Weeks before it opened, signs were posted bearing Da Rib Shack’s name. I was skeptical.
Though most mobile kitchens (which is what those trailers all over town are, regardless of their actual mobility) are little more than shacks, that aspect of their construction is not something I like to focus on when enjoying their fares. A shack sits on a mountain slope, possibly inhabited by a bearded and socially awkward recluse. A shack is a structure you can use as a painting studio in the summertime. Shacks are on beaches. They have sagging thatched roofs; they creak and bend perched on the constantly-shifting sand. Shacks hold rusty garden tools. Shacks are for ghosts and cobwebs.
Also, I am not an eater of ribs. At my childhood dinner table, ribs came from either a restaurant in Salinas called Smalley’s Roundup (fantastic steak fries, as I recall) or from Smokin’ Jim. Jim had a mobile home and a huge fire pit attached by a trailer hitch. The only place you could count on finding him was the County Fair in August. The rest of the year we could only wait to spot him in parking lot somewhere. In the late 90s we all got cell phones, thus enabling easy cancellation of dinner plans in favor of his delicious barbecue. Whenever dinner came from Jim or Smalley’s, I’d have a grilled chicken breast which, of course, they both wisely offered. I love the charcoal grill flavor, but have always preferred something easier to eat. All of that gnawing and the sauce, the extra napkins and dental floss – it didn’t seem worth it.
The only other thing that bothered me about Da Rib Shack was the only other thing I knew about it: the legitimization of non-standard English, Da. Of course, I see now that Da is part of the charm, that a place called The Rib Shack would fly crooked and feel inauthentic. After all of the jaw-flapping I’ve done about honest food, you would think I’d have understood this one right off.
Now that Da Rib Shack is open and I’ve tried it a few times, I love it. I love that it exists, and that I live in a neighborhood that can sustain it. I love that everyone I’ve met working or eating there has been warm and friendly. I love that their food tastes really good. I love the hand painted, graffiti-inspired sign. I love that they serve only vegetarian-fed, organic meats and that they support local agriculture. I love that their southern greens are vegan and that they offer sweet potato cheesecake for dessert.
But I am getting ahead of my own story.
* * *
A nice introduction, right? Maybe it ran a little long, but I liked it. But before I could proceed – you can see that I was just about the get to the good part – I wanted to have one more taste of that aromatic barbecue. I was going to tell you about the brisket sandwich that changed my mind about saucy meats. I was going to extol the vegan greens and rice and the friendly service and the cook who honestly cares that you are happy and satisfied and – - The plan was to compose a review that would, provided that Da Shack did not disappoint, propel all of my Portland readers to hop on TriMet’s Number Four, stomachs rumbling and pockets stuffed with with cash.
Also, I was hungry.
Alas, much longed-after meal could not be procured. I had the lunch special at the Mississippi Pizza Pub instead and then returned home, worried. After frumping about for a number of minutes, thinking of what I would do if I couldn’t get those black eyed peas anymore, I decided that it’s better to know than to wonder. If Da Rib Shack is really closed, I’d rather get the story straight so that I can grieve and cry and, someday, hopefully move on.
Their e-mail address was conveniently printed on the menu that I had grabbed as a souvenir of my first visit, so I wrote them:
Dear Missing Rib Merchants,
I have been craving a brisket sandwich for a week. On Sunday, my Squeeze and I walked down to your corner for lunch, salivating and quite eager to feast upon your delicious po’boys and delectable black-eyed peas. Indeed, we had been talking about it for days. When we arrived at Da Shack and saw that the awning was gone and the place closed up, we refused to consider that you might be gone. We reasoned that, it being a Sunday, it was not unlikely that you would be closed. But today when we made the walk again, the evidence could not be ignored. Is this true? Has Da Rib Shack left our dear Mississippi Avenue so soon?
If this is so, I am disappointed not only on behalf of my taste buds, but also because I was looking forward to completing an article I had been writing about you, rhapsodizing over your tasty barbecue and singing the praises of your friendly service.
Perhaps you are merely taking a break? Vacation? Perhaps Da Rib Shack is already moving into more substantial digs or a more suitable location, though I cannot imagine a better corner.
Hopefully awaiting another brisket sandwich,
* * *
This morning I received a bittersweet reply. Though it seems the Shack as I know it is closed, they are offering catering and holiday desserts, with delivery available from noon to six p.m. for orders of at least $35. I suppose I’ll just have to have a party.
And that is the end of my tale, though it didn’t shake out as happily as I’d like. I’m still hungry and I still want a darned brisket sandwich and some black eyed peas ‘n’ rice. Sure, there are plenty of other barbecue joints in the city and I am sure that at least one of them is almost as good. But I can’t imagine that any of them is as charming or as honest as da Shack.