It's the classic culinary tale of making it — opening your own restaurant. For food truck owners who slave away on hot mobile kitchens, often acting as mechanic, chef, server and custodian, finally owning a brick-and-mortar joint might mean not having to deal with driving around a clumsy 18-foot truck in rush hour.
Or at least make them happy to say they've got a place to call home.
Such is the case for Big Guido's, which made the transition from food truck to restaurant in March at a small shopping center at the intersection of Vance Jackson and Jackson Keller. It's wildly accessible off Loop 410, which was a draw considering the truck used to park at The Point Park & Eats, a worthy drive up I-10, but still a haul.
The eatery is small and if you need any help finding it, you can usually spot the Big Guido's truck in the parking lot. Once inside, you'll find a small dining room split into booths, tall tables and simple four tops. Décor sticks with the now-signature giant mustache above the counter (painted red and filled with New York Italian slang like on the truck). Black and red fill the space, along with a black wooden cut-out of the Big Apple skyline. Get it? It's NYC, dammit.
While I had previously happily noshed on one of their burger creations from the food truck, I can't say my experiences at the restaurant fared as well.
For starters, there's the matter of signage. Should I seat myself or wait for a hostess? Even after owner Stephen Acerra instructed us to sit, the confusion as to what exactly was going on here kept setting in. And unfortunately our server was equally as lost (for example, he didn't have a clue whether iced tea was being served that day or not). It probably didn't help that there were seven people sitting at the counter and four people in the dining area. Even if this was just a hiccup, our sandwiches made up for it. My friend's meatball was a hit, while my Goodfella — chicken parmesan, marinara and mozzarella cheese — was hefty. The unifying element both sandos shared was the use of really great bread that was able to soak up the tomato sauce and not fall apart.
As far as sides go, my pasta salad could have used a bit more oomph (maybe a dash of pecorino?) but my pal's hand-cut fries were on point — long, thin spears, sprinkled with a sweet and salty mix. Each fry was crisp and evenly seasoned.
My second lunchtime visit, this time with a co-worker, had more of the same. They still didn't have tea (again, no reason was given), but this time we waited an unusually long time for our pair of sammies. I went with the meatball to see what my friend had raved about and, admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised. The meat is tender and flavorful. The sauce, with a good hint of oregano, is pleasant but it won't blow your socks off. My lunch partner's Godfather had nice touches — great bread, grilled cured meats — but the use of vinegar was far too heavy-handed. At the risk of sounding crass, I want to actually taste the meats, in this case ham, salami, pepperoni and prosciutto. Paying for our order also turned into a bit of a cluster. Tickets come to the table on what is basically loose-leaf scrap paper and the entire iPad stand register comes to you. Acceptable when it's a food truck, not so much when there are linens on at least some of the tables.
I returned an evening later for dinner with my beau, and that's when things really went south (sunny Sicily, this was not). We ordered fried ravioli to start and were presented with cold, plastic ravioli and their house red sauce. They were far from fried and far from crusted with tasty panko or breadcrumbs. At my server's suggestion, I ordered the chicken parmesan plate, a favorite. Plus, I figured, how can anyone mess up this basic dish?
The parmesan sandwich from my first visit was breaded and grilled, but the plate's fate was less enticing — by a mile. My first bite hinted at a strange fabricated, flowery addition that I couldn't quite peg. The pasta, tossed in simple spaghetti with the house sauce, was al dente and just fine, so I turned my attention back to the entrée. Once again, the flowery and even soapy taste not only lingered but soured the bite as a whole. Whether it was detergent or disinfectant left over from cleaning the kitchen or in one of the bowls the chicken was dredged in, the fowl soaked up every bit of it and destroyed any semblance of a good time. I made my dining partner try it, and my suspicions were confirmed. To be fair, his chicken Alfredo with house-made sauce was well-seasoned and creamy without spilling into oily territory.
We danced the same befuddling confusion over payment, except I prevented our server from lugging the register to our table by paying at the counter. Though having the means and opportunity to open a restaurant might be readily available for some, rigorous attention to detail and a thought-out plan is definitely needed for the eatery to survive. Big Guido's has decent sandos, but you're in for a puzzling time once you're there. Don't know about you, but that's not how I like to enjoy my meals.
2607 Jackson Keller, (210) 979-6111, facebook.com/bigguidos
Skinny: Going from food truck to restaurant has been a bit bumpy for Big Guido's NY Italian. Go for the homemade Italian sandwiches.
Best Bet: No, really stick with the sandwiches. Goodfella, meatball
Hours: 11am-8pm Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri, 10am-10pm Sat, closed on Sunday
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