Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 18
Tasty mobile pizza oven surprise
Two rapidly growing business types that, in taking flight, have dovetailed together nicely over the past few years are brewery tasting rooms and food trucks. They make for a perfect match. Breweries draw a large volume of patrons, but aren’t licensed to sell food. Food trucks need patrons and can’t sell alcoholic beverages. Put them together and you have a big party, typically at a very affordable price. It’s no wonder brewing companies and mobile gastronomists are seeking each other out and taking advantage of cross-marketing opportunities.
Last Friday, I was staffing the merch table for my Komen 3-Day team during a promotional pint night we set up at San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey (155 Mata Way, Suite 104). We set up on a concrete pad just outside the tasting room—a blank slate for humanitarian-based capitalism. It was all ours for about a half-hour until a pick-up truck towing a pizza oven on wheels backed in several yards away. As they parked and began to set-up their pop-up pizzeria, the brewery's bouncer spent a full minute professing the awesomeness of this food vendor—Red Oven Artisanal Pizza and Pasta.
Right off the bat, I was impressed by their set-up; an orderly assemblage of toppings both fresh and pre-prepared including beautifully bronzed onions. Even more impressive was their dough—elasticized balls stretched and manipulated expertly by a pie guy who tossed them into the air with the greatest of ease. This appetizing and wholesome gastronomic scene proved irresistible for my cohorts and I. We pooled our money (personal funds, not donations), hammered out our order, and headed over to meet our neighbors.
One of the things that can be tough about patronizing food trucks is the waiting. Gastrotrucks are, by virtue of having limited space and funds, minimally staffed by workers who are extremely busy, especially when they have a line of hungry customers to service. In those cases, it can take quite a bit of time to get an order, and require people to wait around like Starbucks rats at the barista feeder bar, waiting for their names to be called. There’s usually no comfort to be had over that span.
But not with Red Oven Pizza.
They take your order and, because they know constructing and firing up a pizza takes time, they let customers retreat to the inviting confines of the tasting room, then shuttle the order to them when it’s ready. It seems a laborious step, especially when a tasting room is as packed as The Lost Abbey’s was on Friday. It’s like seeking a pie-hungry needle in a haystack. I asked the server about that. What if you can’t find them in that mess? Her reply: I keep looking until I do. That’s admirable, as is the fact she had a smile on her face the entire evening.
Workplace nobility aside, there was more to love about Red Oven. That dough that looked so good, tastes great, too. Best of all, each round is pressed by hand to even depth, creating an inner-crust that’s thin, but still a little chewy versus brittle as a water cracker, and a thick outer ring that’s nicely crisped on the outside. It’s nice to see a product that takes three days to manufacture being done such justice.
Their Margherita pizza is sauced generously, but not overly so, with a red sauce that tastes like a slightly herbier version of mom’s tomato soup. We went for the version topped with buffalo mozzarella for a slight up-charge. There could have been more cheese, but a minor dairy deficiency didn’t ruin the pizza. We also ordered The Alsatian, a white pie topped with crème fraîche in place of tomato sauce, plus those sweet, delicious caramelized onions, bacon batons, and fresh herbs. It was rich, satisfying, and only ten bucks.
The mobile oven, which the Red Brick crew says was imported from Italy, also warms halved jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped with thick slices of bacon. The bacon could be cooked more evenly (it varies from crunchy to barely rendered and chewy - this isn’t a dish best cooked in an oven with so much heat variance depending on placement), but good flavors are there with heat that’s present, but tame enough that these small bites can be enjoyed by many.
It can be tough to put one’s faith in a food truck you’ve never seen before, so I’m happy to vouch for this one. If you see Red Oven Pizza, give into the alluring scents of garlic and browning pizza dough. They’re serving up good, authentic eats at a price that leaves plenty of money for additional tasting room pints.