Slow Cal BBQ Truck - Preview

>> Monday, August 22, 2011

Note: I've been really tied up at work the last week, so not a lot of time to update, but I still wanted to get a short post in today at the normal time. I'll follow this post up with the Fast Food Burger Shootout later this week.

Usually as a critic, you don't get to review a place until after it has opened. There are various reasons for this, but mostly because restaurants need to obtain the required permits from the city and pass safety inspections before serving food to the general public. In this rare instance, I had the opportunity to get a preview of the food that will be hitting the streets in September.

The Slow Cal BBQ Truck is owned by Chef Melvin "Boots" Johnson. Chef Johnson is mostly self-taught but attended the Art Institute in Atlanta for Culinary Arts, and has worked in the culinary industry since 1999. He worked his way up from a job at the Cheesecake Factory to being the kitchen manager at Dave and Buster's. In 2008, he was hired as the head chef of Lil Piggy's Bar BQ in Coronado, where they still use some of his BBQ recipes today. Chef Johnson is joined on the truck by Stephen Reese who specializes in baking and learned all the family recipes by helping out his mother. Reese is a veteran of the Navy, where he honorably served our country.

While Chef Johnson might not have the culinary pedigree of a Michelin Starred chef, he makes up for it in years of experience and an unwavering passion for BBQ. In a brief conversation with Chef Johnson, he quickly identified that he had tried all the best BBQ places in both Southern California and the South. He has two of his own smokers to cook the BBQ low and slow, and he also has a variety of his own BBQ sauce recipes. Furthermore, I don't don't know of any BBQ chefs that have some amazing culinary pedigree, so most of the great BBQ is built up on passion, which is just oozing from Chef Johnson.

Chef Johnson was one of several caterers that provided food at an event I attended. I learned that he planned to open his own food truck after conversing with him and complimenting his BBQ. He told me that some of the dishes I tasted would not ultimately make the truck, but it was a decent preview of what is to come.

Pulled Pork Sandwich, house made slaw
The pulled pork sandwich was money. The pork had a great balance of juiciness and bite, and was finished with a large helping of mesquite savory smoke. The slaw provided a nice textural contrast and a small kick in heat (as there were red pepper flakes). The sauce was tangy and complimented the smokiness of the pork.
House Made Slaw
The house made slaw didn't contain any mayonnaise, which I appreciated. It was prepared fresh and had a nice crisp crunch to it. It also contained some red pepper flakes, which elevated the heat and was a nice surprise to have in a coleslaw.
BBQ Chicken wings
The chicken wings were well cooked and contained some nice smokiness, but they weren't particularly special; they were more of a vessel to carry some (admittedly good) bbq sauce and smoke. 
BBQ Rib Tips
The rib tips were very uneven for me. I had a nice tender piece where the meat fell off the bone and was very enjoyable, and then another piece that was totally tough and almost unchewable. I talked to Chef Johnson about this and he explained that he would have proper St Louis or Baby Back ribs on the truck. The rib tips were just something they threw together specifically for this event.

Overall, I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Slow Cal BBQ Truck. Chef Johnson seems to know his BBQ well and for a city that even lacks a great BBQ restaurant itself (Phil's is grilled meat not BBQ), having a good BBQ Food Truck will be a huge blessing. Chef Johnson let slip that the trucks signature dish is likely to be a BBQ-Polish Boy of sorts (a brat topped with some slaw, bbq sauce, and a generous helping of pulled pork). Additionally, the truck will be having BBQ ribs and more of the pulled pork which I really enjoyed. Chef Johnson also mentioned that they would be teaming up with some of the other existing trucks to get started and scout locations, so look for the truck to hit the streets sometime in September!


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
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