A couple of months ago I was invited to do a media visit on one of the first Gourmet Food Trucks to emerge in Orange County, Spudrunners. This blog post will provide an unbiased and candor review of this food truck and highlight some things they do really well and highlight a couple of areas that could use improvement. I met the folks from the Spudrunners truck a couple months ago and got to hang out inside their food truck and watch them cook. Since then, I have made three separate incognito visits to validate my original observations.
The owner and head Chef of the truck, Bob Brown, comes from 15 years of culinary experience and focused his truck on “American Comfort Food.” All of the dishes on the Spudrunners Truck have at least one of these three ingredients in common, potatoes, bread or cheese. There are three basic dishes at this truck include: 1) French Fry based dishes 2) Baked Potato dishes 3) Grilled Cheese. The menu on this truck is very basic, although where this truck flourishes is how they combine ingredients and sauces.
French Fry Based Dishes
Their basic French fries are made from premium (although frozen) French fries. These fries are the kind with the skin attached and are thick in diameter (hehe … that sounded naughty). If you prefer your French Fries missionary style, don’t worry they are still pretty racy. Your order of hot steamy fries weighs ¾ of a pound and it comes with your choice of naughty dipping sauces which include: Ranch, Chipotle Ranch, Pesto Aioli, Spinach Aioli, Sun dried Tomato-Basil, Lime Cilantro, Baconaise, Garlic Roasted Onion, Wasabi Ranch, Jalapeno Cheese. All of these sauces are truck-made and delicious. My favorite sauces include the Lime Cilantro, Baconaise and Wasabi Ranch. My only complaint about the fries is that one side of sauce is never enough and I end up purchasing a second: / Their basic fries are good, with their crisp and crunchy exterior and soft and gooey insides that have a great tongue feel.
I chatted with some folks waiting in line and asked them what their favorite dish was and everyone that I chatted with insisted that I must order their Irish Fries. Their Irish fries consist of ¾ pounds of fries, apple wood bacon, cheddar cheese, green onion and a dipping sauce. A couple in line that I interviewed, Rick and Cindy, indicated that they order this dish every time they see the Spudrunners truck. I watched the couple eat the Irish Fries and it was a little sexually charged. I will spare you the details, but there was a lot of eye contact, feverish spooning and followed by forking and a cigarette. Whatever works in your relationship guys. Skip the Viagra and get these guys an extra helping of Irish Fries. I became curious and ordered my own Irish fries and I can attest that they were good. The Irish Fries took advantage of my taste buds and I left with my gut feeling a little pregnant. I felt a little cheap after, but I was glad I ordered the Irish fries. This dish received 4.5 out of 5.
Another basic dish they carry is their loaded baked potato. A freshly peeled potato is microwaved :/ to a steamy fluffy texture and then loaded with toppings. The version I tried was the Santa Fe Baker which consists of grilled lime cilantro chicken, cheddar cheese, tomato, fire roasted green chile, red onion, cilantro, and chipotle ranch. I have mixed feelings about this dish. Individually, the components of the dish were excellent. For example the baked potato was cooked to perfection, fluffy and moist and melted in my mouth; perhaps the microwave is the secret to a perfect potato? The chicken was flavored wonderfully with a hint of tangy lime and was juicy. The chipotle ranch sauce has pleasantly sweet , creamy and had a slow sizzle on the tough and back of the throat.
So what element didn’t tie the whole dish together into a great dish? It was the cheese. This single failing unfortunately left this dish as 3 out of 5 instead of 4 out of 5. What was wrong with the cheese you ask? Was it cheap cheese? No, Spudrunners uses a premium Tillamook Cheese that has great flavors and can make any dish great. It was the fact that they didn’t use enough cheese. In a baked potato with many flavor elements, the cheese should be the common thread that ties all the ingredients together. If I were to eat a “baker”, I would want to ensure I had plenty of cheese in every bite. Instead my dish was unbalanced, with heavy doses of potato starch in some bites. In other bites, I tasted mostly chicken and Sante Fe chili, which would have been O.K. if I ordered fajitas. I highly recommend adding more cheese to the Santa Fe Baker dish and raising the price on this dish or clearly putting a line item under the menu for extra cheese $1.00 extra. This single failing is the unfortunate element that prematurely left this dish as 3 out of 5 instead of 4 out of 5.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
The grilled cheese is the Spudrunners best kept secret and their best dish. For the basic grilled cheese you have your choice of wheat bread or sourdough and your choice of American cheese, cheddar cheese or brie for a dollar extra. From this point you can customize your grilled cheese in any way you like by adding proteins, such as apple-wood bacon, grilled chicken, and Black Forest ham. You can also add veggies like tomato, onion and green chili. Finally, you have your choice of their truck-made sauces.
The grilled cheese sandwiches are their most underappreciated, perhaps because the name of the truck is called “Spudrunners.” I chatted to Owner Bob Brown about this misconception amongst the food truck patrons.
Tom “So how come you guys aren’t better known for Grilled Cheese?”
Bob said, “I disagree with that, I have a lot of returning customers who visit me just for our grilled cheese sandwiches. Los Angeles has The Grilled Cheese Truck and Orange County has Spudrunners.”
Tom, “What makes you think you can compete with the Grilled Cheese Truck?”
Bob, “We do grilled cheese better.” I raise my eyebrows in suspicion to Bob’s statement
Bob, “Here …watch me make one”.
Bob proceeded to explain that they use only quality sourdough bread, real butter and Tillamook cheese. “You see, the Grilled Cheese Truck uses cheap white bread, canned spray and lower quality cheese.”
“The proof is in the sandwich!” I took a bite and you could definitely taste the difference of quality ingredients and fresh produce.
I will say that the quality of Spudrunners base ingredients of bread, cheese and butter were superior to the Grilled Cheese Truck. Although an opportunity for Spudrunners, is to provide other types of cheeses and extras, this is where the Grilled Cheese Truck Excels. I would also encourage Spudrunners to bring other items to the party like gouda, provolone, goat cheese, preserves, jams, candied nut shavings, Nutella, duck, and beef cuts. If you offer these types of options, then you will really be known for customizable Grilled Cheese sandwiches.
What Spudrunners does well and should do more is to feature their signature grilled cheese sandwichcreations. I will tell you about one sandwich they made for me. The dish they presented to me was their “Chipotle BBQ Chicken Ranch.”This sandwich is made with several ingredients including: Grilled Lime Cilantro Chicken, Tillamook Cheddar Cheese, Red Onion, Tomato, Chipotle Ranch, Blood Orange BBQ Sauce, and sautéed spinach on sourdough. A pretty amazing sandwich! The flavors and textures where remarkably balanced. The bread had a nice crisp texture on the tongue and a crunch when I bit down. There was a perfect balance of cheese, chicken, bacon and sauce. The tomato and spinach balanced out the richness of the dish and the slow burn of the chipotle pepper kept it interesting. I gave this dish 4 out of 5 on the food truck scale.
My Final Thoughts
Overall this is a good food truck although it has the potential to be great. I really did enjoy the Spudrunners French Fry Creations and Grilled Cheese, although the Bakers failed to live up to the full potential, due to lack of cheese. I am giving Spudrunners 3.5 out of 5 on my scale, meaning the food was very good but didn’t have that “Wow!” factor. I will say that this truck had great individual dishes and strong potential to be great and step outside their shadow of a potato centric menu by focusing on unique creations and adjusting the ammount of cheese used in the dishes.
My Advice to get 4 out of 5 on my scale
1) Use more cheese on your items, ESPECIALLY THE BAKER—charge extra if you must!
2) Expand your menu to highlight and focus on different cheeses and add-ons. For example, EMBRACE BRIE as a full member of the Family and not make it an after thought. Instead of saying “we can do brie”…I would encourage you to say, “We have the best Brie Grilled cheese in town…would you like preserves and nuts in that?”
3) Restructure the menu to make the grilled cheese and fries the priority. Have at least 3-4 daily specials on the menu at any time. Customers will appreciate your creativity and expertise.
4) Offer more premium ingredients as add-ons, including sweets.
5) Add more potato centric dishes beside fries and bakers. For example: Poutine, Potato encrusted Shrimp/ Jalapenos?, Tater Tots, Double Fried Soufflé Potatoes strips (New Orleans Style) .
6) Offer Quail Egg “over Easy” on top of a French Fry Dish or in a grilled cheese.
7) Add a Amsterdam Style Fritti Sweet Mayo Dipper.
My Advice to get 5 out of 5
1) Use more novel cooking techniques that I would see in a white table cloth restaurant and make the other food trucks copy you
2) Hand Cut Fries
3) Truck Made Ketchup
4) Use of Duck Fat (before it’s banned), Oxtail, Bone Marrow or any “exotic” in a way that is appealing to the general population and embraced by foodies.
5) Clearly note which dishes are vegan or gluten free (as appropriate).
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