Narrowing down your food choices to satisfy your hunger pangs in Austin, Texas, can be a little like taking a five-year old to Disneyland and trying to decide what to do first.
When those rumblings hit your stomach it’s best to get used to it, because if you have to negotiate the preferences of a group of people before heading out, those rumblings are not going be satisfied for a while. There are just so many options in this old Wild West town that narrowing it down to a specific choice can be a gargantuan task.
My advice is to go with a goal. Which is what I did recently when I visited the famed trailer food area on South Congress Avenue known as the SoCo District. However along with visiting this well-known area, I was looking for something specific… I was hunting for what many Austintonians have described as the best Monte Cristo Sandwich is town.
I am pleased to report that I found it. Tucked off the main drag at the corner of South Congress and Gibson is a little parking lot with 3 or 4 food trailers, one of which is known simply as “Hey!… You Gonna Eat or What?” You’ll recognize it by its bright red color and sarcastic sayings painted on the side, owing to an idea left behind awhile back by Chef Eric and his wife Liz.
Don’t let the decor or the fact that you have to eat at a picnic table under a less than stellar umbrella discourage you. This is food you cannot, and should not resist.
I saw the Monte Cristo on the menu board outside and knew I was in the right place, but walking up to the order window can give you pause. Because this is where you see the beauty of what is being prepared in these spartan mobile kitchens. Unable to stick with just the Monte Cristo, I decided we also needed to try the pork sandwich and the smoked turkey.
It was a horse race to decide which was best, but here’s what I thought.
The smoked turkey is otherworldly. Before it ever hits your plate, it is smothered in a homemade jalapeño jelly and then grilled to a caramelized perfection. Served with more of that sweet and spicy jalapeño jelly, the sandwich is then topped off with crisp leaf lettuce and some wonderful green tomatoes.
Next up is the pork sandwich. Served on a ciabatta roll coated with a cilantro pesto, the hickory-tinged pork shares the spotlight here with thick slices of fried plantains. Unlike what you may get at your local Cuban restaurant, these plantains are grilled to perfection when you order your sandwich. Chef Eric is not pulling these out of some bin loaded with the day’s pre-grilled quantity. It is that attention to detail and quality that makes this place such a treat.
Then there was our reason for seeking out “Hey!… You Gonna Eat or What?” The Monte Cristo, scion of delis and golf clubhouses all over the United States. For awhile you could get this sandwich at almost every coffee house in America, now, not so much. Perhaps it is due to a fear of eating too much fried food. We are worse for it and this sandwich explains why.
Chef Eric has taken what admittedly was a throwaway greasy sandwich in many restaurants and made it a star. He starts with hickory smoked ham and mesquite smoked turkey and then adds provolone and cheddar cheese before dipping it in the batter. The batter is what sets this sandwich apart from what you may find in the rest of America. Were talking a Shiner Bock Beer Batter and the result is a light and fluffy incredible reward for any serious sandwich lover. It just encases all the flavors of this sandwich as they await there chance to explode in your mouth. Served with a homemade cherry fig jelly this Monte Cristo is certainly worthy of its reputation here in Austin.
You won’t go wrong with any of these offerings, but clearly the Monte Cristo won the day with the pork and smoked turkey finishing in a photo finish for place and show.
All the sandwiches at “Hey!… You Gonna Eat or What?” come with a side of fresh fried russet potato chips right off the mandolin and if you add a soda, you’ll be looking at around $10.00 for your meal. A real steal for food of this quality anywhere in America.
Open 12:00 – 10:00pm six days a week
1618 South Congress Avenue