Review: Staff Meal

A new high-water mark for Boston street food
By MC SLIM JB  |  May 11, 2011


A few years ago, Boston's street-food universe was tightly limited in scope, ambition, and geography. There was little to see beyond a few trucks and carts peddling so-so hot dogs, burritos, and American-Chinese fare, mostly in Downtown Crossing and around the MIT campus. That's changing fast with the advent of excellent new vendors like the vegetarian Clover Food Lab and Bon Me, a gourmet Vietnamese truck. Staff Meal, the brainchild of two fine-dining chefs — Patrick Gilmartin of Bravo at the MFA and Adam Gendreau of Bistro du Midi — has upped the ante further, bringing seasonal sourcing, old-timey kitchen craft, and a delectable gastropub sensibility (sans the alcoholic beverages) to meals on wheels.

The menu varies weekly: a recent sampling reveals an offal-loving, snout-to-tail focus and an admirable dose of in-house curing, pickling, and smoking. Bruschetta ($2) spreads two slices of toasted baguette with cream cheese subtly flavored with roasted marrow, and tops each with a perfect white anchovy. Arepas ($3) are a brace of griddled white-cornmeal pancakes (reminiscent of thick Rhode Island jonnycakes) flanked with a curtido-like slaw of lightly pickled, julienned carrot and watermelon. Foie gras baklava ($4), a small wedge layering phyllo, chopped pistachios, and fattened duck liver, is a fascinating savory variant of the Ottoman pastry, garnering a hint of sweetness from a drizzle of vincotto syrup. A substantial chowder ($4/pint) boasts fresh sweet corn, a generous helping of sliced fresh morels, chopped bacon, and a broth thickened with starch from cubed potatoes.

The early showstoppers here are the phenomenal sandwiches (all $6). Fat slices of superb, chunky, house-made pork head cheese are dressed with thin-sliced Manchego, bacon-accented grain mustard, and mesclun greens on a fluffy, commercial-bakery bulkie roll. That same roll is flattened to crisp discs in pressed sandwiches like an outstanding meatloaf of beef, ground bacon, and black garlic topped with a thick slice of excellent house-cured pastrami, house-made pickles, and "BBE sauce" (mayo plus barbecue sauce). Sliced grilled "chorizo" (actually a mild, kielbasa-like Brazilian chouriço) is crowned with Manchego, marinated red peppers, and a vivid chimichurri with a kicky raw-garlic zing. Drink options are limited to American canned sodas and bottled water ($1). Even by the humble standard of food trucks, Staff Meal is homely, its boxy truck embellished only with a simple stenciled sign. But Gilmartin and Gendreau are bringing a nearly unprecedented level of creativity, kitchen chops, and love of charcuterie to the mobile-food-vendor format, raising the bar for a Boston street-food scene that is finally starting to get really exciting.

Staff Meal currently rotates between Boston Artisan Market (162-166 Spring Street, West Roxbury), SoWa Vintage Market (460 Harrison Avenue, Boston), and Loring-Greenough House (12 South Street, Jamaica Plain), and is currently open Saturday, 12–4 pm; Sunday, 10 am–4 pm; and Monday to Tuesday, 12–4 pm. Location and hours are subject to change: track them at, or call 617.209.9244.

Related: Photos: St. Anthony's Feast at the North End, Review: Geoffrey's Café, On the Cheap: iYO Cafe, More more >
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