And Then I Found Ribs

From my college days in Madison trolling the Capital Square or Library Mall for cheap lunch, I have always approached the food cart with a certain carefree attitude, impervious to any potential health risks associated with dining from a mobile eatery that can easily move to evade health officials (a risk cited by a respected friend and colleague). Some of my street lunches have included the ubiquitous hot dog and chips (sampled in every city I have ever visited like some sort of gastronomical litmus test), Vietnamese from Madison's famous I Am Here cart, and the best knish I've ever had from a cart outside the New York Library. The Silver Platter is not in this category of mobile eatery.

On Central Avenue between Eastern Avenue and Bank Street, the Silver Platter lunch cart sets up shop daily Monday through Friday. The menu consists of familiar classics like brisket and mac and cheese, but with a gourmet twist. For example, the mac and cheese has lobster and truffle mixed in, and the brisket is served with Aoili. In addition, there is a good variety of seafood options - yet another reason why I enjoy the East Coast so much - like Buttermilk-Soaked Calamari, Firecracker Shrimp and Seared Scallops with prosciutto. (To see their menu, visit their Facebook page.)

All of this was very interesting, however I was on a mission for one particular item. This week all of my lunches have been working lunches where I nibble at some variety of salad while those around me actually get up and leave the building for a moment. And, every day, when they return with their lunch, I have smelled the unmistakable aroma of ribs. So, when opportunity presented itself today, I took the stroll down Central to get myself a little of that.

The cart is parked in the middle of the block about half a block shy of Mustang Alleys. When I arrived, a line had not yet formed, and I quickly ordered the Sweet Chili Baby Back Ribs (no sides or soda). The operator of the cart proved a couple of slices of watermelon to tide me over while I waited, an unexpected and very civilized touch. We made light conversation. He got me caught up on the expansion of Bagby Pizza to include a bar (follow the link to their site for more info), and I recommended that he contact Iced Gems for a Friday lunch combo. If they both set up next to each other, many of us would just show up with folding lawn chairs and camp out by their carts and never make it back to the office. They would kill.

The wait was so short I did not even clock it. I received a hefty serving of eight ribs on a bed of fried onion strips that held the sauce of which there was plenty. The meat easily fell off the rib bones and could be eaten with a fork, thus eliminating the potential hazard of getting sauce all over yourself from chewing the meat off the bone like a dog. And the sauce was amazing. It is both sweet and spicy as the name implies. The spicy comes in part from a healthy dose of red pepper flakes that enhance the flavor without becoming the primary note. the main component of the sauce is the sweetness, which tasted like a fruit base - mango or peach, I could not discern which. It's this sweet fruitiness that is the principle flavor of the sauce, so sticky it confirmed the exact location of the cavity I am getting filled next week. The spicy chili is a strong supporting player here and hits the tongue as the sweetness approaches the very edge of being overwhelming. The spice rises up and balances it out. Neither hot nor cloying, the Sweet Chili sauce on these ribs is near perfection. And though I have been only eating to my personal capacity and blogging about the evils of deliberate overeating, I rejoined the Clean Plate Club with much enthusiasm, eating the entire portion that could have easily fed two.

This extreme rib experience was followed up with another Iced Gem - the raspberry-filled lemon Elizabeth, which was superior to last week's Red Velvet. Filled with seedy and flavorful raspberry jam and creamy lemon icing, this moist little cupcake revealed the reason behind this bakery's name. It was indeed a perfect little gem of cake to top off a completely indulgent lunch. (CORRECTION: The Iced Gems truck is actually staffed by an employee and not the owner as reported in my last entry.)

With aching teeth and bloated belly, I faced my afternoon meetings feeling woozy but satisfied.