The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 31, 2012

Random Thoughts: Any Sufficiently Advanced Magic

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:26 am

Yes, I’m still alive over here.  Between vacation, assorted job-related uncertainty (which seems to have resolved itself for now, at least temporarily) and having spent the last weekend working, I haven’t had a whole lot of time for Blogging lately,  but with PAX coming up this weekend and a vacation to catch up from, I figure I better get a post or two out here before I start showing up on a milk carton or something like that (although I actually think it might be kind of cool to get your face on a milk carton in an odd sort of way.  If you could somehow manage to do it without mysteriously vanishing forever (which seems to be the best way to get yourself on a milk carton, but also seems to come with some annoying side effects) you’d probably end up with a cool story to tell.  Anyway, without further ado, a few random thoughts collected over the last couple of weeks:

  • Since it was opened in 1955, Disneyland has billed itself as the Happiest Place on Earth.  Somehow I get the sneaking suspicion that Walt Disney didn’t coin this now famous slogan after spending five days walking all over the parks and waiting in lines with relentless 90-degree weather beating down from above.  Thanks to the annual pass I purchased last September I have spent a total of fourteen days at the Disneyland Resort over the course of the past year, and in spite of my best efforts, it has become abundantly clear that there is no such thing as a relaxing Disney vacation.  This doesn’t mean you have to turn the whole thing into a manic three-day slog (something I’ve been guilty of on occasion) but I challenge anyone to find a way to get through three days at Disneyland without some seriously sore feet and a good dose of sensory overload at the end.  Some of the things that did help were, of course, taking the day off in the middle (more on that one later) and getting out of the sun and the crowds to go take a nice quiet break for an hour or so in the afternoons.  If you’re staying near the parks the best thing to do is go back to the hotel and do something like take a nap or hit the pool, but since that wasn’t an option (we were staying at a townhouse owned by my friends’ parents about 25 miles away from the parks)  we oped to go back to the car instead.  It’s not an ideal solution, but even so it made the evenings a whole lot more bearable than they would have otherwise been. 
  • Speaking of accommodations, having access to the above mentioned townhouse saved us quite a bit of money on this trip as a result of not having to spend the money on a hotel, but at the same time it wasn’t without its drawbacks, the biggest one being the distance from the parks.  Since we were going to need a rental car for this trip anyway we opted to fly into LAX instead of Orange County to save a bit on the airfare, but that came with a few headaches of its own.  For one thing, due to the vagaries of airline pricing we ended up having to book flights on separate airliners so my friend wouldn’t have to spend an extra $70 on her ticket (which she tried to book two minutes after I booked mine,) which caused a few headaches on the way down.  Her sister was flying in a couple of days later, also to LAX.  Originally this flight had been scheduled to get in around 10am, but ended up getting delayed three different times, ultimately requiring a 50-mile drive to LAX at Midnight (which fortunately seems to be just about the only time that the 405 isn’t a traffic nightmare) for a 1am pickup, then another 50 miles back to the townhouse…  Oh, and a 6am wake-up time the next morning.  Needless to say, I think I might be reconsidering the whole LAX thing for the next trip.
  • Speaking of traffic, this trip was the first time I ended up having to wade through the horrendous slog that is trying to get anywhere in the LA area during the day.  One day of the trip was designated as an “off day” from the parks, and we used that day to make a trip up to the Santa Monica pier, and then over to Downtown LA and Beverly Hills to wander around a bit.  Naturally, this put us through quite a bit of traffic on the 405 (which, unlike the 405 in front of my apartment, apparently requires a “the” in its name) and even the carpool lane did hardly anything to make it any easier to slog through.  I think I prefer the other version of California driving I had on the last trip where I was doing 80 on the I-5 and still getting passed on the right by pickup trucks full of furniture.  At least that way you’re actually getting somewhere most of the time…
  • All the time spent driving on this trip (or at least all that sitting around in motionless traffic) afforded us plenty of time to listen to the radio.  Most of the time when I’m driving around locally I tend to stick to one or two radio stations (mostly KZOK) and keep the radio off most of the time, but my friend is the type of person who needs to have some sort of background noise while in the car, so a lot of the time was spent flipping between the various stations on the dial.  Is it just me, or does it seem like Los Angeles has something like 50 radio stations on the dial, but they’ve only got something like 10 songs to play between all of them?  It may be just a case of me trying to listen to music I’m not familiar with (if you haven’t figured it out by now I’m more into classic rock than modern stuff) but it sure seemed like I was constantly hearing the same few songs played over and over on all the different stations.  I’ve actually managed to find a couple of stations on the dial down there that have a decent mix of the type of stuff I listen to (in particular KLOS seems to be a good fit) but left to my own devices I think I’d probably still prefer to keep the radio off most of the time.

  • One of the little traditions my friends have developed over their various Disneyland trips they’ve taken over the years is to ride the rides that take photos (currently Splash Mountain and Space Mountain in Disneyland, and Tower of Terror, California Screamin’ and Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure)  and take goofy photos, occasionally involving elaborate props.  On this particular trip, I opted to purchase the Photopass Plus option that Disney now offers, which basically meant that we could take all the ride photos we wanted (as well as any other photos from the Photopass photographers, which is where the header photo for this post came from) and get them all on a CD at the end of the trip.  As a result of this, I think I ended up riding the Tower of Terror far more times than I had ever planned on, which resulted in the above photo, probably my favorite from the trip.  The ride kind of stops being suspenseful after you’ve been on it enough times that you know what to expect, although the Disney World version randomizes the drop sequences.  I still haven’t gone completely through all of the photos from the trip, but I actually didn’t even bother bringing a “real” camera into the parks this time around, opting to use the Photopass photos and occasional use of the camera in my phone for this trip.  I probably could have gotten some better photos if I did, but the ones I took with the phone turned out surprisingly well, plus it was one less thing to haul around the parks all day.
  • Finally, another of the things I like to do when I’m at Disneyland is to find some various interesting facts that people might not know about, and post them on my Facebook status.  Unfortunately, a lot of the good ones have been rehashed to death already, so I decided that I might as well just make up a few completely new ones off the top of my head and post those.  Of course, making stuff up off the top of my head is basically, well, lying, but why let that get in the way?  Anyway, here are a few of the Disneyland Facts that are Not True which I came up with while on my trip:

– Due to declining native bird populations, many of the birds in the skies over Disneyland are now animatronics. Although the latest in animatronic design has been applied to make these fake birds incredibly lifelike, they aren’t without their issues.  Occasionally one of the animatronic birds will be somehow diverted from its designated flight path, and may even wander away from the park.  If you happen to find one of these wayward birds and return it, you get a free churro.

– In order to avoid having to put a State of California Proposition 65 warning at the front entrance of the ride, in 2007 all of the water in Pirates of the Caribbean was replaced with a lifelike  nitrogen-based substitute. Most people do not notice the difference, but Disney junkies endlessly debate whether the real-water version is better than the fake water version on Internet forums. Ironically, if water gets into the “water”, it becomes necessary to take the ride offline for cleanup. Real boats would sink in this substance, so the boats had to be specially modified.

– As a show of Disney’s commitment to embracing alternative energy, King Arthur’s Carrousel has recently been converted to be powered by four oxen.  A total of thirty oxen live at the Circle D ranch located in the backstage area, and power the Carrousel in two-hour shifts. 

– In order to move the phases of the Moon to a more convenient time for photo-taking opportunities within the parks, Disney Imagineers have created an artificial moon over California Adventure which normally has its phases eight days out of alignment the real moon, but can also be modified as necessary. On October 27th 2005 the fake moon malfunctioned, and for roughly three hours there were two separate moons over the park.

– Although many theories have been made about the origins of the name of Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33, the club received its name from the fact that when it opened in 1967, the cost of a meal at the club was $33. Among the many special benefits that Club 33 members enjoy is the fact that they are each allowed to bring home up to six of the park’s feral cats each year.

  • When this trip was being planned, I had chosen this particular week for a couple of different reasons:  First of all, I wanted to get in while most of the Southern California annual passes (which contribute heavily to the crowds when people can use them) were still blocked out, and I also wanted to get in one last trip before the annual pass I bought last year expired.  At the time, I figured that this was going to be the last trip for a while, and that it was highly unlikely that I would be renewing my pass.  A funny thing happened along the way:  Somewhere in the process, I think I managed to inadvertently convince my friends to get annual passes whenever we make the next trip down to Disneyland.  Sure, the upfront cost of the annual pass is pretty steep (especially after the last round of price increases) but I’d definitely say I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of it, even though I only ended up using it for fourteen days.  Mine was the premium annual pass with no blackout dates, included parking (whch by itself saves $15 a day) and 15-20% discounts on food and merchandise throughout the parks.  Between the parking costs and the discounts I have to figure that the annual pass saved at least $125 on this trip alone, and with the other trips I’ve taken this past year figured in I’d have to say I’ve easily made up the price difference between the deluxe and the premium annual pass in cost savings.  Ironically, one annual passholder over on the DISBoards pointed out that with the annual pass discount, a drink at the recently opened Starbucks in DCA (it’s found inside the Fiddler Fifer and Practical Cafe, part of the new Buena Vista Street) would actually cost less than it would at a local Starbucks around here.  Not that I’d recommend it for everyone, but I suspect I’m going to end up getting another one whenever I go down for the next trip.  Not quite sure when that’s going to be, but there’s nothing like having good friends who actually get it to make a Disneyland trip enjoyable.  And next time I sewar I’ll find a way to do  it without being completely wiped out at the end…
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August 14, 2012

Second Star to the right, Straight On ’til Morning

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 6:29 am

If you are reading this, then it means that I managed to make it through two weeks of eating out of food trucks without somehow ending up dead, which is usually considered a good thing. Once again, I am blogging from an airplane, and getting some really cool views of Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens as we fly by. Conveniently ignoring for a minute or two the fact that I was up at 4am this morning to catch the flight , and the fact that I will probably be averaging about that much sleep most days this week, I am actually doing reasonably well right now. It sure seems like I have been blogging from airplanes a lot lately, but at the same time I don’t really consider myself much of a frequent flyer. As usual, I am off to Disneyland, but this one is the big Summer trip me and my friends have been planning for months.

We already had a little bit of drama with a forgotten bag this morning (thankfully resolved without too much catastrophe involved,) and the airport was pretty ridiculously crowded for 5am on a Tuesday, but as far as I know we both made it onto our flights just fine (thanks to the vagaries of airline pricing we had to book separate flights to avoid having to pay a bunch more money,) and six days of warm California sunshine await us. Aside from the fact that the weather in Seattle isn’t supposed to be all that much different during the coming week, that’s presumably supposed to be a good thing.

I suspect my Internet access will be limited for the next few days, and I suspect I will be spending most of that time either too busy or too zonked to do much writing, so I will probably be saving most of this for when I get back. As I have observed on several occasions, I don’t think it’s possible for any trip that involves more than a day or so at Disneyland to be a relaxing getaway, and with five days on the schedule I doubt this one will be any exception. Add to that the fraction that this is my first attempt at a peak season trip (at least I am getting in a week before the Annual Pass blackouts lift and the real madhouse begins) and we could be looks at an interesting time here. Even so, it should be fun, and I couldn’t ask for better company than I will have on this trip. As usual, we have plenty of ideas for goofy ride photos (Note: Goofy ride photos probably won’t contain actual Goofy, I haven’t quite figured out how to pull those strings just yet) and the usual shenanigans should be in effect.

I have been looking forward to this trip for months now, and can’t wait to enjoy it. If I manage to survive it, it’ll be even better..

August 10, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 10: Off the Rez

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:26 pm

Think he’s smoking something?

To bring the food truck project to a close (for now, I’ll probably try to hit a couple more here and there as time permits) I’ll try something that you just don’t see a lot of around here:  Native American food.

The Basics:

Food Ordered:

  • Indian taco, Chicken Chile Verde: $4.00
  • Naked frybread: $2.00
  • Total (with tip): $7.00

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 5 minutes
  • Time to receive food after ordering: About 4 minutes

Over the course of human history, it seems that just about every culture has at one point or another gotten the idea of taking some sort of dough and frying it in oil.  In the case of the  various Native American tribes, it was largely out of necessity, as they worked with whatever they happened to have on hand (which, after the tribes were moved by the US government on to the reservations, was mostly government-provided flour, sugar, salt and lard.)  Although the ingredients are similar, there are almost as many different variations on frybread as there are tribes (this site contains an extensive list of these.)  From my childhood in Los Alamos, I recall frybread being served mostly at special events like the County Fair or the annual rodeo.  This frybread, presumably influenced primarily by the various Pueblos found in the area surrounding Los Alamos and Santa Fe, would usually be served either with butter and sugar similar to how an Elephant Ear would be served, or in the form of an Indian Taco, which basically involves putting the type of toppings you’d expect to find on a taco on top of frybread.  Tasty, but most Indian Tacos (at least they way they were served back in Los Alamos) could be serious contenders for some sort of “Messiest Food Ever” award..

Until I found this particular truck, it had been years since I have had frybread at all, so I thought this truck would be a good chance to reacquaint myself with it.  The menu here provides four different options for Indian Tacos, plus a number of options for sweet toppings to put on the frybread by itself, as well as Succotash, chili (which happens to be the same stuff that’s used as the primary topping on the beef Indian Taco,) and some sort of a burger (presumably to give the Gringos something they’ll actually recognize on the menu.)  There were a few people in line in front of me, but things moved fairly quickly.  I did have to wait a bit for the food after ordering, but not excessively long.  Having already tried both the beef and the chicken tacos on a previous visit,  I found at the time that I preferred the chicken, so I ordered that (I haven’t tried the pork yet, but I’m not big on the whole pulled pork thing right now after some of the other trucks I’ve been to over the last couple of weeks.)  In order to try out the frybread by itself, I ordered one naked as well, with no toppings added.

Based on previous visits to this stand I knew that one taco should be plenty to make a lunch out of, and two is bordering on too much food (but if you are so inclined, there are a couple of different 2-taco combos on the menu, as well as a 3-taco combo that’s bordering on just plain overkill.)   A good portion of the chicken (which is simmered in a chile verde sauce) is placed on top of the taco and topped with cheese, lettuce, a few pickled onions (had to look at the website to figure that part out) and a cumin crema sauce to top it all off.  As often seems to be the case with Indian tacos, if you tried to eat it by hand you’d most likely find yourself making a big mess, so a knife and fork seems to be the way to go here.  As you might expect, the chicken is the star of the show here, with a good flavor and just a little bit of spice to assert its presence.  Based on trying the beef taco previously I do have to say that if felt a little bit heavier overall, mostly because of the chili. 

As for the frybread by itself, it seemed to be mostly pretty good, although I will note that it seemed like it could have used just a little bit longer cook time, as it seemed just the slightest bit doughy in the middle.  Even so, once I took it back to my desk and applied some honey that I keep in my desk drawer (for various breakfast purposes) it was quite good, although at the same time it did make me kind of wish we has someone around here in the Seattle area making proper Sopaipillas the way you get them down in the Southwestern United States.  It’s not exactly native food,  but I certainly wouldn’t complain if Off the Rez decided to branch out a bit.  In the meantime, they’ve got some pretty good stuff that you’re not likely to find around here unless you happen to make a trip out to one of the reservations. 

Off the Rez menu

August 9, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 9: Tacos El Tajin

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 10:38 pm

To be honest, I kind of hesitated to do a review of this truck, mostly because it’s largely a known quantity for a lot of Amazonians and other people who work in the South Lake Union neighborhood.  Nonetheless, I feel like if I’m going to be reviewing the food trucks in the neighborhood I should include it, because the list certainly wouldn’t be complete without it.

The Basics:

  • Food Truck: Tacos El Tajin
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Website: None
  • Facebook: None
  • Twitter: None
  • Yelp: 4.5 stars, 20 reviews
  • Location:  Corner of Boren and Republican in front of the Amazon Fiona building
  • Days: Daily
  • Payment Methods: Cash, cards (Note that a $0.25 fee might get added for using a card)
  • Sales Tax included in menu prices: Yes

Food Ordered:

  • Taco salad, Carne Asada: $6.00
  • Total (with tip): $7.00

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 7 minutes
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 1 1/2 minutes

A bit of a slow day at Tacos El Tajin…

One might be tempted to say that this taco truck, which parks every day in front of the building I work in, is one of the South Lake Union neighborhood’s best-kept secrets, but by now it’s pretty clear that it isn’t much of a secret.  If you happen to wander by this truck during the lunch hour, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be seeing a pretty long line in front of it.  This might scare off a few potential customers here and there, but the line here isn’t nearly as scary as it looks.  They’ve got the whole operation practically down to a science, and the line moves very quickly.  There’s a guy at the first window who takes people’s orders as they arrive, after which the food will arrive at a second window within a minute or two, and payment is handled at a separate table next to the truck.  It may not be as fancy or as slick-looking as some of the other trucks I’ve been to over the course of the nearly two weeks I’ve been doing this project for, but it’s fast, it’s reasonably priced, and it’s tasty.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty much everything most people will be looking for in their lunch  It’s not surprising that quite a few people seem to consider this taco truck to be their default lunch option.  This is so much the case that back in June when the taco truck disappeared for a few days due to a mechanical problem, half of the elevator graffiti (it’s an Amazon thing, long story) was people wondering where the heck the taco truck went.

I’ve been through most of the highlights of the menu by now across a number of visits to this truck, but my favorite item remains the steak taco salad.  Served in a flour tortilla bowl with a foundation of rice and beans, it comes with a generous serving of meat, and is topped with lettuce, tomato, cilantro and cheese.  After you order and pay, the sauces are found on another table off to the side.  There’s a fairly mild green sauce, a somewhat hotter red sauce (that also adds a nice flavor to the mix to go along with the heat) and a slightly orangish Habanero sauce that is reputed to be quite hot, although I’ve never actually tried it to confirm this. In addition to these, there’s also a bottle of what appears to be Crema Agria (basically a thinner version of sour cream) provided as well.  The portion sizes here are generous, and even with relatively low prices compared to a lot of the other food trucks, it’s unlikely anyone will be finding themselves hungry after lunch here.

I suspect that for a lot of people in the South Lake Union neighborhood, none of this will come as any surprise.  At least not if the lines in front of the place are any indication. 

August 8, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 8: Hot Dog King

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:18 pm

When I started out on this project, I believe I did mention the fact that even though I’m calling it the Food Truck project, I’m not going to necessarily limit myself to food trucks.  In addition to the usual trucks, there are also a handful of hot dog carts that appear in the neighborhood.  Having either already reviewed the available selections or just not being all that thrilled about the selection a couple of days ago, I decided to make a little detour to one of the more established ones.

The Basics:

  • Food Cart: Hot Dog King
  • Cuisine: Hot Dogs
  • Website: None
  • Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thehotdogking
  • Twitter: None
  • Yelp: 4.5 stars, 3 reviews
  • Location:  Corner of Westlake and Harrison, next to Firestone (Also found in front of the  Triangle Pub on 1st Ave. near the stadiums for sporting events)
  • Days: Daily
  • Payment Methods: Cash, cards
  • Sales Tax included in menu prices: Yes

Food Ordered:

  • Louisiana Hotlink, topped with grilled onions and sweet relish and served with chips and drink: $6.00
  • Total (with tip): $7.00

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 1 minute
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 4 minutes

One thing I’ve found about hot dogs over the years is that practically everyone has different ideas of how they like theirs.  Some people prefer to stick to the basics, others will settle for nothing less than a “dragged through the garden” Chicago dog, with most people falling somewhere in between.  It also seems like just about everywhere you go there’s some regional variation on the standard hot dog,. and Seattle is no exception.  Around here, the local variation is the Seattle-style dog, which is sold mostly by the various hot dog stands that set up shop around the stadiums for Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders games, and makes the somewhat odd-sounding addition of cream cheese to the standard litany of hot dog toppings.  Usually I tend to lean more toward the basics when it comes to hot dog toppings (although I do also enjoy a good chili dog every now and then as well,) but if there’s any place that might convince you to branch out it’s this one.  As you can see from the  photo above, the selection of condiments on offer here is extensive, with over 30 different kinds of mustard alone.  Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of mustard (the fact that my sisters would often eat it in suspiciously large quantities with just about anything while I was growing up probably contributed to that,) but I have found that I do use it a lot more than I used to.  Even so, I’ve never been all that adventurous about trying different varieties, and rarely venture much beyond the standard yellow stuff. 

Hot Dog King menu

And the customization options don’t end there.  In addition to all the sauces, they also provide a lengthy list of other toppings that can be added to any of the several hot dog options shown above.  In addition to the usual standbys and the local favorites, you’ve just about got the makings of what should be a reasonably respectable Chicago dog (although I don’t think they have the suspiciously green relish or the celery salt,) or you can just go wild if you would like.  In addition to these, there are also a number of specials that vary from day to day.  To top it all off, every sausage on the menu also comes with chips and a drink to make a complete meal out of it.

These days, I kind of suspect that Costco has kind of spoiled the whole hot dog experience for a lot of people.  Sure, selling $1.50 hot dogs with a drink probably isn’t making them much money, but I suspect it’s used more as a marketing ploy than anything these days.  At the same time, I think it’s led people to consider $5 or $6 for a hot dog to be rather expensive.  If it was just a hot dog we were talking about then they’d have a point on that, but they use premium hotdogs here, and I seriously doubt Costco will be matching them in the topping department anytime soon.  This particular one was a grilled Louisiana Hotlink with added grilled onions and relish, plus a bit of plain yellow mustard (hey, I already said I’m not particularly adventurous in the condiment department.)  The sausage appears to be stuffed in a natural casing to give it that nice little snap when you bite into it (best not to think about these things too much really) and had a nice spicy flavor to it, just what you would expect from something like this.  Although the hotdogs here aren’t ridiculously huge, when combined with the chips and drink you’ve got a respectable lunch here, and most likely won’t be hungry again by 2pm.

All things considered, this seems to be a pretty good lunch option, at least assuming you’re in the mood for a good hotdog (which, admittedly doesn’t happen all that often for me.)  If there’s one thing that’s missing from the menu here it would be a chili dog, and I hear that shows up as a special every once in a while.  Even so, it doesn’t matter how picky you are about your hot dogs, chances are that Hot Dog King will have something that will fit your needs.  And then some.

August 7, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 7: Raney Brothers BBQ

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 8:40 pm

If you ask anyone who comes from the South, there seems to be an unwritten law which states that it is physically impossible to make good BBQ anywhere outside of the Southern United States.  To put it mildly, they seem to regard  any BBQ created outside of that geographic area to be irredeemably terrible.  Not that it stops people from trying, of course.  For our next food truck, we’ll take a look at one truck trying to bring BBQ to South Lake Union.

The Basics:

Food Ordered:

  • The Dude (pulled pork sandwich with Cajun meatloaf): $8
  • Fries: $1.50
  • Total (with tip:) $10.50

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 1 minute
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 2 1/2 minutes

This is one of the handful of trucks that parks in front of the building I work in, although until now I haven’t had a chance to actually try it out.  As you might guess from the name of the truck (and the potentially traitorous pigs depicted on the side,) this truck serves barbeque, mostly in the form of sandwiches.  In addition to the ones you see on the menu below, they also serve “The Dude”, a presumably pop culture-inspired sandwich that combines the pulled pork with the Cajun meatloaf found in the Cajun grinder on the regular menu, and adds cheese, grilled onions and the red cabbage slaw you see on the sides portion of the menu to the mix.  Since it seems to be the “signature” item on the menu (to the point that it gets its own special little menu board) and it wasn’t any more expensive than anything else I went for that, and added a side of fries to the order.  Once again I went just a little over my $10 limit once the tip was added, but that’s not a big deal.  Once again I got there a bit before the lunch rush, and once again I was in and out quickly.  At this point, it’s looking like the over 30 minute wait is more the exception than the rule, although there are other trucks (which I have not reviewed for this project) that have been prone to long waits in the middle of the lunch hour.

Given the fact that we are getting this particular BBQ from a truck in the middle of Seattle and not some old shack out in the woods of Carolina, I set my expectations accordingly.  And although I wouldn’t characterize this as being anything too special, it is reasonably competent BBQ with a good, slightly spicy sauce added.  The smoke flavor of the pulled pork is quite subtle, and it can easily get lost among the other ingredients in the sandwich if you let it.  It’s also kind of hard to tell what exactly makes the Cajun meatloaf Cajun.  Aside from these, the sandwich contains some type of cheese (I’m guessing Provolone, but it gets kind of vague with all the other stuff in there), grilled onions and cabbage slaw (something I’m still getting used to as a sandwich ingredient, but I think I’ve gotten the Tatstrami from Tat’s Deli over in Pioneer Square often enough that it’s not too unusual anymore) and the obligatory sauce which was reasonably thick and sweet, with a subtle hint of spice that kicks in a few seconds after you take a bite.  I’m told there’s also a hotter variant of the sauce, but the menu offers no indication of this, so I wasn’t aware of it when I ordered.  The fries are pretty run-of-the-mill, aside from being seasoned with both salt and pepper, which helps them to stand out just a little bit from the usual fast food fries.

All in all, I can’t really find anything to complain about here, but I don’t think I was really blown away by anything later.  Even so, this is definitely the type of thing I could go for on occasion, and the fact that it’s parked right in front of my building is good for some bonus points as well.  I’m sure I’ll be back at some point.

August 6, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 6: The Grilled Cheese Experience

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:47 pm

Over the years, Seattle has given us a number of famous experiences.  From one of Seattle’s most famous native sons came the notoriously brief Jimi Hendrix Experience, responsible for some of the greatest rock albums of all time.  From Paul Allen and architect Frank Gehry comes the distinctive yet controversial Experience Music Project at Seattle Center (which, unsurprisingly, contains an extensive permanent exhibit on Jimi Hendrix.)  And now, by way of the alley behind Lake Union Wholesale Florist at Harrison and Boren, we get the Grilled Cheese Experience. 

The Basics:

Food Ordered:

  • Classic Grilled Cheese, with bacon added: $8.00
  • Total (with tip:) $9.00

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 1 minute
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 6 minutes

There are quite a things one might think of when they think of grilled cheese, but the chances are good that an experience isn’t one of them.   Sure it’s a simple, easy-to-make meal that probably earns a place in the top 10 list of things that a penurious dorm-bound college freshman eats for dinner, but at the same time it can be exactly the type of thing that hits the spot when you’re really hungry.  Even so, most people tend to eat grilled cheese sandwiches, not experience them.  It seems that The Grilled Cheese Experience, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, is out to change that.

In addition to the standard-issue grilled cheese sandwich, this truck offers several deluxe models, as well as a Reuben sandwich, and various specials that presumably change from day to day.  Wanting to keep it simple, I opted for the classic version, but I also decided to spring for the two bucks to add bacon, bringing the cost to $8.  Service was friendly and food was received in a reasonable amount of time (I probably would have waited longer if I had gotten there a few minutes later though, as the line started to grow after I ordered.)   Given the fact that a grilled cheese sandwich tends usually to be one of the cheaper items on any given menu, it’s a little surprising that this one starts out at $6 and goes up from there.  Granted, when compared with the pricing at some of the other food trucks out there that’s pretty good (don’t even get me started on some of the overpriced hipster bait trucks out there charging $13 for a burger and fries),  but especially when you start wandering away from the basics, things start getting expensive in a hurry.  And although the sandwich I received was quite good, it wasn’t very big. By itself, you’d be hard pressed to make a full meal out of this.  If you’re looking to not end up hungry at 2pm, you could add either tomato soup or mac and cheese for $3 each, but I didn’t get the chance to try out either of those on this trip.  And by the time you start adding things, you could easily be getting dangeously close to $15.  On the other hand, it appears that the special does get served with soup.

The main problem with this truck is that even in the culinary wasteland (relatively speaking) that is South Lake Union’s fixed-location restaurant scene, there are several places that make a more than adequate grilled cheese sandwich.  Although I have yet to try the one at Blue Moon Burgers (if I’m going to spend the time and calories on a visit to Blue Moon I’m going for a proper burger),  the Great Northwest Soup Co. makes a pretty good grilled cheese, which can be had with a cup of a number of different soup choices for $7 and change, and adds a full menu of various Paninis on top of that.  Although I can see supporting the little guy here, I still have a hard time justifying spending that much money on something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich.  In spite of this, I do think I will have to give this place another try to see how the tomato soup or the Mac and Cheese is.  I don’t think anyone around the neighborhood has really figured that one out yet…

The Grilled Cheese Experience menu

August 3, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 5: Where Ya At

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 6:35 pm

Today’s food truck takes us a little further out than I’ve gone for the other trucks, and down the garden path into the Cascade neighborhood.

The Basics:

Food Ordered:

  • Gumbo (small size):  $5.00
  • Begniets (0rder of 3): $4.00
  • Total (with tip:) $10.00

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 5 minutes
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 2 minutes

Having been around for several years already, Where Ya At is one of the more established food trucks in Seattle, and one of the more critically acclaimed ones as well.  In spite of this, it’s out-of-the-way location in comparison to the rest of the SLU food trucks means that most people aren’t going to even know this one exists unless they have heard of it through word of mouth (which, admittedly, is something that this truck isn’t exactly lacking for.)  It’s also a fair bit out of the way when compared to the spots around Boren and Harrison where most of the trucks set up shop.  From the building I work in, it’s about an extra 2-3 blocks of walking to get here when compared to the other trucks I have visited so far.  That said, it’s not a bad walk, even if it does involve some extra uphill walking (after all this is Seattle, walking uphill just comes with the territory around here) and you get a bit of extra scenery here in the form of the well-maintained community garden that resides at Cascade Playground.

This scenery extends to the truck as well, as it parks next to the Cascade People’s Center (which actually sounds kind of scary, but it seems to be just a typical community center) in a spot that allows the people in line to wait under a nice plant-covered gazebo.  Given the fact that the average food truck in the neighborhood gives you all the ambience of a claustrophobic parking lot while you’re waiting, this has to go for some points in their favor.  Not that I had long to wait anyway, asa the food came fairly quickly once I ordered and paid for it.

Originally when I got here I wanted to try out the smothered chicken Po Boy sandwich, but by the time I got in line they had run out.  I briefly considered the pork, but soon realized that yesterday’s meal had puit me off pork (at least of the shredded variety) for a little bit, so I decided to try out the gumbo instead.  I had also heard a fair bit about the Begniets here (which seem to be the most popular item, and one that apparently sells out frequently) and decided to go for the smaller size on the gumbo and spring for an order of those too.  Even though the gumbo was a small size, the portion size was still pretty decent.  The gumbo itself was a typical chicken-and-sausage affair with a pretty good flavor with just a little bit of kick to it to let you know it’s there (they offer a decent selection of appropriate hot sauces for those who wish to spice it up a bit more.)  In spite of a decent amount of okra, it didn’t seem quite as thick as some of them that I’ve had over the years (some people have commented that it doesn’t seem to use much roux), and had a rather souplike texture to it overall.  I also felt it could have done with just a little bit more rice in it, but that’s just a minor quibble.  The Begniets, on the other hand, are pretty much exactly as advertised:  fried dough and powdered sugar, two of the most dangerous substances known to man.  And they don’t skimp on the sugar here either, I think there was at least a quarter of a cup of sugar still in the bag when the three Begniets had been removed.  I ate a couple of these with lunch, and saved the third one for later, based on the probably now discredited theory that putting a portion of something bad for you aside and saving it for later somehow makes it slightly less bad for you when you do actually eat it.  When the residual oil from the fryer combines with the powdered sugar, it forms a substance that bears a surprising resemblance to Oreo filling (which, from what I understand, isn’t actually that far off,) and which I should probably be down in the exercise room right now trying to work off.

The obvious comparison here is with Jemil’s Big Easy, another Cajun food truck which I already covered a few days ago.  Since I haven’t extensively covered the menu of either of these two trucks it’s hard for me to say that I can really recommend one over the other, but since they both show up on different days of the week (at least for the time being) it’s unlikely you’ll see both around at the same time anyway.  Both trucks serve up perfectly reasonable versions of the classic Cajun staples, but although Where Ya At is a bit of a hike for most people, their prices do seem to be better overall (especially given the fact that the menu prices at Jemil’s don’t include tax) and the variety on the menu seems to be better.  Jemil’s also doesn’t have Begniets on the menu, but that might be a good thing, since I’m currently trying to not die of a heart attack at an inconveniently young age.

If I keep up this food truck thing for too much longer that might just happen.  This puts us at the halfway point for the food truck project, with another week to go. 

Where Ya At Menu

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 4: Pai’s

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:37 am

(Update: Looks like this truck is out of business, as the owners have moved back to Thailand.)

After just three days of eating lunches from the various food trucks found around the South Lake Union neighborhood, I’m already starting to question the wisdom of this whole thing. Not that the food has been bad or anything like that, but it’s one of those situations like what happens when you’ve been on a cruise ship for a week: The food is good, and there’s plenty of it, but by the time the trip is over you get kind of sick of all the fancy food, and by that time you’re ready to just go find the cheapest and junkiest thing you can and go eat it. In my case, that usually ends up being Taco Bell, but I digress. Speaking of cruises (well, sort of), the next entry on our tour of the food trucks comes to us from the Islands…

The Basics:

Food Ordered:

  • Kalua Pork rice bowl: $8.00
  • Total price (with tip): $9.00

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 3 1/2 minutes
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 1 1/2 minutes

Pai’s bills itself as “Thai-Hawaiian Street Eats,” but to be honest, it’s kind of hard to tell exactly where the influences are coming from here. The Hawaiian part on the menu is pretty obvious, but the Thai part is a little bit vague, and somewhere along the line it seems that a fair bit of Korean influence has crept in. Not that any of this is their fault, mind you. This truck bases its food of the concept of the traditional Hawaiian Plate Lunch, itself a product of lunch wagons and later food trucks during the days when Hawaii’s plantations required large amounts of immigrant labor to operate. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Plate Lunch generally consists of a couple of scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad (or something similar), and some sort of meat, at which point pretty much anything goes. In Hawaii, plate lunches have been influenced significantly by Japanese, Korean, and mainland American cuisines, as well as the native Hawaiian cuisine. In fact, the ubiquitous (except in South Lake Union, curse my luck) take-out containers of Teriyaki you get from a lot of places around here are essentially a plate lunch in disguise.

In the interest of not blowing the $10 limit for lunch yet again, I decided to skip the whole plate lunch, and just opted for the rice bowl with Kalua Pork. Although there were a few people in front of me when I got here, the line moved quickly, and it only took about five minutes from the time I got in line to when I was walking away with my food. Service is friendly, and the cashier made a point of thanking people as they put money into the tip jar (which I usually do). The Kalua Pork was served with cabbage (mostly covered up by the pork in the photo above) and a fairly generous scoop of rice underneath. I do note that they use the same smaller container here as Urban Oasis does, but the portion here feels significantly more substantial. I don’t think anyone is going to complain that there isn’t enough food here. As to the flavor, my opinions were a bit more mixed. My biggest complaint with this was that it was quite salty, bordering on too much so. Admittedly, I did put some soy sauce on it (they have several sauces on hand, including soy, hoisin and sriracha) but not enough so that it should be as salty as it was. There’s also a lot of smoke flavor here (which is typical of this dish,) which eventually became almost overpowering after eating enough of it. I also thought that there wasn’t as much of the cabbage as I would have liked. This is a bit of an odd thing to complain about since usually it’s the meat that there’s not enough of and too much of the veggies, but it seemed like all the cabbage was gone after just a few bites, whereas there was no shortage of pork to go around.

Overall, I thought that the service here was friendly and the portions more than reasonable, although I’m not sure I’d order this particular dish again next time. It is hard to form an opinion based on a single dish though, so I think I’d have to try a couple other things off the menu before I decide what I think one way or the other.

Pai’s Menu

August 1, 2012

South Lake Union Food Truck Project, Day 3: Urban Nomad

Filed under: Food, Seattle — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:20 pm

(Update:  Unfortunately, it looks like this truck is out of business.  They still have a physical location in Lower Queen Anne, but the menu bears little resemblance to that of the truck.)

After the previous day’s epic 26-minute wait for food at Kaosamai (I should probably note that I’m writing most of these a couple of days in advance,) I decided I should probably work on getting out a bit earlier to beat the lunch rush.  Our next food truck lunch comes to us from Urban Nomad, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood.

The Basics:

Food Ordered:

  • Roasted Garlic Alfredo with Chicken: $9.50
  • Total (with tip:) $10.50

Speed:

  • Time to order and pay: About 2 minutes
  • Time to receive food after ordering: 3 1/2 minutes

A relative newcomer to the food truck scene (come to think of it, who isn’t a relative newcomer to the food truck scene these days?), Urban Nomad has a name that tells you absolutely nothing about what kind of food you’ll expect to find inside.  For the first few weeks since they opened back in June they’ve been making occasional appearances in the alley behind Lake Union Wholesale Florist, but it was only last week that I got a look at their menu.  Interestingly enough, pasta seems to be practically a foreign substance around these parts, and aside from Mac and Cheese served as a side dish in the Amazon cafe, I can’t recall seeing anyone in the neighborhood serving any pasta dishes.  On the other hand, when you think about it, pasta seems like a natural foodstuff for mobile trucks like this.  The pasta and the sauce can all be prepared in advance to be served quickly while on location.  When you see it, you’re almost surprised that nobody managed to beat them to it.

You’ll also notice that as one of the newer trucks on the block, it’s also one of the nicer looking ones.  With the large number of trucks you see throughout the neighborhood, you tend to see all kinds of different things ranging from the shiny new ones like this, all the way down to the ones that look like they might be old enough to have grandkids.  By the same token, you see all kinds of different ways of showing the menu, ranging from a simple whiteboard with the menu written on it, all the way to the fancy display screens like you see on this truck.  It actually wouldn’t even cost all that much to set up a system like that these days (you can get a reasonably cheap display for a couple hundred bucks and run it off just about any old notebook computer you might have hanging around,) but when you can get just about the same functionality out of a $15 whiteboard and a $5 set of markers, the return on investment seems a bit dubious. Hoping to avoid a repeat of Kaosamai’s epic wait, I set off a few minutes earlier than I did last time, but probably didn’t need to do so.  There were only a handful of people in front of the truck (which was on its first day at what they expect to be a new permanent location just a couple of blocks away from their previous spot,) and I was able to order and pay quickly (aside from a minor hitch or two with their iPad-based payment system for taking cards,) and the food was ready in under four minutes.

I ordered the Roasted Garlic Alfredo pasta, which was served with options of chicken, shrimp or portabella mushrooms (I went for the chicken.)  At $9.50, this is pushing the upper limits of my $10 limit, and in fact when I add the tip it puts me over the limit again, which means that I’m only 1 for 3 on staying under the limit so far.  At least there isn’t any additional sales tax on top of it.  For that $9.50, you get a portion size that seems just a bit on the small side in comparison to some of the other trucks in the neighborhood that I’ve been to.  Not that you’ll be going hungry or anything like that (in fact, some of the other places’ portions tend to approaching the “too much food” threshold) but you probably wouldn’t have to look too hard to find more food for less money.  As for the food itself, I can’t say that it was anything special or anything like that, but it was reasonably well done.  To be honest, when I ordered the Alfredo pasta I expected to find Fettuccine in there instead of the Rigatoni I was served, but I suppose if I had actually read the menu I would have known that.  Either way, pasta is pasta regardless of what shape it happens to be in, so this doesn’t really matter anyway.  As far as Alfredo sauces go, I’d have to say that the one here was fairly decent compared to some I’ve had, albeit a little on the thin side.   On the other hand, it is also backed up by a generous amount of shaved (as opposed to grated or powdered) Parmesan cheese on top, which when combined with the sauce  does make up for the thinness a bit, and also provides some nice melted cheese action as well.  The chicken, on the other hand, was nothing special (and for all I could tell might have even been the pre-cooked stuff you can get in bags at Costco), and the Alfredo sauce when combined with the cheese is probably substantial enough that the chicken probably could have been omitted with little to no ill effect.  Interestingly enough, I think my gold standard for this type of pasta dish comes from the excellent Fettuccine Alfredo served in the dining rooms aboard Princess cruise ships (a sentiment that seems to be shared among a number of other cruisers as well.)  Also, for those so inclined, there are also vegetarian and gluten-free options on the menu as well, although I don’t have much reason to try out either of these (although I could see the mushroom option for some pastas being good under the right circumstances.)

All in all, not a bad place for a lunch, especially given the dearth of pasta to be found elsewhere in the neighborhood.  That said, I do have to point out once again that the prices seem to be a bit on the high side for a food truck meal, and the portion sizes are a bit on the small side.  Nonetheless, if you take this into effect and don’t mind a bit of a splurge for lunch, chances are you won’t be disappointed here.

Urban Nomad Menu

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