Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review: BBQ Bus

It’s a boiling hot Thursday afternoon. I’m wearing a white t-shirt (under a cardigan, so it’s subzero work appropriate). And I need lunch.

So it makes sense that I stopped by the BBQ Bus food truck.

It wasn’t meant to happen like this. I had a dentist appointment at noon, after which I planned on swinging by my favorite deli on the 4-block walk back to the office to grab a salad.

But I was engrossed in a writing assignment at work and totally blew through my dentist appointment. Fifteen minutes past the scheduled appointment time, I called to try to convince them to take me in anyway, but no dice.

So again, what better way to celebrate not getting one’s teeth cleaned than by eating stringy meats guaranteed to get caught in one’s teeth?

It was shortly after 1 pm when I trudged out to Farragut Square. But, since it was so late, a lot of the trucks didn’t have lines. I have seen lines in front of the little yellow BBQ Bus before, so I took this as a golden opportunity to try it without the long wait.

The menu was actually pretty impressive. They had all kinds of plates, sandwiches, meat by the pound, and sides. Some of the sides sounded divine, such as black bean and corn salad, potato salad, and on this particular day, fresh watermelon.

I ordered the BBQ Bus sampler ($9.50), which included pulled pork, chicken and brisket, beans, cole slaw and a roll. I had them add on a quarter rack of ribs for $5 more.

They had an official cash register and took credit cards, which is a plus. The drink selection was pretty standard: coke, diet coke, sprite, water.

The food came right out and I perused the sauce options, carefully reading the detailed descriptions. Finally, I just asked, “Do y’all have anything close to a Texas BBQ sauce?” The answer, “We don’t have Texas BBQ sauce, but the closest would be sauce #5, which is smoky and sweet.” It was described as “our tribute to Missouri” and also won an honorable mention at the 2011 Safeway National Capital BBQ Battle. I put some of that in one corner, and some of the sauce #24 –“a tangy sauce with a KICK”– in another corner.

But I was still annoyed at the lack of Texas sauce. How are you going to sell brisket and not have a Texas sauce??

I also noticed that they didn’t have any knives, only forks, which I thought was supremely confident on their part. You mean to tell me your meat is so tender, I’m not going to have any trouble cutting it with just a fork?

All my annoyances and raised eyebrows were soon sated, however, when the charming cashier handed me a wax paper baggie with two warm chocolate chunk cookies in it. “We want to show our customers we appreciate them, so we’re giving out free cookies today,” he said. Alarm bells went off immediately. “Why would you do that?,” I asked. “What do you mean,” he responded. “Well, if you’re giving cookies away, is that a cover for something else? Like, maybe you’re trying to butter me up because you know the food won’t be good?,” I queried. After assurances that there were no ulterior motives afoot, I warily shifted my hot plastic container of meat to my other hand and accepted the cookies.

I walked the three minutes back to my office, making sure to close my office door so no hapless co-workers would have to witness the carnivore carnage about to commence.

I started with the spicy chicken, which was really good. Moist, spicy, tender and already off the bone – a very good start. I know chicken can be notoriously difficult and dried out from the grill, so I was impressed.

I moved on to the pulled pork, which was also very, very good. It had a bit of smokiness, but probably could have used more. It paired the best with the #24 sauce, which was waaaay more than tangy. It was downright vinegary. I didn’t care for it that much, but when paired with the pork, it worked.

The brisket was just ok, but to be fair, I’m a super harsh judge on brisket (we make the best brisket at home on the Big Green Egg). It definitely could have used a thicker crust, but I like a lot of crust on my BBQ. The fact that they had it at all gave them some points in my eyes, and they included a nice fatty piece, which is where all the smoke is at. The #5 sauce was very good with it.

The ribs were a very mixed bag: they were definitely smoked tender and the meat crumbled under my fingers when I was just trying to pick it up. They were pork, obviously, since you can’t hardly get a beef rib in this area. The meat was really good and easy to eat, but this brown molasses-type sauce they slathered all over the top just killed it. It was too sweet and syrupy.

Awesome fluorescent work lighting.

The sides were a mixed bag as well. The beans were horrendous. Overcooked and sickly sweet as well. Eating a spoonful of those right after the ribs could plunge you into a diabetic coma. The slaw was much better, a nice cool, crunchy accompaniment to all that meat, and you could see the little specks of celery seed in their homemade vinaigrette.

The roll was the worst. We won’t even talk about it, except to say store bought and totally soggy by the time I got back to the office.

But the cookies? The cookies were where it was at! They were amazing. I meant to only eat one and give the other one away, but I could not control myself. All that was missing was a glass of milk, but somehow, I made it through and scarfed down both of them.

So overall, decent BBQ, good portions, pretty good price (as far as food trucks go), and obviously, convenient. There aren’t any BBQ places near Farragut Square, so it’s nice to be able to get that.

On the negatives: I would have liked the option of picking my sides, but honestly, I probably would have picked beans and slaw in any case. It’s just nice to have the option. Also: They should ditch the rolls, and the rib sauce. And keep handing out those free cookies.

(Oh, and I somehow managed to keep my white t-shirt relatively clean, despite everything.)

I’d give BBQ Bus three wheels out of four.

All done.

Previous TPFT reviews:

Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review: Surfside

Hey, you know what we haven’t done in a really long time? A Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review! (read previous TPFTRs here)

It’s not a secret that I can’t pass up a taco. Being from Texas, I consider tacos a delicious and ingenious art form. They’re endlessly adaptable, they’re compact and they can be held in a hand. What’s not to love?

I still love tacos after my recent visit to Surfside Taco Truck, but they seriously tested the limits of that love.

Unlike most food trucks that start life mobile and perhaps, someday, graduate to a brick-and-mortar location (I’m looking at you decliciously wonderful District Taco), Surfside started as a restaurant and unveiled its food truck last October.

Perhaps that’s why the food was so bad. Perhaps they are leftovers from the restaurant.

Things started off well. I went at 12:25 on a sunny Tuesday, right at the height of the lunch time rush. The food smelled divine, so I had no problem making a decision. The line wasn’t too bad, probably about a dozen or so people in front of me and it was moving. It took me about six minutes to order and it’s a pretty easy ordering process. There’s three types of tacos (grilled fish, grilled chicken and pork carnitas), a burrito option and for those watching their waistlines, a bowl option.

I ordered a combination, opting for one grilled fish taco (with corn and black bean salsa, guacamole and lime sour cream) and one pork carnitas (with guacamole and lime sour cream) and paid $9, which is a bit steep for two tacos. I also bought a humongous water for $2. The other drink options were Coke and Diet Coke. Kinda skimpy on the drink options, in my opinion.

My food came out very quick after, probably just a minute or two. They do take credit cards, which is nice. They had forks and napkins set out in front of the truck, but no other condiments. They do apparently have salsa, but you have to ask for it.

On first impression, the rice looked very unappetizing (and hold up – where are the beans? And what about some tortilla chips?). It looked dry and yellow, which I immediately discovered were both true. There were hard grains throughout, and it was very salty. The yellow color was due to all the butter they had sprayed on it, ostensibly to keep it moist. Fail.

The fish taco was very well-prepared, moist and flaky, but it was also very flavorless. The corn and black bean salsa was also not very memorable – maybe some sort of Mexican slaw would be a better choice. And the guacamole was just mashed avocado – no cilantro or any kick to it. There was also some cream sauce in there, but there either wasn’t enough or it was also flavorless.

My disappointment in the fish taco was about to be amplified three-fold by the pork carnitas. They were totally dry and flavorless. And there was this one giant piece of meat I had to break down into bite size pieces. While doing that, I noticed that it was totally overcooked. It was charcoal. The carnitas taco didn’t come with any salsa or anything and it definitely could have used it.

But the true measure of a taco is the tortillas and Surfside disappointed me there as well. Look, I don’t expect every taco truck in DC to make their own tortillas, but at least get some quality tortillas. These, despite being layered with two tortillas, fell apart. Just crumbled.

So, to sum up: not a lot of drink options, no salsa (unless you know to ask for it), no chips, no beans, no dessert options, dry, salty rice, bland guacamole, and flavorless taco fillings (including one so dry you could chip a tooth on it).

I’m going to have to give Surfside Taco Truck zero out of four wheels.

Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review: Lasagna Plus Gets a Big Minus

Last week, I registered for a super important off-site event. I told my bosses all about it, printed out the agenda, remembered to take my digital recorder and reporter’s notebook home over the weekend and looked up directions for where I was going. I sent a reminder email to my bosses and closest co-workers on Friday afternoon, reminding them that I would be in late on Monday morning because I had a super important off-site meeting.

This morning, I double checked the directions, left the house early and hopped on the metro. Then, I walked around and around the firmly locked (and large) auditorium in the 35 degree weather, trying to figure out how to get in to this super important off-site event.

Finally, after circling the large auditorium three times, I found a security guard smoking a cigarette outside and asked him how to get in. He said he was not aware of any event that day. While huffily pulling out my printed agenda, I caught a glimpse of the date, which was two full weeks from now.

Typical Poe Move (patent pending. Wait, do moves require patents or trademarks? UGH. Intellectual property rights are so confusing!)

And, because I did not want to show up to my super important off-site event carrying my Bloomingdales little brown bag lunch carrier, I did not bring my lunch to work today. So, when my co-worker T2 asked if I wanted to go check out the food trucks and grab lunch, I was on board (even though it was still freezing outside).

And that’s how we ended up at Lasagna Plus.

There weren’t a lot of trucks in Farragut Square. And, from afar, I only saw a small square yellow truck, so for a second, I thought it was my beloved CapMac. But since neither T2 nor I had ever heard of, let alone, tried Lasagna Plus, we decided to go for it.

They had several types of lasagna to choose from, including a Sicilian with ground beef, peas and eggs, and a Florentine with spinach and cabbage. Now, I don’t like eggs, peas or cabbage in my lasagna, so T2 and I split a mushroom lasagna and a classico.

The pricing was straight forward – $8 per lasagna. For $10, you could get a combo which includes your choice of lasagna, salad, chocolate chip cookie and a soda. The sodas were pretty generic, just Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite, I think.  The chocolate chip cookies was the only desert option.

Both lasagnas were horrible. Overcooked and mushy. The mushroom version reminded me of mushroom stroganoff, which I do like, but I don’t want my lasagna to pass for stroganoff. And the classico, which had beef, was slightly better, but tasted like bad buffet lasagna. The parmesan and the tomato sauce both tasted like they were out of a can.

Both lasagnas were oversalted, and I swore I reeked of garlic for the rest of the afternoon. Nothing fresh, appetizing, or good here.

T2 was similarly unimpressed. She said she would guest blog a review and it would say, “Don’t go to the Lasagna Plus food truck. Terrible. Ugh.”

I’d have to agree. The guys running it were very nice and the service was fast and friendly, but none of that can make up for the awful food.

I have to give Lasagna Plus zero tires out of four tires.

Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review: Sol Food in Vieques

Let’s go international for this Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review! Actually, Puerto Rico isn’t international, but whatever. It was tropical, and so was the food at Sol Food in Vieques.

Sol Food is on the corner of a busy intersection on the road to the National Wildlife Refuge. Now in its third season, Sol Food is open Thursday through Sunday, from 11 am to 4 pm. Nice hours if you can get them. We went on a Thursday at around 1 pm.

For this food truck meal, I had a very special guest, fellow food critic and lover of all things pork, XFE humored me by ordering a few things for scientific and journalistic purposes.

The menu was quite varied and reflected the aesthetic of the island. There were sandwiches, wraps, vegetarian dishes, empanadas, as well as baked goods in the form of brownies and gingerbread.

XFE, of course, ordered the pork carnitas ($6), which came two to an order and included tomato, lettuce and a sour cream sauce. I ordered the Bob Marley ($9), a jerk chicken sandwich with pineapple chutney. We also ordered a ham and cheese empanada ($3) to share. I ordered a guava sun tea ($1.50). They also had a huge selection of exotic sounding and colorfully labeled island sodas, including a coconut soda, but despite my pleas, XFE ordered only water.

Unlike previous TPFTRs, I did not rush back to my cubicle to partake of this island feast. Instead, XFE and I retired to the area behind the truck, which was replete with white plastic patio furniture. While we waited for our feast, we were regaled by the sound of barking dogs and crowing roosters. Finally, after about a five minute wait, our food arrived.

The empanada was gorgeous, fried to a dark golden crust, with huge chunks of ham and gooey cheese inside. A few dashes of Wiley’s Essence of Chernobyl hot sauce (named after the proprietors’  Siberian Husky) was the perfect vinegary complement.  It was a great start.

XFE’s carnitas were delicious and generous. The hearty flour tortillas strained under the juices of the smoky meat, but held impressively strong.

The chicken in my Bob Marley was tender and juicy, but my bread had a bit harder time holding up to the juices. And, there wasn’t enough jerk spice to stand up to the sweetness of the pineapple chutney. I liked it, but I would willingly try something else next time.

It was a solid lunch. $20 is not bad for two people, including drinks. They had friendly service, good flavors and selection, and a convenient location with plenty of parking and seating. I’d give Sol Food a strong two out of four wheels.

Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review: CapMacDC

Hey, you know what we haven’t done in a long time? A Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review!

Don’t get me wrong….I haven’t stopped eating at food trucks. Don’t be silly. Of course I have been. I’ve just been writing about other things.

But, I’m in Puerto Rico this week, swimming with fishies (mmmm, fish tacos from Surfside. A future TPFTR, for sure).

So, this seems like a perfect time to bring back TPFTR and do a review of my very, very favorite, hands down food truck: CapMacDC.

I love these guys. I love these guys like Jessica Simpson loves being pregnant. I love CapMacDC like Kardashians love attention. I love CapMac like Real Housewives love bling, wine and cat fighting. I want to marry them, divorce them and then marry them again.

Yeah, I’m kinda obsessed with CapMac.

Let’s just think about this: It’s macaroni and cheese. I mean. Come. On! Who doesn’t have memories of making macaroni and cheese. My sister and I loaded it with butter, a tiny splash of milk and that wonderful orange cheese powder, fighting over who got to lick the inside of the packet. And these guys are doing that childhood favorite and making it all fancy, huh?

It’s fancy because the chef is straight up official – Chef Arnoff worked at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak at the Four Season’s DC and for James Beard Award winning chef, Barbara Lynch.

I’ve eaten at CapMacDC a number of times, over a variety of seasons. I’ve stood impatiently in many, many lines, under blazing sunshine and in cold temps, and as a result I’ve sampled many of the delectable items on the menu. Because the lines are always so, so long, I usually order two items and then eat them over several days.

And I’ve discovered that CapMacDC is good fresh. And they’re good leftover. They would be good off the damn sidewalk, probably.

We’ll start with the obvious: the $6 Classic CapMac’n Cheese. You can get it one of three ways, plain (as if anything from CapMac could be considered “plain”) with cheddar, pimento and Cheez-It crumbs on top; “sloppy” with a meat sauce for $2 extra; or “balls out” with meat balls for $2 extra. We’re not talking side portions either. These are nice, large brown cardboard containers of delicious, cheesy, gooey goodness.

The macaroni is al dente, topped with a gooey orange mass of cheese and topped with crushed Cheez-Its. I get mine sloppy, and the texture of the meat, Cheez-Its, and pasta is rich and satisfying.

I’ve had the Chicken Parm Meat Balls ($9), a revelation of house ground chicken and parmesan meat balls, rigatoni in red sauce, topped in provolone béchamel . The quattro of tiny meat balls gets a nice boost from its tart-sweet tomato sauce and the creamy bechamel.

This last summer, I was quite disappointed by the menu (they actually didn’t have the classic, I think) but I went ahead and tried the Weiner Mac ($9). Oh. My. Sausages. It’s basically the classic CapMac’n Cheese topped w/ locally made all beef brat and caramelized onions and crushed Lays potato chips. And it was served cold. The pasta was soft and creamy, the brats were plump, and the entire entrée was complemented by a tantalizing cheese sauce. I did not think I would even like it. Now I’m starting a one-person Occupy CapMac Movement to try to get it back on the menu.

My most recent visit I got the Classic CapMac and the Marco Bolo ($8), a traditional Italian beef Bolognese with fresh herbs, parmesan and a touch of cream. The pasta was excellent – smooth al dente ribbons in a portion that was just the right size. I enjoyed the spiciness of the Bolognese sauce and could see all the fresh herbs in the dish.  And despite the cold weather (it was mid-November), the pasta was still piping hot when I got it back to the office.

There are still a few things I haven’t tried, such as the goat cheese mac. I also regret not trying the rice pudding when it was on the menu last summer. I think having a desert option (which they don’t currently have) is a very smart move.

Couple of other things: Bring cash, they don’t take card. Soda/water selection is basic and limited.

And the lines are generally long. That’s just the way it is. Don’t expect to just walk up to the window. Don’t go there if you have an important conference call in 15 minutes. But once you put your order in (and I do suggest you order multiple items), things move along pretty quickly.

I have to give CapMacDC a resounding four out of four wheels. Hell, I might bump them up to a Doolie and give them six out of six wheels.

NOTE: I wrote this review right around the time of CapMacDC’s first anniversary (November – hence the sweet CapMacDC tote bag you see in the pictures).

But I have recently been contacted by CapMac’s Chef Vicky, who says she’s a fan of the blog and has offered me a free lunch. I have not taken her up on it yet (but you bet your sweet ass I will), but I just wanted to disclose that so no one thinks that influenced my review at all.

My love for CapMac is well documented throughout the blog here and here, for example. But I still wanted to publish my review without the graft influence. Not that I’m above some graft, wink, wink. OK. I will shut up now.

Happy eating fools! Hopefully I’m on a beach in Puerto Rico somewhere eating some lechon!