It’s just a guess, but I’d say most foodies in America have probably seen “Chef,” the Jon Favreau movie about a chef who started a food truck. Among people who work in the food industry, the percentage may well top 90 percent. No doubt more than a few have even been inspired by the 2014 movie to start a food truck themselves.
You can count Courtney Caley and Heladio Hernandez among that number. The couple, who between them have worked in restaurants from Las Vegas to the Triangle (where they met while working at Chili’s), went so far as to make the Cubano their signature sandwich. But, as enamored of the movie as they were, they stopped short of naming their truck El Jefe, just like the one in the movie.
They named it Qspresso, and they hit the road in September 2015.
“The Q is for Cubano,” Caley explains. He then goes on to describe the lechon asado that is the sandwich’s star ingredient: pork shoulder, marinated in a classic citrus-garlic mojo, then slow-roasted until it practically falls apart when sliced. It’s piled onto a traditional Cuban roll (shipped in from a New Jersey baker that Hernandez discovered when he worked in a Cuban restaurant there) with ham, Swiss cheese and mustard, then grill-pressed and cut into classic wedge-shaped halves. Qspresso’s rendition should satisfy all but the pickiest of purists.
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But it’s by no means the only attraction on a truck that bills its full offering as “Cuban- and Latino-infused cuisine.” The Cochinita Pibil sandwich, Mexico’s answer to the Cubano, features fat, juicy shreds of achiote-marinated, slow-roasted Boston butt, topped with habanero-pickled onion and served on a soft but substantial bun.
The braided crusts on beef empanadas are evidence of the loving care that went into making them. The half moon-shaped savory pies are plump with their generous filling – a cumin-spiced picadillo of ground beef, onion, green olives and raisins – and fried to a crisp, blistery turn. They come two to an order – ideal for sharing, or enough to satisfy a modest appetite as a main course, especially if you add a veggie side to your order.
Spring for the maduros, and you’ll score a side and dessert in a single paper tray: sweet ripe plantains, cut on a bias and fried to a deep golden brown with delicately crunchy caramelized edges. Savory sides typically include fried yuca and tostones (sliced green plantains that are fried, then smashed and fried again).
Check the menu board for specials, too. One day your reward might be an excellent Cuban arroz con pollo, the yellow rice slicked with chicken fat and chockablock with chunks of chicken. Another time, you might find yourself feasting on Mexican posole and pork tacos.
The “spresso” part of the truck’s mashup name, naturally, stands for espresso – Cuban-style, made with a special two-bean blend for authentic taste and aroma. Popular year ’round in Cuba, where it’s affectionately known as cafecito, the strong hot brew really hits the spot when you’re standing outside a food truck in January.
Even if you haven’t seen “Chef,” after a visit to Qspresso, you’ll thank the movie for its contribution to our local food truck scene. And if you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. Not that I have any expertise as a movie critic, mind you, but in my opinion it’s one of the all-time great food flicks. And I’m not just saying that because the restaurant critic turns out to be a good guy in the end.
Prices: sandwiches $10, empanadas $6.50, sides $4.50