The newly incorporated INC Street Food in Roswell has already garnered a good bit of attention. That’s no surprise considering that the Canton St. Latin eatery is a project from the gang at nearby Salt Factory Pub, a fairly well known establishment in its own right. Owners Hicham Azhari and Fikret Kovac have teamed again with chef Richard Wilt to open a restaurant that is really more of a tip of the hat to Latin cuisine than it is an accurate representation of its own name.
The concept of “street food” is this year’s burger. It’s catching on like wildfire and as soon as some laws are changed, you can bet that true mobile eating will take root in this city, just as it has in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. For now, we’re relegated to permanently affixed establishments who do their best to replicate the “everyman food” from the region of their choice.
With any trending topic, it seems that there are those ready to embrace it in its truest form, and those who want to take that concept and play with it. That might be the nicest way to frame what’s gone on at INC. While there are some roots in what most people would call street food, a meal at INC doesn’t give you anything of the sort. The reality is that the grub here isn’t any more street than a Big Mac. That’s not an all out indictment of the restaurant; it is instead intended to help visitors frame their expectations a little more appropriately … especially when you consider that the restaurant’s full name is Autentico INC Street food. This information certainly would have helped when B. Smooth and I showed up just a few weeks ago.
The light-hearted environment and decor is a carryover from the cities’ most ATLiens probably think of when one says “street food in America.” Streetwise graffiti plays on the walls, and while not Banksy, it works. There’s an ample sized bar, dotted with a good number of patrons during our visit, and the kitchen is recessed in the guise of the Kogi truck. Individually, these elements work. Together, and when combined with things like wait staff knapsacks, the environment starts to seem a little forced.
There seems to be a rhetoric in place that ends up superseding the experience itself. Waiters, even if they are whiter than Snoopy, are instructed to spit out a heavily accented descriptor (even if they aren’t sure what they are talking about). No, nothing about the scene is bad, but it’s just a bit much when taken on the whole.
You’ll probably sit down ready to dive into a handful of dishes priced somewhere in the $3-$5 range. Only when you actually look at the menu do you fully recognize that the term street food has been hornswoggled here simply as a marketing ploy. The approximately 30-deep menu is broken down into taco plates, Latin entrées, soups/salads, and bocaditos (snacks – though the restaurant calls them small plates). Only a handful or items are even less than $6, and those all round up. Most of the dishes float around the $9-$12 range. It’s just not priced appropriately for what they say the food is or what it actually turns out to be.
Still, let’s not be so overbearing. After all, every table is treated to a bowl of nixtamal. The switch up from something like chips and salsa is much appreciated. In this case, bits of maize have been put through the process of nixtamalización. Crunchy, and with a touch of salt and lime juice, these are a nice way to start the meal and would blend well with most any traditional tequila (or tequila drink – aka margarita).
In the middle of a multi-stop food tour, we elected to limit ourselves to a couple of small plates and a hot dog. First out were the orders of the Salvadoran chicken pupusa ($7.50) and the calamari rellenos ($7.50). While I don’t have a good establishing shot of the pupusa, I will tell you that the dish came out piled high with toppings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very “pupusa-esc” as pupusa’s are generally stuffed masa de maíz flat breads and these were sans innards. That aside, the chicken and sliced cabbaged were a little on the sweet side and the taste a little disjointed. The unmentioned chili lime mayo was less than spicy and did not really add to the experience. Still, the bites were texturally appealing, save for the excessive creaminess from extra saucing and such, with a good bit of “soft crunch.” The ingredients themselves were very fresh.
The rellenos were definitely my favorite item of the night. These full cuts of calamari were stuffed with braised oxtail and squid ink rice. They were coated in batter, fried, and served over a fairly flavorful green mole. To help with the unappealing color, a small amount of salsa and some vegetables are used to top the dish off. Texturally, this dish is going to be unnerving. The thick cut slices are going to provide a buoyant, almost rubbery engagement. It is what it is, as some will love it and some will hate it, the flavors are fairly well matched here. For me, it’s fun. The braised oxtail was pull away good and a lot of fun to eat mixed in with the pellets of rice and the thick pieces of calamari. Definitely more on the savory side, this is a dish for adventurous eaters only.
Last up, after a pretty long winded delay, was the Sonoran hot dog ($8.95). Now I fancy myself a bit of a hot dog aficionado, so this was a required order. The Senoran hot dog has been making the rounds here in the states for the better part of the last two decades. The integral part of it is the bacon wrapping and the beans. INC does that (with black beans) and then tops the weenie with cucumber coleslaw, queso, & chile lime mayo (which was also used in the pupusa). Not mentioned, but included on ours was some of their cabbage slaw. The bread was thick cut and almost reminiscent of a Kaiser roll. Better than many, but far from the $8.95 price tag, this freshly constructed pill box uses a stock link and a poorly balanced amount of toppings to move beyond “better than average” category and into “things worthy of OMG!.” The bread is fresh, and the toppings are good, but the all beef link is a little flat and without a truly transcendent flavor, in need of a little more pop from the casing. It’s also falls victim to the same sloppiness of the pupusa due to the aforementioned mayo and slaw.
So we finished our meal, not quite disappointed and not quite tickled. At roughly $45 (with tip) for a drink, two small plates, and a hot dog … the food was certainly acceptable, but just not worth the price tag. Seeing as they are into small plates, they should probably find themselves a little lower than a place like Pura Vida. If INC really wants to serve street food, then they should change the menu outright. Regardless of how you’d classify the food, it still needs a 10-15% cost reduction to really hit home.
Still rough around the edges (improperly described menu items, servers who don’t know the food, etc..), if you can move past the technical hang-ups and the pinch that INC will put on your pocket book, it’s a viable option. While this street food isn’t worth any significant drive, it does well enough to serve the area it’s in.
Though it is closer to disappointing than invigorating, I’ll be back … perhaps less for my own self-imposed due-diligence and more for my own curiosity, but I’ll be back nonetheless. After all, how much can you really hate on a restaurant where the staff is friendly, the crowd is lively, and the food is good enough.
For a bit more on the Senoran hot dog, check out this video from Man v Food:
Atlanta Foodies On INC Street Food
- John Kessler on INC (03.01.10)