Javier Flores was born in Matamoros and studied the culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. He went on to make his name as a master of Tex-Mex at La Fonda on Main, where he served as executive chef for seven years. Now, after a two-year break from cooking, he’s moved his culinary interests to Spain.
Sharp Manchego cheese, sweet piquillo peppers, and pimentón add Iberian flair to the short (but changing) list of sandwiches at Cheeks and Chops, Flores’ food truck currently based at Alamo Street Eat Bar on weekends. Though his signature ingredients hail from La Mancha and other regions of Spain, the truck’s name was inspired by a dish considered synonymous with San Antonio: barbacoa, made from beef cheeks. One of the first dishes he tried out when he opened last February, Flores’ homemade barbacoa is now on rotation with other treats. We haven’t had a chance to sample it yet, but the tender, slow-cooked sandwich filling caused another member of our staff to renounce her barbacoa phobia.
The pork belly club ($10) is a staple on the menu, as are papas bravas (fried potatoes, $4). If you’ve become addicted to the bacon-like treatment often given pork belly, brace yourself. Flores slow-cooks his bellies, which are rubbed with a simple blend of pimentón, fennel, and salt. The result is a soft, rather than crunchy, texture that almost slides into the avocado, offsetting the Manchego and delicate garden greens. In our party, two out of three endorsed it, but a third member was shocked by the presence of fat. The potatoes were also on the soft side. No disagreement among the group here: crunchy would have been better, though the creamy, spicy sauce (Flores refused to list the ingredients) acquitted itself well.
We sampled two variants of the seared beef sandwich. Chile-rubbed tenderloin was cooked well done and sliced thin, the edges truly seared and crispy. Not a treatment I would have thought of, but it worked. A coffee-rubbed top sirloin was cooked medium-rare. With the caramelized onions and ubiquitous Manchego, it was also a success, though the rub tended to dominate the meat — almost to the level of a mole sauce.
The biggest surprise was the veggie sandwich ($8.) On meat-heavy menus, vegetarian dishes often seem like afterthoughts, with short attention put into their construction. Not here, where piquillo peppers (again) met goat cheese (instead of Manchego, for once), joined by Fuji apples, and lots of greens. The result? The homemade pan dulce roll, which had lent a subtle hint of sweetness to the other sandwiches, finally came into its own. This June, Flores will add another project to his culinary roster when Baracca, a paella restaurant and tapas bar, opens at the Blue Star Arts Complex. Spain is, obviously, much on his mind..
Cheeks and Chops
Alamo Street Eat Bar
609 S Alamo