Eatin’ Janky on the Grid

Posted on September 2, 2010 – 8:23 AM | by OldManFoster
  • Share

By Becky Grunewald  Photos by Scott Duncan

Much as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I know it when I see it,” in regards to the rather nebulous definition of pornography, defining “janky” can be a bit of a sticky wicket. If one pays attention to online definitions, one would think that janky is all bad, but I would argue that in Sacramento it has taken on a more nuanced flavor, as evinced by the profusion of “keep midtown janky” bumper stickers, one of which adorns the bumper of my decidedly janky ‘93 Geo. To test my theory scientifically, I went to and typed in “janky.”  When a Sacramento yelper uses the term “janky” it is almost always as a part of a four or five star review.  Reviewers tend to qualify, as in “janky, but in a good way,” or by stating “I love the janky vibe.”  In San Francisco this is not the case at all.  In that high-falutin’ city “janky” is usually used in the context of an object, not a place, and is usually highly negative.

Sacramentans know that restaurants can be janky – in a good way – and one janky spot that I had never tried due to their prohibitive (to my schedule, anyway) weekday hours, was Bud’s Buffet (1016 10th St.).  This fact elicited incredulous cries of, “you’ve never been to Bud’s?!?” from MM editor Tim Foster who describes the salisbury steak special there with the same loving tones he usually reserves for anecdotes about The Sonics or tiny antique cars [or my lovely wife – Ed.], so I knew that he would be the perfect eating companion. A stint at jury duty provided the perfect opportunity.

As soon as I saw the steam trays of meat marinating in their own copious juices I knew I was in for a treat.  I grabbed a tray and went for the Reuben The iteration at Bud’s would cause any self-respecting Jew to flip his yarmulke – it’s served on a white roll rather than sliced rye and is not grilled – but the tender, thin-sliced corned beef gives the sandwich a heavenly texture.  The “El Diablo” that Tim ordered was not quite spicy enough to live up to its name but was devilishly tasty.  It’s a massive mound of pastrami and roast beef, on a roll and topped with pickled jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, and spicy mayo.  Belying his whippet-thin frame, Tim polished it off in seconds and promptly gave himself an attack of pancreatitis that lasted three days.  He said it was worth it.

The spot that currently houses La Garnacha has seen a parade of janky businesses over the years.  Long ago there was Country Burger, and after that a generic series of Mexican joints – El Rey Del Taco, Angel’s Fresh Mex – and now the 24 hour food stylings of La Garnacha (2101 16th St.).  They have some uncommon dishes on their menu such as molletes and alambre, and I was excited to order a tlacoyo, a torpedo-shaped masa cake topped with meat that I had previously sampled as street food in Mexico.  La Garnacha’s version was crisp and hot but overly drenched in crema, and the chewy steak brought to mind a clenched fist.  It didn’t help that the salsa had all the character of a bottled hot sauce.  The tacos were large and encased in unheated corn tortillas.  The garlicky dollop of guacamole improved the flavor of the desiccated shredded chicken but overall La Garnacha offers quantity over quality.  The only other customer who weaved his way up while I was there was so drunk that I could almost glimpse the cartoon elephants swirling around his head, and I guess that’s kind of the point.

In contrast, Los Jarritos (2509 Broadway) has a lively, multicultural (and mostly sober) crowd at all times.  Los Jarritos was a lifeline for me in my starving student days.  I lived two blocks away and their cheap vegetarian burritos often served as both lunch and dinner. Some things have changed since then but two never will: there will always be peas and carrots in the rice and no one will ever actually pay a quarter for their second tray of chips.

That’s why it was a shock when I varied my traditional order for the sake of this review and discovered that their asada and pastor meat is dry and flavorless.  The salsa bar was scantily stocked so I could not rescue it with a dollop of Jarrito’s tasty mild tomato salsa.  It was with relief that I turned my attention to my customary chicken taco.  It has a fried shell and is topped with iceberg lettuce, cheese, and a single slice of tomato.  The shredded chicken deliciously drips grease and the heat of it melts the cheese.  I recommend a combo plate, which comes with the funny rice and richly lard-y refried beans.  Los Jarritos has a case stocked with paletas – both flavors that they make in-house and the La Michaocana brand – I recommend the horchata-like rice paleta to end the meal.

All roads are leading me to the ultimate janky restaurant: Pieces Pizza By The Slice (1309 21st St.).  It is fitting that when Pieces comes up in conversation that it inevitably leads to the (probably apocryphal) Sacramento urban legend that employees have had sex on the counter.  I don’t even like pizza by the slice, and I had only eaten there once, at least a decade ago.  I kept putting my trip off until I was close to blowing my deadline, but I vowed to keep an open mind once I was there.

The interior of Pieces is quite dispiriting.  The floor covering and paint on the walls are chipped, and someone really went wild with the sponge brush on the interior murals when that painting technique was in fashion.  I ordered a Lagunitas IPA and a slice of mushroom and olive pizza, and listened to reggae as I waited.  And waited.  I wasn’t sure how long the reheating process should take and I became engrossed in the Wavves interview in Submerge (is that Wavves guy a dick or what?), so at least 20 minutes ticked by.  Finally, I knew something must be wrong and I went up to the counter to politely inquire.  The counter guy stated accusatorily that someone else must have taken my pizza, but there were only two customers the entire time I had been there and he had never called out my slice.

He heated another slice for me quickly and at this point I was quite hungry.  Even though hunger is the best sauce nothing could improve this slice.  It wasn’t worthy of being called pizza.  It could barely even be termed “food”.  There was no discernible tomato sauce-just a thick blanket of the cheapest, chalkiest “cheez” imaginable.  The thick crust contained more horror in the form of a chewy inner roll of undercooked dough.

My experiences at these janky grid mainstays just goes to show that – also similar to pornography – jankiness can be inspiring or disheartening.  In Sacramento we embrace our jank; it is part of us.  A river of jank flows through our city that is just as wide as the American or the Sacramento.  We can attempt to cast it off, to valet park it or art walk it away, but the jank will seep back.

Why fight it?

Tags: , , , , ,

Post a Comment