The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

November 9, 2014

How Sicky-Sweet It Is

Filed under: Food — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:51 pm

It has now been about a month and a half since me and my friends got back from the cruise we took back in September.  Since that time, we have been making an effort to try to eat healthier, partially to offset any potential weight gain that may have resulted from a week on a cruise ship, and partially because we just need to get into some better eating habits in the first place.  For the most part, we are following what is generally known as the “No white food” diet, which means avoiding refined sugar as much as possible, as well as other processed carbohydrates (depending on who you ask milk may be off limits too, but I have heard mixed opinions on that one.)  We also have weekends as our designated “cheat days” since it can be tough to stick to something like this 100% of the time.  To be honest, the part about avoiding white carbs is where I have trouble with this one, but as long as I can plan ahead I can do a reasonably good job.  On the other hand, one thing that I wasn’t expecting when I started this was that sugar has proved a lot easier for me to avoid than I expected it to be.

Of course, it’s impossible to completely avoid sugar.  When you start looking at nutrition labels more closely you find that it’s virtually impossible to find anything that doesn’t have sugar in one form or another.  Just about any fruits and vegetables have at least some amount of natural sugar in them (although in most cases the amounts are relatively small.)  The same goes for milk and milk products.  If for some reason you decided to live entirely off of meat you might theoretically be able to avoid sugar, but the nutritional deficiencies resulting from such a diet would far outweigh whatever benefits of avoiding sugar.  In spite of this, I have found it surprisingly easy to avoid the obvious stuff (for the most part, I may or may not have been eating a Frosty while I was in the process of writing this) which actually came as a bit of a surprise to me.  One of the things you realize when you’re doing something like this is that it is very easy to casually snack on sugary stuff without giving it a second thought.  I don’t know how it is for other people, but typically when I eat sugary stuff I find that it leaves an aftertaste that can be annoying, which means that more often than not I tend to regret it fairly quickly.  I think it is this tendency that has made it easier for me than it would be to other people to just stay away from the sugar.

One interesting side effect I have noticed from this is that in eating less sugar and trying to avoid it, I’ve found that you start to notice it more when it’s there.  Even things you wouldn’t think of as being sweet start to taste a lot sweeter than you remember them being.  And it’s not always a welcome sensation to realize it.  Even small amounts of sugar (as little as 1 or 2 grams per serving) can end up seeming like a lot more than that.  Eventually you get used to the fact that you can’t get completely away from it and you just focus on avoiding the obvious pitfalls, but you can still tell that it’s there.  Gradually, as you go along, the cravings for sugar seem to gradually taper off, to the point that even when you can eat it you tend to eat less of it (at least that’s what I keep telling myself.)  In particular,  I know that soda can be a big problem for a lot of people, and sometimes it can be hard to avoid it, especially when it gets included with your food.  I also have the first-world-problem of having a soda fountain literally 12 steps from my desk at work (yes, I counted)  but even that I just haven’t been all that interested in.

As for results, it seems like this is doing something.  Exactly what it’s doing I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that even if I have trouble with the rest of the stuff that a diet should entail, at the very least cutting back on the sugar should do something.  Exactly what that is I’m not quite sure, but I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there.

January 27, 2014

The Stupidest Idea I’ve Had All Week: Optimizing Delivery of Restaurant Baked Goods With Ballistic Devices

Filed under: Food, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:21 am

Last week, the Old Spaghetti Factory was celebrating their 45th anniversary by offering their various carb-based meals for $4 for a couple of days.  Me and my girlfriend decided to take advantage of this offer, and unsurprisingly, we found that we weren’t the only ones.  It took close to a 45 minute wait for a table to become available for us after we arrived, and even once we were seated we found the service to be somewhat on the slow side, presumably owing to the large crowds they were dealing with that evening (and no, I’m not complaining about the service, I figure that just comes with the territory when you go for this type of thing.)  Typically, when you start a meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory they bring bread to your table, but even the bread was taking some time to arrive this evening.  Being hungry after 45 minutes of waiting just to get a table, we were naturally getting a little bit impatient.  And when I get impatient, bad ideas usually tend to be the result.  And believe me, I’ve got plenty of those to go around.

It’s not like there was any lack of available bread in the restaurant, at least as far as we could tell.  A quick census of the other tables revealed that a significant number of them had received bread at some point prior, although we did not have any reliable method of determining the  TTB (Time to Bread) value for any except our own table.  Given the fact that the bread at this particular restaurant is typically served hot, it is entirely possible that the baking mechanisms could bottleneck the process at times of extreme volume (it is probably reasonable to assume that this would have been considered a time of high volume) but on the whole, it would seem that the bread supply on hand was adequate.  That would mean the most likely delay in bread delivery to our table would have been the delivery itself, which depended on a server who was presumably too busy dealing with his other tables to deliver bread in a timely fashion.  Surely there has to be some way to speed up this process.

It was about this point that we recalled an incident that happened on one of our Disneyland trips last year.  While wandering around the Pacific Wharf area of California Adventure, we came across the Boudin Bakery, where a number of people were inside preparing what appeared to be bread bowls, presumably for clam chowder or something similar.  We paused for a minute at the window and watched, when suddenly someone inside tossed one of the bread bowls at us.  Fortunately there was a window between us and the flying carbohydrate projectile, but it startled the heck out of us, and months later, we still joke about the time that we went to Disneyland and they threw bread at us.  But upon recalling this, it occurred to us that this could, in fact, be a significantly more efficient way of transferring bread from oven to consumer when compared to the current methods.  Some further research on this subject reveals that I’m not the first person to have this idea.  Lambert’s Cafe, founded in Sikeston Missouri with additional locations in Ozark Missouri and Foley Alabama, has been throwing bread at people for decades.  As you can see from the video below, this is a very efficient method of bread delivery.

Then again, even though setting up a cart in the corner and getting a guy to throw rolls at customers works well in a down-home place like Lambert’s, in a modern high-volume foodservice environment you’re going to need something a bit more efficient than that.  Fortunately, we have plenty of sources we could borrow from for this type of thing.  A quick search reveals that there have been literally hundreds of years of research put into the subject of placing objects in precise locations on a ballistic trajectory.  There are also quite a few time-tested methods of delivering ballistic projectiles to precise locations, any one of which could possibly be adapted to the application of delivering bread in a foodservice environment.  Granted, most of this science behind this type of thing tends to be concerned more with things like heavy boulders and high explosives, but I’m sure some of the existing research could be adapted to baked goods if necessary.  You would probably need to figure out a few minor details like mass, avoiding obstacles and not demolishing the tables and/or restaurant patrons with your bread-delivery system, but I’m sure those problems could probably be sorted out in a year or two.  Targeting could also be an issue, since the average restaurant server tends not to be well acquainted with the art of ballistics.  Fortunately, I think this problem tends to be fairly easy to solve.  After all, most restaurants tend to keep their tables in well-defined fixed locations, so if a pre-programmed computer controlled trajectory could be established for each table and/or seat, then you could ensure reasonably consistent  placement of the baked goods, although for a number of reasons (primarily variance in the mass and aerodynamic properties of the projectiles, as well as any air currents that might be present) within the restaurant) I think you would probably still need to allow for about a 5% margin of error.

There are also some inherent problems with applying this type of solution to existing restaurants, as it turns out that a shockingly small number of the restaurants opened in the United States in the last 50 years have taken projectile physics into consideration in their designs, which creates some challenges when it comes time to integrate a ballistic baked good delivery system into an existing restaurant.  Perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by the designers of such a system is how to deal with ceilings, which would tend to artificially limit the allowable height for projectiles.  In theory the baked goods could still be delivered to their targets on lower trajectories that will keep them at more acceptable altitudes, but this would also require more power to be applied at the launch end, which could result in some complications (including but not limited to spilled drinks, bruising, broken bones, tooth loss, unsightly dents in restaurant walls and/or shattered bottles of top-shelf liquors if a projectile intended for a bar patron goes off course.)  Ultimately, retrofitting an existing restaurant for ballistic bread delivery would ideally involve raising the ceilings to allow for higher arcing trajectories that are less likely to encounter interference from existing fixtures.  Determining the optimal trajectory for each table in a given establishment would also be a matter of trial and error.  Unfortunately, a lot of the existing science on this type of thing tends to be based on the assumption that the intended targets for most ballistic projectiles are intended to be demolished by said projectiles, a condition which is generally considered undesirable in a foodservice environment.  Then again, most baked goods tend to have relatively low mass when compared to most ballistic projectiles, so with a few minor countermeasures to arrest excessive velocity at the receiving end I’m sure something could be worked out that would deliver (mostly) intact bread on a reasonably consistent basis.  More research is clearly needed on this subject.

Then again, I’m not an engineer, and most of what I happen to know about ballistics comes from Wile E. Coyote cartoons and playing Scorched Earth as a kid, so I’m sure there are factors in play here that I have failed to properly consider.  All I know is that there are significant inefficiencies in the current foodservice bread-delivery paradigm, many of which can be solved with the judicious application of physics.  But what if you want butter with your bread?  Well, I guess the engineers still need to figure that one out.

December 4, 2013

Random Thoughts: What a Short Strange Trip It’s Been

Filed under: Food, Wanderings — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:52 am

There seems to be some sort of a strange limbo that one finds themselves in when something long anticipated is about to arrive, but is still not quite here just yet.  The two weeks of vacation that I’ve been planning for the past six months are coming up this weekend, but I can’t quite mentally check out just yet since various work-related things have picked this time to flare up and keep me busy.  As I noted a couple of posts ago, I ended up on a whirlwind business trip to Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago, and although the tight schedule didn’t allow time to do much besides work, I did manage to sneak a couple of other things in along the way.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about from the upcoming cruise (although some of it might have to wait until I get back) but in the meantime, here’s a few random thoughts left over from the trip:

One of my personal cardinal rules while traveling is that whenever possible, I try to eat at places that I cannot find at home.  This means that for the most part I avoid the major chains, and try to seek out the more local type places or restaurants endemic to the area in which I’m traveling.  I do this not because I’m any sort of a food snob (although I suspect on occasion I might be one whenever it happens to be convenient) but mostly because it’s a way to take advantage of the limited time I have to travel.  After all, it there’s a place I can go to on a typical Wednesday night, why would I spend vacation time there?  Anyway, while on this particular trip I had limited time for just about everything, so I wanted to find something not too far from the hotel, yet something with a bit of history to it.  A search of some Yelp reviews came up with Original Joe’s in Downtown San Jose, an Italian restaurant and steakhouse boasting a long history and generous portions.    After braving a fair bit of traffic in the downtown area and a couple of unplanned sorties into way-too-narrow parking lots, I found my way to the place, and after a short wait found my way to a spot at the counter.  As you might expect, this place is a throwback to a previous era, with decorations little changed since the restaurant’s opening many years ago.  Another interesting feature of this restaurant was an open kitchen, where one can watch the frenzy of activity as steaks were grilled, pastas were served up, veggies were sauteed (sometimes with the theatrics that a conveniently flammable bit of something-or-other can add to the whole experience) and things generally hummed along at a frantic pace as a hungry Saturday night crowd (when I arrived, the people in front of me were warned that the wait for a table could be as much as an hour) was served.

As a place with a 57-year history in the same location, there’s bound to be a few stories to be told, and as luck would have it, I found just the person to tell them.  Seated next to me at the counter was a regular of this particular establishment, who first visited the restaurant at the age of thirteen, and who had been visiting the restaurant for over 50 years.  And he seemed more than happy to talk about it with a newcomer who had no idea the place even existed two hours before.  The waiter had been there a month, but was getting used to it pretty well.  The guy working the saute pans was one of four guys trained for the (suprisingly complex) job a few years ago, but was the only one who actually made it through.  Some of the guys in the kitchen had been there as much as thirty years.  He knew everyone there, and many came to visit.  There were also plenty of stories.  The computers for order tracking in the kitchen were installed only a few years ago as they recovered from a fire (apparently one of two the place has had in its history,) but even with modern technology they still call out all the orders anyway.  In the end, the New York Strip was pretty good (maybe not the best I’ve ever had, but I’ve definitely paid more money for much worse steaks over the years) but it was the guy who knew everyone in the place except for the random stranger who happened to be sitting next to him that really made the experience for me.  And that, in a nutshell, is why I seek these types of places out when I’m on the road.  Even if the food isn’t always amazing at places like this (it’s rarely quite that memorable, but at the same time it’s rarely disappointing,) sometimes it’s worth visiting a place like this just for the experience.

Flying in and out of cities I’ve never visited before typically means visiting unfamiliar airports as well, and for lack of much else to do on the way back, I took the opportunity to wander up and down the shockingly long hallways of the San Jose Airport while awaiting my return flight home after the business I had been sent down to take care of was completed.  As airports go, the one in San Jose is relatively small compared to most of the ones I fly in and out of (28 gates total, most of them being in one big long line) but it’s also one of the more modern ones I’ve seen, with Terminal B having opened to passengers just a few years ago.  Heeding the now standard advice to arrive two hours before my flight’s departure time, a short security line left me with most of that two hours to wait, which left plenty of time to wander.  It turns out that the walk from gate 28 (where the security checkpoint for terminal B is located) to gate 1 in the other terminal comes out to pretty close to half a mile in each direction.  With flights coming in and out of Terminal B constantly (most of them Southwest and Alaska flights), you get the impression that this is a rather busy airport in spite of its size, but as you wander down to the older Terminal A, you find that things get a lot quieter fast.

One particularly interesting sight along the way was an ANA 787 Dreamliner parked at Gate 15, getting ready to board a flight to Tokyo.  I’ve seen a few Dreamliners flying around here and there in the skies over Seattle, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to see one up (reasonably) close.  Sure it’s had its highly publicized problems, but it’s still quite interesting to see one.

As the gate numbers go down, the activity in the terminal seems to go down with them, to the point that by the time you reach the waiting area where gates 1-7 are located the place is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost town.  Whatever newsstands and restaurants used to serve this part of the terminal now appear to be shuttered due to lack of interest.  A Bane-Of-My-Existence AA MD-80 sits idle at one of the gates, waiting for nobody in particular.  A couple of the gates have signs up indicating long-haul flights that are several hours away, giving no reason for anyone to really be here in the first place.  In fact, the only source of sound in this part of the terminal at all seems to be the occasional clangs and clicks of a kinetic sculpture, busily whirring away and accomplishing nothing useful while nobody pays any attention to it (well, nobody until I showed up and watched for a few minutes, I’m admittedly a sucker for these kinds of things.)  These days, it seems like every airport I fly into is as busy as ever (especially if you’ve got three flights of people waiting at one gate, as seemed to be the case with my outbound flight from Seattle) so it’s a little odd and quite possibly just a bit eerie to see nothing happening in an airport where you would expect the exact opposite.  Then again, all it takes is a little walk, and everything is back to the way you’d expect it to be.  21 gates and a world away, it seems.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, here’s a picture I took of the Android lawn statues in front of Building 44 of the Googleplex in Mountain View.  Granted, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to do a lot of sightseeing while I was down there, but given the fact that practically my entire job right now involves working with Android right now (and most of the phones and tablets I have here at home run it too) I figured it was worth a visit.  Aside from the big Android in the back (the one next to the donut) they really aren’t nearly as big as you might think.  The Jellybean and KitKat ones aren’t much taller than I am.  Maybe if I had more than 18 hours notice that I’d be flying down I’d have more time to plan things like this next time, but sometimes you just need to cram in whatever you can cram in.

October 16, 2012

The Pizza Genius: Based on a (Sort Of) True Story

Filed under: Food, Short Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:04 am

It was about 6:30 on a rather nondescript Tuesday evening when I arrived at the pizza place.  After getting off work an hour earlier I had stopped along the way home for some grocery shopping, and at this point didn’t feel particularly inclined to cook.  This is, of course, a pretty typical situation; Being single and living alone means that I rarely find a hot dinner waiting on the table for me when I get home from work, and in the unlikely event that this does happen I’d be more likely to call the cops than to note my good fortune.  In the meantime, I was on my own for dinner as usual, and since the pizza place was basically next door to the grocery store, I figured it would be as quick as anything else.

When I walked in the door, I was the only customer there,  Nonetheless, all the employees seemed to be back in the kitchen attending to various duties, so there was nobody at the counter.  I watched from in front of the cash register for a minute or two as whatever pressing matter that was going on at the pizza oven was attended to.  As I did so, I happened to notice that one of the employees had a shirt on that proclaimed him to be a “Pizza Genius”.  This seems like a rather bold proclamation, especially in a place like this.  This particular place (name withheld, but probably not too hard to guess) doesn’t exactly have a reputation as the type of place where one would go when looking for true excellence in pizza.  If you’re looking for cheap pizza and\or you’re looking for fast pizza, this is the place for you.  But if you’re looking for good pizza…  Well, you probably want the pizzeria ten bucks up the road.  Nonetheless, whatever was going on the kitchen was either more important or more enthralling than the presence of a hungry customer waiting at the counter, and my presence continued to go unnoticed.

For several more minutes I continued to observe the goings-on in the kitchen and generally tried to look interested  in the purchase of a pizza at some point in the semi-immediate future, but the Pizza Genius and his cohorts continued to be enthralled by whatever happened to be going on in the kitchen, and I still couldn’t determine what exactly they were doing.  Perhaps they were running some sort of experiment to push the limits of pizza making and lead us into a bold new future of Mozzarella-fueled innovation.  Perhaps there was some sort of dire pizza crisis underway that mere mortals such as myself could not comprehend, and they were working feverishly on the solution to save us from the threat of a pizzaless existence.  Maybe the Genius’ pizza-making abilities had been honed to such precision that the mere act of making a large pepperoni with mushrooms and olives required split-second timing, and they couldn’t take their eyes off of it for a second lest something goes horribly wrong..,  Well actually none of that seemed very likely given the fact that this was a random take-out pizza place in a nondescript suburban strip mall and not some top-secret pizza lab in a secured bunker.  It was far more likely they were just catching up on the supply of pepperoni before the next wave of the dinner rush came in. 

And yet, for all my speculation, my presence had yet to register with anyone behind the counter in spite of several minutes of my standing there,  It was about this time that I got sick of standing at the counter, and decided to go take a seat in the waiting area until someone happened to notice I was there.  Once I was seated, several more minutes of assorted pizza geniusness happened in the kitchen, apparently oblivious to my presence.  Finally, whatever critical Olive Application Window (or whatever it was that was going on) was  approaching had apparently safely passed, and the Pizza Genius finally wandered back toward the counter.  Unfortunately, before I could react to this, the door opened and a lady came in and walked up to the counter.  I guess it was my fault that I had lost my place in line since I had sat down, but since most pizza purchasing transactions here tend to be rather quick, I just got in line behind her rather than press the issue.  Of course, anyone well versed in Murphy’s Law and its ilk can probably guess what happened next.

At this particular pizza place, the entire menu consists of about ten items, none of which should be particularly complicated to figure out.  In spite of this simplicity, this lady seemed to be determined to plumb its depths and unlock its hidden mysteries, whatever those might happen to be.  What for most people would be a simple transaction that would usually get them in and out with their pizza in less than a minute rapidly turned into a lengthy discussion of the intricacies of the menu that would probably be suitable for a scholarly dissertation if anyone could be bothered to write any of it down.  As the lady carefully considered her family’s pizza consumption needs and weighed them against the choices being offered, the Pizza Genius patiently explained things that could probably have been figured out just as easily by looking at the menu board.  I suppose this would have been quite the sight to behold if not for the fact that I was behind all this in line and just trying to get one of the pizzas that was probably already sitting in the big warming box right behind the counter.  Somewhere during this whole process, a mother with three children entered the store and took her place behind me as her kids alternately complained of being hungry and pestered her for some quarters to play the little pinball-like bouncy ball device in the corner. 

 Eventually, after several more minutes of careful consideration of the choices and more deliberation than some people put into the purchase of a new car, something resembling a pizza order emerged out of the whole process.  Given how long this whole process took, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she then tried to pay with a check.  Fortunately, the payment process was only half as painful as I had expected it to be, and the transaction was finally completed.  I had previously planned on ordering the 3-meat pizza which usually takes a bit longer than the generic cheese and pepperoni types usually kept on hand, but by this time I had already spent far more time waiting for nothing than  I had really planned on and was half-expecting to get hit up for quarters by some random six-year-old if I waited there much longer, so I just defaulted to Pepperoni, paid for my order, and went on my way.  For all I knew, the guy behind the counter was, in fact, a pizza genius.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t do a whole lot of good when the person in front of you in the line happens to be a pizza idiot.

September 12, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Cooking Time: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Filed under: Cooking, Food — Brian Lutz @ 9:03 pm

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write here for quite a while now, but haven’t really found the opportunity to do so until now.  I’ve dabbled with food blogging on this site a few times with my recent food truck project and a scattered recipe or two (in fact the chili recipe I posted on this site way back in March of 2008 has been viewed nearly 6,000 times since I posted it, and I presume that at least one or two of those people might have actually tried making it at some point,) and I’ve meant to do more of it, but the main problem I have with recipe blogging is that I just don’t have a whole lot of interesting recipes to work with, and even though I find myself the principal homemaker in my household of one, sometimes it can be hard to find the time and/or the motivation to do as much cooking as I would like to.  As a result of a general lack of time during the rest of the week, most of the “big” cooking that I do tends to happen on Sunday afternoons.  Even then, it’s rare that I will end up doing something as elaborate as this.

Even though chicken enchiladas are one of my favorite dishes to make and eat, I tend to make them only rarely.  This is partially because this is one of the more labor-intensive dishes in my repertoire, and partially because the ingredient I consider to be the most vital (the Hatch green chiles from New Mexico) are so hard to come by around here.  Although me and my family have now lived here in Washington for longer than we ever lived in New Mexico where I grew up, the green chile is one of the few things we all miss about living there.  Fortunately, in recent years a number of local stores have begun to carry Hatch chiles when they are in season (roughly mid August through September,) and the Whole Foods Market in Bellevue even roasts the chiles on site, having set up a proper chile roaster in front of the store like you find in front of many stores in New Mexico during chile season. 

In addition to stockpiling some chiles for future use during their relatively short window of availability, I decided to use this opportunity to make my green chile chicken enchiladas as well, and document the process as I go along.  To be honest, I can’t really take a whole lot of credit for this one as my sister is really the one who came up with the basic recipe, but I have made a few changes here and there, mostly in the procedure.  That little disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to get cooking.  You’ll find the recipe after the jump.


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


  • 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


  • 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:
  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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

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