On the streets of Atlanta; 404-822-6758; check cuzinechefs.com/food-truck or the Mix'D UP Facebook page for schedules and more info
Cooking Method: Flat top
Short Order: Rock n' roll food truck that puts a gourmet twist on international street food faves
Want Fries with That? Hell, yes. These twice-fried bad boys rock big-time
Price: El Sombrero, $6; Rockin' Hero Bite, $7; The Strings, $3
When you think about it, being a chef is kind of a crazy way to make a living. You spend years honing a set of intricate skills that everyone can appreciate but few ever perfect. You borrow liberally from the masters who have come before you, stealing techniques and philosophies in hopes that one day, you'll mix them all together into your own unique, identifiable style. You slave away in anonymity, putting your heart and soul into your craft and then putting your (don't-call-it-a-product-it's-a) labor of love out there for general public consumption. And whether they like it or adore it or hate it, the masses have fickle tastes; they'll just be hungry for something else before you know it. Yep, it's tough to be a chef.
Now go back and repeat that entire paragraph, only replace the word chef with musician. Same. Exact. Thing. But whether you're a line cook or a lead guitarist, when you find that sweet spot and manage to crank out a solid gold hit, it's a thing of beauty that can delight a crowd. Just ask the culinary rock and roller behind Mix'D UP, an Atlanta food truck that's hitting all the right notes with fans and putting a riff on burgers that totally rocked my world recently.
"I was a rocker back in the day," Brett Eanes told me, "and still am." But he's also a culinary arts grad who's been in the restaurant biz for 20 years, with a resumé that includes everything from catering on Hollywood movie sets to running fine dining kitchens. But ultimately, he "wanted to do stuff that I like to eat," he told me, and combined his two passions to create a "hard rock café on wheels." Mix'D UP was born. The music-themed menu lets Brett have fun with an eclectic medley of cuisines and ingredients and to, well, mix it up when the mood strikes.
Basic and boring need not apply for a gig with Brett and his sous chef partner. They call their fare "international street food with a gourmet touch," but burgers are a staple. Of the chalkboard's six entrées during my recent stop, two were burgers...and neither was beef-based. The first was the El Sombrero, a half-pounder using a patty of just 25 percent chuck, and the rest finely ground Spanish chorizo. (The beef helps hold the heavily-seasoned chorizo together and keeps its flavor from overpowering.) It's mixed with cilantro, garlic, and both black and white pepper, then left alone so the flavors can slow-jam for 24 hours.
Truck cooking dictates that the food needs to be fast, so each eight-ounce scoop of the meat mix is flattened to about a half-inch in thickness as it sizzles away on the 500°F flat top. The result is an extra-wide patty that can be cooked, topped, bunned, and pushed out the window in about five minutes. The El Sombrero has an underdeck slice of Cheddar Jack and is topped with pico de gallo and a guacamole spread, then served on toasted ciabatta. Like an all-star jam band, every component brought its own flair to the ensemble, and they all worked in unison to produce something pretty darn catchy. The meat itself has a chewier consistency than straight beef and requires a bite or two to adjust to... since your brain is saying burger while your taste buds are screaming sausage. It rocked nonetheless; this spicy number was the south-of-the-border burger I had hoped to find on Cinco de Mayo. Leave it to an Alabama boy cooking in a truck to finally deliver it.
The fries (or The Strings, as per the Mix'D UP menu) are a spectacular side, and far from an afterthought for Brett. He starts with Idaho potatoes—about two per order—and hand cuts them to a skinny shoestring size. After an ice-water soak to remove excess starch, the spuds are strained, dried briefly, and small-batch-fried in 300°F canola-fortified oil for seven minutes. The fries are then cooled, racked, wrapped, and placed in a cooler overnight...and that's all before they even get on the truck. During the lunch rush, they're fried again at 375°F for another three minutes, then simply (but very well) seasoned and served. Mine were deep golden brown, super crisp, and exceptionally tasty. (Brett's experimenting with "tricked out" fries, but is keeping the particulars under wraps for now.)
The Rockin' Hero Bite is to Mix'D UP what Master of Puppets is to Metallica. It's what put them on the map, and no matter where they set up shop to ply their trade for fans, it ain't ever coming off the setlist. The patty is 100 percent lamb, purchased directly from a source in Colorado. It's coarse-ground and shipped in two-pound vacuum-sealed pouches. Upon receipt, Brett gives the lamb a second, finer grind and blends in fresh mint, rosemary, and garlic. The mix is taste-tested and given a 24-hour rest. Once off the flat top, it's slathered with a tzatziki sauce with feta mixed in, topped with lettuce and tomato, and placed in Mix'D UP's dense and chewy ciabatta. Put it all together with that thin-but-flavorful lamb patty, and it's a pretty faithful remake of the gyro that the burger is named for. I'm not knocking it... just saying that if you come to the Mix'D UP window looking for a stripped-down, no frills, three-chord burger experience, this little lamb may not be your thing. Me, I'm already looking forward to an encore.
While the truck format mandates a pretty compact meat disc for quick cooking times (I'd totally dig—and pay extra for—a double-patty burger if Brett wanted to try it), and the thick, spongy ciabatta can make it seem even thinner, both the El Sombrero and the Rockin' Hero Bite from Mix'D UP were thoroughly satisfying total packages that I'd happily cue up again. Kind of like that favorite rock album that may not have a Grammy-winning #1 smash single on it, but sounds plenty awesome playing on repeat anyway.
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.