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Slow Downz Texas Creole food cart explores the South/Southwest with smoke and style 

click to enlarge The Chicano Poboy delivers chicken under queso sauce. It’s good, but go for the brisket Yeehaw Poboy first. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Chicano Poboy delivers chicken under queso sauce. It’s good, but go for the brisket Yeehaw Poboy first.
Mark Soto’s Yeehaw Poboy is a beautiful beast, quickly illustrative of what exactly the “Texas Creole” part of Slow Downz’s business name means to the 30-year-old, who was Austin-born but raised in Houston.

The sandwich places no small portion of brisket fully capped with “Tex-Mex Queso” on a dense, toasted Sourdough Boulangerie French roll. The brisket sees at least three hours of mesquite and hickory smoke, including a secondary session in a roasting pan with beef stock and the jus from its drippings, before it braises with garlic, onion, thyme and bay leaves for another six to eight hours. Sharp cheddar, cream cheese and milk become a thick ooze, flavored by bits of charred tomatoes and a mix of chipotle and Anaheim peppers plus jalapeños to form the rich queso. For all that, it finishes not too spicy, but deeply smoky and earthy, evocative of the desert somewhere, of scorching sunlight — heavy like stoned sleep. The mammoth poboy’s only $10, too. “Yeehaw!” indeed.

If there’s any drawback to be found it’s that the sandwich falls apart and makes a mess through attempted bites. But Soto — who gained classical French technique at Houston’s Culinary Institute Lenotre, and some on-the-ground cowboy cooking know-how via a chuckwagon cooking class from Oklahoma-based TV personality Kent Rollins (who he notes as a distant relative) — says he thinks of the sandwich as kind of like a slopper, served open-faced and utensil appropriate, if not wholly necessary.

Soto, best known in the food/drink community as a fine bartender at Axe and the Oak Whiskey House, recently left that posting to launch Slow Downz, physically a trailer he hauls, complete with a smoker, refrigeration, a hot line for holding pre-made items (Happy Belly Tacos is his commissary) for fast service, and a flat top to assemble and sear everything up to service temp. He and a helper work both sides of the mobile kitchen under a bright orange tent, receiving tips inside a cowboy boot at a makeshift order table. Soto’s long dreads spill out from under a brown cowboy hat that matches his apron, his prominent mustache unable to conceal a big smile when he’s chatting with customers at the 719 Hump Day Food Truck Rally, or at FH Beerworks downtown one evening, where we find him.

When I ask “Why this?” instead of something else, given his food training, he tells me he of course adores the foundations of butter and herbs, but he fell in love with barbecue, and that he likes that food trucks are “quick, down and dirty” (... not in that way, his sanitation appears spot-on) and “straight to the point.” As I scan down a six-item menu, I partly interpret that as simply manageable and focused, efficient in that chuckwagon kind of way — just what you need to hit the road and get your party fed and full and happy at trail’s end.

And, because we’re talking 2019 and not the real Wild West era, vegans can even join in on the journey, as Soto serves a hella-good jackfruit poboy, smoked delightfully with the same wood infusion as the brisket. Chunks of the fruit hold the smoke essence strongly, and a pickled carrot-jalapeño made-to-order cabbage slaw adds crisp crunch and decent heat, with mustard playing well off the spicy and other acidic elements.

Next up, a Chicano Poboy gets pecan wood-smoked chicken thighs, adovada-style, atop the cabbage slaw, and topped in the queso sauce and sour cream, plus jalapeños and scallion garnish. Bites of the chicken alone bear nice seasoning, but all together the heavier creamy components somewhat mute the spices; a couple tweaks could elevate the sandwich.

Slow Downz’s Bayou City Frito Pie covers the commercial corn chips with the house brisket and queso again, this time adding Creole mayo for a little cooling touch to balance jalapeño coins, and Soto pours a bit of his étouffée atop as well, for a muddy back-end note. That étouffée’s more pronounced on the NOLA loaded potato, actually more of a deconstruction of a classic baked potato, served as big red (or sometimes Idaho) spud chunks swimming in a dark roux-born broth spiked by the traditional holy trinity (onions, bell peppers, celery) and Chef Paul Prudhomme label andouille sausage, plus a dash of cayenne, with balancing Creole mayo drizzle. The sausage bits star and starch pervades, with the thick potato bites having the last word — which is to say it’s like when you excavate deep into a baked potato past the fixin’s so you get a hit of them but finish in the core of potato blandness. (I might cut them smaller for this reason, and even crisp them more, but that’s heading toward home fries and likely losing the intent; it’s another item a couple tweaks could perfect.)

Lastly, we tooth through the Cajun Elote, two segments of corn on the cob lathered in Soto’s Creole mayo, further garnished with salty Cotija cheese crumbles, blackening seasoning and a not-so-secret secret ingredient: crumbled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust. It’s an irreverent touch that works — because, hey, Cheetos — and fortifies the fun fusion elements at play between Louisiana, Texas and wider Southwestern cuisines. In a roundabout way, of complementary flavors, that’s “straight to the point” enough. Though a little refinement’s needed to carry this chuckwagon into sacred territory, it’s certainly earned an early “Yeehaw!” for sincerity and promise shown.

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