Ethical eating is a Unitarian Universalist Association congregational study/action issue. This article is part of an occasional series reviewing local restaurants that promote ethical eating.
Would you drive more than an hour to have lunch at a… food truck? And then, when the truck wasn’t parked where you thought it would be, would you walk another 30 minutes in a 93-degree blazer of an afternoon to find it?
If that truck is called the Cinnamon Snail, you should. And now that I’ve had my first taste of it, I’d do all of that again.
Adam Sobel is a cheerful and spiritual guy with a vision: to make conscious eating an experience that pushes you along your own journey toward oneness with all things. Last February, his vision started to take shape when he opened his vegan organic upscale breakfast-and-lunch truck. And if the Cinnamon Snail’s rapid rise in popularity on the streets of Hoboken and at the Red Bank Farmer’s Market is any indication, then before too long, Sobel’s going to turn North Jersey into a playground of peace, love, and gustatory bliss.
One look at the menu, and you’re already in trouble if you have a hard time making choices. Are you there early? Try a breakfast where Arizona meets New England: blue corn spelt pancakes with piñon butter and Vermont maple syrup ($8). Peter Genovese, who commands the Star-Ledger’s Munchmobile, labeled them first-rate. Or maybe that breakfast burrito is calling your name: scrambled tofu, refried beans, pico de gallo, and avocado ($7). Wash it down with some fair-trade organic coffee ($2). You get the idea: Flavorful, colorful cuisine with no animal products, no exploitation, and a dash of imagination.
The menu changes seasonally, so what you see today may or may not be available tomorrow. In the summer and fall, whatever is locally grown, organic, can be obtained fresh — and also feeds Sobel’s whims — will dictate that week’s menu.
On an early September day, indecision reigned as my friend Max and I looked over the lunch choices again and again. And again. Would it be the day’s special — porcini mushroom seitan burger with white truffle mayonnaise, fennel sage pesto, heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions, and arugula on grilled spelt bread ($8)? How about the fiery tempeh tortilla with grilled jalapeños, tomatillo salsa, greens, and cilantro roasted garlic cream ($8)?
As hot as the day was, we didn’t have all afternoon to think about it. Max opted for the Creole tofu sub on a toasted baguette with caramelized onions, arugula, grilled tomatoes, and roasted garlic aioli ($7). The tofu was grilled perfectly — neither soggy nor dried out. The greens were crisp, the sweet onions complemented the tangy Creole sauce, and the presentation was postcard pretty. The bread was a little chewy and there was “too much” of it for Max’s liking, but this dish is sure to please any vegan with Louisiana leanings.
I love heat — both on the thermometer and on my plate — so I gravitated to the Korean barbecue seitan, served open-faced on a grilled tortilla, slathered with chili butter, kimchi, and greens ($8). The spice brought out the delicate flavors in this dish instead of overwhelming them. Seitan (wheat gluten) has a habit of picking up the tastes around it, so it can seem either mushroomy or meaty — and in this dish, it had a hint of beefiness to it. The seitan was firm yet didn’t compete with the crispy fresh bed of kimchi beneath it. And in yin yang fashion, the tartness of the kimchi played nicely with the sweet-and-spicy Korean chili sauce. (See the slide show for pictures of our lunch.)
Portions are generous, but if you’re up for more than a sandwich, check the week’s entrées. Might the jalapeño red quinoa fritter with tomatillo salsa, mashed avocado, cilantro roasted garlic cream, and arugula with a peppered red wine reduction be an option? It doesn’t make for a cheap date at the lunch truck ($15), but take it with someone you love across the street to the riverfront park with a smashing view of Manhattan — and you’ve got the makings of a memorable afternoon.
I have had so many pitifully soggy spinach pies of late that I hesitated to try the spanikopita, but I’m glad I took a chance on Sobel’s ($2). The dough was flaky, crispy, and seasoned to perfection. Sobel and his crew do their own baking — starting at 3:00 am each day — so you know the spinach pies and pastries are fresh.
Which brings us to dessert. The many choices stare at you from behind the glass counter in Sobel’s truck and won’t leave you alone until you buy one. This day, an outrageously imaginative dessert special — a ganache-stuffed smores donut — really wanted to be mine. Sadly, this creation was sold out long before we arrived.
We settled for fruit-and-coconut bars ($2.50) — Max, the apricot, me the raspberry. A little too much coconut dominated the fruit layer on top, which had a consistency not unlike the dried fruit-juice snacks I fed my young daughter in a previously unenlightened life. Fresh though the bars were, they missed the mark on flavor balance. A better choice might have been the young Thai coconut, shaved of hair and served with a straw in the top and a promise from Sobel that he would crack it open for you once the milk inside was gone.
The Cinnamon Snail uses almost entirely certified organic ingredients. Sustainability is key; even the eating utensils are made from vegetable starch. Sobel sets up shop in Hoboken Thursday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, along the waterfront as close to the PATH station as he can find parking. On Sunday afternoons, find him at the Red Bank Farmers’ Market. You can call ahead for orders: (201) 675-3755.
As a businessman on wheels, Sobel smartly uses social media (Facebook and Twitter) to gain a following, advertise his specials, and let you know where he’s parked each day. If you don’t see him, call. Even in the heat, he’s worth looking for.
This November, a UUA commission will release a draft statement of conscience on ethical eating, to be voted on at the 2011 General Assembly. Between now and the GA vote, we’ll review North and Central New Jersey restaurants that promote conscious eating. If you have a favorite to nominate for a review, please comment below or send me an e-mail.
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