There are regulars at the bar at T-Rex, which seems odd at first when you consider that it's a BBQ joint, but not so odd when you remember that the only other bars in the area are Pyramid Alehouse and Ashkenaz. But still, it's strange to walk into a high-endish restaurant and see those thousand-yard stares coming from blue collars who're all belly-up at the bar. It gives T-Rex a café feeling and might actually make it the ultimate fusion of saloon and chuck wagon in the East Bay.
"Oh lord!" said my companion Ernestine after taking a sip of her ginger mojito. She liked it. We got the best seats in the place, the stuffed leather seats over by the window. The waitress had just plunked down a tray of housemade BBQ potato chips to ramp up our salt intake and thereby triple our drinks bill.
A couple with their pit bull mix under their table were sitting right next to us; I always love to see dogs in public places, but I have to admit that that breed makes me nervous. I know saying this will launch a thousand dipshits who will call me breedist, but I could really give a shit. I looked at the animal and it had that broad, scary face that the Pitbull Mafia defends to no end; they hold on to the idea that there is no such thing as a "bad dog," just a "bad owner," and they hold on to that idea just about as tightly as a pit bull keeps its locked jaws on someone's neck.
"In Europe they let you bring your dog into restaurants," said Ernestine, who loves all dogs, even big scary ones. She even likes German shepherds, which I call Gestapo dogs. Actually once I referred to them as "Bull Connor dogs," and since she is an African-American in her 60s, she shot me a look that made my tail go between my legs.
The sun began to set and the light that was filtering through T-Rex was lovely. It's a two-tiered, modern design with a lot of windows; it's the exact opposite of what you would expect a BBQ place to look like. Ernestine is a definite connoisseur of the fare. I can take a bite of brisket and go, "tastes good," but she deconstructs the thing about 12 ways and the computer in her head instantly compares it to others that she has eaten.
"Delicious!" she said about her riblets after we ordered still more bar snacks. Seriously T-Rex, that is a huge compliment. As for me, I'd been doing that Mark Bittman Vegan Before Six thing for about a month and could not wait to sink my canines into some flesh.
Which brings me back to pit bulls. In Union City last week, a 6-year-old was killed by his grandparents' dog when he was apparently playing with it in the backyard. I suppose you could chalk this up to the same sort of child endangerment that those folks who leave a baby-blue, kiddie-size gun out for their 5-year-old to blow away his dad can get behind.
But if you make any negative comments about pit bulls, you might as well dress up like a Westboro Baptist Church loon and sandwich-board your ass up and down Castro. You will get less abuse.
Ernestine tends to agree with me on one thing, that there are people who own dogs like that who do not train them properly. "Cesar told me about my dog Pansy," she said, bringing up (again) that her dog trainer back in L.A. was none other than Cesar Millan. "He said, 'She wants to please you, so she will be easy to train.'"
The other brush with greatness that Ernestine has had was sharing the same gynecologist with Oprah Winfrey.
"Wow," I told her. "That means there are only two degrees of separation between my vagina and hers."
A woman passed by the couple with the dog and got down on her haunches, eye-level, to pet the pit. She put her face right up in the dog's and made kissy noises. I tensed up. Then she and the owners of course launched into a conversation about the breed, what hers at home looks like, etc. Ernestine looked over and smiled in that universal, dog-loving way. I just shook my head.
Ernestine got another mojito and we sat back and watched the families start to pile in. Then she asked the nice waitress about herself, and the waitress said she was in college. "Wonderful!" said Ernestine.
I'm not sure how a curmudgeon like me became best friends with a positive, never-depressed, Up With People And Mongrel Dogs person like Ernestine, but she's good for me.
"Oh we will be coming back here," she said as she sampled the chicken. "Oh this is wonderful ... probably the best I have had in a long time."
I just looked at her and smiled.