John Greenleaf Whittier 9 p.m., Nov. 22
Jesse James Drank Here
Back in the Barrio, heading down Cesar Chavez towards the trolley. Walk past ye olde brick building that was Chuey's bar-eatery for the longest time. 'Course for the last eight years it's been Ryan Brothers' coffee roasting and sipping place (1894 Main Street, at corner with Cesar Chavez Parkway, Barrio Logan, 619-546-6314).
And what great roasts I've sucked down running for the trolley. Plus you feel good about because they're big-time into fair trade, cutting out ruthless middlemen.
Right now, I see a red blur, the danged trolley heading south just as I get to Ryans' corner.
Still, crisis equals opportunity, right? Fifteen good minutes to wait for the next one now.
I hop up the steps and inside, past that famous old rickshaw of theirs...
...over the wild-colored cement floor...
...into a big yellow, red, and naked brick place...
Decorated with lots of knick-knacks from coffee-producing countries
and with a way-long ol' wooden bar.
You feel like you should be wearing yaw ten-gallon and saying "Howdy doody!"
Except I'm no way alone. Bunch of other people lining up.
As I'm waiting, I see signs saying "Now Serving Lunch."
Hmm. Hot paninis.
I can eat fast.
Angie says the TAB (Turkey, Avocado, Bacon) is the most popular.
"We call it the 'Carmine,'" says this other gal. Turns out she's the head chef here. Christina McMahan. "Carmine's one of the Ryan brothers. He's always hungry, but he never gets fat."
So the Carmine comes with chips, fruit or soup. Sausage Florentine.
"We make it all here," says Christina. "I bake my own focaccia, too."
Wow. This sounds serious. I go for the Carmine TAB and soup ($6.95) and a cawfee ($1.75). It's called Coronado Moonlight, a combo of Indonesian and African Arabicas, the sign says. Mmm. Smoky. Oh yeah. And now I remember. All three Ryan brothers grew up in Indonesia.
Of course: that rickshaw. "It's an Indonesian becak," says Harry. He's another of the brothers (Tom is the third.) "We traded it for a coffee maker with a guy across the road."
So I'm just leaving the bar for a table when I spot the sign. "Historic bar. Outlaw Jesse James sat here, 1870."
"Jesse's distant cousin Tobin James had a winery up in Paso Robles," says Harry. "Jesse stayed with him after the civil war. This was the bar up there. He probably leaned on here drinking wine...but with his elbows, and his back against the bar. So he could face the door. Improve his chances of survival."
Oh yes. But later Jesse James did get shot in the back when he went to straighten a picture on his wall, right?
Whatever, I have to go back to the bar and lean on it. Back to it, elbows on it. Wow. The very thought.
When I finally get to my first bite, that bacon-turkey combo is fine. A little pungent, even. “I put some coffee in it too," says Christine, "just to punch up the flavor."
Aha. So that's what it is.
The sausage florentine soup and "The Carmine" sandwich
But what truly gets to me is that foccaccia of Christina's.
Man, so tender and crisp, and also with the tang of rosemary you see scattered on top.
But no. What I acshully take away with me, and am still slurping when I hurry down to the trolley stop, is the soup. Da soup! Incredibly excellent. Winey! Hot! Like, muy picante. It's the sausage Florentine in it, dozens of chunks, along with veggies and I don't know what-all swimming around. Mama. But I would walk a mile for this. Christina! Don't forget that recipe! 'Cause I'll be back for more. Count on it.
I swear, it's all happening down here in the Barrio. Just hope, as they say, success doesn't spoil Rock Hudson.
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