Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prickly Ash (Part 2)

(NOTE: In February 2013, Prickly Ash announced the closing of its cart at the Mississippi Marketplace pod. They still plan to do catering events in the summer.)

(Original Review -- February 2012)

In Jeet Kune Do, does Bruce Lee ever teach a way to send messages from beyond the grave? A couple weeks ago, I was at the Cartathlon afterparty several blocks away right by Flavour Spot, and all I could think about was a Chinese flatbread sandwich. Huh?!

After a month of soft, limited night openings, Prickly Ash held its official grand opening on February 29. I just had to be out of state. Argh.

But another chance quickly presented itself. A friend I met at Cartathlon II thought Mississippi Marketplace was a good spot for food. I asked if she wanted to head there together for some dinner. Awesome, to the Aaronmobile!

Only a few carts were open on Saturday night, and Prickly Ash is one of them. Because my phone is stuck in the prehistoric age, I didn't get the message that they had sold out earlier in the day and would need to delay opening for dinner by about 20 minutes. They were proofing some flatbread dough. No big deal, I can wait. No more exams = freakin' awesome.

Dough for the flatbread!
I talked with Scott for a bit. He met his wife in Vermont, and they each have 20+ years of cooking experience. Both of them love Asian food, and the Chinese flatbread sandwich (roujiamo, or 'Mo for short) just epitomized great, flavorful street food.

Roujiamo is a street food that can now be found all over China. It even may have a claim to be the world's oldest sandwich or burger. The bread may date back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.), while the meat has Zhou Dynasty origins (1046-256 B.C.).

Scott taking orders...the line's forming for the dinner rush!
Scott and his assistant slinging some food
Scott said the Bruce Lee Mo was far and away the top-selling sandwich. I'm sure my post swayed a couple of people here and there. Maybe?

I shockingly defied Bruce Lee this time and went for a different sandwich. The Red Baja Mo ($6.50) has Szechuan red oil chicken, Napa cabbage, avocado, basil cilantro aioli, and cotija cheese. A generous portion of chicken and other ingredients topped the flatbread. I was impressed that I could still fold the sandwich in half like a taco. The flatbread, toasted to a golden brown, channeled it own inner Bruce Lee.

Menu (As of 2/29/12)
"Red Baja Mo"
(Prickly Ash)
I dove right in and enjoyed every morsel. The diced chicken is very flavorful and stays very moist. I can detect some slight kick, but it's not very spicy. Scott uses three Chinese chili sauces here, and you can get it at Asian markets like Fubonn on SE 82nd.

The three chili sauces to make the Szechuan red oil chicken!
Scott doesn't fear heat. He'd add sriracha to this. I'll see your sriracha, and raise you a ton of chile extracts and mega hot sauces. Mmm...mega spicy crazy panda.

The crunchy cabbage and creamy avocado brought some refreshing tastes, but that salty cotija cheese was the chief-in-command here. It asserted itself into the fold, got all the filling in line, and charged the troops into my mouth. My jaw won, but was it ever a good meal.

Meanwhile, my friend bowed to Bruce Lee's awesomeness, and she loved the Bruce Lee Mo. She was hesitant about the pickled chiles at first (asking for it on the side), but really enjoyed them once adding it to the sandwich. The pickling process will ensure a milder heat and an added flavor dimension for the sandwich.

"Bruce Lee Mo"
(after my friend put the pickled chiles on there)
Because she got a combo meal, we had some Szcheuan chips. While it may have "Szechuan" in the name, it's wonderfully seasoned and it won't do bad things to your insides. Crispy chips. A pleasing side dish.

Szcheuan chips
(Prickly Ash)
The group in front of us allowed us to try the vinegar peanuts. The peanuts are boiled in vinegar and soy sauce, then fried and seasoned with salt. At first, I thought they had a toasty nature to them. The salty soy sauce came through more than anything else in my sample helping. It's not a bad thing, just a mere observation.

Vinegar peanuts
(Prickly Ash)
Prickly Ash made a huge statement on me in less than a month. While soups were part of their original menu, I'm actually glad Prickly Ash nixed it. Instead, the owners capitalized on a unique, simple menu that remains street-food friendly. Chinese flatbread sandwiches fits that criteria. Money and time well spent!

I say have a timed challenge for people to eat all seven flatbread sandwiches and six sides. That could attract the hungriest and best competitive eaters....

For winter hours, Prickly Ash will be open for lunch from 11-4, then come back for a dinner shift on Fridays and Saturdays, 5-11. Scott still plans to be open until about 2 or 3 in the morning for summer. He wants to see how this cart does for the first six months. Honestly, I envision a long life for Prickly Ash. It's a great cart that should not be missed. 8.75/10

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