Monday’s press preview (noted by almost everyone covering food in the city) confidently trumpeted the debut of celebrity chef Jose Andres’s much-anticipated Pepe truck for the very next day. By the time the truck’s Twitter feed announced its first stop, outside the National Portrait Gallery late this morning, the culture vultures were practically hovering in wait.
The Pepe crew should have been braced for a crush of humanity, right? They weren’t.
Part of the issue was the credit card swipe system; it was down, requiring one poor Pepe employee to punch in every number by hand. Trust me, when sandwiches average $11 each, people are going to whip out their credit cards with alarming regularity.
But the mobile kitchen was also clearly in the weeds; several people I spoke to waited 30 minutes or longer for their orders. Personally, I waited nearly 40 minutes for my three-sandwich order ($44 total), but a Pepe employee told me it was partly my fault; he said the kitchen had called out my name a few times — and heard nothing in return.
So they apparently broke up my order and parceled it out to others in line. As a result, once the Pepe crew found out I was still waiting, they said the $20 Pepito de Iberico sandwich — now the priciest (legal) substance on Washington’s streets — was no longer available.
As I waited for the kitchen to pull together a new order — now with extras to compensate for my “hardship” (did I mention they recognized me, too?) — I grew more annoyed by the mishap. Did anyone really think I’d skip out on my order after shelling out $44? Would anyone do such a thing, short of a Secret Service agent who got caught wandering from the motorcade in search of lunch?
As I told the Pepe employee: It would really behoove the team to shout out the ready orders over the salsa music, because no one is going to walk away from their pricey meal.
Now, if you’ll allow me to get off this soapbox and head back over to the lunch table: I brought the sandwiches back to the newsroom, where the Food team devoured them in minutes flat.
Yes, the sandwiches were that good.
Built from crusty ficelle rolls custom made by Panorama Baking in Alexandria, the sandwiches are thin, about 10 inches long and packed with flavor.
The Spanish Grilled Cheese is both pungent and sweet, thanks to the Valdeon blue cheese (among other Spanish curds) and the quince paste. The blue cheese also plays an important role on the Pepito de Ternera, a seared tenderloin sandwich whose plodding meatiness is punched up by the cheese, a piquillo pepper confit and the caramelized onions. The true work of art, however, is the dessert: A chocolate cookie sandwich that looks like a cross between a mini-baguette and a whoopie pie. It’s injected with a layer of hazelnut ice cream, and you could eat the whole thing by yourself, if co-workers weren’t looking.
Bottom line: Pepe, in its first day of business, moved into the upper echelon of District food trucks.
Eater DC has the full Pepe menu here.