By Carla Meyer | The Sacramento Bee
To understand the appeal of chef Brian Stansberry’s Flavor Face food truck, consider how well it survived a recent trial-by-Rancho Cordova blacktop.
It was just after noon on a 102-degree day. Flavor Face sat among several trucks parked along a sizzling piece of asphalt near an office park. Tables and chairs lined the lot’s other side, but shade was scarce.
Remaining in this 10th circle of Rancho Cordova seemed unwise, and consuming food there impossible. Yet Flavor Face’s menu enticed enough to give it a try, and Stansberry’s food impressed so thoroughly when it arrived that we ordered more, despite everything being as piping hot as the setting.
Stansberry, 48, grew up in Vallejo but came up as a chef in Minnesota, working most recently as executive chef at Minneapolis’ Augsburg College. He has returned to Northern California, where he has operated his Flavor Face rig for nine months, partly because he wanted to try a food truck without having to pry that truck out of snow.
Stansberry, whose food-truck kitchen area runs several degrees higher than the temperature outside, has left the cold in decisive fashion. Yet he’s still layering, at least ingredient-wise.
Stansberry’s Peruvian fries start with strips of juicy rib-eye, potent yet not off-putting jalapeño slices, lightly cooked roma tomato, and red onion sautéed just long enough to ride the line between stark and sweet. This stir fry goes over crispy, house-cut potatoes. Stansberry flavors it all with a soy red-wine reduction, with a deeper dig into the aluminum serving dish revealing rice saturated by juices.
This dish stands out for its complexity, as an item made to order on a food truck, before one even factors in its measured deliveries of saltiness, sweetness and spicy heat.
Stansberry said he first tried this Asian-influenced Peruvian dish in Miami – a backstory that fits Stansberry’s description of his food as “gourmet international fusion.”
Make that gourmet international fusion, with cheese. Over two visits – one to Rancho Cordova, one to a food-truck gathering at the CalPERS building in downtown Sacramento – we tried all six menu items (Stansberry rotates other dishes in and out). The common denominators, Peruvian fries excepted, were cheese and butter. That’s not a complaint.
Stansberry’s gift for layering reaches another high with his grilled crab mac ’n’ cheese sandwich. Pieces of sourdough bread hold jumbo elbow macaroni – sliced into thin, even pieces – along with a generous serving of jumbo super lump crab (canned, but sweet and fresh tasting) and mild white cheddar cheese. Bits of scallion perform above their weight class in cutting the sandwich’s satisfying but intense richness.
The artichoke melt, also on sourdough, at first seems like a variation on the crab sandwich, but it’s too thoughtfully assembled to be merely that. Stansberry offsets the salty, slightly acidic snap of his truck-made Parmesan artichoke dip with earthy-tasting, truffle-scented mushroom slices. A touch of hot sauce adds interesting dimension.
Stansberry’s Philly sandwich uses an intact chicken breast instead of sliced beef. He pounds the breast scallopini style, pummeling in so much lemon pepper that once cooked, the chicken tastes as if it had been immersed in a marinade. Melted Swiss and sautéed onion and bell pepper produce so much creamy flavor together that you taste a second phantom element on this sandwich – aioli.
Sandwiches come with crispy scratch potato chips fried to order, just like the fries in the Peruvian dish and in Stansberry’s hot-link fries – a clever variation on chili fries.
Stansberry cuts potatoes and hot links into equal-size strips and adds a sweet cider mustard barbecue sauce that balances out the potato fries’ salt and the links’ heat. These flavors mesh so well that the dish did not need (warning: food-truck cuisine blasphemy ahead) so much grated cheese on top.
The Milanesa burger was the menu’s lone disappointment. It’s as if the eye-wateringly hot jalapeño garnish atop the burger ripped flavor from the sandwich below.
Though new to Sacramento, Flavor Face has established a loyal following thanks to its food and to Stansberry’s friendliness – he smiles often and says hello while handing customers their orders through his truck window, addressing diners by name. The names happen to be on the orders, but it’s still a nice touch.
And while he has yet to reach “rock-star chef” status in town, Stansberry knows more real rock stars than those other chefs combined. He has provided food for Los Angeles music-video shoots at the behest of his brother, noted video director Taj Stansberry. Brian worked on the sets of Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Tree” clip and Swizz Beatz’s “Hands Up” video with Nicki Minaj.
Brian met Karrine Steffans, the model/actress turned author, on a video shoot. Steffans wrote the best-selling 2006 memoir “Confessions of a Video Vixen,” detailing her sexual relationships with famous hip-hop artists, and followed up with other “Vixen” titles, including an advice book for liked-minded women.
Stansberry said he and Steffans cooked together not long after they met, and became pals. They’re collaborating on a cookbook that continues Steffans’ theme of seduction, this time with food. It will feature recipes to “impress your date,” Stansberry said.
FLAVOR FACE FOOD TRUCK
At various sites in the Sacramento region. Check the webite: www.flavorface.com
- Hours: Vary. But there’s a frequently updated calendar on the website.
- Beverage options: Bottled water and canned sodas
- Vegetarian friendly: Sometimes, because items rotate on and off the menu.
- Gluten-free options: Sometimes
- Noise level: Varies
- Ambiance: Depends on where the truck is parked. At CalPERS, where there was shade, things were pleasant, even on a hot day. But at White Rock Road and Prospect Park Drive in Rancho Cordova, hot asphalt and limited shade on a 102-degree day created a challenging setting.
Stansberry knows how to marry flavors. His Peruvian fries stand out on his menu, and as an exceptional example of food-truck cuisine in general. The food truck’s service is friendly but not always fast.
Stansberry’s crab mac ’n’ cheese, lemon-pepper chicken Philly and artichoke-melt sandwiches offer cheesy goodness, and the fresh-made, sea-salted fries served with the sandwiches also are winners. The Milanesa burger tasted underseasoned, however.
Service ☆☆ 1/2
The personable Stansberry says hello to every customer as he hands them orders through the truck’s window. The truck’s cashier is friendly and knowledgeable about ingredients. Orders came out quickly on our CalPERS visit, but there was a considerable wait time in Rancho Cordova, where the truck was busier.
Prices ($8-$12) are on par with other sandwich-centric food trucks and seem especially reasonable when you consider Flavor Face’s quality ingredients and the thought Stansberry puts into dishes.