The collaboration between Gwynn's Gourmet Food Truck and Alesmith's .394 pale ale, both named in honor of the San Diego icon, made a lot of sense. San Diego loves its beer, Tony Gwynn loved his food. Especially his wife Alicia's fried chicken. As far as a Gwynn-themed beer, it's funny to imagine a Tony alcohol when for his improvised bachelor party he was downing shots of only Sprite and water.
The atmosphere of Alesmith, located right off Miramar Rd, gives off an inviting vibe. It felt like a classic, hand-built establishment with a modest Padres tint to it. The door is stamped with a fat orange interlocked "SD" logo, and you can't make it two steps without coming across a swagger wall decal of an 85-90's era in-stance Gwynn. Coupled with a memorial plaque; it's clear that the .394 name is less about branding and more about honoring.
All of the .394 merchandise is nicely grouped together. With refillable growlers going for $8 ($25 filled), 6 packs with .394 branding at about $13, a .394 pint glass, and Gwynn's Gourmet BBQ Sauce. You can also grab one of the great looking .394 baseball shirts.
The general consensus of .394 is that it's pretty great. Most of us at Gaslamp Ball have had the chance to enjoy it at the last Padres Beerfest. This time around I didn't have the cash to sample the rest of Alesmith's long list of on-top quality beer, but being that this brewing center is directly across the street from my office I'll have countless opportunities. Jodes and I did snag some of those growlers, though.
For Saturday, January 24th, Alesmith teamed up with the Gwynn food truck for a food and beer event. There was the standard indoor brewery seating along with a path towards the connecting parking lot with a few large benches and tables for people to load up their pints and sample trays of beer next to their food. The two grub options included the more obvious choice of the Gwynn truck, and the Mastiff Sausage Company truck parked next to it.
Motivated by jbox's "strike out" review of his encounter with Gwynn's Gourmet Food, jodes and I felt obligated to give the menu a second chance. Looking to avoid the apparent "sawdust" tasting item that traumatized jbox we both decided to see if the food truck maybe specialized in something else, that maybe jbox found the weak link.
Topped with southern style cha cha (chow-chow) and grilled onions
My first impression of any food truck is its menu. Having spent a good amount of time in Los Angeles throughout 2013-2014; I have a firm grasp on what a food truck is supposed to be. Unique, loaded items that you're not going to find just anywhere. A basket of fried chicken wings, buffalo wings, pulled pork sliders, bratwurst and hotdogs topped with peppers and onions, a cheeseburger and veggie burger. It felt like I was waiting in line at a sports event deciding what underwhelming food I was about to blow almost $10 on. Save the buffalo chicken french fry basket with blue cheese, everything felt super safe.
The fried chicken makes sense, Tony loved fried chicken without a doubt, but that same spirit felt scarce through the rest of the menu. After scanning a small printed paper list indecisively a few times I decided the best bet was going to be a Gwynn-titled item. The "Gwynn Dog", being topped with chow-chow (labeled as cha cha,) had to have a Southern-standard proportion. I immediately thought of the Postcard's Central American Soul Food truck I had tried while in LA. My expectations shot through the roof, hoping for a fat hot dog in a bulbous bun that would be absolutely murdered with that southern pickled relish, peppers, and onions.
What I got was this.
As soon as I opened the foam container and saw the awfully small amount of toppings I smirked a little, closed it, and glanced at jodes. I thought "Uh oh, jbox is going to end up being right." I grabbed a good amount of the Gwynn Gourmet BBQ sauce and went to sit and see what this hot dog was all about.
I'll have to point out that they (quite visibly) did not skimp on the french fries; peppered and salted, it's hard to mess up french fries. But it reminded me of store bought frozen fries that I've made at home an uncountable amount of times. The hot dog was suffering from the same problem as well. It tasted fine, just like a hot dog ought to taste like, but I've arrived at better-tasting hot dogs by just buying the top priced brand at the grocery store. The Gwynn BBQ sauce was its own unique creation, it was a great combination of sweet and spicy, but not enough to make me down a pound of average fries.
The almost-saving grace was the minimal amount of "cha cha" my poor hot dog was allowed to have. The chow chow that I've had has typically been more tangy, but the Gwynn's truck had a great sweet taste to it. It was the faded highlight of the otherwise dull meal that ended up totaling around $8. The drawback of having seen chow chow done a few different ways meant that this "cha cha" ended up looking like they grabbed some Heinz relish, jarred peppers and onions, mixed 'em together and pinched it off in the center of the hot dog. Like the current Padres uniforms, it lacked character.
For a better example: Postcard's Soul Food brisket, mac n cheese, and kale tacos or Peaches' Southern fried chicken burger are what I expect from a food truck. Having experienced these bursting meals from trucks between San Diego and Los Angeles; it seems like a food truck centered around a great man with a insatiable love for southern food would be a no-brainer. Take the attitude of The Greasy Wiener or Dogtown Dogs' menu for direct comparison.
What makes a food truck's wheels spin is a strong social media presence and your food generating positive word-of-mouth, something (in their important rookie year) I haven't seen from them yet. The lasting results of the meal should not be one wishing they hadn't spent seven-plus dollars on a hot dog they could have gotten from a ballpark vendor; it should leave them craving more of your ridiculously tasty and unique food, and be willing to track you down across San Diego to have seconds.
The truck has a great brand, a good look, and a friendly staff. What it's lacking is an ambitious menu, food bursting with personality, and an experience that can successfully exist separate from event piggybacking. Gwynn's Gourmet Foods needs to dust off the VCR for some video analysis, take a lot more at-bats, and start showing more heart at the plate in order to live up to the legacy of Mr. Padre.
There was no description on the menu, and in retrospect the Gwynn truck's cheeseburger sliders are just that: nondescript. Don't take that to mean they were bad, because they weren't. But they weren't anything special, which is kind of what you want out of food truck fare.
Upon first impression, I was confident that I had made a solid choice. It was a simple menu item; just bun, meat, cheese, and some grape tomatoes for garnish. The soft pretzel buns were a great little surprise, especially after seeing what Dave's hot dog came with. When I had placed my order, Dave poked fun at me for going the "safe" route, but we agreed after getting our food that the sliders, at least in looks, might have turned out to be the better choice.
But the real test, of course, was the taste. And I have to say the sliders didn't disappoint... but they didn't excite either. If you're going to have such a simple item on the menu, it needs to be outstanding in terms of flavor. The Gwynn truck sliders fell short in that regard. The pretzel buns were a nice choice, but the meat was just okay. The slider patties were a little dry and, along with the cheese, tasted like they had been sitting out for a while. I added some of that Gwynn barbecue sauce to one of the sliders, which helped make it a little less plain. But like Dave said, the food tasted like what you would expect from a normal concession stand at a ballpark. Not terrible, but not the kind of food truck item I would seek out.
Hopefully this is just a case of not wanting to play it safe with their menu as they're starting out, because I think with the attention the truck gets and the branding they have working in their favor, they could be a big hit. But overall, the experience seemed a little too "comfortable" to me, and stepping out of that comfort zone could go a long way for them.
Where you can find them
Located off Miramar Rd. at 9366 Cabot Drive in the back right corner of the building cluster. There's a small business-district parking lot that gets packed pretty easily during any events, with fair street parking if need be. Here's their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you're into that sort of thing (beer.) Do yourself a favor and swing by Miramar the next time you're going up or down the I-5/I-15.
The team will tweet and share where they're going to be parked and serving ahead of time. Here's their Twitter and Facebook, so keep an eye out for them so you can try their food and maybe prove us wrong one day. They're good about sharing new menu items (the Buffalo Fries with blue cheese crumbs look pretty wild,) and despite not meeting the standards of a pair of bloggers have put a lot of heart into starting up this food truck. The team was great and will work hard to give you a good experience.
We're looking forward to the day Gaslamp Ball'rs start tracking down the food truck together.