C-U’s food pop up scene has been a little quiet lately. So many of the entities that previously dominated that space have since become food trucks or brick-and-mortars. That’s fantastic news for those spots, but for the community members who are interested in food ephemera, it’s been a little slow.
Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage (let’s just call it Baldarotta’s from here on out) is a new catering company with food cart/truck ambitions (I think). Chef Jordan Baldarotta has done a couple of demos at the farmers’ markets, but last Sunday night’s pop up event was the first time folks could come out, line up, and buy some food.
The event was at Urbana’s Sipyard, a hip and funky beer garden, so there were opportunities to drink the beer while eating some Southern Italian/Italian-American-inspired sandwiches. On the Baldarotta’s menu were three items: a porketta sandwich ($7), a Sicilian sausage sandwich ($7), and arancini ($5).
The weather was total and complete trash; it was cold and rainy, and with almost no covered or remotely dry seating at Sipyard, it was nearly impossible to sit there and eat. (As an aside, what’s with the weather screwing with C-U’s outdoor food events? I’ve been soaked more times than I’d like to remember — first time, second, third, I’m still counting, yep, and this soaker. Oh, and this near miss.)
This was bad luck for Baldarotta’s, though people came out for this event, as there was a line when I arrived and when I left. I met some friends there and we ordered our items and got in the car to drive to their house. There wasn’t an option for “to-go” packaging; extra food boats/trays (the paper dishes in which the food was served) were used as makeshift coverings. Given the weather conditions, it would have been nice if there were some tin foil to keep the food warm and dry.
The Sicilian sausage sandwich was described like this: “sliced Sicilian sausage (hot or mild) smothered in our family marinara, accompanied with smoked provolone, with your choice of olive bruschetta, Sicilian salsa, or spicy peppers and fennel on a telera roll.” I ordered my sandwich with hot sausage and spicy peppers and fennel.
The thinly sliced sausage was pretty good, though not spicy. The sauce wasn’t overwhelming or too strongly flavored. The provolone cheese did not taste smoked, and wasn’t even a bit melted, which I wasn’t too keen on, but the fennel and sweet peppers (there was one bit of spicy pepper in mine) was vinegary and crispy, which was a nice textural compliment to the softness of everything else.
My problem with this sandwich was that the ratio of bread to insides was off — the bread was dry and there wasn’t enough meat filling. The provolone cheese should have been melted on top. The topping options were confusing — bruschetta is grilled or toasted bread. I think that the “olive bruschetta” was intended to be olive tapenade. My friends ordered this topping, and wanted a little bit more than what was provided. I think this sandwich has potential; with a few improvements it could be really good, since the base components (sausage and sauce) were solid.
porchetta porketta sandwich, “thinly sliced pork roast seasoned generously with fresh herbs and spices, loaded with fennel and onions, accompanied with smoked provolone and salsa verde on a ciabatta bun,” showed some promise. The pork roast is an easy thing to overcook, but this one wasn’t. Alone, the porchetta porketta was quite nicely flavored and not too dry. The fennel and onions weren’t all that noticeable, and the provolone (again, not smoky, and not melted) was just fine. The salsa verde seemed to be made of basil, garlic, and oil, and was nice. The sandwich was not served on ciabatta bread; it was on the same bread as the sausage sandwich, which was dry.
The porketta sandwich suffered the same problem as the sausage sandwich, in that the ratio of bread to meat was off. The bread was just too dry, and there was too much of it. The insides of the sandwich were perfectly fine on their own.
The arancini — fried rice balls, made with risotto — were large, and stuffed with a vegetarian ragout. Arancini, like other fried things, need to be made to order. These were not, and because they were fried off site and brought to Sipyard on a cold and rainy night, they were soft, soggy, and a little gluey. The vegetable ragout filling didn’t add much to it — the veggies were soft, but lacking in flavor. Had these been dropped in a fryer on site, the boring filling could have been forgiven, because the crispy exterior would have been delightful. I’m not sure why arancini were selected as the third (and only vegetarian) option for this sort of event. I would assume that the Baldarotta’s folks knew the logistics of setting up at Sipyard; I think it would have been better to offer a vegetarian option that didn’t hinge on crispiness as a key textural component to the dish’s success. I usually don’t say this, but I think forgoing a vegetarian option would have been appropriate in this situation — the company is called Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage, after all.
Baldarotta’s debut to the larger C-U community couldn’t have been on a more depressing evening, and that’s unfortunate. There were quite a few people out despite the weather, and it seems like there was a general excitement among those waiting in line while I was there — that is, I don’t think anyone at Sipyard was there because they felt like grabbing a drink for funsies.
The marketing around this event was intense and achieved what it presumably set out to do: build up an expectation of excellence. With that in mind, I was a bit disappointed. Despite this, I’m willing to give Baldarotta’s another try in the future. Baldarotta’s has an opportunity to fill a hole in the C-U dining scene: affordable, tasty, Italian-American style food. Pop up events like this are opportunities to test something out, get feedback, and go back into the kitchen to make tweaks. Hopefully Baladarotta’s will tweak a few things before the next event, and before #baldarottas2018.
All photos by Jessica Hammie.