Lost soul

It was one of those moments that makes those who would sing Sacramento’s praises cringe: All-star power forward Chris Webber was threatening to leave the Kings at the end of last season, in part because of the lack of soul food restaurants in our fair city. Eager to please the superstar athlete, local media were quick to point out that there are any number of soul food establishments in the area worthy of his Webb-ness.

This writer, for instance, recommended that C-Webb go to Jimmy’s in Del Paso Heights. Others suggested Mary’s Kitchen and Barbecue in Midtown. One local talk show host went so far as to broadcast live from Elgin’s Soul Food & Barbecue on Stockton Boulevard, begging Webber, if he was listening in his Granite Bay mansion, to come on down and give Sacramento soul food one last chance.

Webber didn’t show up at Elgin’s that night, and you still won’t find his likeness among the autographed photographs of local sports celebrities that adorn Mary’s wall on 20th St. As far as I know, he hasn’t been spotted in any of the aforementioned places. But that didn’t stop him from signing a seven-year, $100 million-plus contract with the Kings this summer. Now that C-Webb is cooling his heels after a pre-season ankle injury, it seems like the perfect time to lure him out of the house and into the local mix. But lest our one hope for future NBA greatness aggravates his injury, I’ve taken it upon myself to do some of the legwork for him.

Which is what brought me, and my dining companion, to Elgin’s on a recent Saturday night. Stockton Boulevard was as dead as I’ve ever seen it; no one walked the street, and Elgin’s was near-deserted when we entered. It’s a modest place with a sparkled, textured ceiling, a fully stocked bar with maroon leather barstools on one side of the room, and a half-dozen dining tables with red tablecloths on the other. There were two dartboards and a load of tournament trophies on the walls, but no one played darts. Three TV sets above the bar beamed unwatched into the void. Chris, where are you? I thought. There’s plenty of room here for you and your entourage.

We started with fried oysters, five large mollusks that were battered, deep-fat fried and served sizzling hot. Each oyster was the size of a boiled egg—they were the largest I’ve ever seen, anywhere. If it’s true that oysters have an aphrodisiac effect, then these were large enough to wean Bob Dole off Viagra.

There’s nothing fancy about soul food. For dinner, Elgin’s offers a selection of Southern-style entrees—fried chicken, barbecued pork ribs, chitterlings—that are served with two side dishes of your choice. We chose to forgo the pig intestines (chitterlings) and went with the ribs and the chicken, choosing greens, yams, red beans and rice for our side dishes.

The yams were simply marvelous, sliced chunks of baked orange tuber encrusted with brown sugar that could have served as dessert easily. Just like mom used to make it, only better. Sorry, mom. The greens were also distinctive, a heaping bowl of steamed leaves that were bacon flavored and chewy in texture. But the red beans were tasteless and looked like they’d come straight out of the can, signaling that the down-home touch didn’t necessarily apply to everything on the menu.

Nowhere was this more true than with the fried chicken. Where were the mysterious herbs and spices, the gloppy breading? This bird had come straight out of the deep-fat pressure cooker with nothing on it except a coating of flour. The meat was good, but completely tasteless. The ribs didn’t fare much better. They were fat-laden rubbery logs served with a bland barbecue sauce. In short, both the ribs and the chicken lacked the main ingredient Elgin’s purports to serve: soul.

Not that the meal as a whole, which we topped off with fresh-baked peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream, wasn’t hearty. It was, and we left stuffed and fairly happy. But I’m gonna stop short of advising C-Webb to go to Elgin’s. I mean, what if he doesn’t like it? We’ve got to keep the big guy happy, after all.