Supervisor David Campos may, as it turns out, be better at picking winners than being one himself.
The poor man just lost his race to represent San Francisco in the State Assembly to the Supervisor from District 3, whose restaurant I’ll be reviewing at some point in the not-terribly-distant future. When M and I first meandered our way all the way down to the southern nub of District 9 we half expected to see Mr. Campos sitting in Queen’s Louisiana Po-boy Cafe (3030 San Bruno Ave) consoling himself over a steaming bowl of gumbo.
Alas, he wasn’t there, but M (my sidekick [See Note 1]/dining companion) and I were for another Restaurant Appreciation Month (RAM) review. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about read this, and see my earlier write up on Delarosa here.
Relative to where I live and work, Queen’s is pretty far from the rivers and lakes that I’m used to. Google Maps (my other sidekick), estimates that it takes about 1 hour 10 minutes to get there from my apartment via public transit. As any one who rides MUNI on the regular knows, 1hr10 is a long time to spend marinating in the misty scent of homeless person urine.
But I am nothing if not dedicated to the cause of using restaurant recommendations as a proxy to evaluate how much I like our local elected officials (sorry Mark Farrell, you’re not getting any of my ranked-choice slots), so endure the pee smell we did.
When I told friends and coworkers I was going down to Bayview (technically this restaurant is on the border between the Bayview and Portola neighborhoods, but to get there I traveled squarely through Bayview and Hunter’s Point) for a dinner, they all had incredibly helpful and unbiased advice like:
“WHY? Do you want to get SHOT?,”
“Oh jeez, just get out before dark,” and
“Have fun! Can I have your laptop, you know, if you don’t make it back.”
Even the nice older lady I met on the train on my way down told me to put my damn phone away lest it be snatched by some unsavory ne’er-do-well.
This is a city where 140 characters is “worth” billions, but this neighborhood hasn’t been invited to the party yet. The casual racist will first mention the crime, then the poverty, and then, oh yeah, the blackness of the population. Precariously tacked to the rear end of the tautology, like some sort of Jim Crow-era pin the tale on the donkey, the crime in this part of the city is always invariable wedded to its demographics.
All I can say about that is take a look at this map of crime over the last week:
You can parse through the data yourself. Obviously, the most densely crime-ridden areas are downtown, in the densest part of the city (a part of the city, I might add, where I and everyone I know goes to work everyday). But what struck me most is that the cluster of crime dots that I inscribed in a red rectangle are some of the most lily-white areas in the city. It includes the hills Russian, Nob, and Telegraph; North Beach; the Marina; Cow Hollow; and Pacific Heights. I live in approximately that area too. Everyone tells me how nice it must be to live up there. The area encircled in blue is where I was the other night. Which looks more “dangerous” to you?
I haven’t done this, but if you were to ask any of my red rectangle neighbors about the crime in our ‘hood, they would say that if there is crime, then its being committed by outsiders. The folks who in the red rectangle get to be victims. No such intellectual leeway is granted to those who live in the blue circle. I know this because whenever I told anyone I was going to Bayview/Hunter’s Point they told me I was taking my life in my hands. No one ever says that about where I live.
When we rationalize which groups get to be victims and which groups don’t, we allow ourselves to justify (and fund) policies that benefit one group over another. That means that certain kinds of victims are not afforded the resources necessary for repair or remediation. If this happens in less wealthy communities (as is the case here), then the residents can’t afford to make the necessary improvements themselves. As a result, the evidence of crime in these neighborhoods is more visible; windows stay broken, vandalism goes unrepaired, etc. So even though the blue circle actually has roughly the same (or lower) levels of crime, it looks like it has more. The visible evidence of crime reinforces our notion that these places are filled with criminals, when they’re actually filled with victims.
I’m not saying that the blue circle isn’t poorer. It is. As we were strolling through the neighborhoods we saw some deplorably maintained public housing, which is a shame for a lot of reasons, but is also a separate issue. There isn’t actually more crime in this neighborhood, but we believe there is because we’ve confused crime with class. When you add race to the mix (race and class have been inextricably intertwined in America since, like, always), suddenly the color of its residents becomes synonymous with the perception of the neighborhood.
This is the kind of thinking that allows people to use “crime” to justify and excuse their racist views. They’ve walked a delicate and sinister mental tightrope that begins crime and ends at race, but in reality goes in the other direction.
Overtly racist reviews of the neighborhood notwithstanding, I was looking forward to seeing a part of the city I hadn’t visited before. And for the record, I wasn’t the victim of a single crime (violent or otherwise). I mean, what more can you ask for?
Oh yeah, and the neighborhood has some sick views too:
Phew. Not only were the vistas gorgeous, but they helped me justify all the calories I was about to consume.
Queen’s is a casual place. It isn’t a white table cloth kind of joint. They offer good food quickly to dine-in or take-out. There aren’t waiters, and you pick your meal up at the counter. None of this is meant to be criticism. I just don’t want you to go expecting a Sommelier to pull out your chair and present you with a wine list.
I ordered the Fried Chicken Tenders Po’ Boy Sandwich with Fries ($8) and an extra side of Cornbread ($0.75). The chicken itself was excellently spiced. The sandwich itself had lettuce, tomato, a mayo-based dressing (fancier places would call this Aioli) and pickles, the sourness of which perfectly balanced the heat of the chicken. It was a very satisfying sandwich of extremely appropriate proportions. The fries were a bit soft/soggy for my taste, but I didn’t really need to eat those extra carbs anyway.
M ordered the Real Louisiana Jambalaya ($7) which came with a side of Cornbread ($.075), but she ordered an extra anyway. A decision that turned out to be a good one because the cornbread is yummy. It’s sweet and moist enough that you don’t need butter, and it goes well with the unapologetically savory and flavorful main dishes. The bowl of jambalaya can only be described as heaping. M had enough to take half of it home, which I’m sure she’s eating right now, as I jealously type away eating the last stale crumbs from this bag of Pita Chips. The jambalaya was flavorful as it was plentiful. M said she appreciated “how seasoned it was without being spicy.” M hates spicy food and that’s her cross to bear. Neither of us knew if jambalaya was supposed to be spicy, but it wouldn’t have surprised us if it had been…because we’re both generally ignorant.
Speaking of our ignorance, we were given sample portions of their Real Louisiana Gumbo ($7) to try while we waited for our food. M asked, in a hushed whisper, “What’s the difference between gumbo and jambalaya?” and I had no idea. Gumbo, as it turns out, is a savory stew served over rice. Jambalaya is also a rice dish, but not a stew. A not stew? Whatever, I don’t know. Both are delicious, so it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what they are because there’s really no downside.
Now, I mentioned that Queen’s isn’t fancy, but it isn’t super tidy either. It would have been nice if the tables had been wiped down. Fried chicken is greasy, after all. And the floor needed a quick sweeping. Nothing unsanitary — they’ve had four health inspections and never scored lower than 94 — but noticeable. Considering the man behind the counter was intently playing Farmville on his Mac when we arrived, it seems like he had time to straighten up.
Neatness aside, we both really liked our meals and probably verbalized how much we liked them a little more than usual. “Do you think we’re being extra complementary because of where the restaurant is?” I asked.
“Probably,” M replied, “but even so, I would definitely eat here again. The same cannot be said for Delarosa.”
Some of you will say that my views of this neighborhood and this restaurant were influenced by “white guilt,” and maybe they are. But why shouldn’t I feel guilty? I perpetuated unnecessary, unjustified, and negative perceptions of this neighborhood.
Wouldn’t you feel guilty if you thought something unkind about someone and let it influence your decisions, only to find out later that it was untrue? What if you spread that untruth to others? That’s slander, and, at the very least, apologies are in order.
Why shouldn’t the same be true for a community or a neighborhood? When an individual is unfairly maligned the burden is on the slanderer to prove their claim, but when it’s a neighborhood the burden is on the community to prove that it isn’t “bad.” Conflating crime, color, and poverty is a dangerous misunderstanding — mostly for the misunderstood. It’s the reason I’ve lived in San Francisco for three years and have never been down to that neighborhood. Its a misunderstanding that kept me from patronizing their local businesses, and depriving their communities of revenue they would have otherwise had. So if a little guilt is what it takes to get you down there, then its worth it — if for no other reason, than so you’ll realize that it was worth going to all along [Note 2].
(this is an emoticon of me gleefully licking my lips) [Note 3]
Note 1: M objects to being called my sidekick. She feels like it diminishes her importance, which could have a negative impact on who is cast to play her when they turn my blog into a movie. She very much wants all the top leading ladies to consider this role. She says its meatier and more deeply nuanced than the moniker “sidekick” implies. I admit that I’m M’s sidekick just as often as she is mine, but since this adventure was my idea I feel strongly that in this instance she was the Batman to my Robin. However, Jennifer Lawrence should not let that influence any of her future casting decisions.
Note 2: Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think I solved racism by eating a sandwich. Yes, I am a white guy with an inflated sense of self worth, but that’s a stretch, even for me. I felt that it would be remiss to go to this neighborhood and ignore the greater social context. I make no claim to have fixed anything. I won’t even claim to have gotten anything right. I merely claim to have not completely ignored something obvious and important.
Note 3: M has real issues with my rating system. She says that I need to create a logical rubric so that you can compare different restaurants. She says the random emojis about how I sort of felt are not getting the job done. If you can’t tell M has been getting uppity lately.