I first became aware of the newest food concept in Cleveland, mobile food, several months ago through social media giants Facebook and Twitter. It seemed that two guys who had cooked together at Fire Food & Drink in Shaker Square had begun nursing a concept that has proven to be popular in other major metropolitan locales. Given that Cleveland has had some long standing rules governing food trucks, they had an uphill battle in making their vision a reality.
I have written about mobile food before, namely my review on the taco truck in Akron. However, as anyone who checked it out will tell me, the taco truck is more a taco cart because it is mobile only after hooking it up to something with an engine. The twist for Dim and Den Sum was that it would truly be a truck that changes location daily and dispenses food right from the back.
As the Food Illuminati got wind of Chefs Chris Hodges and Jeremy Esterly's plan, there was a groundswell of support. Here was exactly the kind of success story that foodies love to talk about with anyone who'll listen. Having finally taken care of all the start-up tasks associated with opening any business, the duo began targeting a few initial locations to begin gauging where they'd have the most impact. Sadly the first couple of opportunities to visit the truck were inopportune times for me, such as 11 PM - 2 AM on a Friday or Saturday night in Cleveland. When I heard that they would be making some lunchtime appearances via their Facebook and Twitter pages, I was thrilled to finally be able to track them down myself.
Last Thursday, my friends Nancy, Edsel and I met up over on the southeast side of Cleveland on Emery Road. Sure enough, as I pulled into the parking lot and down the drive, I spotted the brightly painted truck. After parking and getting closer, I took this photograph:
While the entire menu is available on their website, every day is just a little bit different in terms of menu offerings. I'd imagine that there will always be good sellers, like the PBLT, but as ingredients come and go, items will be added and dropped accordingly. Here was a shot of the menu during my second visit:
Unfortunately, I didn't get a good shot of the menu the first time I ate at the truck.
Having read others' impressions of some of the menu items, I knew that I needed to get one of three things: the Jjang Dawg, PBLT, and Sum Tots. For my first visit, I decided to go for two of the three. I walked up to the front of the truck, where Chef Hodges sister was working taking orders and making change and ordered the dog, tots, and a bottle of water. I paid my $9, dropped the remaining $1 in the tip jar and prepared to wait for my food.
Even though the line wasn't too long at that point, I was impressed at how fast the food came up in the rear of the truck. I took my dog and tots to a nearby picnic table sporting an umbrella to shade us from the mid-eighties sun.
Here was a shot of my Jjang Dawg:
This was a locally produced hot dog with pulled pork, tangy slaw, smashed tots, and topped with a soy BBQ sauce. The first thing I noticed, and this seemed to be fairly true of all the food served at Dim and Den Sum: This was messy food! Tasty, but messy. The hot dog had been grilled nicely and the casing gave it a nice snap. While the tots on top were tasty, they didn't really do a whole lot for me. This was a nice hot dog, but to my taste buds, it lacked a strong impact. The pulled pork was there, but really only in texture. For me, it was missing that great balance of flavors, sweet, salty, spicy, sour. It was a good hot dot, but not a great one.
The Sum Tots, however, were outstanding:
I don't know how they fry these little golden morsels of potato-y goodness, but each tot stayed crisp from the first to the last, even having been covered in a slightly spicy and sweet sauce applied right before serving them to me. I can't speak to the provenance of the tots, but the execution in frying them was simply superb. Having seen them on two different menus now, it was also apparent to me that the chefs were willing to take more liberties with them; the toppings tend to change often.
As we were eating our meal, Chef Hodges stopped by our picnic table to garner some feedback. I made an offhanded comment that I expected the sauce on the Sum Tots to be a little spicier than it was. He then told me that they also have a homemade hot sauce and asked if I wanted to try it. Both myself and my lunching partners all agreed that we would. After he returned with a sauce bottle, he applied a bit to the corner of my cardboard tray. I have to say that this was definitely hotter, reminiscent of a Louisiana cayenne pepper sauce. The sauce definitely added some zip and heat to the tots, which were eagerly gobbled up by the three of us.
Before finishing up our lunch, Nancy offered to let me try one of her Chicken Nachos:
Her portion had been fairly large and between the nachos and her very own order of Sum Tots, she found that she didn't have any more room in her stomach. The flavors of the nacho chip were nicely balanced. I can definitely see myself ordering this for lunch the next time it is on the menu.
Having finished our lunch, we cleaned our spot up and pitched the trash in the canister in front of the truck and returned to our respective places of business, each eager to return and try something else of the menu.
Ironically, I had mentioned during my first visit how much I would like it if the truck was a little closer to where I work. Today's trek basically had me taking a two hour lunch, with an hour of it just in driving time alone. Apparently, someone must have heard and agreed with me because it wasn't a day later that I read on Facebook that on Tuesday, June 1st, the truck would be in the parking lot of the Cleveland Cinemateque on East Boulevard right next to the Cleveland Institute of Art and across from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Knowing that this was literally a five minute drive from where I work, it was a no-brainer to make the decision to return for a second visit.
I parked on East Boulevard closer towards Severance Hall at one of the pay meters. As I got close to the location, I spotted a now familiar sight through the pine trees:
Technically, the Cinemateque was located at 11141 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106, but since food truck isn't associated with CIA or the Cinemateque, the phone number listed on Google won't do you much good.
It was good to see the gang back in action after such a busy weekend in Oberlin and doing publicity on Channel 3 on Monday morning. Apparently, they were completely slammed the entire weekend and a lot of their supplies were used up, like the homemade bread they had been using for the sandwiches. Since I had already had the tots, I decided to go with two sandwich items instead. First up, I ordered the Beef Shank Taco. This was actually what Edsel had the last time we went. Here was a shot of what he ordered from our previous visit:
And a shot of what I ordered today:
Filled with long braised beef shanks, corn-cilantro relish and drizzled with a teriyaki glaze, they were served in a soft flour tortilla. The beef was definitely tender, but unfortunately in my first bite, I received a huge piece of fat. While certainly chewable, it didn't have a particularly good mouth feel. However, once I removed that piece from my mouth, the rest of the taco was tasty. As with the Jjang Dawg, the taco was good, but not great. It lacked the same burst of flavors that I missed when I tried the hot dog. I also think that for $3 per taco, there should be a little more meat; it was just a wee-bit skimpy.
Having finished my taco, I turned to the PBLT:
And here was a shot with the crown of the bun removed:
Think of this as a regular old BLT (Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato) with luscious pulled pork. With the addition of a Sriracha mayonnaise and thick cut bacon, this sandwich was a complete knock-out. I absolutely loved the flavors of this sandwich. The thick cut bacon added a wonderful smoky saltiness and the tomato was perfectly ripe, adding that necessary sweetness to cut some of the other bold flavors. I noticed that the sandwich had been served on a regular hamburger bun instead of the freshly baked rolls that Chef Hodges had been bragging about last Thursday. Apparently the rolls were one of the casualties of the Oberlin weekend. I look forward to trying the sandwich when it is seated on the proper bread. It's hard to believe the sandwich could get better, but I'm certainly willing to try it again (and again).
As with last time, as I was finishing up my PBLT, Chef Hodges came over to me and asked what I thought. At first I thought it seemed odd that this was the second time in two visits that he was soliciting feedback, but as I thought about it, it began to make sense to me. Dim and Den Sum had really only been serving food for about a month now and any new restaurant that has only been open for such a short period of time should always be tweaking and adjusting the menu so that every item really stands out on its own. I gave him the same feedback you are reading here and he seemed genuinely interested to hear it. I hope both he and Chef Esterly continue in this tradition of garnering feedback from customers, whether or not they are food bloggers, because it shows me that they are committed to putting out some seriously tasty food.
I was also pleased to learn that the invitation by the Cleveland Institute of Art to sell their wares every Tuesday from 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM at the Cinemateque was open-ended. I know that I won't be able to make it every Tuesday for lunch, but you can bet I'll be there at least twice a month. I know it's kind of cool to be able to tweet your location every day to your followers, but having some regular stops can only help to establish your name and reputation.
I highly recommend that you search out this novel Cleveland food gem wherever they land for the day. The food was tasty, the concept was pretty nifty, and the chefs running the mobile kitchen obviously care about using quality local ingredients. Sure a few of the offerings need to be tweaked a bit to maximize their flavors, but given how long they've been operating, it doesn't surprise me in the least. Now the hard part is just having to wait until next Tuesday to go back.