A Sandwich Truck, a Coffee Bike, and a Pancake House with an Identity Crisis

Happi Grill: www.facebook.com/Happi-Grill-492850974211368

Cam’s Kettle Coffee Co.: www.camskettle.coffee

IHOP/IHOp/IHOb or whatever: 935 N. Stafford St., Arlington, VA 22203-1812; (703) 522-3118.


It’s been a few weeks since our previous review — oh, the pressure of food blogging! — and we’re feeling peckish, so we grab our trusty notebook and monogrammed pen and head toward the food trucks at Ballston, in search of lunch and inspiration. We find both, in three parts.

PART I: VIETNAMESE FOOD TRUCK
We’ve mentioned the food-truck scene on N. Stuart St. before (see County Manners), near the Ballston Metro stop and the still-being-renovated husk of a mall. Yesterday, a few blocks east on Fairfax Blvd., we noticed a bright red food truck called “Mad Crab and Fries.” So we go in search of that, the average distance between crab and face being always too great. But there is no crab truck to be found today. That’s what the wheels are for.

So we continue up the street to Happi Grill, a friendly Vietnamese truck with sandwiches, noodle soup and salad, and egg rolls. We order the chicken sandwich and shrimp spring rolls with peanut sauce.

 

The chicken is charred, well-seasoned and flavorful, with fresh lemongrass and cilantro, long cucumber wedges, and shredded carrots. The vegetables and thick rice-stick noodles provide a cool balance on a hot day. So do the lettuce-packed spring rolls and chilled dipping sauce, which is almost as thick as a paste.

PART II: COFFEE BIKE
While waiting for our order, we strike up a conversation with the owner of Cam’s Kettle, the bicycle-based coffee business parked “next door” to Happi. Cameron’s been at this location for a year and a half, but this is our first visit. We really need to get out more for lunch, though in fairness it was bitterly cold for most of two seasons. Today it’s not only hot but bright bright bright — one of those days where, for all the glare, you can’t see the image on the viewfinderless display of your mirrorless camera to frame these pics properly.

We order a small cold brew with a few drops of milk. (That’s the beverage in the food pic above.)

“Do you have soy milk?,” I ask.
“No,” he says. “Almond milk?”

Even better, much better. The coffee is robust and evenly roasted, a good choice in a walkable area with no shortage of decent coffee shops. We’re going to go back for a couple bags of fair-trade beans sourced from Guatemala and Peru, and sip that on the weekends rather than the store-bought stuff with which we’ve grown bored.

 

Cam is not just schlocking coffee from a rickshaw with a kickstand, he really cares about it and knows about it — where it comes from, how it’s grown, how different flavors interact with additive ingredients like cream or milk… That’s why he offers almond milk from a stand he peddles here. Check it out, and maybe take some beans home so he doesn’t have to peddle them back.

PART III: IHOp/b
On the way back to the office, we pass IHOP, or ihop. We’re glad to see that this particular longstanding, A-framed location — it’s been at this corner since before it was a corner, almost sixty years — won’t be changing its signage to reflect the chain’s recent, suspiciously goofball idea to rebrand itself IHOB or ihob. (Have you heard about this? You can get the gist here and here and, ironically, here.) That is, this location hasn’t “flipped the ‘p’ in ihop upside down,” as headquarters described it in a tweet. But there is conflicting signage.

 

It’s a rare marketing strategy that changes the name of some but not all nationwide franchises. And we always thought the “IHOP” was in all caps. The “I” and “H” are definitely capitalized, but the “O” and “P” are sort of noncommittal when it comes to case. It’s an acronym for International House of Pancakes, of course — like Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranding itself KFC — so you’d expect all caps. The whole “turning the ‘p’ upside down” thing only works to make a lowercase b. In which case, at minimum, you’ve got an uppercase I and H and at least one, maybe two, lowercase letters. Finally, with IHOB/ihob/IHOb/iHob/whatever, they lose the meaning of the term as a sentence — “I hop.” — though they still rely on the “hop” angle in marketing (“I hop in for breakfast,” or whatever). So much to detangle here.

Our heads reeling, we order the Cowboy BBQ Burger, which comes with onion rings on top, hickory-smoked bacon, American cheese, lettuce and tomato. It was either that or the Mega Monster, which has two steakburger patties, white cheddar, red onion and signature sauce. But we want those onion rings.

“French fries with that?,” our waitress asks.
“Can we substitute?”
“How about pancakes?”
“We can have pancakes instead of fries?”
“Yes.”

Done deal. We will say this for “ihob”: Our Cowboy BBQ Burger (right) looks remarkably like the archetypal model depicted on the menu (left):

 

The main difference is that our burger has one large onion ring on top of the patty, instead of the two smaller ones promised. Guess we got the center cut, as it were.

Here’s an idea: If you’re going to rebrand your pancake house as a burger joint, even partially, why not offer a burger wedged between two thick pancakes for buns? Not as the only choice, just add it to the lineup. We would pour syrup over that. Ooh, and maybe a fried egg on the patty: call it the Texas Pancake Burger. It’d be like a Pancake McSteakburger Muffin, except good. You know you want that. We have to think of everything.

Whatever the final success of the name-change marketing ploy, it is sufficiently gimmicky to get us in here for a burger. So touché to the marketing department of the International House of Pancakes and/or Burgers But Probably One Day Back to Just Pancakes But Still Has Burgers Too.

Maybe we shoulda gotten the scrambled eggs.

Sincerely,
BlateCubTaple


More:
♦ Homemade Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup recipe at RecipeTin Eats
♦ “A Guide to Vietnamese Noodles” at TheKitchn
♦ “A Guide to Guatemalan Coffee” at Home Grounds
♦ “A-Frame Chains & Other Eateries” at RoadsideArchitecture.com; the Arlington IHOP is pictured there.

pancakes

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