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Sid’s Gourmet Smoke-N-Grill is a significantly different food truck

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Japanese-style fried rice can be ordered with a choice of meat, including pork belly (pictured), at Sid’s Gourmet Smoke-N-Grill in Medford.
Smoked chicken comes as a hoagie (pictured) or as a cheesesteak at at Sid’s Gourmet food truck in Medford.
Pouches of hibiscus drink, left, and “OMGinger” are house-made at Sid’s Gourmet food truck in Medford.
Sid’s Gourmet mac-n-cheese features havarti from The Oregon Cheese Cave in Phoenix.
Slow-cooked beans are studded with house-smoked meats from Sid’s Gourmet Smoke-N-Grill in Medford.

Browsing the online menu for Sid’s Gourmet Smoke-N-Grill, I wasn’t exactly sold.

“I’ve had all this before,” I thought. Hoagies, cheesesteak, mac-and-cheese, coleslaw, beans. OK, maybe the Japanese-style fried rice is a bit of a curveball.

But I’d been skunked on food trucks for a few weeks, trying to track them down, only to find they’d closed early or vacated their usual spots for special events. Sid’s is a significant step ahead of some of the other local food trucks: He has a website, regular hours and a dedicated location at 702 S. Grape St.

With a bit of backtracking in Medford’s fruit-packing district, my partner and I turned a corner around a nondescript office building and spied Sid’s gleaming chrome trailer in the rear parking lot. Anyone trying to track down Sid’s with map apps should note that the food truck actually fronts Monroe Street in view of Spiegelberg Stadium.

Sid says he opened about a year ago, intending to sell only ice pops, freshly made with peak-season fruits. The menu kept evolving into the 14 items he currently offers for walk-up and online ordering, which does a brisk business, judging from the warming cabinet next to the trailer, where customers claim their food.

Sid’s superlative slogan “Amazingly Delicious” — compared against the menu — invites some skepticism. How good could cheesesteaks and beans be? One bite, however, verifies the phrase as no boastful bluff. This food really is that good.

It comes by way of New York City, where Sid grew up after emigrating from Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast for customers who don’t speak French). Sid’s dream of opening a restaurant or food truck led him and his wife to Medford, and the couple have plans for expansion while building a strong food community around them, according to Sid’s website.

One of those partners is The Oregon Cheese Cave in Phoenix, which sells Sid havarti for his macaroni and cheese ($7). I’ve eaten over the past few decades more than my fair share of mac-and-cheese, a dish I’m almost always compelled to order, despite its track record of being hit-or-miss. A really, really good — “amazingly good” — mac-and-cheese is an alchemy of basic elements in strict proportion. If one aspect is just a bit off, the whole dish falls flat.

Sid’s mac-and-cheese doesn’t look particularly remarkable, albino-hued under a light dusting of breadcrumbs. But the first bite elicited an exclamation of delight: “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!”

Although my partner and I tried to stick to the original plan for sharing, it was clear we both wanted that mac-and-cheese for ourselves. If Sid hadn’t delivered so many other, deeply savory, satisfying dishes vying for our attention, the scene could have turned ugly.

“Ugly Delicious” is a concept popularized by celebrity chef David Chang in a Netflix series of the same name. The show touts some of the most visually unappealing foods as the best tasting. Sid’s sandwiches don’t epitomize that niche. But suffice it to say my partner and I could not produce an appetizing photo of Sid’s smoked chicken hoagie ($11.75), indeed a delicious trifecta of commendably moist, tender chicken breast, coleslaw and caramelized onions, enriched with just enough cream sauce to soften the hoagie roll without making it soggy.

I’m wary of “caramelized” onions on any menu, because half the time they’re not actually caramelized but more browned and crisped than the culinary term indicates for onions. Sid nails these, clearly giving the alliums all the time they need to release excess moisture, relax their fibers and mellow into sweetness.

Slow cooking also defines Sid’s beans: Great Northerns steeped in flavors of onion, carrot, potato and house-smoked meats. Billed as a side dish for $1.50 extra with a sandwich or priced from $3 to $7 a la carte, the beans play more like a complete meal on my palate. The vegetables were still discernible and flavorful in their own right, and at least two meats — I detected brisket and pork — were evident in hearty chunks.

Not that we needed more pork after requesting pork belly with our fried rice, adding $4 to the rice’s base price of $7. Smoked brisket, chicken and pork come at slightly lower costs of $3 and $2.

Anyone envisioning standard Asian restaurant fried rice, put the image out of your mind. This rice is sepia-toned from soy sauce and largely homogeneous, the shredded carrot serving as a topping and the egg as a thin omelet folded up alongside. The pork belly bordered the portion like a crenelated castle wall in dense, 2-inch-square blocks. The meat wasn’t melt-in-the-mouth tender but retained a bit of satisfying chew. The overall meaty, eggy, starchy effect was supremely satisfying.

So much umami, of course, can overwhelm without a palate cleanser. Sid’s West African-style juice of ginger, pineapple and lime keeps customers’ taste buds sharp. The aptly named OMGinger ($4.50) puts the fresh root’s tang and slight burn on the tongue’s forefront, soothed with the fruit’s sweetness and acid. I couldn’t have been more impressed with a drink that advertises itself as ginger and delivers in spades.

Next to the clean, bright OMGinger, we appreciated the syrupy sweetness of Jamaican-style hibiscus tea infused with star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. The beverage was so thick we could have taken the plastic pouch with its reclosable spout home and diluted it with some carbonated water for a stellar soda.

And with flavors like fig-ginger, cantaloupe-mint, banana-peanut butter and coffee-cream on offer, we’ll be back soon for Sid’s ice pops. Sid’s Gourmet is open from noon to 10 p.m. weekdays, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturdays. See the menu and order at sidsgourmet.com or call 458-226-2538.

Tempo Tidbits

Back Porch Bar & Grill announced plans to reopen Monday following a closure related to staff members’ positive tests for the coronavirus.

The restaurant’s social media accounts Aug. 6 posted news that an employee, who was fully vaccinated, had been exposed to the coronavirus and confirmed infection with an at-home test kit. The restaurant, at 605 N. Fifth St., Jacksonville, and its “Streetside” food truck, which regularly operates on Medford’s Murphy Road, had logged a year and a half without a coronavirus case associated with the business, according to its social media posts.

The restaurant’s entire staff was scheduled earlier this week for testing, which returned at least three more positive results and prompted the 10-day closure of the eatery and food truck. Employees who had positive test results either were asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms, according to Back Porch’s social media posts.

The eatery specializing in Texas-style barbecue, steaks and burgers has been family-owned and operated since 1989.

*****

A chain of food trucks specializing in boba tea and Asian-inspired food has opened a Medford outlet.

The Bobablastic truck operates from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at 3050 Crater Lake Highway in the parking lot of Orley’s Stoves & Spas. The business made its Medford debut earlier this summer, building on its approximately 25 locations in Oregon and Washington. More than half of those trucks are based in Portland and the metro area. Founded in 2016, Bobablastic also has outposts in Salem and Eugene.

Also known as “bubble tea,” boba originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and arrived in the United States a decade later or so later. Common across the Pacific Northwest, the quintessential beverage combines black, oolong or jasmine tea, chilled, mixed with milk and topped with chewy beads of tapioca. Over time, almost infinite variations on boba — fruit flavors, nondairy mixers, blended smoothies and “jelly,” “crystal,” “popping” and “pudding” alternatives to boba pearls — have taken off.

The Medford truck’s social media also advertises chicken rice bowls, tuna or tofu poké salads and hot dogs on its menu. Bobablastic uses eco-friendly packaging and plastic alternatives, including bamboo straws and Mason Jars, according to its website. See bobablastic.com

*****

The following restaurants in June received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

Red Zone Sports Bar & Grill, Ashland; Rock Point RV Park Coffee Bar, Gold Hill; Rogue Valley Family Fun Center, Central Point; Sonic Drive-In, Central Point; Spoons, Medford; Spoons II, Central Point; Starbucks Coffee No. 21869, Center Drive, Medford; Sweet Tea Express, Central Point; Tacoriendo, Medford; Taj Indian Cuisine, Ashland; Tee Time Cafe, Medford; Tinseltown USA, Medford.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.