Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TBG Eats: Grill 'Em All

Current Weight: 164.0 lbs.

Grill 'Em All Menu

Much to my wife's chagrin; I am not the least bit ashamed at my child-like enthusiasm towards foods I target for these "TBG Eats" features. I turned an enormous apple pancake into a
TBG trilogy. I abandoned the office early to live-Tweet my experience with KFC's Double Down Sandwich. I drove 100 miles, one way, for a ground bacon burger.

So, several weeks ago, when my friend Smitty sent me an email with "Great Burgers" in the subject line, I dropped everything and gave his note my undivided attention. In it, he sang the praises of the
Grill 'Em All Truck – an unholy union between non-traditional hamburgers and heavy metal.

I'm WAY late to the current food truck craze, but through the use of Twitter (where ravenous fans can stalk the trucks' ever-changing locations in real time) and
popular TV shows, the industry is exploding. Smitty let me know that the Los Angeles/Orange County-based Grill 'Em All Truck would be in San Diego during the weekend of May 20-22. Admittedly, my iPod only holds one or two heavy metal songs, but I've been known to support non-traditional eats in any form.

As part of Food Truck Festival, ten food trucks from San Diego were joined by ten food trucks from Los Angeles. The massive vehicles were stationed in a lot adjacent to the Boomers Family Fun Center in the Clairemont Mesa section of town. I arrived just after it opened and the line for Grill 'Em All was already three-dozen deep. Normally, I maintain a strict "I ain't waitin'" philosophy for sit-down restaurants that never extends past 15 minutes. Ordering from the side of a celebrated truck was uncharted territory for me, so I heeded Smitty's words ("It'll be worth the wait.") and scrolled through my phone's apps in search of patience.

30 minutes later, at the front of the line, I ordered three hamburgers (total price: $23). I passed on their famous fries since…y'know…three hamburgers.

"Blue Cheer" (blue cheese, cranberry gastrique and Munchos) -- Separately, the components of this burger include some of my favorite foods. I've loved the overpowering pungency of blue cheese since my morbidly obese childhood, stealing extra spoonfuls from
this omnipresent jar inside the door of my parents' refrigerator. Cranberries are tasty in all forms as their tartness and acidity work well with everything from turkey to salads to cosmopolitans.* And, Munchos – despite their Cap'n Crunch-like tendency to shred the roof of one's mouth – might be the most underrated potato chip crisp on the market. This was the burger I was most excited to eat and it didn't disappoint.

Before my first bite, my nose picked up on the otherworldly aroma. The unpleasantly-pleasing natural scent of the cheese was in an olfactory fight with the sweet and sour fragrance from the gastrique. The smells were distinct and separate even as the heat from the hamburger softened the crumbled blue cheese and hastened its symbiotic/gastronomic bond with the cranberry. As I tore into it, red and white streams pooled onto the picnic table in front of me. The flavors remained gloriously segregated, each one accenting the other to a degree and working wonderfully with the ground beef. Strong, tart, sweet, sour and salty with the Munchos adding terrific texture – I can't wait to crush another one. Grade: 500 (out of 5)

* -- Just so we're clear, I've never had a cosmopolitan. My mixed "chick drink" of choice happens to be a Manhattan – on the rocks, no cherry. I've surveyed friends, family and co-workers on this and the cumulative opinion runs roughly 70/30 that Manhattans are NOT a feminine beverage. Unfortunately, unwritten societal rules clearly require a three-fourths majority before a definitive judgment can be issued.

"Dee Snider" (peanut butter, jelly, bacon, sriracha) -- I've got a weird, irrational relationship with peanut butter. I love peanut butter cookies, but I don't find peanut butter sandwiches all that appetizing. Reese's Pieces are one of my favorite candies, but I'm apathetic towards Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.** When I was much younger, I believed the perfect PB&J equaled two parts jelly and one part peanut butter – with the inherent saltiness of commercial peanut butter, cutting some of the sticky sweetness from Smuckers. It would be quite the balancing act if, individually, these strong condiments somehow managed to NOT asphyxiate all the other flavors within.

Not surprisingly, it's the peanut butter – chunky with finely-diced peanut pieces clearly present – that dominates the palette. I only tasted trace notes of the jelly (in fact, I couldn't clearly identify the flavor), bacon and sriracha (a Thai(!) hot sauce). Underwhelmed, I finished about half of the burger, wrapped it up and took it home. The next day, I unwrapped the other half and pleasantly discovered the edible equivalent of a beautiful butterfly emerging from its brown-paper cocoon. The flavors had a chance to meld, as the peanut butter essence receded and the other toppings – especially the spicy sriracha – became more prominent. The integrity of the hamburger and bacon remained intact, too. I'm still wrestling with how to grade this one. The same-day first half might've been worth 2.5 points, while the next-day second half hovered into 4.0-4.5 territory. Oh, what the hell… Grade: 4 (out of 5)

** -- Telling people that you're not a fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is – based on the reactions I've received – akin to a treasonous act. "How can you NOT like peanut butter cups?!" is the usual incredulous response. If I were to rank the shocked reactions to other fun facts about me, this falls between the ones I get when I admit to having never seen The Wizard of Oz or when I mention that I get my hair cut every Saturday.

"Samoa Joe" (cheddar cheese, "mosh pit" barbecue sauce, pineapple, beer-soaked onions) -- I was hoping the "Molly Hatchet" burger (seared fennel sausage gravy, bacon and maple) would complete my combined 21 ounces of ground beef trifecta, but it didn't appear anywhere on the truck's hastily scrawled menu last Friday. The "Samoa Joe" is ostensibly an homage to
the professional wrestler of the same name. This is pure conjecture, but I assume it was all the rage when it debuted and has since slid down towards the middle of the menu. I anticipated this burger would have a difficult time winning me over. The toppings sounded tasty, but needed to be applied in the appropriate amounts (in ascending order: barbecue sauce, pineapple, onions) to be foodie-effective.

To be fair, the barbecue sauce is awesome ("sauce-ome"?) striking the perfect sweet, smoky and "bit of a kick" balance. As the most prominent condiment, however, it covers the beer-soaked onions in a
crimson mask before the opening bell bite. Less than a minute in, the onions were practically tapping out. I was really rooting for a plentiful portion of pineapple, but it was almost an afterthought here. As with the "Dee Snider" burger, I ate half of this not long after receiving my order and saved the rest for the next day. It was better than the first day – the pineapple's sweet, citrusy flavors were much more noticeable – but, didn't make the next-day championship-level leap of the "Dee Snider". Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)


It's worth noting that the team that staffed the Grill 'Em All Truck was unfailingly friendly and exceedingly courteous. They did not, however, ask me how I'd like my burger cooked. For me, this wasn't a problem, but for those of you who prefer your patty well done, you should mention this up front. My three burgers barely reached "medium".

Then again, I'll never understand those of you who prefer red meat well done. To each their own, I suppose.

Now, pass me the blue cheese and cranberry gastrique, please.


Lew B said...

1) I too have been known to go to great lengths for food. The Babbler's Wife and I used to go to the Sonic in El Centro every 90 days or so before the Lakeside one opened.

2)I was a bartender for 15 years. A Manhattan IS NOT a chick drink.

3) You can't call the crap they play at pro wrestling heavy metal any more than I can call MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" Rap.

Other Joe said...

Good read, Cam. I remember seeing these guys on The Great Food Truck Race, and all the burgers looked awesome.

And I know you've said goodbye to The Simpsons, but always remember that the mob boss wanted a Manhattan in the episode where Bart thinks the mobsters killed Skinner on his behalf... so you've got that going for you.

Aaron C. said...

@O. Joe -- Not only do I remember that episode, but I make it a point to use the "soo-POIB" line after my first sip.

@Mr. Lew -- Re: Heavy metal links...that was kind of the point. Don't force to start explaining the jokes around here. :)

Smitty said...

Yes men drink Manhattans, Very Old Men that is.

Jag said...

I have the same heavy metal songs on my iPod! Ha!

that mexican guy said...

1.) "I assume it was all the rage when it debuted and has since slid down towards the middle of the menu."

Joe's gonna kill you.

2.) For the sake of closure, you DO have "Time to Play the Game" and "Line in the Sand" on your iPod, right?

3.) I'm with Smitty on the Manhattans. Besides, how many true "women drinks" are out there? Cosmopolitans, apple martinis (I assume they're still "in"), mojitos, daquiris and wine (you heard me).

Scott said...

Damn you Cam,

I read this the day AFTER I start a 3 week cleanse and 15 minutes before my lunch break where I'm already starving (yeah I work hard like that, and yet looking OH SO forward to a helping of apple and carrot sticks).

thai said...

did the SD trucks and the LA trucks form a circle and face off? were there finger snappings as the rumbled?

'blue cheer' sounded awesome. if they're ever nearby, i'd have to try that. not feeling the 'dee snyder' on description and i loffs me some peanut butter (i can eat it by itself by the spoonful). "samoa joe" just didn't sound awesome.

i did appreciate all the sports entertainment references you worked in, though. those were priceless.

Aaron C. said...

@Thai -- Sadly, no truck "rumble", but I did wait around for six of them to merge into Devastator. (Wait, does my "Transformers" cartoon reference fall on deaf ears with you? Probably. Just ignore it.)

Also, you can't name a burger after a wrestler and not think I'm gonna link the hell out of it.

@Scott -- Apologies. Ooh, you should probably avoid my forthcoming post that previews all the new freak show food at the San Diego Fair this year. Yeah.

@Mex -- 1.) Well played. 2.) Yes and yes. 3.) WINE is a woman's drink?! Didn't Bruce Willis shill for wine *coolers* in the 1980s? The guy from "Moonlighting"?!

SHough610 said...

Cam, I think we need to do a scientific study about obese kids who loved jelly more than peanut butter. Because with you and me there's two.