Sunday, March 20, 2011

Willoughby Road: Inspired Southern / Fusion Thoroughfare

Part of the charm of food truck culture, at least for me, is that it makes every day kinda like waking up on Christmas morning as a kid - what will the day bring?  Has Santa delivered against my wishlist?  Will I receive that completely unexpected gift, that is beyond anything I could have thought to ask for?  Checking Twitter to see what culinary delights the day has brought to my 'hood is a little like that - going downstairs to see what's arrived under the tree. 

Today, I got that unexpected gift - its name is Willoughby Road.

Whenever I'm looking for quick, inexpensive food on a weeknight after work, or on a weekend when I wake up starving and/or don't feel like cooking - I've developed the habit of checking which purveyor of gourmet-on-wheels is in my neighborhood via  I love that on any given day, I can get anything from  Japanese to Brazilian to everything-bacon to creative fusion to artisanal desserts, and you can even make multi-course meals by mixing and matching from truck to truck - but you don't know until usually days before if not the day of, what will come your way.

Willoughby Road had been recommended by "3starbackpacker" a while back, and their slogan "southern cuisine redefined" definitely piqued my interest - but it was always just out of reach, on days that I was valley-bound.  So I nearly jumped up in my car today when I saw that it is in my neighborhood, finally, and headed over immediately!

Though its entire menu of mainly bbq items sounded appealing, I asked Jeshua, chef and co-owner - what he would recommend if I could only get two items.  And yes, both for me. 

His first recommendation was a new item on the menu: Fried Grit Cake ($6) - this lit a series of fireworks on my tongue and in my brain!  Basically, incredibly creamy garlic cheddar cornmeal is crusted and fried, then smoked corn whiskey sausage gravy is poured over it, then the whole thing is topped with apple slaw that has been marinated in malt vinegar and sprinkled with herbs.

Jeshua said he came up with this while dining at his friend Ilan Hall's restaurant, The Gorbals, and while thinking about a way to do southern inspired poutine that doesn't involve cheese fries, which are difficult to do on a truck.

Jeshua has worked in the kitchens of notable chefs including Ludo, and the pride he takes in pushing the envelope really shows. Grits are a simple food that is easy to just relish to a canvas to make other ingredients shine, but Jeshua found a way to bring its simple beauty center stage, while kicking it up a few notches with the creative combination of savory, sweet, spicy, tart!  And I consider it a balanced meal with its inclusion of protein, fruit, dairy, (can I consider herbs veggie?!) and of course grain.  The incredible interplays of textures and flavors, and skillful control of consistency and temperature easily made this the best side dish I've ever had from a truck!  If not for the rapid outgrowing of my jeans, the Fried Grit Cake would have compelled me to make a second trip to Willoughby Road for dinner.

The second recommended dish was Smoked Fried Ribs ($10) which comes with a choice of two sides, from Thai Slaw, Mac & Cheese to Pork & Beans.  This was fall-off-the-bone tender pork ribs, flash fried to form a light, nice crisp shell over rich layers of delicious meat and fat.  I would have liked the flavor to be infused more evenly through the meat, but I did like the light crust over the meat.  The Mac & Cheese was creamy, but in my opinion could have used richer flavor perhaps by using a more pungent cheese or combination of cheeses.  The Thai  Slaw, I expected to taste like the slaw from LudoTruck, but ended up being a little bland.

The portion sizes of each of the two dishes were hearty - I could have just had either one as a meal on its own, and did end up saving some of the ribs for dinner.

Other items on the menu that I look forward to checking out are the Fried Chicken of course, and pulled pork sandwich.

All in all, because of the amazing Fried Grit Cake, which I haven't seen anywhere else with this type of execution - I can't wait to take Willoughby Road to Taste Bud Utopia again! 

Will be eagerly checking Twitter for the next time it ventures into my area (and perhaps will even venture out myself to chase it)!  Thanks 3starbackpacker for the rec!

Update April 2011:

So excited one night after work when I saw that Willoughby Road is again on the road, this time in Glasell Park for late night dining, outside Verdugo Bar.  I was probably the only one in jeans and a sweatshirt, there just for the food - no interest in the bar. 

Though I had no idea if Jeshua would have the amazing Fried Grit Cake that night, I made the trek out from the SFV on pure faith - but knowing that I would probably love whatever they had on the menu anyway.

So I was a little sad when they didn't have the Fried Grit Cake on the menu that night - apparently people didn't know what it was and so hadn't been ordering it (come on, people, it is insanely good - please please ask Jeshua for it so he will keep it on the menu!!)  But Jeshua recommended the Pork Belly Sliders instead. Everything Jeshua makes is packed with flavor, and the sliders are no exception - he uses hoisin sauce with the most incredible, perfectly juicy/fatty pork belly skillfully fried to a crisp but light shell.  An instant favorite that I plan to order again next time Willoughby Road is within range!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 95%

Willoughby Road

All around Los Angeles - check Twitter for latest location
Ph: 760.784.5301     

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Willoughby Road on Urbanspoon

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