August 2, 2010

Lonnieburger Baskets: Cafe de Wheels

At least the rest of the burgers in the chase don't actually amount to a chase.

This restaurant, however, has wheels, man.


Luckily, the Queen City - back in June - approved opening three locations for street vendors (Court St Market, 5th and Race parking lot, and Sawyer Pt) making it a little easier to find Cafe de Wheels and their awesome burgers.

Let's check what Cincinnati mag had to say and then check on just how awesome I thought they were...
#19 Wheels Burger
Cincinnati’s first mobile burger truck delivers a hot and juicy burger on a soft Servatii kaiser bun, enrobed in perfectly melted cheese, sweet and piquant balsamic onion marmalade, and spicy mayo. It’s one of the best things to happen to wheels since rubber.
I'll admit, that last statement isn't entirely false.

So, what comes inside that wrapped up package?

  • Well, first off an impressively good burger comes in that little package.  Admittedly, that might be a little more obvious if my point and shoot could take a decent close-up photo, but that's an argument for another day.  The meat is freshly ground - earlier in the day from what I understand - and nicely seasoned - you can even see the black flecks of seasoning in the patty there.  It's also served hot like lava.  We didn't dig in until probably five minutes after our burgers came out of the truck - Coach Hamburger (I swear, that's a past nickname that our visiting third burger connoisseur has gone by in the past) put her order in after us, and we were nice enough to wait for her to be served before we attacked our burgers.  Nice little crust on the burger - again, not as deep as Terry's but far better than any other we've had - good quality meat, nice flavor.  Burger - 8

  • There's something really special in the toppings at Cafe de Wheels.  It's listed on their menu (scroll down a bunch, I swear that's really the right link) as balsamic onion marmalade, and it's outstanding.  Yeah, the other stuff - American cheese, lettuce, tomato, Mike's mayo - is all good too, but the deep flavors of the balsamic onions are wonderful.  They've clearly been slow sauteed until the balsamic vinegar has turned into a peppery, sweet concoction.  From the word marmalade, I was expecting something in which the onions had turned into a singular mash, but they were still individually identifiable and outstanding.  The mayo is spiced with something - no clue exactly what that something is - also adding to the whole package of greatness here.  Admittedly, I did screw up and forget to order bacon, so I can't speak to the quality there.  Toppings - 10

  • Fries are a couple of bucks and are served in a decent sized - a solid serving for one person - cup down at the bottom of the bag.  Some of my fries had fallen out into the bag by the time I got down there, but I'm a veteran of the fast food wars and have no problem horking down extra bag fries.  The fries are well cooked and very freshly fried - for every order, no waiting around in a hopper - then liberally salted and peppered.  I appreciate the peppering but could've used a little lighter hand with the salting.  Don't know if it's a consistent trend or just a one-time fluke.  The girl got sweet potato fries for an extra buck and really appreciated that they were salted and not cinnamon-sugered.  Good stuff all around.  Fries - 7

  • Ambiance for an outside burger truck is a little tough to quantify.  On the day that we visited - Wednesday last week - the weather was a little warm and humid, but there was a nice breeze through the Court Street Market, and our stoop was well shaded so Coach Hamburger even commented that it was just a perfect day out.  The trees along the market do provide some nice shade.  The sidewalk is nicely wide meaning that even a little line at the rolling Cafe wouldn't be a problem, and Cafe de Wheels does have a couple of pretty, yellow, bistro-style tables with a pair of chairs each.  Behind Cafe de Wheels's truck was a stand for Taste of Belgium with their tasty waffles and crepes.  Behind that then was a coffee van with some cutesy name that escapes me at the moment.  All in all, it makes for a great place to have a little lunch.  Down the black are a couple of other storefront food locations with tables of their own.  All in all, this location for the mobile food vendors is a great location.  We wandered down to the 5th and Race parking lot where Senor Roy's Taco Patrol was set up that day, and their location sucks in comparison - plain, unadorned parking lot with a few orange cones setting off a few parking spots for the truck - no tables, no shade, a bus stop bench a few feet away.  If this was where we'd found Cafe de Wheels, things would be drastically different, and the Wheels schedule now just lists their daily location as either Court or Race so I don't know for certain where it's a first come, first parked situation or if Cafe de Wheels has peed in the Court Street Market spot.  If they can, they should claim the spot with a huge peeing of that balsamic onion marmalade.  Ambiance - 10 (but highly variable)
  • The Cincinnati article lists the burger at $5, but the side of the truck had our price at $5.50.  Add in $2 for fries, $1 for bacon, and $1 for a can of Diet Coke (something I find fully appropriate from a truck even though it bugged me at Quatman's), and we're at the low end of our middle price range, $9.50.  That's a middle score for me. Cost - 5
Other stuff
  • Eating at Cafe de Wheels gives me an illusion of being a city dweller, something I love being even if it's just on a vacationing basis most of the time.  The decision by Cincinnati to encourage mobile food vendors is an awesome one and entirely indicative of the rebirth that downtown is getting all over the place.  +1
  • The balsamic onion marmalade should be an option as a side dish because I would eat that stuff with a fork, man.  +1
  • They offer sweet potato fries and do them well.  +1  
  • The buns - forgot to mention those - are freshly baked from Servatti's and griddled before getting the cheese and mayo treatment. +1

Now to the tale of the tape...Cafe de Wheels comes in at 44 - right on the heels of Terry's 44 but with the caveat that the ambiance score could've come in a whole lot lower if weather and parking location hadn't been so agreeable. 

Our rankings so far...
  • Terry's Turf Club - 45
  • Cafe de Wheels - 44
  • VanZandt - 34
  • Quatman's - 32 / 34.5
  • Sammy's - 26


Katydid said...

You just really don't like me or my city's heavy metal cheeseburgers.

PHSChemGuy said...

I have spoken well of the Windy City in the past, I do believe.