops, carpet outlets, parts stores, the kind of strip you drive past on your way to somewhere else.
Then, suddenly, right next to Mason’s Car Clinic, the one with the “flying” yellow ’40s car, a front end stuck at the top of a 15-foot pole, you hear laughs, clinking of glasses, music, the sound of sports TV.
It’s all coming from this anonymous white-and-blue cinderblock place. Well, not quite anonymous. They have a neon Budweiser sign in the window and big blue-and-black letters painted along the wall.
“The Scoreboard Sports Bar & Grill.”
I peer through the window. Looks so warm, woody, inviting inside…
Moment later, I’m in there, hopping aboard a bar stool and clunking my elbows onto the shock-blue Formica bar. Lots of TVs, but guys and their girlfriends and wives can still talk to each other across the four-sided island bar. They do it like this is their club.
The barkeep comes over.
“What can I get you?”
“Do you have happy hour?” I ask. Because, hey, it’s on the way to 7:00.
Joe the bartender shakes his head. “We do have $3 Buds. Draft pints or bottle.”
“Great,” I say. “A Bud draft. And the menu.”
I’m not expecting any revolutionary food here. Really, just hoping to get a good price and enough for the money.
But I’m about to make a discovery. A first. Or maybe I’m the only guy in the county who hasn’t eaten pigs’ wings before.
“K.C. Wild Pork Wings, w/chips, $7.99,” says a handwritten addition to the menu that lists today’s specials on a stapled-on sheet. There’s also spaghetti with meatballs, $6.99, and a grilled meatloaf sandwich, $6.99. Teriyaki shrimp for $8.95. The regular printed menu includes “Scoreburgers,” with “hand-formed” patties — they start at $2.99. And what a deal on biscuits and gravy: only $1.99. But I see that’s weekends only.
Then this couple sits down beside me at the bar. Cheryl and Doug. They’re lifetime I-Bethans. “But this is the first time we’ve eaten here,” Cheryl says. “We came in for the tacos.”
Taco Tuesday! Which is today. I hadn’t noticed. But now I see they have 99-cent deals for carnitas, shrimp, carne asada, even imitation-crab tacos.
Pia, the waitress Joe has sent around to take my order, points to another handwritten addition on the regular menu.
“Wild Pork Wings!” she says. “You’ve gotta try them.”
“Uh, pork wings? Pigs that fly?”
“Sure,” she says.
I take a slurp of Bud (which, okay, I secretly like), just to take in this new concept. If pigs could fly…? “You serious?” I ask. “This is real pork meat, at least?”
“Actually,” says Joe from across the bar, “we were arguing over this, me and Doug, the kitchen manager. He said they must be processed meat squeezed around sticks of bone, so they look like chicken wings. But, no. These’re really bone-in pork shanks. Lower back leg. The meat around the fibula.”
Pia says, “And they have a sweet dark sauce, and that pork taste. I love it.”
They’re $7.99, but I can’t resist.
Ten minutes later, Pia brings a plate with three of them. They look pretty fat for wings, more like drumsticks, though twice as big as chicken drumsticks, plus chips. Lots of big, crackly, homemade chips. Must say, the “wings” are convenient. You hold the flat-ended bone at one end and chew the meat off the other. The pork tastes like they slow-roasted it. The sauce is dark and sweet. Wish they had more, but I never do get around to asking.
“Delicious,” says Cheryl, when I ask about her carnitas tacos. I’m thinking, bet they taste like my wings. Because they’re both real, slow-cooked pork.
But, pork wings? I ask around. Guy on my left googles it on his iPhone. Seems the whole idea started when a pig farmer named Bob File noticed pork novelty stalls selling them at NASCAR, around 2003. These little bits of fibula bone with spare meat attached had always been throwaways scraped for pet food, at best, till these NASCAR guys noticed how easy they were to eat — if you prepared them right.
The kicker is that during the slow roast of 6–8 hours, the meat contracts, pulling back to one end of the shank. Result: you get a natural bone handle. A ready-made corndog effect. So easy to eat!
Pig farmer File and others have spent this last decade wholesaling pig wings to places like the Scoreboard all across America. Now, folks buy two and a half million pounds every year.
How come we haven’t heard of them? Maybe because they’re called everything from “squealers” to “beaver tails” to “pork hammers” to “carnitas lollipops.”
Whatever, they’re certainly delish, and the three I get are plenty to fill you up.
Joe, who knows what I.B. likes to eat — his family has owned this place since 1986 — says it took awhile to bring folks around to pork wings.
“I tried them a year or so back. No one was interested. Now I’ve introduced them again, and they’ve taken off like crazy.”
Half an hour later, I’m back out at Ninth and Palm, waiting for the 934.
Head’s abuzz. The flying talk, the flying pawk, the island bar, the flying car…feel like I’ve just come out of a 1950s flashback. The pig wings were great, of course, but what’s really great is regulars and strangers yakking away like old friends. A new trend in neighborhood bars? Nah…down here it never went away. ■
The Place: The Scoreboard Sports Bar and Grill (951 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach, right beside Mason’s Auto Clinic, at Emory Street, 619-424-9909)
Prices: Spaghetti with meatballs, $6.99; grilled meatloaf sandwich, $6.99; teriyaki shrimp, $8.95; quarter-pound Scoreburger, $2.99; TJ tacos are $1.25, on Taco Tuesday, 99 cents; K.C. Wild Pork Wings w/chips, $7.99
Kitchen Hours: 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday; 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Saturday; 9:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Sunday
Buses: 901, 933, 934
Nearest bus stops: Ninth and Palm