Saturday, June 23, 2012

Zia's on the Hill (Food Truck)

(314) 776-0020

This truck, according to my delightful, witty, intelligent and handsome boss, Larry (not his real name), is the best of the bunch. He recommended a dish and apologized for not being available for this visit. He claimed he had a ‘business meeting’ which in management terminology could mean just about anything.
The Truck:
Brightly colored, like other contemporary trucks. This one had the rear door open, to ventilate I imagine, it was a rather hot day. They've been rolling for a little less than a year now. They're an extension of a well established and popular place downtown. Inside the truck was dark, the two men manning it busy and sweaty. The smell was heavenly. Garlic, oil, mmmmmm….  A line formed quickly.
I spotted two ladies from work, Loretta and Lee, whose names I was asked not to mention, so I won’t. They had been to the truck before and seemed rather positive about it. A few minutes later Doug and Rob showed up.
The posted menus were clear and to the point, everything under ten dollars. Also clearly noted was ‘cash only’. I was prepared for this, I’d done some research. Photos of the truck on the interwebs showed this. I know ATM/Credit cards are somewhat of a hassle, but even my wife takes cards. She has a “Square” device for her smartphone, the same device 'Completely Sauced' used. It only takes a moment. Sure there’s a cut to the bank and a tiny one to Square, but the fact that lots of people don’t carry around much cash anymore makes it worth it in volume. Just sayin’. Yes there's an ATM in one of our buildings, so I'm told, it's just a matter of who you want to pass off the inconvenience/cost to.
The Food:
Larry had recommended the portabella mushroom ravioli. I decided to test his judgment. Zia’s truck offered salads, sandwiches and a couple other pastas. Loretta, (I’m sorry, I meant to say ‘one lady I talked to’.) said she’d had the ravioli before and was pleased with it but was going to try the penne primavera this time. Lee (ooops! ‘another lady’)  said she wanted the Chicago sandwich.
I stuck to my plan, not always a good idea, and charged ahead. The line moved quickly, orders and names were taken and those who were waiting formed a small group under a tree. The wait was not bad, five minutes or so.
The lidded plastic, earth-killing plate was very hot, the proprietor had warned me about it though. I headed alone back upstairs to my lovely and comfortable cubicle. Doug and Rob were still  in line.
I took off the lid. It was very, very pretty. The large raviolis, five of them were rather dull in color, but the sautéed tomatoes and asparagus made the serving pop with bright, fresh color. There was also some melted cheese and a layer of garlic-laden oil. The cheese was fine, and though the oil tasted good, made it taste Mediterranean. . . well, more on this later.
Rob and Doug came in a few minutes into my meal. Doug went through his cannelloni like a chainsaw through a kitten. He said that while pretty good, with a slightly sweet filling, the serving box was a problem. The steep sides kept him from being able to cut the big noodles very easily. He added that he was tempted just to eat the box. I didn't doubt this.
Rob had ordered the penne primavera as well. He said his was spicier than expected, but very good. There were no significant complaints from either of them.
I finished mine up, pushing aside most of the asparagus. It wasn’t bad, but I just don’t see the fuss about this particular veggie. It has very little taste, less so than a green bean, but top TV chef’s use it like it’s something spectacular. For me, it’s like artichoke, I just don’t get the ‘wow’ factor. I have to say though, the asparagus and tomatoes were sautéed perfectly. The asparagus still had some snap and the tomatoes had sweetened without turning to mush.  The ravioli was plenty-stuffed and perfectly cooked. The portabella shined, but didn’t overpower. 
I headed over to the nearby area of cubes to visit those ladies I mentioned earlier. I know them, but not very well, so I approached with caution and timidly announced my intentions. They seemed pleased, maybe even flattered, but I may have read it wrong, they may actually have been disgusted and angry, I don’t read people very well.
Though Loretta one of the ladies, the one who likes dogs, was slowly picking at her pasta dish, she said she was quite pleased with it. “It could use some more veggies though.”
Lee The other lady liked her sandwich except for the fact that the sauce had completely saturated the bottom side, turning it into a fork-food.
I asked the lady who likes dogs if she was bothered by the puddle of oil forming in the gutter of her plate.
I asked her this because mine had done the same thing.
“I think maybe that’s just an Italian food thing.” She replied. The other lady jumped in to praise the side salad, with its sweet and sour dressing.
They had no harsh remarks, pretty much just nice comments. I on the other hand was struggling to be positive. My meal had tasted fine. If anything it was a bit garlic-heavy, something I didn’t actually notice immediately. My real problem was the amount of oil. I had tilted my plate after finishing and a puddle of one or more tablespoons of oil formed quickly. I know the garlic oil sauce was supposed to add flavor, and it certainly did, but unfortunately as the oil cooled, which it always does and rather quickly in a flimsy plastic dish, it thickened and took on a filmy, greasy texture. Even a few hours later I was feeling oiliness in my mouth and oddly enough, my whole body. About that same time the garlic started becoming prevalent as an aftertaste.
I had mentioned this to Doug. Later, he reported back that Doreen, another lady whose  name I did not exactly get permission to use, said she’d noticed the same thing.
I’m no low-brow, canned spaghetti-eating, Italian food n00b*, I’ve been around. I’ve had lots of great Italian food. I don’t recall an overdose of oil being an issue anywhere else. I love olive oil and garlic, I fry my eggs in the stuff. But even Florence Henderson could cook an entire skillet full of chicken with only a tablespoon of oil.

Filling, satisfying, and relatively cheap, my dish only cost seven bucks. Nothing they had was over ten, unless you added sides. (They offered fries, oddly enough.)
The comment from the lady who likes dogs got me thinking. There's quite a buzz among food reviewers when it comes to the subject of authenticity. I don't mind 'authentic' food, as long as it's good. If it isn't good, I don't give a rolling rip if it is authentic. 'Authentic' pizza, a Greek invention, would not satisfy the palate of most people who currently eat pizza. I could take you down south and hunt down several fine burgoos, all of them 'authentic' but no two the same. I've been to New Orleans, tried several Jambalaya's there, guess what? They're all authentic, yet all different. Some I liked, some I didn't. So maybe Italian food is supposed to drip oil like the Exxon Valdez, and maybe lots of people like it that way, but I don't. The fact that this may be a thing, an 'authentic' version, simply doesn't impress me.
When Larry got back from his so-called 'meeting' he asked my opinion. I told him about the oil, he laughed. "Am I the only one that tips the plate back to drink the oil like kids do with cereal-milk?" I'm pretty sure he was kidding. Maybe not.

Overall the food tasted good, better than a fast food burger, better than some local restaurants. Will I go back? Probably, but I'll order something else. The consensus was, among my co-workers, that it was pretty good.

A special thanks to all my friends at work who contributed to this review, willingly or not.  Note: All quotes contained herein are approximated. I do take notes but my handwriting is horrific. 


*n00b: (Urban Dictionary) An inexperienced and/or ignorant or unskilled person.

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