I’m amazed at how some businesses stay open in the Tenderloin, and I’m equally amazed at the brave souls who take the risk of operating one. Not because I think it’s too dangerous, more so because of the riff-raff they have to deal with, and the subpar foot traffic of consumers who have disposable income not intended for crack. I wonder how the business owners stay sane.
Then there’s Lil May, who greets customers at shoebox-sized Hyde Away Blues BBQ with open arms and a warm smile.
Photo courtesy of TenderBlog
Let me back up a moment. I had the privilege of seeing Barack Obama last night at the Nob Hill Masonic Center. Security was airport-style, no liquids or umbrellas were allowed. There was a cash-only bar and an out-of-service ATM. And there were the folks who started yelling “well they better start handing out water bottles if the ATM won’t work!” I would have settled for a free hand out of white wine, or a hot intellect who would buy me a glass.
I said “hey” to Gavin Newsom (wow, that guy knows how to smile), noticed Nancy Pelosi (haven’t seen her since we sat across from each other on United Flight 263 from LAX last year), and watched as Jerry Rice rallied the crowd and Goapele stirred their souls.
Then Obama arrived. He reiterated his accomplishments thus far, and told us his job wasn’t quite finished. He pointed out that people like change in the abstract, but change is hard. He lamented his frustration and said he “feels burdened that so many people don’t have the help they need.” He unabashedly said he wants our big, messy democracy “to have the best stuff!” He was self-deprecating, laid back, and witty. He noted “things are different this time – I’m older. I’m grayer…” The girl two seats in front of me screamed “but you’re still fine baby!” The whole room erupted in laughter. Obama paused and smiled. As he tried to get serious, he paused again and looked back in our direction, humbly chuckling. The crowd erupted in laughter again. It was a refreshingly human moment.
I walked home from the event and the 38-Geary awkwardly moseyed by. I was consumed with how Obama said he doesn’t want us to go to Asia and marvel at their airports, or visit Europe and ride their trains, and ask why isn’t our infrastructure this nice? I thought about what would happen if a president took the 38-Geary, or the 71-Haight, or the 19-Polk…then I saw the light on at Hyde Away Blues BBQ and walked in.
Photo courtesy of Thrillist
Sweet Lil May is the amicable ringmaster of the tiny storefront, which is festooned with enough flare on the walls for the entire block. She told me she had sold out of the BBQ ribs, so I settled on crawfish etouffee with a side of collard greens, and she gave me samples of fried cabbage (spicy!) and the sweet potato pie (yummy). I was inclined to chill in one of the schoolhouse chairs, but she piled my etouffee into a to-go container, and I took that as a sign to leave. My jaw dropped when she kindly announced “$20.” After asking if she sold smaller portions, Lil May informed me they “serve southern-style portions, you won’t go hungry!” Now Obama had stimulated my hunger, but not that much. Oh well.
Back at the ranch, the etouffee was cold, but was also chock-full of humongous tiger shrimp, big hunks of chicken, and it was spiced liberally with southern bayou flavors. The cold collard greens were somewhat unappetizing, but only because they were room temperature. I really like Lil May though, and I admire her tenacity, so I decided Hyde Away Blues BBQ is the perfect place for my office to order Wednesday night dinner as they allegedly offer “24-hour delivery.” In San Francisco, kindness and service often trump food in my opinion, so I’m willing to give Hyde Away Blues BBQ another shot. And I’ve heard the ribs and the gumbo are amazing.