The Great Food Truck Race: Atlanta Food Review [RoamingATL]

So we’ve already covered the ins and outs of The Great Food Truck Race during their time in Atlanta.  The Lime Truck, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, and the Hodge Podge Truck are all a thing of our culinary past.  That being said, we’re still going to get into the food itself and get to the culmination of their stay: the elimination.  I was personally excited for out of town food trucks to roll into The Dirty, but I’m not sure it’s for the reasons you might think.

I’ve garnered a reputation for being a bit of a hard ass on Atlanta restaurants and restaurateurs.  I still see our culinary landscape as lagging significantly behind cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.  However, it’s often hard to compare such things, especially when you can’t exactly have a meal in two cities at the same time.  However, with the advent of the mobile food kitchen (and thanks to reality TV), ATLiens were given an opportunity to see what things might be like elsewhere.  And though something isn’t better just because it’s in another city, most of what rolled into town on Memorial Day Weekend should serve as a notice to both foodies and truck operators: we can do better.

So it’s important to remember a few things when you read what follows.  First and foremost, this whole event was for a TV show.  That changes EVERYTHING and so those of you who are reading this and planning on visiting the trucks during what little filming is left, or once these trucks are back in their own markets, consider that fact when contemplating what you are about to or already have consumed.  By the same token, make no mistake: bad food is bad food, so don’t make apologies for these trucks either.  They’re supposed to be some of the best.

Most obvious of all the nuances: the price point was unequivocally out of whack.  While I can’t really comment on the value of these food trucks off the set, a little research showed they don’t price most of their stuff at $10 or more in those circumstances.  In the cocoon of the TV show, it’s no surprise that prices at these trucks were at a point that wouldn’t be sustainable in other circumstances.  After all, it’s all about cash in hand at the end of the day.  I spent somewhere around $75/day eating at these trucks.  Some of my entourage spent more than that!

In addition, things were extremely fluid during the competition.  We ended up hearing (and seeing) that the food changed rapidly and frequently.  Menus were different from day to day (and often from hour to hour).  That isn’t so unusual, but items were reworked and prices changed mid-sentence, so even if you visited the trucks on the same day I did, you might have seen something very different.

Oh yeah … who the hell is Uncle Lou?  That dude must be mad cool because more than one menu had something with Uncle Lou in it.

The Food (and such)

Hodge Podge (RoamingHunger/Facebook/Twitter):

truffle tots from the hodge podge truck

Right off the bat, Hodge Podge reminds me of the ADHD kid we all knew in elementary school.  You know … they’re smart, they’re nice, but they’re so damn spastic and all over the place that they just have a hard time fitting in.  Chef Chris Hodgson was as gregarious and kind as one could hope for.  But beyond that, we just didn’t have a lot of luck with Hodge Podge.  Conceptually speaking, I have absolutely no idea how their claim of Midwest/local comfort food comes together.  To put it another way, their menu had the least amount of continuity of any of the three trucks left.

I had a chance to sample their rib eye tacos, their fried chicken tacos, and their truffle oil tater tots (yes … those tots!)  The much discussed crab dip and shrimp & grits was as elusive to me as Matsutake mushrooms are to the rest of the world.

I was most impressed but most let down with the tots.  You take any home cut taters, dunk them in a bath of truffle oil, and hand them to me … and I’m your bitch.  These things were crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and full of oily awesomeness (without getting my hands too dirty).  I wouldn’t call them creatively ingenious, but I would call those tots FUDGING FUDGTACULAR!  It was once I sampled their tacos that I was ultimately disappointed with the tots.  Were the tots great? Yes.  Should they have been the best thing I ate? Heck no.

I don’t want to go on and on about something everyone in my party (and some that weren’t) seemed distraught over.  They sounded great as the proteins were topped with things like shaved sweet corn slaw and micro mint on top.  But, I will tell you … the words “Well, it’s a little better than the [Taco] Bell!” were used and with great fervor.  I didn’t get more than a bite into either but the suffice to say, the slaw looked great but tasted like something out of a vat and the meats were so overcooked that Wrigley’s might have been less chewy and not as dry. I was also miffed that I couldn’t get different tacos with a single order.

the hodge podge truck fried chicken tacos

Oh, then there was the wait that shouldn’t have been a wait.   If the average time for a fast casual restaurant needs to be 5 to 7 minutes … food trucks shouldn’t approach anything close to that.  Okay, so when lines are 20 people deep – I am sympathetic.  When you’re on TV, I’ll sit for time on end!  But when the line is non-existent (literally) and the TV crew is on break, a 20-minute wait is deadly.  Seriously, you leave someone’s gran gran waiting in the Atlanta heat and next thing you know, there’s pepperoni missing from your pizza and you’re wife’s knocked up.  I’ve seen it a hundred times.

But where Hodge Podge succeeded was in the location and marketing.  The flavor profiles were too adventurous and the execution not exact enough, but day’yam did they get that location scouting down!  They did such a good job of securing space at Atlantic Station, and getting some real marketing power behind them, that a throw away day on Sunday and the complete absence of a twitter presence put this truck right in the thick of the competition.

The Lime Truck (RoamingHunger/Facebook/Twitter/Website):

crab and bay scallop ceviche from the lime truck

On the whole, The Lime Truck was pretty much as ideal as one could expect from a food truck.  I can assure you that had nothing to do with the fact that executive chef Jason Quinn hails from an Atlanta suburb.   It started with the branding, continued with the personality, and ended up on the food.  It didn’t hurt that between Colony Square on Saturday and Atlantic Station on Sunday, they killed it with the locations.

Well-known on the Left Coast for their eponymous Limeades, we got to sample their passion fruit rendition.  With bottom less refills (as with all the trucks), they were the clear winners in the drink department.  No small feat for a competition that requires everything to be homemade.

The food menu read just like one would expect … a little Tex, a little Mex, a lot of Cali.  While the menu as a whole displayed a continuity and thoughtfulness that only a reticent chap might not “get,” I do think Lime’s biggest flaw was leaving the food just a little rough around the edges and forcing it into corners it didn’t quite fit into.  Perhaps the best example of the former was the green curry tofu quesadilla.

the lime truck's ahi tuna poke nachos

Grilled perfectly, initial bursts of flavor gave way to some slightly off-center feelings about the execution.  I, as did my cohorts, really dug the flavor matching.  The green curry gave just the right amount of kick, the lemongrass-cilantro was a great accent, and the cheddar-jack cheese brought the quesadilla feel home.  However, a little twist and turn here or there would have helped greatly.  The tofu would have been better served had a harder type been used and that was in turn, fried or seared.  Additionally, while great in flavor, the curry would have been better utilized as either a dipping sauce or simply as a topping.  Inside, it was just too oozy and it resulted in many a folk wearing a green bib for the rest of the day.  Still, this was certainly one of my favorite dishes from the weekend.

IMG_0983As for the need to shove things into corners they don’t belong … I present you with the Ahi Tuna Poke Nachos.  We all dug the homemade tortilla chips, but the dish didn’t feel like nachos to me.  First, as a chef far wiser than I was quick to point out: it ain’t nachos if it ain’t got cheese.  The nacho armor took another chink when I discovered the blood orange mango passion purée.  Again, just not very nacho-y of them.  A reworking would have helped.  That said, it’s a solid dish and while it didn’t blow my palate back a few feet, I am sure some people dug on this.

Other items came in went, the ceviche was solid but lacked a punch (maybe some pink sea salt would have helped) while the shishito peppers were right on.  All in … if you adjust this here and that there, this is the type of food truck I can really get behind.  While not as “Wow” as something like Kogi, Lime has little to be ashamed of.  Oh, that their chef is a little bit quirky with a hell of a fun side makes them just that much better!  Damn you Sunday’s and your Philly Cheese Steak fries!

Roxy’s Grilled Cheese Truck (RoamingHunger/facebook/twitter/website):

As you already read, Roxy had their trouble getting their feet wet.  And oh the best laid plans of mice and men.  Logistics aside, the best thing a grilled cheese truck can do is source its queso from the best shop in town.  The worst thing they can do is not utilize that source to its fullest capacity.  Such was the case with Star Provisions, where Tim Gaddis calls home.  The guy knows his cheese and I really wish that Roxy had picked that brain, especially when they didn’t appear to have a traditionally trained chef on board (though I may be wrong on that).  In any event, utilizing Star allowed Roxy to guarantee themselves some of the best product amongst any of the competitors and it ultimately showed.

roxy's foie gras grilled cheese with bacon and peaches

The star of the show was the private stock cheddar with Applewood smoked bacon, peach preserve, and yes … foie gras.  All things being equal, and I don’t think Mr. Gaddis would disagree with me (in fact – I know he doesn’t), I think this is a perfect example of something that needs to be reeled in just a bit.  While not as out there as it might sound, it’s damn hard to really knock my sox off when you throw foie in some cheese.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate ballsy, I really really do, but when ballsy fails … sometimes things go boom.  This actually didn’t go boom, and in fact, it was kinda percolating.  Ultimately though, it was just too much and not the right kind of assembly in both flavor and texture.  The sampling I had sans foie showed much better with just the saltiness of the cheese, the sweetness of the peaches, and the bacon (which sat on both sides of the fence).  I had a similar experience with the other option which was a cremont base against prosciutto de parma and quince.  Its more reserved brethren, a pepper jack and prosciutto edition, seemed to float down a little easier.

Beyond the cheese, a number of people really dug the sweet potato fries with maple gastrique and the fried oysters with Rockefeller sauce that were über popular.  For dessert, the boys whipped up a mascarpone brulee that I didn’t have a chance to sample.

roxy's grilled cheese oysters rockefeller

All in, I think what I’ve given you in regards to Roxy’s is the ramblings of a foodie/cook/wanna-be-chef who is dissecting the food.  The foie gras didn’t work, but I know some people adored it.  Each cheese I saw came out perfectly griddled and full of love.  In fact, one such person referred to the foie as a dirty dirty slut (and in a good way).  This food certainly kicked the crap out of what I tasted at Hodge.

If I had to make a recommendation for the food from Roxy, it would be to go to something like four sandwiches … go simple … quick … and awesome with 3 of them, and use the 4th as their sandbox.

Regardless, owner James DiSabatino has put together a fine concept and his execution is far better than the average truck, cheese slinger or’s pretty obvious that the prices are high b/c of the comp.

With a strong showing on Sunday, they really recovered nicely.

So after all that was said and done, I found some really redeeming factors in all three of the food trucks.  I truly hope this shows Atlanta and those starting and running our trucks, what just the tip of the iceberg is like.  Though some of the food wasn’t worth the single bite I gave it, and they all get a pass on the price point, the best of these three really set the bar high for us.  Oh … and don’t you want some real spoilers? well here goes!!!

The Spoilers

roxy's grilled cheese truck

So if you read between the lines, then you probably already know what’s what.  But in case you didn’t, I’m sad to report that Roxy’s Grilled Cheese didn’t make the cut.  From a food stand point, I would have picked Roxy’s and Lime hands down.  Though I don’t know will win this last event, I would put my money on The Lime Truck.

As for the location of the championship round?  Well, they’ve already been to Malibu, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, Manhattan (think Kansas State), Memphis, and Atlanta.  Last up? The sunny beaches of Miami.

Postal Scriptation: be sure to check out all the photos from our Great Food Truck Race Photo Collection

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