Pulled pork sandwich: enough meat? Oh yes.
David hunches over the ocean, elbows on rail, playing his harmonica. He holds long notes. “See? They like it,” he says. “See? See?”
And wow. I’m looking below, and two dolphin fins come knifing through the surface, then they half roll, showing their silver-white bellies, and dive under again.
207 North Coast Highway, Oceanside
Next time, it looks different. “That’s a baby seal swimming with a mama dolphin. He’s probably hoping to get some of her leftovers, because she’s hunting. She’s fishing. Maybe anchovy.”
I was drawn to David’s harmonica too. It’s a sun-kissed cool-breeze morning, out here at the end of the Oceanside pier. I spy Ruby’s, a fish and burger joint. A couple of ladies are braving the breeze and actually eating from polystyrene boxes out here. I’m surprised you can do that right now.
David the Dolphin Whisperer charms dolphins with his harmonica.
I head back to land. All this salt air and exercise! Need a late breakfast, whatever. I pass by two guys sitting on some steps, eating pollo asado fries out of polystyrene boxes, from nearby Colima’s Mexican Takeout (at 308 Pier View Way). “Takeout only, man. No place to eat it,” says Shane. “No chairs, no nothing nowhere.” Cost: 12 bucks each. Looks wicked. But sitting on the steps, feet walking by you? I move on.
Five minutes later, I’m on North Coast Highway, and stopping in my tracks: Here’s an actual street-side cafe. Open! Bright yellow. With tables. People eating, drinking bottles of beer, like it’s a normal day.
It’s a cafe I kinda remember. Oh yeah. Miss Kim’s Juke Joint. Also called “That Boy Good.” Southern BBQ. And between all these shuttered shops, it’s an unexpected oasis of life. Of course, a little voice nags at me: “What about catching the covid? Or spreading it? Don’t rules about gathering count here?”
But I look at the tables. They’re outside in the breeze. Only one is occupied. Plenty of space. “You’re gonna do it,” my conscience says to me. “Just sit down and live with it.”
“Inside or outside?”
Gumbo: Veggies, shrimp, rice, slurpability.
It’s this lively blonde gal with green eyes offset by her black mask and a Booze Brothers Brewing Co. sweat shirt. Olivia. Covid? It’s okay, she says. It seems the powers that be in Oceanside are kinda leaving places to make up their own minds on this. “Restaurants are hurting so bad, it has become life or death for us,” she says. “For many, it’s worth risking a fine.”
Mark: Ritz-Carlton pedigree
A couple of ladies sit down at a table across the sidewalk. “We come every Tuesday. Every Tuesday. We sip a ‘That Boy Good’ Bloody Mary and get something to eat.”
Today they order a shrimp and sausage gumbo ($12) and a hickory-smoked, pulled pork sandwich with fries ($11).
And boy, the Bloody Mary looks something. It’s got vodka, BBQ sauce, dry rub around the rim. Stuffed with pickled veggies, and a rib’s jammed on top. Costs $12.
I’m looking at BBQ ribs by the bone. And deal! Two bones with cornbread’s only $5. Sandwiches are between $11 and $12, come with a small side. Mesquite-smoked beef brisket in a bun is $12, hickory-smoked pulled pork’s $11, country-fried chicken thighs or delta catfish (cornmeal-crusted), also go for $11. A BBQ beef link sandwich is $11.30.
The main dishes, such as the catfish with fries or cole slaw, are mostly around $15. You can also go all-out with, say, their BBQ combo platter, which includes beef links, pulled pork, and a half rack of ribs for $32. For five bucks more, you can add beef brisket. And you get one big side or two small. A full rack of baby back beef ribs is $28.
Or you could follow Olivia’s rec. “Today we have our special. It’s happy hour all day, and the pulled pork sandwich is down from $11 to $9.50. And that includes a side, and a beer.”
Wow. How about that? Can’t turn it down. I make my side the collard greens.
But first things first: Olivia brings me out a bottle of Rolling Rock. Then, really quick, comes back with my pulled pork. It oozes out of a shiny golden bun.
And first taste, that hickory smoke hits you, along with the sweetness of the meat, and the BBQ sauce. A couple of large raw onion rings also twang it up. But the best contrast is with the collard greens.
“They shouldn’t be bitter,” says Mark Millwood, the chef. He’s out from the kitchen. “They grow like weeds in Mississippi. But because of their thick stems, they can be tough and bitter. Secret’s in the liquids. Their liquids are almost the best thing. Don’t throw them away! If they’re done right, collard greens are great with BBQ meat.”
So I start slurping a little of the liquid. Oh yes. Talk about umami. The veggie’s planty, slightly bitter thing is balanced by these marinated juices. Huh. I’ve learned something today. Because learning to appreciate collard greens has honestly been a long struggle.
David the Dolphin Whisperer’s new friends.
Mark and I natter on for hours. He has had a heck of a life. From Central Valley hardscrabble to Ritz Carlton glory. Think Gordon Ramsey meets Rocky Balboa.
“So you don’t worry about covid, people infecting each other?” I say, finally.
“Listen, we have to survive. It’s that simple. Restaurants in Oceanside are balanced on a knife edge. And it’s a free country! We’re grown-ups. Make your own decision. If it’s not safe, stay away. What I think of most is my staff. We are family. They have a right to work. And I have 150 needy kids coming for a ‘hope, love and grub’ deal Christmas Day. No way I’m canceling that.”
- The Place: Miss Kim’s, 207 North Coast Highway, Oceanside, 760-433-4227
- Hours: 11am - 9:00pm daily (closed Christmas Day, Open normal hours, New Years Day)
- Prices: Two rib bones with cornbread, $5; mesquite-smoked beef brisket in bun, $12; hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwich, $11; country-fried chicken thighs, $11; cornmeal-crusted catfish, $11; BBQ beef link sandwich $11.50; catfish with fries or cole slaw, $15; BBQ combo platter (beef links, pulled pork, ribs, $32 (including 1 large or 2 small sides); rack of baby back pork ribs, $28; Happy Hour pulled pork sandwich, $9.50, including side and bottled beer
- Buses: 101, 302, 303, 313, 318, 392 Flex, 395 Flex, RTA 202, Greyhound
- Best Bus Stop: Oceanside Transit Center
- Trains: Coaster, Amtrak, Metrolink, Sprinter
- Nearest Station: Oceanside Transit Center, 235 S. Tremont Street, Oceanside