Monday, June 16, 2014

When It Goes From Bad To Worse

Greetings, gentle readers. The more astute among you may have noticed that the amount of time since my last post has been right around a year. I've posted in the past the reason for the long gaps and what was true then remains true now: I just don't have the luxury of the time required to write this blog on a consistent basis. So what brings me (temporarily) out of retirement today? A troubling tale I am prepared to tell, involving a food truck, squishy Italian hoagie rolls, and a blatant disregard for the safety of customers.

This isn't the first time I've written about food trucks on this blog. Some of them, including The Orange Truk, Wholly Frijoles, Zydeco Bistro, and Boca Loca Burrito Factory have set out and accomplished the main goal of a food truck: to be unique and serve quality, freshly prepared food to the people for a reasonable price. The best food trucks seek to recreate the same food experience one would find at a great restaurant (at least in terms of the food). Of course, I suppose you can't have the best without having the worst. While I want every restaurant (and food truck) to succeed, real world studies indicate that nearly 60% of restaurants will fail over a three year period. Today's visit to the Nacho Mama Food Truck out of Kent, Ohio proved exactly why this is the case.

Being a lovely sunny day in the low 70's was too much of an allure to stay indoors. Coupled with the announcement I saw by one of the many food trucks I follow on Facebook, I discovered that there would be a "round up" of seven trucks at the Home Depot in Cuyahoga Falls. When I got to the round up around noon, I was relieved to find that the lines were fairly short. After getting my camera equipment set up in the back of my car, I walked around to survey the goods. While I enjoyed the crepe I had at Premier Crepes at a past round up, I wasn't really in a crepe kind of mood today. Surveying my other options, I finally settled on Nacho Mama Food Truck. I had seen it at other round ups, but had yet to try their food. Today was as good as any to give it the college try.

I approached the truck and began to read the menu. The first red flag was that the chorizo dog they were offering was misspelled as a "chirizo" dog. Thinking the misspelling might have been done on purpose as a marketing gimmick, I asked the woman taking orders if that was indeed the case. When she stared back at me blankly, my question was answered without her having to actually say anything. Other menu items for today were nachos (as the name of the truck would imply), burritos, and a few other things aimed at children. My philosophy when trying out a new restaurant (or truck) is generally to buy two or three items, photograph them all, eat one and take the other(s) home for later consumption.

After ordering my chorizo dog topped with the spicy slaw, I set about attempting to order the tequila lime chicken nachos. This was where things started to get a little dicey. While people like to claim that they want choice in their lives, when faced with too much choice, the average human being becomes paralyzed with fear over having to actually make said choice. And with some fifteen toppings from which to choose, it took me a minute to get my bearings. Nacho Mama might be better served by offering a "standard" - beans, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and salsa - and then allow customers to modify it to suit their taste. For whatever reason I was feeling in a nacho cheese kind of mood, so I added it as one of the toppings.

After paying the $15 for my haul (I included one of the Pepsi products as well), I walked to the other end of the truck to wait for my food. Within a minute or so, the woman inside the truck handed me the chorizo dog. While waiting for my nachos, she helpfully informed me that the chorizo link was actually from a place with which I am quite familiar, Dumas Meats in Mogadore, Ohio. That, to me, was a good sign. The bad sign, sadly, was the white squishy Italian hoagie bun on which the dog had been served. More on that later.


The last step before handing me my finished nachos was the ladling on of the cheese. Sadly, this happened straight from a very large can that had no cover on it that was labeled, "Nacho Cheese." One might find this type of product at any Gordon Food Service (GFS) / Sam's Club / food wholesale place and would have probably been more correctly labeled "pasteurized cheese food product" rather than just "cheese." Regardless, after the ladling of the cheese, she handed it to me. The first thing I noticed besides the dayglo orange color of the cheese was the heft of the basket in my hand. For $7, you certainly got your money's worth, I thought.


As I crossed the parking lot to my waiting car, I began to notice a problem. The nacho cheese had been poured too closely to one of the edges of the cardboard container and as it settled, had started to ooze over the edge. Not wanting to set this down anywhere in or on my car, I did the only thing a person holding a soda pop and chorizo dog in one hand and a container of nachos in the other hand could do: I decided to lick the cheese off the cardboard. I figured I just wouldn't photograph that side of the dish. I put the cardboard container to my mouth and gently licked the offending cheese off with a quick swipe of my tongue and gasped in amazement: the nacho cheese was ROOM temperature!

Now, those of you reading with no commercial food preparation or restaurant experience may think my negative reaction was due to the fact that I (and probably you) prefer your nacho cheese food product served hot. Tepid liquid cheese is just not something I relish the thought of eating. In reality, my surprise was due to the fact that by not holding the cheese at a proper serving temperature, the Nacho Mama Food Truck folks were playing Russian roulette with their customer's health.

Most food safety guidelines indicate that to avoid bacterial growth, food must be held below 40 degrees or above 135 (some say 140)  degrees Fahrenheit. As for time spent in between those two extremes, the cumulative time must be calculated and the food must be discarded after it reaches four hours. In addition to the inappropriate holding temperature, the can of cheese was just sitting on the counter, completely uncovered. Who was to say that something couldn't fly in through a window and contaminate the product?

So, let me see if I've got my math straight. The food trucks started serving food at 11 am and I was there at noon. Best case scenario, let's assume that the staff opened a fresh can of nacho cheese sauce right at 11 am. So, an uncovered can has already sat there for an hour right in the middle of the temperature danger zone? You can see why I was so alarmed. And honestly, if they can't hold this food at the proper temperature, what makes me think they know how to hold any other food at the proper temperature to avoid potentially getting people sick?

After photographing both items, I turned my attention to the chorizo dog. Upon my first bite, I was rewarded with a nice snap from the dog and creamy cole slaw. Unfortunately, the spicy part of the "spicy slaw" I ordered to top the dog was nowhere to be found. This was straight up cole slaw, and I'd venture to say given the provenance of the other ingredients coming out of the truck, it was probably food service cole slaw. But for me, the bigger issue with the dog was the bun.

The large Italian-style hoagie bun was straight out of squishy white bread hell and couldn't contain the dog and the slaw. Within another couple of bites, the dog had broken through the spine and by the time I got halfway done with it, the bun had completely split along the spine, offering no additional structural support to keep everything together. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to grab a plastic fork from the truck and while I had originally envisioned using it with the nachos, found a more appropriate use for it to clean up the mounds of slaw that had fallen into the waiting basket below. The only real positive for me about this dog was the chorizo link itself from Dumas Meats.

I ended up disposing of the nachos in the garbage can, not even wanting to eat a single bite. I packed my camera gear away, got back in my car, and drove off. I do not plan on eating at the Nacho Mama Food Truck again, really for two reasons. First, the food safety issue (and that is the elephant in the room). Second, the quality and uniqueness of the food just didn't appeal to my sense of adventure. It felt like really bad Americanized versions of Mexican staples and honestly, there are plenty of other places I can already go to for that. You can definitely cross this food truck off of my list of places I'd recommend.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rosewood Grill: Where Do The Desserts Come From?

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it takes a little push to get me going. I knew that Turner's Mill had transitioned into Rosewood Grill several years ago. I also knew that they were serving upscale cuisine and that initial wait times for a table were crazy long. So I kept putting it off and off until I finally forgot about it. That is, until two friends and fellow photographers told me that they had gone for a meal to celebrate their anniversary and loved it.

Seizing the opportunity, I stopped out for two meals, after work, both weeknights. Fortunately, weeknights seem to be the time to go in order to assure a table with minimum wait. After being seated, handed the menu, and told about the specials, I only had to deliberate for a short time before the server came back to my table to take my order and deliver the standard Bread Service:

Bread Service

The butter was cold and firm, but the hot, salted bread more than made up for it. The cold nuggets of dairy that I dug out of the ramekin with my knife melted easily into the bread and I was rewarded with a delicious starter to my meal.

Hearing that one of the specials for the night was a Salad Caprese, I knew that a simple salad like this could easily be terrific or terrible. Shortly after the bread arrived at the table, my salad was delivered:

Salad Caprese

I've had many a salad caprese in my days and this one was right up there with the best of them. Really, it is a salad that is only as good as its ingredients. The mozzarella was tender and soft, the tomatoes were perfectly sweet and acidic, the fresh basil added a great herbaceous quality to the dish, and the balsamic vinaigrette tied all of the flavors together to bring home a true taste of summer.

While there were lots of interesting choices on the dinner menu, for some reason the Lobster Ziti was speaking to me tonight:

Lobster Ziti

The ziti was cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce nicely coated the pasta. I would've liked a bit more lobster meat, but generally this was a pleasing and filling dish. The spinach was a nice touch in terms of color, texture, and flavor. The mushrooms and grated cheese added a bit of earthiness and body to the pasta. Overall, a very good dish.

I decided to entertain the notion of dessert and thus took a look at the four item menu. When my server handed me the menu, as I quite often do, I asked her which desserts were made in-house. She declared that only the first two, the creme brulee and the chocolate "moose" were done on premises. Seeing as the creme brulee was straight up vanilla (and by vanilla, I mean both in flavor and excitement level), I ended up choosing the Chocolate "Moose" along with a cup of decaffeinated coffee:

Chocolate "Moose"

The Chocolate "Moose" was a parfait-like concoction of chocolate mousse and crushed oreo cookies with moose antler cookies sticking out of the top. While definitely a tasty dessert, there were a couple of items with which I took issue. First, this seemed like an awfully simple dessert for a restaurant of Rosewood Grill's caliber. It felt like a dessert a non-pastry person would have come up with. Second, and the more important of the two items, was that the mousse itself had been overwhipped slightly and the result was a slightly grainy texture. Sort of like little nuggets of butter had formed throughout the mousse.

For my second visit, I decided to skip the bread service and go with one of the on-menu salads, the Berry and Bibb Salad:

Berry and Bibb Salad

I love the theory of this salad. Combining Bibb lettuce with strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, crumbled goat cheese, toasted almonds and dressing the whole thing in a citrus vinaigrette sounded delicious in my head. However, the execution was a bit off as most of the Bibb lettuce wasn't coated with any of the vinaigrette. This undressed lettuce had a serious bitterness that the sweetness from the vinaigrette would've gone a long way at alleviating. That being said, were this salad more properly tossed, I think it would've been a hit. I did enjoy that the toasted almonds added a lovely little crunch to each bite.

After hearing about one of the nightly entree specials, I found myself waiting with anticipation. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long as the Pan-Seared Salmon with Asparagus and Red Lentil Hash arrived shortly after my salad plate was cleared:

Pan-seared Salmon

The preparation of the salmon was executed with immaculate textbook-like precision, seasoned perfectly and pan-seared with a crisp exterior and a melt-in-your-mouth medium rare interior. The skinny asparagus and the accompanying buerre blanc added a further lusciousness to the dish. The red lentil hash was a nice idea on paper, but it felt a bit too overworked in the ingredient department. It definitely didn't need the added pop of color from the spinach. The rather large onions (compared to the small lentils) felt out of place. Perhaps had all of the ingredients been cut to the same size and the resulting mixture been pressed into a ring mold, this might have worked better for me.

Dessert during my second visit to Rosewood took an unexpected turn. After handing me the dessert menu, I asked my server which of the desserts were made in-house, the very same question I asked the other server I had during my first visit. Expecting him to point out just the creme brulee and the chocolate "moose", I was a bit surprised when he claimed that all of the desserts (with the exception of the Mitchell's ice cream) was made in-house. When I told him what my previous server said, he claimed that she was misinformed. In fact, he had personally witnessed one of the items previously considered out-of-house being made on premises.

With that new nugget of knowledge, I decided to continue with my chocolate dessert theme and ordered the Chocoholic:

Chocoholic

The menu didn't lie. For $6, I received an enormous portion that could've easily fed two people. Positioned between thick creamy layers of dark chocolate ganache were a brownie with nuts layer and a chocolate cake layer. Additional chocolate sauce was drizzled over the top and the plate was dressed with slightly sweetened whipped cream and macerated cherries.

I had decided to forego the usual cup of unsweetened decaffeinated coffee that I often use to cut the sweetness of desserts. My server had asked me if I wanted a cup of Mitchell's vanilla ice cream to accompany my dessert and I said, "No," thinking that I really didn't need the additional sweetness. That was a mistake on my part because you need something, ANYTHING, to help cut through the incredible chocolate flavor avalanche you are about to embark upon. I actually liked the Chocoholic quite a bit, other than there was just too damn much of it. Fortunately, this wasn't my server's first rodeo and he graciously brought me a complimentary scoop of vanilla ice cream anyway. As odd as it sounds, the vanilla flavor was a welcome relief every now and again to the intense chocolateness of the dessert.

Like my previous visit, the check before tip and tax was roughly $40-$45. Despite the various quibbling over under dressed salads and dessert provenances, I rather enjoyed both of my meals at Rosewood Grill. The service was pleasant and (mostly) well-informed both nights I went and I was able to get a table within about ten minutes of arriving. I would strongly recommend calling for reservations if you are planning a visit on a weekend.

Rosewood Grill is definitely recommended.

Rosewood Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Goldilocks Rebooted

Come, gentle readers, gather 'round. It's story time and I have one that will be right up your alley. Er, or maybe not.

As a result of my multiple trips up to dine at Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen and gather intel for my review on them, I noticed a restaurant called Clearview Inn on the corner of Cleveland-Massillon and Everett Roads. Should you go to the almighty Google to locate them on Google Maps, DO NOT believe the results. Google Maps puts the restaurant about a half a mile further south on Cleveland-Massillon Road than they actually are.

Having driven past the restaurant enough times, it finally piqued my curiosity enough to actually look them up online. Interestingly, while they do have a perfectly fine and functioning website, when it comes time to take a gander at their menus online, while there is a landing page for both the lunch and the dinner menu, links and/or PDF files are suitably missing. Sadly, no amount of digging around the Internet would yield anything other than the fact that the Clearview Inn specializes in steaks, chops, and seafood. I decided to remedy the situation with a visit.

My first visit was on a Thursday night, around 6:30, on a night when there wasn't any entertainment (which according to my server is a big thing at Clearview Inn). When I walked in, I discovered more of a bar-like atmosphere than a restaurant, although there were plenty of empty linen-covered tables. The woman tending the bar told me I could sit wherever I'd like. A glass of water and a menu followed shortly thereafter.

Here was the Dinner Menu:



Dinner Menu

Based on how much the print had faded on my menu, I'm guessing the menu didn't change very often. I also noticed that most of the steaks, chops, and seafood were in the $20-$30 price range, a touch on the pricey side for the Akron area. However, with Ken Stewart's two joints just down the road, the Clearview Inn seemed in-line to compete with them. On the last page was a section called, "On The Lighter Side". Reading the items in this section (Southern Fried Chicken?), it occurred to me that "lighter" must refer to the price points rather than the calorie counts.

While I wasn't quite in the mood for a steak, the scallops sounded like a lovely choice. After placing my order, standard bread service arrived a few minutes later:

Dinner Roll and Butter

The roll was fresh and warm and the butter soft. What can I say? It was a good roll.

In addition to my entree, I decided to start my meal out with a cup of the Shrimp and Corn Chowder:

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

While the soup was hot and had a nice flavor, the two items that I noticed right away were the thinness of the soup (almost a broth) and the lack of actual shrimp in the soup. While I wasn't expecting whole pieces of shrimp to be floating in the soup, by the time I reached the bottom of the bowl the only shrimp I found was a few links of the tail-side end of the shrimp ... sans shrimp! I don't doubt that shrimp and shrimp shells were used to flavor the soup, but it'd be nice to see a bit of the actual shellfish given its use in the description.

My entree came with a rather standard garden salad. I asked for mine with the homemade White French Dressing on the side:

Garden Salad with White French Dressing

Containing an assortment of iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, and red onion, there was nothing particularly special about this salad. The white french dressing added some necessary zip, flavor and seasoning. Sometimes you eat something because it tastes good; sometimes you eat something because it is (or at least you think it is) good for you. This salad falls into the latter category.

My entree, the Seared Sea Scallops with Asparagus, showed up just as I was finished my salad:

Sea Scallops

Let me break down the plate for you a bit, gentle reader. In addition to what appeared to be half a pound of asparagus, there were five scallops of various sizes arranged around the plate. Some were seared nicely to a golden brown and others, a tad more blonde. A sherry butter sauce lined the plate and a dusting of chopped parsley added a bit of color to the whiteness of the backdrop. At a $27 price point for the scallops, I expected quite a bit more in terms of uniformity of scallops, the inclusion of a starch of some kind, and honestly, just better plating. I'm not sure who decided that a half-pound of asparagus was a wise portion size for the average diner, but I would've preferred half the asparagus and the inclusion of some rice pilauf or maybe some mashed or roasted potatoes.

Regardless of the presentation, what really counted was how well the food was prepared and how it tasted. Sadly, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, because the sizes of the scallops were all over the place, the smaller ones were overcooked and rubbery, the middle one was nearly perfect and the larger ones were undercooked and raw in the middle. The sherry butter sauce was tasty, if a bit on the thin side. I only managed to eat half of the asparagus, although it was tender and had good flavor. Overall, I'd say the dish was average, which is not what I expected for $27.

I decided to return for my second meal on the following Friday, this time for lunch. In addition to the dinner menu, a standard lunch menu was also available:


Lunch Menu

Having already experienced the dinner menu, I decided to focus on items from the lunch menu, starting with a cup of the Mushroom Bisque:

Mushroom Bisque

As opposed to the shrimp and corn chowder I had experienced during my previous visit, the mushroom bisque was thick, hearty, and full of not only great mushroom flavor, but also mushroom pieces themselves. A bowl of this and a nice salad and you'd have yourself a very filling lunch. Fortunately, the cup provided a lovely taste while still leaving room for more food.

For my lunch proper, after scanning the menu quite thoroughly, I opted for the Buffalo and Bird Burger:

Buffalo and Bird Burger

I am a big proponent of ordering straight off the menu when evaluating food for the blog. Sometimes the chef just knows better and I don't want to go mucking around with a recipe that was designed to be a specific way. However, when I saw that the egg was cooked over-medium, I asked instead if they would cook it sunny side up. I mean, isn't the runny yolk part of the appeal of putting a fried egg on a burger? Fortunately, my server said that it wouldn't be a problem.

When my burger finally arrived at the table, I used a steak knife to cut the burger in half to examine the middle. Knowing that buffalo meat could be fairly lean, I had ordered the burger cooked medium. Sadly, while the burger had been cooked closer to well done, at least it wasn't dried out. I also noticed that the burger meat was adulterated with bits of red pepper and onions strewn throughout the patty, presumably to add flavor and help keep the meat juicy. I was eating more of a meatloaf-esque buffalo burger than a straight up 100% ground buffalo patty.

As for the taste, it was a decent enough burger. The seasoning was right and the bun was toasted and substantial. It wasn't the best burger I've ever had, but it was far from being the worst. The menu indicates that the burger comes with lettuce, tomato, and onion, but my plate came devoid of any vegetation for the burger. I chose a side of the homemade potato salad which basically consisted of potatoes, celery, scallions, mayonnaise-based dressing and seasoning. It was potato salad, yes, but it was rather plain, to be honest.

Lunch was obviously far more economical than my previous dinner, coming it at around $15 plus the tip. I realized fairly early on in my experience with the Clearview Inn that this is the kind of dining establishment that would've appealed to my late grandfather. When he went out for dinner, he expected the steak to arrive on one plate with a sprig of parsley and the potato to come on a separate plate. Plate presentation was of little importance to him. That he could have ordered a Black Velvet manhattan and probably gotten one at this establishment says more about a previous generation of restaurant goers.

In the end, I was only moderately impressed with the food. However, the service when I went both times was responsive and pleasant. To be fair, I didn't go during a day when they had entertainment; your mileage may vary if you go then. For value, I'd recommend lunch over dinner and quite frankly, dinner only gets an average passing grade for the quality and execution of the food. If I had $27 to blow on scallops, I can think of several other restaurants who would get that business instead.

Clearview Steak & Chop House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Serving Up Tasty Double Entendre From A Trük

As a restaurant critic, I try not to get too attached to either people or places. I am not always successful and that can put me in a bind when it comes to my subjective objectivity. I'll find myself either defending an opinion I wrote and published about a restaurant visit or realizing that in order to be fair to my readers, I must say something negative about someone's work whom I hold as a friend.

Enter Jeff Winer. When I first met Jeff, he had just opened up a small deli/cafe in Montrose called The Market Gourmet. Serving soups, salads, and sandwiches, what set Jeff's cuisine apart from nearly every other place in the area wasn't that it was fancy or expensive. The difference that set Jeff's food apart was how wonderfully fresh everything tasted. He roasted his own beef and turkey and you could absolutely taste it in every sandwich. Dressings and sauces were also homemade. Most importantly, Jeff had a great palate and knew how to combine flavors to get the best out of everything. I probably ate there three times a week. And I was in culinary bliss.

And then, with only a week's notice, Jeff gave me the unfortunate news that he and his landlord were at an impasse regarding his lease and that he would be closing down the store. I was devastated. Given the plethora of food options in Montrose and Fairlawn, it seems ironic that I would kvetch over this one tiny shop, but the notion of no longer having access to this kind of freshly prepared food just bummed me out.

Fast forward several years later and Jeff is now back, this time with partner Steve Sabo, to serve food to the public in a somewhat less orthodox vessel, a food truck. Specifically, The Orange Trük. No, gentle reader, that wasn't a misspelling; it actually is 'Truk' with the little dots above the 'u'. When I inquired about the reason for the misspelling, Jeff simply laughed and said, "You won't forget the name, will you?" Fair enough.

As opposed to some of the other food trucks I've written about, The Orange Trük is actually Akron-based as both Steve and Jeff are from the Akron area. As such, they have been pushing hard to help reform Akron's rather ancient law prohibiting anything larger than hot dog carts to sell food on public property. Currently, the truck has to park on property where they have been given permission to do so or drive up to Cleveland (which has more fully embraced the food truck concept).

The first time I saw the truck was in Fairlawn at Merchant's Square:

The Orange Trük

One of the wonderful partnerships that has grown between mobile and brick and mortal businesses is the one between The Orange Trük and Regency Wine Store located on the corner at Merchant's Square. After buying food from the truck, if you take it inside the store and purchase a lovely frosty beverage, they will be more than happy to let you sit down and eat your food. This has also been very helpful for me in my picture taking as I don't have to battle the elements while trying to balance food and beverage on my knees.

While the menu has changed over their first six months of existence, there have been some standouts and consistent dishes which I will share with you now. On the menu for quite some time was the Lobster and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese:

Lobster and Shrimp Mac and Cheese

This dish just goes to prove that pairing cheese with seafood isn't a terrible idea, but a wonderful one! I've probably had this dish at least three or four times and every time I do, they've refined it even more. A four cheese blend coats lovely pieces of sweet seafood and was generously coated with toasted breadcrumbs. A splash of color from chopped parsley and, Et Voila!, you get the dish pictured above. Sadly, pastas have been dropped from the menu during the summer months as most people find the dish to be too heavy.

Another pasta that came and went, but is worth mentioning was the Penne with Three Meat Ragu:

Penne with Three Meat Ragu

This was another home run for The Orange Trük. The penne was cooked perfectly (i.e., not mushy), the pasta was drained properly and tossed with just enough of the pork, veal, and beef ragu to coat the pasta without drowning it. The shaved cheese on top offered a nice sharp, salty contrast to the creaminess of the sauce.

About the same time the guys pulled pastas from the menu, they started adding tacos. Specifically soft flour tacos filled with various tasty ingredients. On one visit, I decided on a pair of Mahi Mahi fish tacos with cilantro, queso fresco, Trük sauce, and a bit of homemade cole slaw:

Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos

Adorned with a squeeze of fresh lime, it felt like I was sitting on a beach in California enjoying the bright, crisp flavors of the sea. Before moving on, I should explain that once Jeff and Steve latched onto the word "Trük", they began using it any place they could. Thus, "Trük Sauce" was a red pepper and mayonnaise-based sauce that was fairly mild. They also have a "Bistro Sauce" which is a touch spicier, "HMT - Holy Mother Trükker" which has a nice kick and slow burn to it and if you are really in the mood for something spicy, get the "WTF - What The Fuck" which has some of the hottest chile peppers in the world in it. HMT is about as hot as I go.

On a separate visit, I went for another kind of taco, the Tequila Lime Chicken Taco:

Tequila Lime Chicken Taco

Topped with a mango pico de gallo and a homemade cole slaw, the pulled chicken was moist and juicy and the sweetness of the pico contrasted so nicely with the savoriness of the chicken. If you are worried about the tequila element of the dish, don't be. It was very subtle and greatly overpowered by the other elements in this delicious dish.

In addition to tacos being popular current menu items, sandwiches typically comprise the other fifty percent of the menu. Whereas Steve brings a lot of the Italian influence from his background, Jeff brings much of his sandwich-making skills when it comes to the building of a successful sandwich. Sadly, too many sandwich shops just don't understand that the basis of a great sandwich starts with great bread. Sourced from multiple bakeries, the one thing I have complimented The Orange Trük on again and again is their bread. The buns were always fresh, sturdy, chewy, and could stand up to very wet ingredients without sogging out and falling apart. Case in point? The Pulled Pork Sandwich with Homemade Cole Slaw:

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Topped with their homemade (are you starting to see a theme here?) BBQ sauce, this monster of a sandwich required at least three napkins and a fourth just to wipe off after hosing down. A single bite gave me creamy, crunchy, sweet, smoky, savory, and sour. Make sure to grab a fork when picking up your food ... you'll need it to eat all the filling that falls out while consuming the rest of the sandwich. Pictured above and below are the Trük Pickles. These were quick-curing cucumber pickles that Jeff and Steve invented early on that add a really wonderful brightness to heavy meat dishes. I usually chose to eat my pickle chip on the side as the sandwiches were already hard enough to get my big mouth around.

Another popular sandwich was the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich:

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich

This sandwich was topped with HMT Sauce, homemade cole slaw, and another one of the fabulous Truk pickles. It was one of the better fried chicken sandwiches I've had in a long time. The chicken was pleasantly juicy and flavorful, the fried coating wasn't greasy and didn't flake off, and the acidity from the cole slaw helped to balance out the fattiness of the chicken. More often than not, every time I have one of The Orange Trük's newest concoctions, I am always pleasantly surprised at how many of my gastronomic pleasure points all seem to be pushed at the same time.

Another chicken variation that has proven to be popular both with diners was the Chicken Piquante Sandwich:

Chicken Piquante Sandwich

Instead of being a fried chicken sandwich, the chicken was instead freshly ground, seasoned, formed into a patty and then cooked like a hamburger on the flat top. While it is topped similarly to the fried chicken sandwich in the last picture, because of the way it is seasoned and cooked, it had a wholly different, but still delicious flavor to it.

Burgers have similarly gone through various phases. Always made with ground Angus beef, the burgers started out their life as a nod to the Jucy Lucy/Juicy Lucey popular in the Minneapolis and St. Paul region of the country, with the cheddar cheese stuffed inside the patty. Over time, the cheese migrated from the inside to the outside until you got the following, the Big Trükken Burger:

Big Trükken Burger

I have to admit, I almost preferred the Jucy Lucy-style burger because they had to be cooked medium-rare to medium to keep them moist. Some of the post-Jucy Lucy burgers have been cooked a bit more on the medium-well side and although juicy, just feel more done than I would like. It should be stated that burgers are neither ordered nor cooked to a requested temperature. They come out as is. Regardless of where the cheese is located, good luck wrapping your mouth around this burger because it is big!

The last sandwich I would like to mention is the Scandanavian Shrimp Salad Sandwich:

Scandinavian Shrimp Salad Sandwich

Knowing that neither Steve nor Jeff had a Scandinavian background, I asked about the origin of the shrimp salad. Apparently, it was something that Steve's wife brought to the table ... well, at least her side of the family. Freshly cooked shrimp were lightly tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing with fresh dill and celery and served with fresh greens on a toasted roll. Other than having carnage fall out of the bun with every bite, this was an unusual and satisfying sandwich on a hot day. This would be another example where having a fork to clean up the aftermath was a good thing.

So, at this point in the review, I have demonstrated that not only did Steve and Jeff purposely misspell the word "truck", but they decided to use that word in many of the menu items. Apparently, that wasn't enough. They've decided that they are Beavis and Butthead, too. Complete with all the "huh huh ... huh huh ..." and the use of body part names.

On the menu since the very beginning were the Arancini (as they were originally called) and at some point renamed to "Trük Balls":

Trük Balls / Arancini

Generally speaking, arancini are fried risotto balls. Usually they are made from risotto that has been cooled, formed into a ball, floured and then deep fried until golden brown. This makes them crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Topped with Trük Sauce, The Orange Trük's version were quite delicious. Originally, Steve was going to rotate the ingredients in the risotto so that they'd be different every time. Eventually they settled on the multi-cheese blend that currently inhabit these fried balls of gooeyness.

Another of the fried sides that was on the menu for quite a while were the Onion Petals (aka "Trük Petals"):

Trük Petals / Onion Petals

Anyone who has ever had a Bloomin' Onion from Outback Steakhouse should be familiar with the concept. These weren't bad, but I prefer a proper fried onion ring. You can top them with any of the Trük sauces or ketchup that was available on a small table next to the order/pick-up window of the truck. During this visit, mine was topped with HMT sauce.

The last side dish to discuss were the French Fries:

French Fries

The fries have gone from the skinny cut you see above to a more naturally cut fry that was meatier and less crispy. They've always been seasoned well and never greasy. Of course, you can leave your fries as is or top with one of several truck-made sauces or truck-provided condiments.

Moving on to the sweeter side of things, we start out with another item that has been on the menu from the beginning, in one form or another, the Bomboloni or as the boys have named them, "Trük Nuts."

Bomboloni / Trük Nuts

I was unfamiliar with the word "bomboloni" and more familiar with "zeppole" to describe these small Italian donuts. I've looked up recipes for each and while there are similarities and differences, the terms apparently can be used somewhat interchangeably. What started out as basically fried dough tossed in cinnamon sugar has morphed over time into the rainbow jimmy, nut, and chocolate sauce-laden concoction pictured above. While I think the original version featured at The Orange Trük was probably a tad more authentic to the Italian tradition, I do have to admit that I do love me a sauce-covered Trük Nut now and again. Be careful as they are addictive.

While Trük Nuts have been on the menu for some time, an attempt to add more balls, this time sweet rather than savory, was made with the addition of the Sweet Apple Pie Balls:

Sweet Apple Pie Balls

Essentially risotto made with apple pie filling and cinnamon, these were sweet without being overly so and a pretty tasty way to end a meal. I will warn you that because they are essentially two large rice balls, they are REALLY filling.

A second variation on the sweet ball concept was the Sweet Blue Balls (yes, yes, gentle reader, I'm shaking my head back in forth in my hand as I type the very phrase):

Sweet Blue Balls

Instead of apple pie filling in the risotto, this time around it was blueberries. Topped with blue crystal sugar and a white chocolate sauce, this wasn't quite the success that the Sweet Apple Pie Balls were. They were a bit too sweet and to be honest, a bit too "blue". Like, food coloring blue. I have no worries, however. I know that Steve and Jeff are always thinking of new ways to flavor their balls.

So what, pray tell, were the downsides to the food truck? Well, the biggest one was finding a place where you can sit and enjoy your meal. Fortunately, many of the places where The Orange Trük sold food also had picnic tables nearby. As I mentioned earlier, if you caught them while they were at Merchant's Square, for the price of a frosty beverage, Regency Wine Store would allow you to either eat inside or on their patio. The other downside to a food truck was that when they were slammed with orders, it took a bit of time for your food to be ready. The lack of space inside the truck limited how many people could work the line at any given time. In general, expect to spend about $10-$15 to get a full meal: sandwich, side, and a drink. It wasn't as inexpensive as fast food, but it was FAR more tasty.

Many people still might have an antiquated view of what a modern food truck represents. I highly recommend you set those reservations aside, check The Orange Trük's menu and location on their Facebook or Twitter page, and discover some of the best and creative eats in Akron.

[Ed. note: If you are in the Norton area on Friday, July 5, 2013 from 4 pm until 8 pm, The Orange Trük along with six other food trucks will be gathered together at 4070 Columbia Woods. This is the second time the food trucks have participated in an Akron-based round up and promises to be a fun time with food for everyone's taste.]
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