Tenderloin Food Crawl Pairs Immersive Theater and Food

| May 10, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Tenderloin. photo: Rob Melrose, courtesy Cutting Ball Theater
Kathy and Leroy Looper (Rebecca Frank and David Sinaiko), owners of the Cadillac Hotel and Tenderloin community activists, describe the Tenderloin as a “containment zone.” Photo: Rob Melrose, courtesy Cutting Ball Theater

In an innovative melding of art and food, the Cutting Ball Theater kicked off a month-long series of restaurant crawls called Tenderloin Trail. Held in conjunction with the theater company’s new documentary play, Tenderloin, theater-goers have the opportunity to check out several neighborhood restaurants before or after the play.

I had the chance to attend the play and the crawl last Saturday, and it was quite the immersive experience. Located in the heart of the Tenderloin (277 Taylor, at Ellis), Cutting Ball is the ideal location for a piece that gives voice to 40 people who live and work in the neighborhood. The street scenes you witness before and after the play meld seamlessly into the performance itself.

Theater documentarians portray residents encountered on the street. Photos: Rob Melrose, courtesy Cutting Ball Theater
Theater documentarians documentarians (l-r Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Tristan Cunningham, and Michael Uy Kelly) portray residents encountered on the street. Photos: Rob Melrose, courtesy Cutting Ball Theater

Tenderloin is the product of a year’s worth of interviews, wherein the actors recorded massive amounts of spoken testimony. Spending so much time with their subjects also gave them the opportunity to study their mannerisms, accents, and general personas, in order to replicate it on the stage.

The result was a vibrant, powerful work of art that showcases the joys, pains, and essential humanity at play in the Tenderloin. The same compressed intensity you can feel after walking for a few blocks in the neighborhood was handily replicated on stage. Characters included caregivers and service workers, immigrants and ex-convicts, artists and the down-and-out. There were small-time hustlers, cops, war veterans, gentrifiers, grade-schoolers, and a transgendered barkeep. It all wended together to create a complexly textured portrait of a neighborhood that defies easy categorization.

Killing time between the 2pm matinee and the 5pm food crawl, you could witness that same density of human drama right on the streets. I saw a high-speed police chase, replete with dozens of people stepping out in the street to gawk in its aftermath. I saw a raucous game of streetside dominoes. I met a woman, a self-proclaimed street-corner mayor, who complimented my girlfriend’s style and gave me a hot tip on where I should lock up my bike. I couldn’t keep all the interesting characters in my head because each one was replaced by the next colorful persona.

tenderloin-restaurants-farmerbrow- chicken dishes

The food crawl itself took us to some of the more upscale eateries in the Tenderloin, places that are newer on the scene. Managing Director Suzanne Appel, who guides the tour, said this was largely a result of the newer places having a more sophisticated marketing structure, as well as more space to accommodate large groups. She attempted to involve more old-school, low-end Tenderloin restaurants like New Delhi, to no avail.

“The goal of the Tenderloin Trail is to give our patrons a broader perspective on what the Tenderloin has to offer,” said Appel. “We believe that the arts are a critical piece of the revitalization of the Tenderloin, but we need small local businesses, such as these restaurants, to make this a neighborhood where our patrons can have a great night out.”

tenderloin-restaurants-Fish & Farm - Tenderloin Tommy cocktail

Though some might say these restaurants don’t have the authenticity of Turtle Tower or Saigon Sandwich (both name-checked in the play), they are all chosen with care and well worth visiting. Highlights included the legendary fried chicken at farmerbrown, a newly invented drink called Tenderloin Tommy (ingredients included tarragon gin, egg white, homemade grenadine, grapefruit juice, and allspice) at Fish & Farm, and a beer and charcuterie sampler at 50 Mason Social House. I went on the inaugural Tenderloin Trail crawl and there were some logistical issues — restaurants weren’t totally prepared for our visits and the food selection was spotty — but Appel says these wrinkles should be ironed out by next weekend.

I also enjoyed the communal aspect of tromping around the Tenderloin with a crew of art-loving strangers, discussing the play and how it jibes with our own perceptions of the neighborhood. Of course, some participants were seeing the play after the food crawl, so I had to be mindful of giving away spoilers.

Tenderloin will run in conjunction with the Tenderloin Trail food crawl for the next three Saturdays. You can either see the 2pm matinee or the 8pm show, with the crawl running for about two and a half hours starting at 5pm. Tickets are $75 ($32.50 for just the play) and proceeds go to benefit Cutting Ball Theater’s ongoing programs. The tentative menu for each crawl is as follows:

May 12
farmerbrown – fried chicken, pork sliders, jalapeno cornbread muffins, and a Tenderloin Shandy cocktail

Jasper’s Corner Tap – a cocktail and appetizer TBD

50 Mason Social House – a flight of three local San Francisco beers, and local cheese and charcuterie plate

May 19
Fish & Farm – Tenderloin Tommy cocktail and oysters

farmerbrown – Fried chicken, pork sliders, jalapeno cornbread muffins, and a Tenderloin Shandy cocktail

50 Mason Social House – a flight of three local San Francisco beers, and local cheese and charcuterie plate

May 26
farmerbrown – fried chicken, pork sliders, jalapeno cornbread muffins, and a Tenderloin Shandy cocktail

Jasper’s Corner Tap – a cocktail and appetizer TBD

50 Mason Social House – a flight of three local San Francisco beers, and local cheese and charcuterie plate

To learn more, or to purchase tickets, please visit the Cutting Ball website.

Listen to KQED’s Forum: Voices of the Tenderloin
Fri, May 11, 2012 — 10:00 AM
Conversation with Annie Elias, director of Tenderloin and members of the cast.

Disclosure: My girlfriend is a former colleague of Suzanne Appel and I had met her a couple of times socially prior to the restaurant crawl.

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Category: bay area, events, food art, writing, music, dance, san francisco

About the Author ()

Jesse Hirsch is the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Examiner. Before that he has been a critic for the East Bay Express, the editor of Edible Queens magazine, and a freelancer for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Wine and Spirits magazine, and the Village Voice. Since moving from NYC>SFO, Hirsch has joined a CSA, practices regular yoga, and barely uses his car horn. In short, he has undergone the type of Bay Area conversion that makes East Coasters feel smug. A theory – it’s possible Hirsch’s sharp edges have been blunted by an embarrassment of delicious food. Laugh away, oh ye cynics, while he Zens out on year-round produce, shrimp tacos, and everything al pastor. Full disclosure: Hirsch is goat cheese-averse.