Gonna be writing about food trucks for a while, as well as the Courtyard Brewery, which has become a haven for them. Today’s entry is Saigon Slim’s, serving a variety of Vietnamese favorites.
You can find him: Playing bass for the Shotgun Jazz Band and various other groups, cursing out the Toronto Blue Jays, rolling his ankle in a pickup basketball game.
June has a strange energy for folks in the New Orleans service industry. On the one hand, we finally get a chance to breathe, as the Memorial Day weekend crush signals the last massive wave of visitors to the city until summer loosens its grip. On the other hand, there’s that summer. Fierce, broiling, bumping up the crime stats citywide and turning your blood to soup. The last day of May is an odd combination of relief and foreboding. We can breathe now, but we’re going to be far less employed for a few months, and we’re gonna be hot.
For the first time in two months, Tyler and I had the same day off. Tyler’s a recent transplant to the city who, like me, expects to be here a long time. He’s also a fellow New Orleans Pelicans season ticket holder, so we made a date to eat, drink, and discuss the hiring of Alvin Gentry as the new coach of our guys.
We made the trek over to Courtyard Brewery where the Saigon Slim’s food truck was parked. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite hangouts in the city. It’s a sheltered courtyard on Erato Street next to the freeway that serves a rotating menu of beers from the taps on the back wall of their modest warehouse space.
The courtyard comes in very handy, as it allows the taproom to dodge the “no kitchen” problem by giving space to the food trucks that are popping up around the city in ever increasing numbers. Today’s pairing was appropriate, as both the Courtyard and Saigon Slim’s started operating this past fall.
New Orleans has a lot of great Vietnamese food. Vietnamese families came here in huge numbers in the 1970’s, fleeing the war that engulfed their homes. There was work in the fishing and shrimping industries on the Texas and Louisiana gulf coasts, and with New Orleans’ large Catholic population and climate providing a bit of familiarity, many immigrants came to the city and started setting up businesses. I’ll write in the future about the old school Vietnamese places around the city (of which there are many), but Saigon Slim’s represents something else—the profound influence of Vietnamese flavors and preparation on more traditional New Orleans fare.
Take the Banh Mi. Or as it has become known in New Orleans, the “Vietnamese Po Boy.” The ingredients look familiar. A French roll (less flaky than the ones typically used for po boys), a large quantity of some type of meat, dressing of vegetables and sauce. Take that formula and spin it. Ingredients like lettuce and tomato are replaced by carrots, cilantro, mint and cucumber. Slim’s has a couple options as far their Banh Mi, and one of them—Pig Shrimpin—might claim the title for Best Named Sandwich in New Orleans.
Pig Shrimpin’ Banh Mi and spring rolls. For discerning gentlemen of leisure.
Tyler and I both opted for the Pig Shrimpin—savory pork, shrimp, peanut sauce, carrots, mint, cilantro, stuffed until falling apart. Add in an order of spring rolls, a couple beers from the tap room, and then for the full New Orleans summertime effect, add a monsoon.
The rain hit fast, seconds after we collected our sandwiches. We snagged a table with a few other people and started talking as the rain picked up. The folks closest to the warehouse door had to keep sliding their chairs back to get further away from the storm’s fingers. Tyler and I settled in next to the record player, and with the permission of the bartender Alexis I started DJ’ing from collection of LP’s on the wall. Our table partners included a pair of cyclists who’d just finished a 50 mile bike ride and a couple from California in the middle of a cross-country drive to Maryland.
Ideally, a good meal helps generate the situation, enhances it to a degree that drinks or the accident of space might not do on their own. A little roasted pork, a few shrimp, good beer and Sly and the Family Stone playing in the background—these things make me a happy man. And, I suspect, better company.
Getting trapped by the rain had an additional benefit, as Tyler made the rain soaked trek (all ten feet of it) to the food truck to grab a sample of Slim’s Bananas Foster spring rolls. For those of you who don’t know what Bananas Foster is, it’s basically what happens when everything good you’ve ever done in your life comes back and thanks you in the form of a dessert. It’s not a dish that needs anything like improvement, but Slim’s seems more interested in altering the delivery mechanism than the dessert itself. The bananas and the sugar and the cinnamon are all there, only in easy to grab fried roll form. The heat of the spring roll causes the ice cream to melt faster than, perhaps, it would otherwise, but that’s not a complaint. I don’t complain about anything when dessert is served, especially when I got somebody else to go out in the rain to get it for me.
Courtyard Brewery is located at 1020 Erato Street. More information here.