I thought maybe it was just a matter of personal taste, but I’ve since seen others say that the place just isn’t as good as it used to be. This happens eventually at a lot of restaurants and for a lot of different reasons, but for some reason it seems to be a bigger issue with food trucks. When they start out, it’s generally a very focused vision from one or two people. They create the dishes, they cook the dishes, they own the truck, etc. If they start getting successful, more employees become involved, and that focus gets diluted. By the time the Fairy Godmother waves her wand and turns the truck into a real live restaurant, half the time the original owner/chef isn’t there, or doesn’t even bother with the actual cooking anymore. Unfortunately it’s something I’ve seen all too often. There are trucks that I absolutely loved which grew into restaurants that I never visit because it’s simply not the same anymore. I’m not sure what, if anything, happened in this particular case, but Spork seems to have a loyal following and is still rated very highly on the various aggregate sites. I’m glad their fans like them and I wish them all the luck in the world, but it’s not likely I will return.
On the Road: Spork (Bend, OR)
We’re going out of order here. In my last post, I described on of the great meals of my life. However, that wasn’t the first thing that happened when I arrived in town. I had a few hours to kill, which I planned to spend up in the mountains taking pictures of the forest area outside Sisters (which is still rebounding from the B&B Complex Fires), but I figured a break for lunch was in order after a five hour car ride. I’d asked for recommendations on my Facebook page, received three, and decided upon Spork. They interested me because they’d started out as a truck and then went brick and mortar to satisfy their following (something that seems to be happening more and more often). They specialize in putting their own spin on dishes from all over the world, and a perusal of their menu reveals a wealth of Asian, African, and Latin influences.
But first, I had to find them. This took several trips around the block (each of which involved navigating an annoying roundabout) before I realized that there must not be an actual sign. Slowing down and scouting harder, I finally spied the logo on the door that served as their sign. Unfortunately there was no street parking available, so I headed around back and was lucky enough to find a spot that wasn’t reserved.
I took my place in the short lunchtime line, debating internally about what to order. When I hadn’t decided by the time I reached the front of the line, I explained my dilemma to the cashier. I’d skipped breakfast that morning, so the Chilaquiles sounded good, but I was also very interested in the Spicy Fried Chicken that I’d read so many raves about. She suggested a compromise of sorts: an order of Chilaquiles with a side of the Spicy Fried Chicken (side meaning smaller portion I assume, and without all the accouterments). A woman after my own heart, right? I agreed, added a bottle of Mexican Coke, and found a seat.
The restaurant itself is cute, the furniture utilitarian and not particularly comfortable. There are some recessed booths that looked to be a little more comfortable, but all of those were taken. And as nice as the sidewalk dining area looked through the window, it was too windy outside for me to want to bother with it. Utensils, napkins, and condiments were along the wall, as were deep plastic bins for placing your dishes after bussing your table. There was no garbage can that I could spy for scraping said dishes beforehand.
I’m not an expert on chilaquiles by any means. I’ve only had the dish a handful of times from a couple of different places. But every time I’ve had it, it was with a verde sauce. I didn’t think too much about the sauce based on the menu description, I just saw the world “tomatillo” and assumed all was well. If I’d been paying closer attention, I would have noticed the full description was “guajillo-tomatillo enchilada sauce”. I mean I might still have been curious enough to order it, but I might also have asked some questions so I knew what to expect. First, the rest of the dish: housemade corn tortilla chips, shredded cabbage, cotija cheese, crema, cilantro, red onion, and lightly pickled jalapeños. I kicked in a couple of bucks extra for an organic fried egg, because what are chilaquiles without a fried egg? The sauce had the tanginess of verde and the smokiness of enchilada sauce, which to me wasn’t a great combination. The veggies were nice and crisp, the egg was well done (but had a bizarrely tiny yolk, disappointing because yolk really adds something to the dish in my mind), the chips were kind of soggy from the dousing in the sauce. To me, tangy/smoky dominated the dish and there wasn’t really anything else to round it out. I lost interest half way through and ended up tossing it. Interestingly enough, I spoke with someone the next day who told me she was pretty sure they used to do this item with a verde sauce. If that’s the case, I wonder why the change? I would have liked to try that version.
The Spicy Fried Chicken, on the other hand, I really dug the flavor of. It’s boneless, battered with rice flour, tossed with (per the menu) spicy sweet sambal chili sauce, green onion, and toasted sesame seeds. The meal portion comes with jasmine rice and choice of cucumber salad or kimchi. As I said, I liked the flavor of this dish, but I would stop shy of calling it spicy. It has a little bit of heat that kind of builds as you eat, but I expect a bit of fire when ordering an Asian dish referred to on the menu as “spicy”. As for the chicken itself, it was a bit on the overcooked side. The batter was positively crunchy, the meat underneath dry and chewy at the edges. I did finish it because it was a small portion and it tasted good, but I wouldn’t rush back to try it again.
Food: I tried two very different dishes, both of which were mixed bags.
Value: Pretty reasonable for such a hip place, actually.
Service: Pleasant enough, but you don’t interact with them much.
Atmosphere: Not bad but not particularly comfortable either. Not a place I would linger.
Final Grade: B-