All photos by Wendy Goodfriend
On Friday night, to celebrate the continuation of the seventh season of Check, Please! Bay Area on KQED, host Leslie Sbrocco and her crew were taking it to the streets–or more specifically, to the SoMa StrEat Food Park, the city’s latest food-truck hangout. It was a savvy pick for the everyone’s-a-critic show, in which a roundtable of everyday Bay Area denizens dine and debate the merits (and mistakes) of their favorite neighborhood restaurants. After all, nothing sparks easy, whaddya-got chat like a food truck event, where the buy-in’s cheap (most of the items on offer were $10 or less) and the casual, picnic-table environment makes foodie cross-talk a breeze.
Leslie Sbrocco trying some Golden Waffles
And, of course, the presence of the blonde, wide-smiling Sbrocco–in 4-inch-high silver wedge sandals and a deep V-neck blue dress, trailing a mike and a camera crew–added some glamour to the next-to-the-freeway event. Making the rounds of the park’s handful of trucks, Sbrocco did brief on-camera interviews with each truck’s owners, enthusiastically sampling everything from Belgian waffles to Argentinian empanadas. In between bites, Sbrocco paused to chat with fans of the show, posing for snapshots and swapping restaurant tips.
As usual with food trucks, the focus was meat: in a bun, in a crust, piled high, squirted with sauces mayo-y, herby, smoky or sweet. For sheer size, there were the sloppy, Godzilla-sized sandwiches of Adam’s Grub Truck, colossally stacked combos of panko-fried or garlicky grilled chicken cutlets, pulled pork, cheese, bacon, fried eggs, and chunky Napa cabbage slaw on squashy, sweet brioche buns. And for sheer deliciousness, there were the can’t-miss Hawaiian sliders served under a roll-down thatched palapa awning by Slider Shack, fluffy little buns filled to bursting with succulent strands of slow-cooked BBQ pork or carnitas-like chunks of kalua pork, dolloped with a mouth-tingling cilantro sauce fiery with fresh hot peppers.
Slider Shack owner John Cade, a native San Franciscan whose truck has been serving for just 6 months, got into the biz after 14 years in finance and at least a decade of dedicated backyard barbecuing for family and friends. His Hawaiian mother took the family back the islands frequently, and he grew up on Hawaiian staples like kalua pork. But right now, it’s the green sauce he’s most excited about. In a month or so, Slider Shack will have it bottled for sale on the truck, with grocery stores to follow. The inspiration? The green sauce at Sophie’s Cuban restaurant near the American Stock Exchange in New York City, where Cade spent time during his finance career. He and a buddy would lunch there every day, emptying the tabletop bottle of green sauce (which, thanks to Peruvian owners, was a jalapeno-based variation of Peruvian aji sauce) on every visit. Determined to reverse-engineer the sauce, Cade ended up with his own creation, one that was herby, tangy, and spicy, a perfect foil to the unctuous pork.
As for the South Seas theme of the truck, it’s Cade’s hope that his customers can relax and enjoy a little Pacific-island getaway over their kalua pork or panko chicken rather than just the usual deli grab-and-go before returning to cubicle-land. (There’s even a Cast Away-style Wilson volleyball tied to the surfboard-mounted menu in front of the truck.)
Meanwhile, over at Let’s Eat Grill Stop, the showstopper is the South-by-Southwest buttermilk-fried chicken, zingy with Southwestern spices and a lime-cilantro-Sriracha butter, alongside an arugula salad (one of the few green vegetables to be seen on these meat-dominated menus). Owner Carlos Williams, based in Mill Valley, was also touting his wild salmon plate, served over a bed of similar greens with avocado and red onions.
To wash it down? From the new StrEat Brew truck, PBR, Stella, Sierra, Blue Moon, Bud, a couple of not-so-great wines but four tasty sangrias, including white with watermelon and strawberries, and red with orange and ginger. (And hey, they’re hiring!)
Still hungry? Not to be missed were the hot, buttery-crusted empanadas from El Sur‘s groovy, cream-colored Citroen van. This time, having tried the beef version at last month’s Night Market, we went for the pollo (delish, with bits of hard-boiled egg and olives) and verde (chard and spinach with onions and five cheeses) which had a nuanced hint of nutmeg.