Six years ago here, I wrote about my culinary experiences on a trip through Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. It was full of highs, including pierogi that spoke directly to my DNA. But there were a few just-not-for-me dishes, like the "fat sandwich," or mastny chleba s cibulou, I encountered in Bratislava.
That region, of course, is often stereotyped with lethargy-inducing comfort foods. Jessica Martinkoewitz, who grew up behind the Wall, joked with me a few months ago that Germans only use five spices. Vladimir Ulrych, who spent time on both the present-day Czech and Slovak sides of post-World War II Czechoslovakia, has laughed with me over my fat-sandwich horror, and told me that he's changed the way he cooks to calculate for the average American.
Both Europeans recently opened food trucks with regular hours at Curbside Cuisine, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this week.
The plain train
A stark white trailer with a tiny ordering window next to two chalkboards, Martinkoewitz's health-food-minded SuppenBar tends to dish a couple soups, couple salads, a main plate, a dessert and rotating, unsweetened herbal tea flavor.
Working backward: my elderberry, black currant, sour cherry and raspberry teas ($1) didn't always pair perfectly with my food choices, but refreshed on hot days. While a Berlin-style apple cake ($3) tasted elegantly under-sweet, like an apple pie mated with a lemon bar, our cold cherry soup ($5) shined with crumbled almonds and hazelnuts garnishing a wide dollop of crème fraîche. Only the apricot dumplings in peach sauce ($4) disappointed, texturally appearing as woebegone mini matzo balls, somehow sapless among syrupy canned peach wedges and juice.
A spinach crostini ($2) brought creamy spinach dip smeared over a nice, dense house-baked bread slice. And homemade, under-seasoned ground-beef-and-cabbage-stuffed spongy pastry dough called bierock made me pine for a beer. A breakfast version ($4) subs egg for the cabbage.
Salads, boxed atop a small lettuce bed or long single leaf, are stark and simple, such as thin-sliced cucumbers and Roma tomatoes in oil and vinegar ($4); cold, dry chicken breast hunks with snow peas and sautéed mushroom bits over balsamic-soaked wild rice ($6); or the odd fusion of papaya, Romas, green onions and crisp cabbage with a light lemon-honey dressing ($4). For soups ($5 each), a creamy spinach, broccoli and kale purée still feels healthy, while the German potato features mini hot dogs with a smoky ham back flavor.
The wide-windowed Vladi's ("Kolyba" on Curbside's website) specializes in open-face sandwiches constructed upon the pleasant pillow-y loft of deep-fried dough rounds called langosh.
It's not far from frybread: oily to the touch, guilty good and ready to receive virtually anything in its folded embrace. Ulrych, a Broadmoor banquet captain for the past seven years, grew up eating it with cheese and garlic butter. It's close to how he serves the plain option here ($4), where melted mozzarella mixes with an awesome house sour-cream-based garlic sauce.
If that weren't already the epitome of drunk food, I couldn't finish the killer Hungarian sausage version ($6.50) without wishing the World Cup had already started. Ulrych makes his own pork sausage, seasoning it with garlic and paprika before smoking it for a few hours; it's boiled pre-plating, then served with the cheese and garlic sauce plus a great house slaw on the side and a ramekin of runny salsa.
The equally fulfilling pulled pork option, at the same price, loads two of the dough disks with the barbecued meat, uses the garlic sauce as garnish, and places long pickle spears across the taco-like opening. As dessert, a sinful sweet rendition ($4) sees a duo smeared in strawberry jam with a cinnamon-sugar sprinkling.
Beyond the bread, the tiny menu dishes potato dumplings and a Prague goulash (each $6.50). The latter serves browned beef pieces in a dark stew spiked again predominantly by paprika, but with some black and bell pepper accents soaking into pieces of chewy commercial white bread. The impressive dumplings, despite leaving a puddle of oil inside the wax paper, rival soft gnocchi, intermixed with thick-cut ham pieces and scallions and topped in a fried egg whose yolk comes perched to misbehave.
That Ulrych's added his own wooden deck with patio furniture for four speaks to his charm. He, and Curbside at-large, though, could be much more consistent and timely with social media, to alert would-be diners of off-days. Though I love to globe-trot at the community table, I also like generally knowing that I can reach where I desire to go. And these foods deserve that.