When Ciao Down Food Truck owner Francine Vonfeldt spoke with theIndy in February, she said that while her initial menu would be deli-style and focused on hot sandwiches, she intended to add Neapolitan-inspired entrées down the road. We would love to try her more traditional Italian offerings, but the Americanized sandwich-centric menu we sample in early July, wins our affection on its own merits.
Our first visit happens at a busy farmers market, and we find the truck challenged but undaunted. We order a Mama Mia and a Fuhgeddaboutit — the former, a classic eggplant Parmesan sandwich, and the latter, a chicken parm alla vodka with fried cheese ravioli atop. Both the eggplant and chicken caught at the edges and scorched during their time in the fryer and, especially, in the former case, picked up a toasty flavor that treads on the rest of the contents of each sandwich, making it hard to taste the marinara. That said, the eggplant’s nice and tender, not at all bitter, and its hoagie roll home’s all-American classic. The Fuhgeddaboutit also has issues, as the mass of bread-plus-noodle-plus-breadcrumbs swallows the flavors of the vodka sauce, the cheese and the chicken itself. Maybe go for the Joey Bag A Donuts, basically the same sandwich minus the pasta, or get a side of fried ravioli for its own sake. The Italian pasta salad satisfies, its mix of farfalle, grape tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella chunks and Italian herb vinaigrette light and bright enough for a summer day, and not too starch-heavy.
For our second visit, we find the truck at Metric Brewing, and with a more manageable crowd, we’re happy to report the quality of food’s much higher. A Fabrizio pairs mild Italian sausage from Solsage Food Truck with red and green bell peppers, onions and garlic. The sausage cleaves to Solsage’s reputation for excellence, and let’s be honest, a sausage and peppers sandwich rules. Vonfeldt advises we pay the two bucks extra to add marinara and mozzarella. Given that she grew up in Queens, New York, we figure she knows her Italian-American eats, and that sauce adds so much richness, a serious step up from what we sample at the farmers market.
For lighter fare, the My Cousin Vinnie sandwich piles arugula atop mozzarella, roasted red pepper strips, and marinated, grilled chicken breast, all finished with balsamic glaze. Mostly, we taste balsamic sweetness, red pepper notes and bitter, peppery arugula, which makes for a great combination, and the chicken’s super moist. We can’t leave without trying the Italian Stallion, another parmigiana sandwich with super tender beef-pork meatballs made from a recipe written by Vonfeldt’s nonna. It’s classic, herbed but meat-forward and beyond reproach. For dessert zeppole alla ricotta, or donut holes, have a lovely richness from the ricotta in the batter, but they’re still light, which takes some serious doing, and they’re lovely and crisp on the outside while soft inside. Our cannoli rates sound, but the day’s heat does a number on the filling, so we can’t call our shake fair.
As noted above, yeah, we’re happy with the Americanized, sandwich-focused menu, and we think our readers may be as well. But Vonfeldt’s mom is from Naples, Italy, so we won’t pretend we aren’t hoping for new menu items soon.