Visiting Austin is like visiting your grandmother's house. As soon as you arrive, you're required to sit and eat, and then until your host is satisfied or you take leave. In this case, you have hundreds of grandmothers all insisting you look peaked, in dire need of sustenance. "You know, undernourishment can cause boils. Do you want to be covered in boils? No? Then have some crepes and some sushi from my innovative trailers." It's a lovely thing to be cared for so well -- even if some of the food is disappointing.
The glimmering Flip Happy Crepes trailer stationed in a South Austin gravel parking lot and bordered by picnic tables on two sides was recommended by my friend and food blogger Stetted as an alternative to breakfast tacos. As I provided my order, the woman behind the trailer's counter window cautioned me that most of the crepes are like mini-burritos. They certainly were but not as messy. The traditional ham and Gruyere crepe was warm, easily handled and soft. The savory filling and its farm-field aroma brightened my senses, giving me the energy needed to chase my son around the parking lot.
The other crepes, the shredded pork with caramelized onions and white Cheddar, the roasted chicken with caramelized onions and goat cheese, the whipped peanut butter with dark chocolate sauce, bananas and almonds, replicated the reaction. That is, save one: the Nutella roll-up. Nutella is little more than a studying-abroad college student's sad substitute for peanut butter. Its flavor made my eyes spin like the wheels in a slot machine's windows.
The vending of raw seafood from a trailer in a city that suffers under a scorching sun most of the year seems like an inevitable rash of food poisonings traded for cash. The gentleman working the Sushi-A-Go-Go trailer didn't help. Surfer Johnny Schmuck, head covered in a sushi chef's bandana, was comically incompetent in customer service. If I hadn't been determined to sample such a novelty, I would've thrown up my arms and left. Instead, I waited at a picnic table, making note of the sign stating that customers receive one soy-sauce packet per roll.
When I received my three rolls, I was given only one Kikoman soy-sauce packet. Naturally, I pointed out the sign, to which Surfer Johnny Schmuck responded with a dim gaze and a "Dude. Really, dude?" Again, I pointed out the sign. Begrudgingly, he handed over the two packets.
Perhaps Surfer Johnny Schmuck was on to something. Perhaps he was trying to save me, make my sour experience a bit more pleasant. Because, whereas the salinity of soy sauce ought to complement the sweet, vinegar bite of rice and the cool freshness of the fish, the soy sauce at Sushi-A-Go-Go overpowered the flavor of the rolls, like a rifleman besting a samurai.
The Sunshine roll (salmon, mango and avocado) had almost imperceptible mango on the first bite, but the fruit elbowed itself forward on the second bite, adding a mediocre freshness that improved incrementally.
Eel, one of my favorite proteins, is a decent indicator of a sushi chef's talent. The simple B.B.Q. Eel roll (barbecued eel, avocado and cucumber topped with something called eel sauce) was smooth. Even more impressive was that it tasted like eel, fishy but not overly so, its firm texture held up well to my excited masticating. Surfer Johnny was adept enough not to overcook eel.
The Trio roll (salmon, yellow tail and tuna) was mush encased in cheap, edible paper.
Many of the other rolls on the sushi trailer's menu are complicated endeavors and most, wisely, are cooked preparations. One such option is the Texas Surf & Turf, which contains tempura shrimp, grilled steak, candied jalapeño, cilantro, lettuce and avocado (like eel, the latter is an ingredient in several rolls). Ambitious. However, not as ambitious as the inclusion of natto, a fermented soybean paste that reeks of refuse left to fester on the sidewalk during a week-long sanitation-workers' strike.
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Both trailers exemplify Austin's fascination with experimentation and the status quo. Mobile food vendors are de rigueur there, not some hip fad trumpeted by a foodie subculture that prides itself as being avant garde, but is now anything but. The culinary laboratory in Central Texas achieves successful results when it focuses on the tried and true slightly askew, not on fist pumping for cultural cojones. Nevertheless, I wish Dallas had the same predicament. Beyond the trailers reviewed here, two further examples of this are the delectable small plates of Odd Duck Farm to Trailer and the sigh-inducing products of Gourdough's. Austin needs more of what Flip Happy Crepes and Odd Duck Farm to Trailer offer. Continuous eating is the only way to secure this. Search out the good stuff, beginning with the crepes.
Flip Happy Crepes 400 Jessie Street Austin, TX 78704 512-552-9034
Sushi-A-Go-Go 4001 Medical Parkway Austin, 78756 512-560-1655
801 Barton Springs Road Austin, TX 78704 512-423-7170