It feels almost superfluous to be writing about the slightly belligerent sandwich truck in Austin’s Picnic food truck park. Accolades from here to Yelp have already been heaped on Hey! You Gonna Eat or What? declaring it a must-eat-at food truck not just in Austin, but in America. I have, in fact, been known to take out of town visitors there for a bite to eat straight from the airport. And I have had visitors request a trip for a Monte Cristo sandwich first thing when I asked them what they wanted to do while they were in town. Yeah, they’re that good.
For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live within driving distance of Austin, let me tell you a little bit about what you’re missing. (And if you live in driving distance of Austin, let me tell you why you need to stop here.) Chef-owner Eric Regan has a clear vision of sandwiches with a “Texas twist”. You’ll find familiar sandwiches with some southwestern flair. The Reuben, por ejemplo, is made up with smoked brisket, a jalapeno-spiked slaw, and a dressing with the fruity/ fiery punch of habanero. But the flagship sandwich is the Monte Cristo. At its most basic a Monte Cristo sandwich is a battered ham, cheese, and turkey sandwich covered with powdered sugar and maple syrup. But a HYGEoW? Monte Cristo is made of smoked turkey, ham, provolone cheese, and dipped in a Shiner Bock beer batter crust (specifically chosen for it’s malty character to compliment the salty cured ham). Then it’s finished with a scratch made fig and cherry jelly. It’s like the best parts of a good cheese board put into a sandwich and deep fried. It is justly famous and is the reason HYGEoW won two of the four Trucklandia festivals.
On the topic of sandwich creation: “There’s so much diversity in Texas cuisine. We draw on that to make familiar sandwiches, but flip them on their head. You need to mix it up with savory, sweet, texture, and color.”
Quality of food takes you far, but quality of service keeps people hanging around and coming back. And as brilliant as the food is, the customer service at HYGEoW? is beyond excellent. Every order is escorted to your table by one of the chefs who will take the time to describe what a good choice you made, with just enough attitude to give you an authentic-feeling chef-y experience. (Minus the angry Scotsman throwing plates of risotto.)
On the topic of presentation: “Diners have gotten more sophisticated than they were in the past. The chef presentation facilitates the fantasy of the Food Network viewer. By describing the meal you are setting expectations and suggesting the flavors they will find. Like describing wine. It makes guests feel welcome and important and reinforces that they’ve made a good choice.”
And if you’re looking for a Pinterest-perfect meal or a guaranteed Instagram win, this is where to go. For the past four and a half years Colin and I have been eating there we haven’t had a single plate come out looking anything but stunning. Chef Eric sets strict visual standards, every single plate of food has to be suitable for a menu picture. Three colors on every dish and nothing leaves the trailer until it is ready for its debutante appearance. HYGEoW? is keenly aware of the power of the visual and the influence that social media has on marketing.
This consistency (“consistently slow” Chef Eric brags – he knows the food is worth the wait) is something that you don’t find in a lot of food trucks. Austin has approximately a thousand of them and the churn is significant. The trucks that stick around are the trucks that manage to be consistent.
General good advice: “Be known for doing something the best.”
Honestly though, one of the things that keeps us coming back over and over is that the folks at HYGEoW? are just plain good people. Chef Eric is generous with his time and his advice. You could do a lot worse than cribbing from one of the most popular trucks in Austin.
On the topic of the scrappy red trailer: “People see it and it sets a certain expectation. It makes the food that much more impressive when it arrives.”
Whoops. I may have spoiled his marketing plan with all of this