It was only 11:50 a.m. and chef Enrique Romero was already moving fast.
Inside the gleaming interior of The Brown Bag food truck, he was sliding meat onto a flame grill, carefully dropping slices of potatoes into hot fat, and getting baskets of food ready for the cluster of eight or so customers who had already gathered around the food truck’s open window.
Over the weekend, a friend had mentioned that she thought The Brown Bag had opened for business. On this lackluster weekday, I was being indecisive about where I wanted to go for lunch and remembered her suggestion. A bright, shiny new food truck seemed just the thing. Especially when I Googled them and found out The Brown Bag would be stationed just down the street from me, at Kendrick’s near 13th and Broad streets.
My husband, Sean, joined me, and after a short drive, I caught sight of the truck’s bright-orange exterior, emblazoned with a cartoon of a dog smoking a cigar (’cause it’s “Doggone Good Food.”)
In his black chef’s uniform, Enrique took our order (black angus and pork sliders, each served with handmade chips and broccoli slaw), and briskly got to work. While we waited, we mingled with the other customers, and watched a few minutes of TV on the flat screen anchored to the side of the truck.
Flames danced off the grill as he laid down the angus patties, and after taking the chips out of the fryer, he tossed them with seasoning in a stainless steel work bowl. A one-man show that day (his help was running a bit late), chef Enrique then laid out a couple of red-and-white cardboard “baskets,” lined them with wax paper, and served.
“Danielle!” he called.
We swapped him $16 in exchange for our two plates, and hotfooted it back to the car so we could listen to music and eat our lunches.
Even so, Sean couldn’t resist snacking on a couple of the chips before we had walked the 50 or so feet. I sampled one, too. The chips were beautifully translucent slices of potato, deep fried until they were crisp. They had a faint taste of oil and were slightly more salty in some places than others – reminiscent of beach food after a day lazing in the sun.
Our sliders came on grilled, buttered soft buns. Sean’s angus slider was topped with cheese, and smoky with the taste of the grill, while the pork barbecue slider was overflowing with shreds of pork drizzled with a sweet, tomato-based sauce. Sean and I argued over whose was the best, and came to a stalemate. But we both loved the broccoli slaw – fresh, crisp broccoli with cranberries, bacon and red onion, lightly tossed in a mayonnaise dressing.
As I walked up to throw away our empty baskets, chef Enrique called out, “Next time, you have to try the empanadas!” They weren’t on the menu, but I was intrigued. His eyes brightened when I said, “I’d love to try some now.”
“Chicken or beef?” he asked with a smile.
I thought for a moment and returned his smile. “What do you recommend?”
He gave half a shrug and a small shake of his head before committing himself. “Pork!” he said. He quickly scooped a couple empanadas into another wax-paper lined basket, added a small cup of dipping sauce (he doctored it first to add a little more heat) and handed it to me in return for a $5.
I nearly skipped back to the car. Sean loves meat pasties and I felt sure he’d be crazy about these. The “pasty” part was made of a cornmeal dough – it reminded me of the cornbread that coats a corndog, but in a really good way. It was hot and moist, yet crispy, filled with shredded pork, chunks of potato and flecks of peppers. Combined with the spicy and tangy dipping sauce, the empanada was so good that I didn’t want to stop eating it, even though I was full from my sliders.
While chef Enrique’s menu stays pretty consistent (he also offers a spring mix salad along with the sliders and empanadas), he’s already thinking about some new offerings – perhaps a salmon or crab cake slider. With the confines of the food truck, he’s testing now how that might best work, to ensure he can get the product out to the customer without sacrificing taste or quality. Or time.
All told, our lunch took far less than an hour – for a cooked-to-order basket of food that we could enjoy out in the sunshine, with a little music in the background.
As we drove off, The Brown Bag was still serving. Within a couple hours it would be gone, plotting its next location for the dinner crowd. With The Brown Bag’s hot, fresh food and friendly chef, I knew I’d be Facebook-stalking it again. And soon.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: The Brown Bag. For locations, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheBrownBagAugusta or www.brownbagaugusta.com
HOURS: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight
SECOND HELPING: (803) 474-2014