The time has come, said the walrus, to talk of many things, and what I want to talk about is Al the Wop’s (the walrus didn’t say that, I did.). I believe some explanation is in order. In my previous post, I hinted at the sublime perfection of Al the Wop’s as the ultimate Dive. But anybody who took the opportunity to follow the link to Al the Wop’s would certainly be justified in believing me to be less than accurate in giving the place a double perfect Dive Quotient score. Allow me to explain.
Several…OK, many…OK! A great many years ago, I lived in the Sacramento area. I was a field representative for a farmers’ organization. In that capacity I conversed with many farmers and their families. One memorable day, I was enjoying my conversation with a certain farmer’s daughter. Since I was at that farm on business, and the business concerned her father, it was incumbent upon me to eventually inquire into his whereabouts. Her reply (when I eventually inquired) was, “Oh, he’s probably at Al the Wop’s”. Now I remember this young lady with great fondness, and time has enhanced rather than diminished her beauty in my memory. But what I remember most about that day (fear not, there were other days) were the words “Al the Wop’s” tumbling so casually from her pretty lips.
From that moment, I purposed to find and dine at Al the Wop’s.
South and west from Sacramento on the delta levee in the vicinity of Walnut Grove is the tiny little former Chinese labor town of Locke, and Locke was my destination, because Locke is where Al, an Italian man, opened a bar and restaurant named Al’s Place (more about that later). On route to Locke, I passed by a mansion built next to the levee. I don’t use the term loosely; it was large and boasted well tended tennis and basketball courts and a helipad, complete with helicopter – a legitimate mansion. I never learned who built the place, or who owned it at the time…but I like to pretend that it belonged to Al.
Traveling atop the levee, Locke comes up on one quickly following a lazy right hand bend. A narrow, paved road skids down the steep incline of the levee (opposite the river, of course) with dilapidated structures clinging to the slope. At the very bottom is another narrow street, usually with several vehicles jammed together along it.
There was Al’s Place, there was a sign that said so, across the street from a Chinese apothecary with its wares visible in a dingy, begrimed display window – how long those roots and tinctures and whatall had sat there, I decline to contemplate.
Now had I asked one of my farmer acquaintances about Al’s Place, they would have looked at me with some puzzlement and asked, “Who’s what?”. Nobody knew it as Al’s Place, it was Al the Wop’s – and EVERYBODY knew how to get to Al the Wop’s.
There was nothing to recommend the place from the outside, ramshackle, listing and weary looking. Inside was no better – a dark, dingy and smoky bar, with dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. A doorway in the back of the bar spilled yellow light into the room. Through the door was the dining room – linoleum floor, formica topped, long tables, benches to sit on – nothing fancy, about all you could say about the room was it was open, it was lit, and it was clean enough.
I sat down at a table, and the old gal (that is positively the only accurate way of referring to her) asked, “How do you want it?” See, Al the Wop’s served only one thing, a new york steak, and if you sat down at the table, that’s what you wanted. I told her I wanted it rare, and I don’t believe she said another word to me. She brought my steak and a stack of grilled toast, and there was a jar of peanut butter and one of apricot jam already on the table. In the peanut butter jar was a utensil, the like of which I had never seen before and have never seen since – a spife? a knoon? It looked like a table spoon that was flattened out and it was the perfect peanut butter scooper-spreader. A table knife doesn’t get the right amount of peanut butter, and a spoon doesn’t spread it well, it was perfect! As was the meal – the steak was cooked to exactly right, sizzling and tasty and large enough to hang over either end. The toast and the peanut butter and the jam were the perfect compliment to the hot, savory meat. It was ambrosia! No server interrupting my thoughts with endless questions, no view (of anything) to distract me; just me, my steak and my grilled toast with peanut butter and apricot jam. Oh, there were other customers, but I was alone and content in my culinary bubble. I don’t remember if there was a check or not, but cash was the only accepted method of payment, so I left a modest sum for so fine a meal, left a generous tip, and left satisfied.
I returned often. I even took a lady, with whom I was enamored, there for dinner. She was impressed, and I gave her high marks for good taste. I never saw a menu, I only answered the one question at lunch, and two additional at dinner (Dinner cut or regular cut? And french fries or raviolis?) and I never had anything less than an excellent meal there. Sadly, the Al the Wop’s I loved is gone.