PepperJax Grill Philly Express
It’s impossible not to consider value when making a judgment about a food truck, or a restaurant, or any purchase, for that matter. It feels good to spend so little and get so much. On the other hand, you could spend $10 on two of the tiniest, most well executed and delicious tacos you’ve ever had and feel great about the experience. PepperJax Grill Philly Express stands decidedly on the value side of the fence.
There is pretty much only one item on the menu at PepperJax Express: Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich. This isn’t to say that there aren’t choices. You can have steak ($8), chicken ($7.75), or veggie ($7). Then you decide if you want onions, peppers, mushrooms or jalapenos. You can choose to have fries ($3) or not.
After you place your order, they slide your torpedo roll down a chute and throw the veggies and meat (6 oz., we were told) on the flat top. When they call your name, you’d better have both hands free, because this sandwich delivers some serious value.
The roll was crammed into the container diagonally and was spilling over with beef and veggies, the melted pepper jack cheese tucked underneath. Every spare inch of the container was stuffed with french fries. You could feed a family of four with this sandwich. Was it good? Who cares! It was HUGE! PepperJax founder Gary Rohwer’s patented “vertically sliced” sandwich steak was juicy and spiced with a secret blend that contained at the very least hot pepper and a generous amount of garlic salt. The cheese had a sort of industrial, sandwich-shop feel to it, but so did the meat and bread, so it all played well together.
Most of the trucks on the street are homegrown enterprises. PepperJax Express, with their unverified and dubious motto, “America’s Best Philly,” and comprehensive branding (including a full line of bottled sauces), has a suspiciously corporate feel. The meat came pre-sliced out of a cardboard box from a freezer case. Indeed, it turns out that PepperJax are an offshoot of an Omaha-based sandwich shop that decided to ride the food truck wave up in Minnesota.
Try PepperJax if you are super-duper hungry and aren’t particularly concerned with having a chef driven experience. It’s a good sandwich, if a bit industrial, and it’s probably the best value you’ll get out of a truck this season. PepperJax can be found in Minneapolis on most days, and occasionally in St. Paul.
When O’Cheeze hit the streets earlier this summer, they were greeted with a chorus of great press, so we were very excited to try their twist on grilled cheese and tomato soup.
Our first visit was at best a mixed bag. The Portobello ($8, below, left), with its eponymous fungus, roasted red pepper, and Havarti cheese, was the highlight. The meatiness of the mushrooms worked well with the creamy Havarti, while the sweetness of the roasted pepper balanced it out. It was simple and delicious. The Nacho ($8, below, middle), filled with avocado, chicken, and corn chips (yes, inside the sandwich), was not well put together. The chicken and avocado tasted good, but the chips were soggy and the sandwich would have been better without them. The cheese was scant, almost an afterthought. It felt like a misclassified panini. Both sandwiches were buttery but not crisp like you want a grilled cheese to be, almost as if they were toasted rather than griddled. Popcorn chips were served on the side — a frustrating choice, considering that the corn chips would have been much better alongside, rather than inside, the sandwich. The much-ballyhooed Tomacado soup ($2 for a cup with a sandwich order) was befuddling. It tasted overwhelmingly like pureed food-service tomatoes, with barely an echo of basil and an unpleasant, astringent feel.
But having heard praise for O’Cheeze from every corner of the blogosphere, both before and after our flawed experience, we decided to try again, and are glad we did. We ordered the Mac and Cheese ($7, above, right), and once again the Tomacado soup (below, before and after). The sandwich arrived piping hot, the Great Harvest bread buttery and crisp, with a soft, gooey crumb. The elbow macaroni was cooked just past al dente, probably the perfect doneness for noodles as a sandwich filling. The result — our favorite comfort food stuffed inside our second favorite comfort food — was toothsome, delicious, and most importantly, cheesy. This time, the Tomacado soup made sense. It was creamy and sweet, with fresh, summery tomato flavor and a rich red color. We asked, “Why Tomacado?” when there are no discernible avocado pieces, and were told that instead of using cream, O’Cheeze uses pureed avocado.
Maybe our first visit was an off day for the crew. Maybe it was a combination of a new guy working the grill and a batch of unripe tomatoes. Maybe they refined their recipes. They traded the popcorn chips for potato chips, and whatever else changed from our first visit to the second, there was improvement across the board, and we found a well-oiled operation sending out high-quality comfort food. O’Cheeze can be found in Minneapolis on most days, and in St. Paul on Tuesdays.