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The Raised Cantina

2211 Pacific Beach Drive (in Campland on the Bay), Pacific Beach

"B, u, bb, le. G–u–m spells bubble gum/It’s the only kind of chewing gum/The guy who made it must have really been a bum…”

Beth, the gal behind the ice cream counter, will sing this to you if you buy the bubble-gum flavor ice cream and are willing to learn it (so you can sing it back to her the next time you come in — that’s the deal). Me, though, I’m interested in serious food, and ’specially for something to drink. Fact is, I’ve been hiking miles, looking for a quick chow before I catch the #30 back to town. Got lost in the parkland around the top of Mission Bay. Totally pooped. Somehow ended up in the dark, at the entrance to Campland on the Bay. That’s when I caught a whiff. Barbecue. Woke me up like smelling salts.

So I head past the office, between trees and million-dollar RVs, till I get to this way-big L-shaped patio packed with tables. A window sign says, “Celebrating 40 Years, 1969–2009.” There’s a wolf standing on his hind legs between the 4 and the 0. That’s when I see the name. “The Hungry Wolf.” Amazing. Perfect description — of me. And thirsty? Could drink Mission Bay dry.

When I get inside, all I see is a cooler full of beer and sodas calling my name. This gal Kelly comes up in a red Hungry Wolf T-shirt. “A Coors,” I croak. Chose Coors just to see if that blue-mountain coolness indicator on the can really works. It does. The beer sets me back $2.75, plus another 99 cents for a bag of chips. “Something to eat?” Kelly asks. “Uh, if you’ve got barbecue, hell yes,” I say. “I smelled you guys way up the road.”

She hands me a menu page. I find a table, lift the Coors, check the mountain’s blue again, gurgle that baby down, crunch a few chips — perfect! — and look around. Huh. Just me. Well, it is kind of late in a campground it would take Lewis and Clark to find on a sunny day. But it’s pretty nice in here. Sixties architecture with sloping wood rafters, cream brick columns, sprayed stucco ceiling, and a big blue-seas-and-palm-trees mosaic on one wall. Outside, there’s that patio with barbecue cookers.

“Oh, yes, and we have our Tuesday Special,” Kelly says. “Buy one barbecue sandwich and get one free; if you buy a side, $9.90.”

The main menu’s full of things you’d expect, like burgers ($3.65), a salmon burger ($5.95), and “plate entrées” (each with two sides), such as the quarter-chicken ($6.95), chicken and rib ($15.95), and the rib plate ($11.95). Also fish and chips, with three pieces of cod ($9.95), and a large shrimp basket ($11.95). Plus a lot of breakfast items.

But no time for my usual dawdling. I go for that Tuesday Special. They have barbecued pork, beef, or chicken. I take pork and then, for the freebie, get the beef, since Kelly says it’s her fave. That’s $6.95, plus the mandatory side — I choose potato salad — for $2.15. Comes to $9.90 total, including tax. And since that blue mountain Coors slipped down so easy, I get another can of that, too ($2.75). Wow. The dinero is slipping through my fingers. We’re heading for Jackson territory. D’uh, quick count — think I can just do it.

But, oh my. That Texas-sweet barbecue sauce and the pork go down like milk and honey in the desert. And with the light, airy buns, the chopped beef is deeply, smokily flavorful. Kelly says Marvin the manager is a Texan. “He brought the barbecue sauce recipe with him.” Turns out Beth, who’s been outside closing things up for the night, does the actual cooking of the meats. “I did the pork on Sunday,” she says. “Three hours. Nothing cooks for less than three hours. The brisket takes five. And we use wood. None of that liquid smoke.”

Man. Talking, eating, plate’s suddenly clean. Guess I, uh, wolfed it down. I don’t go for dessert, even though they have that bubble-gum ice cream gleaming at me for $2.55 a scoop. But I can’t help thinking: everybody in this little parallel universe of the campground seems so danged happy. Kelly, Beth, the couple of customers who came in while I was eating. “How come?” I ask Kelly. “Well, they’re all on vacation,” she says. “People act different in Campland. Nobody’s cranky. And me, I’m Irish.”

As I head out, back to the real world, a camper dashes in.

“Can I get an ice cream?”

Of course, now that full summer’s here, that special of mine’s gone, switched off until October. But the barbecue’s cranking full-on, and yes, you can still get the bubble-gum ice cream for a song. ■

The Place: The Hungry Wolf, in Campland on the Bay, 2211 Pacific Beach Drive; 858-581-4220
Type of Food: BBQ, burgers, ice cream
Prices: Scrambled eggs, hash-brown breakfast, $7.25; “complete breakfast” (eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, or toast), $8.95; “super-size complete” breakfast, $11.95; BBQ sandwich (pork, beef, or chicken), $6.95; hamburger, $3.65; salmon burger, $5.95; quarter-chicken plate (with two sides), $6.95; chicken and rib plate, $15.95; rib plate, $11.95; fish and chips, $9.95; large shrimp basket, $11.95; bubble-gum ice cream, $2.55
Hours: 8:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m., daily (open from 7:30 a.m., weekends
Bus: 30
Nearest Bus Stop: Grand and Olney

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