Weezer and I just got back from visiting her family for Easter. While it was a quick trip, just Friday to Monday, we were able to pack in all sorts of activities. While there’s no way for me to write about all of them, I do want to share about one of my favorite parts: a food truck “food court” in the up & coming neighborhood of San Anotonio’s Southtown.
The Alamo Street Eat Bar was a little taste of Austin’s hip culture mized with the Latino flare of San Antonio. Weezer and I met up with her brother, Hunna, and some of his friends on Saturday evening to go out for dinner & drinks in celebration of Hunna’s birthday. Since life is full of coincidences, I should not be surprised that the gift we gave Hunna before heading out was a copy of Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the best Kitchens on Wheels. While none of the SA trucks were highlighted in the great read, it was still approprate for the evening.
The Alamo Street Eat Bar is a fairly new idea in San Antonio. Based at the old Acapulco Drive Inn on none other than Alamo St., the idea came together this spring. A bar is based in the old restaurant building that serves all types of beer and wine to customers of the trucks. Picnic tables and small four-tops are scatted under the old drive inn’s pavilion and on Saturday night a DJ was spinning a combo of indie-hippie-90′s-grunge-rock off his net book under the multi colored lightbulbs overhead. On first glance, this looked like a casual atmosphere that attracts a variety of customers out to enjoy the great South Texas spring weather. One pitfall that we all noticed right away, however, was the 6 port-o-potties lined up towards the back of the parking lot; there was a brick & mortar building on site, so why couldn’t they add a couple of “comfy” potties?? While it wouldn’t pose an issue for us guys, the girls’ experience was not as easy, especially after the sun set and a few cold ones were put away.
Each afternoon, 5-6 trucks roll into the site and park along the perimeter. Three of these trucks are there every day the Eat Bar is open: Tapa Tapa, The Chili Queens, & Chris Cullum’s Attaboy Burgers. There are six other trucks who were granted permits (out of over 50+ applications!), and three of those set up on a given night, rotating with the others. On Saturday night, the additional trucks included The Rolling Pig & Where Y’at Third Coast Kitchen. As you can tell from the unique names, none of the trucks’ menus really overlapped. The variety of items available made it possible for everyone to find something that would suit their palates: hot & spicy, veggie or vegan, sweet treats, and even some novelty items.
After a little socializing and a couple draft PBR’s served out of the old ice house, I started to walk around and check out what was being served that night. I was immediately captured by the Tapa Tapa truck’s specials:
I am a cheese freak, so I’m still scratching my head as to why I passed on the Mac & Chz, but I think I was just intrigued by the still visable scratch-through where they sold out of the Chicken & Waffle Balls the previous night. I placed an order for the Balls and started talking to the owner. He told me he strives to create “high end stoner food” that appeals to all socio-ecomic classes, is fun to eat, and creates conversation amongst those lucky enough to enjoy his food. This location is his second truck; his first is still a roving eatery traveling town and serving up lunch several days a week at the Rackspace headquarters.
He started telling me about how some of the items were made: The watermelon is cut the night before and wrapped in fresh mint leaves to create a somewhat simple syrup. The next day, the melon is sliced, sprinkled with lime salt and fresh mint leaves to bring out all the juices, and then topped with Watermelon Pop Rocks just before serving. The end result is a beautiful combination of sweet, fresh, popping goodness that brings back the nostalgia of childhood which is strange seeing as this was a new creation to me. Mid-convo, I wipped the drool off my chin, rudely blurted “I need that!” and then sat back to learn more from this wonderful innovator. The syrup for the Chicken & Waffles is infused with three kinds of pepper in order to counter the sweetness of the waffle batter: black pepper, cayenne pepper, & pimentón picante (a smoked, spicy Spanish paprika). At this point, my beer was empty, stomach was growling, & my food was ready to be devoured so I took the baskets back to Weezer & sat down to see what it was all about, eating several slices of watermelon on the way…
The Chicken & Waffle Balls were a little different than what I was expecting; but what was I expecting and why did I have expectations?? Lightly seasoned ground chicken was rolled in sweet waffle batter and then deep fried. The finished product was placed in a basket and then drowned in the spicy syrup. It made for a very contrasting set of flavors with the peppers keeping your mouth warm for minutes to come. The balls were a little soft & squishy in my opinion, but maybe thats just because I am used to a large waffle topped with a BIG boneless breast of Southern fried chicken. The heat from the syrup was making me sweat, so its a good thing I ordered the last minute watermelon. The refreshing slices really helped to temper the spice and the whole novelty of the perfectly ripe watermelon ramped up by the watermelon Pop Rocks was amazing. One of Hunna’s friends tried a bite, and before he could even finish chewing, a smile came to his face and he mumbled: “The watermelon is talking to me!” What a perfect way to describe it.
We enjoyed another drink and continued to talk as the Southwest sun set in the distance. Since we had all shared the Tapa Tapa dishes, Weezer and I decided we needed to try something else. We thought about the brisket tacos from The Chili Queens, but opted for Attaboy’s Special Burger. Attaboy was the only truck serving out of a modifed Airstream Trailer that night. As many know, Airstream’s are the epitome of foodtrucks and others at the table were raving about their burgers, so we knew we had to try it out.
According to the girl that took our order through the screen door of the trailer, the special included a seasoned, hand made burger served on top of a fresh, homemade brioche bun and topped with bacon, grilled jalapeños, and a secret cheese sauce. The burger came with a side or regular hand cut or sweet potato fries. Weezer and I (really just me) asked for the japs on the side and requested the sweet fries (duh). I should note that Attaboy was the only vendor to accept plastic, everywhere else was cash only. This was a little disappointing, and the Tapa Tapa owner had also mentioned how he has had to turn several customers away because of it. All these trucks need (and the bar too, for that matter) is a Square. The Square itself is free when you sign up for an account, there is no monthly fee, it gives you the ability to add taxes or tips, and Square takes 2.75% off the top. In order to compensate for the usage fee, some trucks or other businesses just add a “$1 credit card fee,” which is more than enough to cover any fees incurred.
15 minutes later and our piping hot basket was being served through the window of the trailer and we were about to have the experience of a lifetime. Being the gentleman that I am, I let Weezer have the first bite. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head and I think she had a hard time passing it off to me; it was THAT good. The cheese sauce was dripping down the side, the meat had a tremendous grilled flavor for the fact that it was cooked on a flat top, and the seasoning in the meat was out of this world, however it would not have been complete without the fluffy freshness of the bread. The sweet potato fries were not orange like you would expect. Instead they were fresh cut sweet potatoes rolled in a very light batter and then fried in hot, clean grease and the outcome was a crispy shell with a soft center. Normally I like honey-mustard or something of the like to dip my sweet tater fries in, but these need nothing of the sort.
Before long, Weezer and I were staring at the white bottom of an empty basket. We both kept obsessing over the strong flavors that were contained in what looked like such a simple burger.
At that point, I was pretty content and we just began to socialize some more with Hunna’s friends. We drank a couple more beers, talked about what every one had, and enjoyed the companionship and great weather of the weekend. Someone mentioned getting a beignet from Where Y’at, but I had other plans: a second helping of Watermelon Pop Rocks. The concept was just so delightful as an appetizer, I needed more for my desert. While I am somewhat sad that I did not get to try the pork wings from The Rolling Pig or the brisket tacos from the Chili Queens, that just means one thing: we have to go back the next time we are out there!
Until next time…