Friday, December 9, 2011

Boxcar Boardwalk Takes Shape

All Aboard Deli
Dirty Dogz
One Cute Cupcake Boutique
Box Car Creamery
all at 5300 McCullough
(in The Yard shopping center in Olmos Park, behind Olmos Perk)

For many a year, a line of six old box cars sat vacant in the back of the Yard shopping center, on McCullough in Olmos Park. The owner of the shopping center had an idea, but apparently lacked the will to bring it to life. In the past year, though, that vision has started to blossom, and now the cars are all refurbished, and occupied, and open for business. One is a candle and gift shop, and one is a salon, but the other four have become, just within the last few months, four of the more interesting new small food establishments in town.

Last city inspection: August 2011
6 demerits
The first to open was the All Aboard Deli. I've been two or three times now, and have recommended it to a number of friends; all of whom, I suspect, have promptly forgotten about it. Out of sight, out of mind, no doubt: the biggest problem for All Aboard Deli's success, like all of the excellent new businesses in The Yard, is  invisibility. 

All Aboard Deli features a decade of sandwiches with railroad-related names, a gimmick that comes off as clever without being cloying. Some of the ingredients are rather too new-age for my own tastes — can you say 'sprouts'? — but there are plenty of people in the Midtown area, including some whom I respect and admire, for whom New and Trendy are not necessarily things to disparage, and these sandwiches should attract their interest. I will probably never order anything that boasts homemade mango avocado spread, but there are plenty of other things to interest me: excellent meats, really, really good breads (including a rye that, I find, I must exclude from my general dislike of rye bread), and tasty cheeses (Swiss, havarti and feta; the only real drawback about this place is that, with the low volume of business they presently have, they can't afford to offer a wider variety of cheeses), plus the fundamentally desirable combinations of textures that come from the use of high-quality, fresh ingredients.

My most recent choice was the Train Car Club. (Shouldn't that be the Club Car Club?) Lots and lots of thinly sliced turkey ("Black Forest Turkey," it says on the menu; is that a brand, or a style? I neither know nor care; it was good, and there ends my interest) and equally thinly sliced ham ("Tavern Ham," it says; that must be a brand name; but again, who cares?) with crisp bacon and all the right accoutrements to make the price seem more than reasonable; and all nestled between two marvellous slabs (i.e., thick slices) of a wonderfully tasty and surprisingly light bread. My friend Rick went with the Reuben,* piles of warm pastrami on that excellent rye bread I mentioned, plus sauerkraut (which isn't bad stuff, kids, despite the name) and Swiss cheese, with a homemade dressing. It was all I could do to keep from swiping half his sandwich.

All Aboard Deli is a wonderful out-of-the-way spot, and I'm torn between the desire to see them succeed, and the fear that they will succeed and be ruined for me. 
All Aboard Deli and Bistro on Urbanspoon
Two cars over is Dirty Dogz, a very new place looking to capitalize on the current trend toward gourmet hot dogs. Six months ago I would have sneered at the very idea that hot dogs are real food; but then, under pressure from family members, and displaying the lack of resistance that comes from being on vacation, I succumbed to the idea while visiting the gulf coast. OK, I admit it: hot dogs are not just for children, nor is their approbation limited any longer to cookouts, ball parks, movie theaters, visits to Chicago or New York, or quaint little carts on downtown sidewalks in tourist towns. Hot dogs, properly done, can be not just a meal, but a fully satisfying meal.

No city inspection yet
In this case, three hot dogs split between two people proved to be almost too much of a meal. Surprising, because they really didn't look all that big. We tried the Dirty Italian Meatball Dog, the Dirty Stuffed Jalapeño Dog, and the Dirty Kraut Dog. Based solely on the listed ingredients of each, I expected to like the meatball dog best and the kraut dog the least. Didn't happen that way: I couldn't pick a favourite. The kraut dog: nicely grilled onions and lots — even too much, if that's possible — of spicy brown mustard, and the overstuffed Nathan's dog. I wouldn't mind if the bun had been toasted just a little longer; that's true of all the hot dogs we sampled, because they tend quickly to turn to mush with the application of moist ingredients, of which there are plenty. But toasting buns is a finicky thing, so I won't hold the soggy buns too much against the kitchen here. In any case, even with the depredations of mustard (and other liquids) on bread, there was still enough of that crunchy, crumbly texture to titillate the tongue as these hot dogs vanished in quick succession. 

The problem with the Italian meatball dog — I say problem; it was no problem — is that I'm pretty persnickity about all things Italian. What little sense of ethnic heritage I have, being an all-American boy from way back,** is tenuously linked to a couple of Italian grandparents, one of whom could cook and the other of whom could eat, and both of whom could talk about food. So I'm disinclined to be appreciative of generic marinara sauce and commercially available mozzarella cheese; which, naturally, are what one finds on the Dirty Italian Meatball Dog. Still, even I, curmudgeon that I am, and dago-snob par excellence (or should I say per eccellenza?), can't deny that even mediocre generic marinara sauce and commercial mozzarella on generic meatballs out of some food-supplier's stock make, in combination, a delicious meal. It's all in the spices. Add to them a big ol' fat beefy hot dog and a toasted bun (soggy from the mozzarella, yes, but you know the kitchen-sink corollary to the mess-to-sandwich ratio) and you've got something worth having. And at four and a half bucks, I could stay fat on these things alone.

Then there's that stuffed-jalapeño dog: a nice kick to it, but one that sneaks up on you. After one bite I thought about old girlfriends who would just lie there. By the second bite I was picturing fantasies no mere woman has ever lived up to. Marvellous combination of flavours, as in a well-made stuffed jalapeño (and better, in fact, because it has bacon too), but without the deep-fat-frying. Again with the toasted bun infused with all the liquids of the ingredients, but also again, still enough crunch to satisfy that need for texture. Saying this was my least favourite of the three is like saying that big piles of Euros are my least favourite currency, compared to dollars and pounds. I would not turn them down, even in today's international market.
Dirty Dogz on Urbanspoon
Last city inspection: November 2011
six demerits, half of which
I'd say don't count
So after you've downed a big, thick sandwich or a gourmet hot dog, you're faced with choices for dessert. Your choice becomes a conundrum, a Gordian knot of spectacular finishes, in the guise of businesses located at either end of the row of box cars. At the north end, you've got One Cute Cupcake Boutique, run by two women who know cute, and cupcakes. Being proudly male, I wasn't too enthused by the elevated cuteness quotient of this little bakery, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the cleverness of its operators (not to mention their exuberant enthusiasm for their products) or the variety of goodies on offer. 

the goodies
Having already stuffed myself with hot dogs (and ice cream, but we'll get to that), I couldn't bring myself to have a cupcake. Or, at least, I managed to resist chowing down on half a dozen of these things right then. So I bought a few to go. I'm happy to report that all three managed to survive the three-minute ride home.

People who know me know that I have, not to put too fine a point on it, a weakness for baked goods, so I say with some small pride that now, several hours after fetching home these delightful, even whimsical little cakes — including something called the Elvis, and a version of Boston cream pie that I will undoubtedly save for last — two of the three I bought liveth still. The one that has succumbed to my lust was a banana-nut cake stuffed (and I do mean stuffed) with sweet cream cheese filling. The banana chip that graced the top was more a visual treat than a culinary one, but that is the nature of banana chips. The cake was moist and firm and just sweet enough to be pleasing; the filling was very sweet, with a velvety texture and a good creamy flavour. Thank the Lord I only bought one. If I'm very lucky, I will not hear the others calling out to me in the middle of the night.
One Cute Cupcake Boutique on Urbanspoon

No city inspection yet.
Toward the other end of the boxcar boardwalk is the Box Car Creamery, open now about a month, I think. It presently offers about a dozen and a half flavours of ice cream. When I asked him where it's made, he said "Up north," which I thought meant, you know, New York or Cincinnati or some other foreign place, so I sardonically said, "You mean, like, Boerne?" Well, yes, turns out Boerne is exactly right. (In the owner's defense, I should mention that he comes from California, where people can't be expected to understand the deep cultural baggage that the term "up north" carries.) It is not, technically, home-made ice cream, but it is certainly artisanal ice cream. Rich, heavy, sinfully creamy ice cream, with intense flavours and no skimping on the ingredients. The chocolate is too chocolate-y to believe, the cookies and cream too thick with cookies. The amaretto peach pecan, my early favourite, proved to be too much for me. I will have to work up to it, I guess. 

With the removal of Justin's from Main Avenue to the Riverwalk, the opening of the Box Car Creamery is an especially welcome addition to the mid-city area, one approaching the promise of salvation. In South Texas, good ice cream is a pleasure in December, but an absolute necessity in summer. Right now this place has very limited hours (noon to five, if I remember right), but if we're lucky it will survive long enough to expand the schedule, and will be there to fill our needs when the temperature outside starts to approach the average I.Q. Let us pray.
Box Car Creamery on Urbanspoon
* He is so predictable.
** Though still only 49 years.


  1. The SchertzmeisterFebruary 04, 2012

    I hop e these little places make it. We came here from the quarry after reading your reviews and really enjoyed our lunch at the hot dog place. They need to do something to draw people in off the street. They're so hidden away back there, I bet most people don't even remember they're there.

    They have that big cement area in front of the boxcars, maybe they could do something with that? I wonder how much it would cost to put in like an old merry go round.

  2. I just went to Dirty Dogz today and it was very good, though I hate to inform that the creamery is closed for business, says a sign on the window. Today was not a great day to go, as half the businesses were closed due to Fiesta, but I will be heading abck to visit the cupcake place.

    1. Well, I'm sorry to hear that, but really not surprised it didn't make it. The location is so out-of-the-way that most people even in the area didn't even know it existed.

      I hope some other ice-cream shop opens in the area soon, because there's nothing around (that I know of) since Justin's moved back to the River Walk.

    2. Good news, possibly: the Box Car Creamery has re-opened, with new owners. When I visited yesterday, they had only half a dozen flavours of ice cream, plus a selection of brownies and other treats for use in sundaes. The manager, Chris, told me he gets their ice cream from the same supplier the previous owner used, but then I overheard him telling another merchant that the Creamery uses Blue Bell ice cream ... which is good stuff, but not quite the same as what the previous owner used (unless he changed his supplier before going out of business). Well, y'all try it, and see what you think.


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