“What would you like to drink?” the waiter said, standing at the end of the table with a notepad, pen poised to scribble and all around us. People spoke Korean at that “having a good time” volume, the sound of it muffled by the partitions between the tables. TLC sang about chasing waterfalls on the flat-screens against the walls. Korean movie posters hung on the pallets that make up most of the interior of the place and, for some reason, a mural of a village in Greece against one of the walls.
“Do you have Hite beer?” I ask. It’s not in the photo of the beers they serve, which was laminated, hanging from my pallet, but Hite beer is a staple of Korean eating and nothing puts out a chicken wing wildfire like Hite.
The waiter threw me a coy smile like he’s standing at the door of a speakeasy and I just said the password.
“Alright, no problem,” he said, and he left me to my corner in the weirdness, basking in the glow of blue and green lights, reading the lyrics to an old Pink song off the flatscreen, loving every second of it.
I had been waiting for this for weeks. In the midst of my truffle-pigging across this glorious city of hidden treasures, I passed by a building with a steel bunker door beside a wooden board with the word “menu” written on it. The rest of the board was in Korean, leading me to wonder why they’d bothered to write the word menu in English at all, and what other fantastic mysteries awaited me behind that bomb shelter entrance. It was closed at the time, (doesn’t open until 5 p.m.) so I’d gone digging in Yelp! and found it back there real deep. Stuffed haphazardously into the mix, which usually means it either wasn’t very good, or the people of Yelp! hadn’t found it yet. As I flicked through its meager spread of pictures and searched the five reviews it had when I wrote this piece, it became apparent that ‘secret,’ was much more likely than ‘unsatisfying’. A flicker of anticipation went off like a sparkler between my shoulders and I slapped it with a bookmark, and filed it in the ‘later’ folder in my brain.
The beer came out in a bottle that simply is not messing around. Roughly the size of a toddler, ‘hite pale lager’ was on the front of it, ‘extra drinkability’ on the side. I poured it into my tumbler, swished it about and found it to be extra drinkable. Through my wood pallet privacy wall, there was a couple, laughing red faced at their table, and the smell of spicy something or other wafts over, which prompted the waiter to ask, “Have you looked at the menu?”
A laminated sheet of wonders that would be hard to find under one roof anywhere else. Steamed Pork feet in soy sauce. Spiced rice cake with ramen. Spicy chicken feet. Hamburger steak. All of the descriptions written beneath their Korean translations, the word A.G.I.T. across the top. I want it all.
I can’t afford it all. And you can only refinance your home so many times. I order a plate of spicy chicken wings.
“How spicy?” the waiter says.
“Medium,” I lob out into the space between us. I’m not a fire swallower, but quesadilla doesn’t rhyme with chinchilla when I say it, either. Medium is a safe bet for me. He tries to help me.
“Yeah,” I am no longer sure. “Regular.”
Korean chicken wings have popped up all over the Puget Sound in many different iterations and styles. You get it dry or saucy, hot or mild, good or bad and every nook and cranny in between. In South Korea, chicken is an industry like cars or oil and just like any industry, the only way to survive is to adapt. To perfect.
It comes double fried and roasted. It comes with pickles and served on a bun, or (like the kind you get at Agit) brushed with a special sauce and then sprinkled with scallions and sesame seeds. I’m not sure, exactly, what’s in the sauce except for one thing – red pepper flakes. I’m sure there are red pepper flakes in the sauce.
I was wrong about the regular. I was so, so, so, wrong about the regular. As I huffed and puffed in my booth, I thought maybe those people at the next table weren’t red faced from all the laughter. I had sauce on my fingers and on my face. It was a thousand tiny dots of fire like a roman candle and despite the agony of it, I COULD. NOT. STOP. EATING. It was too good. Sweet beneath all the sparkle. Chewy and complex apart from the fire. All the fire, everywhere in my life. My only saving grace is Hite Beer, which I suddenly find infinitely more extra drinkable.
“How is everything?” my waiter asked.
And I threw him a thumbs up that was coated with a slippery red sauce that I was too afraid to lick off. He saw the pain in my eyes and, like a true friend, he pretended not to. He retreated before the sweat on my forehead could hit the neck of my shirt. I was then alone in my booth again with my decisions.
The word is an abbreviation of the Russian term, ‘agitpunkt,’ which refers to propaganda schools in use before the fall of the Soviet Union. Leftists, backed by North Korea, took the word and chopped the end off it and it’s been slang in Korea ever since. It means “a hideout.”
Posted up behind my pallets, as I grooved to Korean pop and American ‘90s music with a handful of wicked hot, delicious chicken wings and a toddler’s worth of excellent beer, I found myself thinking about that barren Yelp! page, with its five reviews and its 10 pictures.
I found myself hoping deeply that the people of Federal Way would pull this place out of their ‘later folder’ and get in there. That a place as good as Agit wouldn’t have to ‘hideout’ any longer.
Agit is located at 33310 Pacific Highway S., Ste. 404 in Federal Way.
Kellen Burden is a local novelist and lunch enthusiast. More of his work can be found at www.goatfederation.com.