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Rocco's Amore

Medford's food-cart scene may be in its infancy compared with Portland's. But the new, little, yellow trailer at the Medford Armory is a sign that local food carts are growing up.

Take a peek inside Rocco's Amore, and it's clear that owner William Todarello means business. His mobile food unit is bigger and better than some home kitchens.

Sleek, red cupboards cover three walls of the trailer, which sports checkerboard flooring in black and white. Industrial appliances are cleverly fitted into every nook and cranny of the compact space.

"It's not a roach coach at all," says Todarello.

Todarello and partner Kathy Griffin of Gold Hill have been rolling out their red, white and green awning for the past month at the armory. My co-worker and I were lucky enough to catch Rocco's on one of the still-warm days of late fall, when the menu featured hearty comfort foods, such as lasagna Bolognese, as well was a light, flavorful carrot-ginger soup. He chose the former. I selected the latter with an Italian-style grilled cheese.

We waited just a couple of minutes at a table appointed a few feet from the cart with oil, vinegar and red-pepper flakes on a red-checked cloth. The lasagna came out first accompanied with a side of mesclun greens and two slabs of garlic toast, a hefty meal for $8.50. Dressing his salad with the oil and vinegar provided, my co-worker commented that he could taste nutmeg in the meat sauce and approved of Todarello's light hand with the cheese.

More enamored with cheese than him, I was glad to see provolone oozing from my sandwich next to its cup of soup. The carrot puree had just the right hint of ginger and some kick from pepper. The combination cost $6. Soup on its own is $4. Griffin thoughtfully inquired about the temperature of our food, which was just shy of what I would expect of a restaurant but commendable considering the al fresco accommodations.

Other items included a meatball sandwich and veggie panini, each $7 and served with chips. An antipasti plate costs $7.50 for its assortment of salami, provolone, peperoncini, Italian-style pickled vegetables, bread and dipping sauce.

While Todarello's food is respectable, Griffin could steal the show with her desserts. The day's offerings were espresso brownies, pumpkin-pecan biscotti or panna cotta with pear (each $2). No competition there: I'd barely scratched the surface of pear season and had never seen their pairing with panna cotta.

Griffin's cream-based dessert was perfectly set under a silky puree of pear with just a few chunks of fruit, liberally — and unexpectedly — sprinkled with mace. Of course, we mistook this for nutmeg (mace is the dried and crushed membrane that surrounds the nutmeg seed). Griffin explained that she'd seen so many pear recipes calling for mace that she had to try it.

Rocco's deserves a try, too. Look for it from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday at the armory every week in November. More soups are sure to fill out the menu in colder weather, says Griffin, and orders are packaged for takeout. The cart accepts credit cards.

The spot helped Alyssa Warner gain enough exposure last spring and summer to take her Fresco food cart off the road except when called for caterings, special events and advance orders. She delivers lunch and dinner with 24 hours notice from a menu of handmade pasta, panini and wraps.

Known for elaborate cakes, Warner is ramping up dessert production for the holidays. Read more about Fresco services at www.alsfresco.com or call 541-601-5137.

Amid Medford's changing food-cart landscape, Wasana's has reclaimed a coveted spot across Riverside Avenue from the Rogue Community College/Southern Oregon University Higher Education Center. When school is in session, the cart serves from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.

Serving Thai cuisine, the cart looks more tiki hut than self-contained kitchen. So it may be no surprise that Wasana's manages to keep prices to $6.50 and under, which buys fried rice, noodles, or a few types of curry made to customers' preferred degree of spiciness and served over black rice.

— Sarah Lemon