A Simple Mash-up Yields Complex Explosion

Good Bite

For decades, California has served as a melting pot of cuisines from around the world. Because of its proximity to the Far East and Central America, fusions seem to materialize there that simply cannot elsewhere. Roy Choi has come to epitomize this ethos of fusion with Kogi, his now-famous, Los Angeles-based food truck that combines his Korean roots with the Mexican food so popular in Southern California. Now, that West Coast style has made its way to the West Coast of Florida with Smokin’ Bowls Food Truck. While a heavy Mexican influence in its assortment of tacos, nachos and tostadas might paint the truck as just another modern Mexicali operation, but, owners-operators Ashley and Brian Lairby looked to the Caribbean for inspiration on a simple cuisine mash-up many would overlook in favor of the familiar.

That dish is the loaded tostones. Tostones are a twice-fried, smashed plantain patty believed to have originated in Puerto Rico. The crispy, salty, carbolicious treat often serves as a side in Caribbean cuisine, but the Lairbys borrowed a recipe from a late friend that envisions new horizons for the simple food at the same time that it memorializes him. In their loaded tostones, four plantains serve as a base for a mound of protein (chicken, pork, or vegetarian and vegan options), cotija cheese, citrus herbed slaw and a drizzle of house made roja sauce. Each serving almost takes on the look of a miniature tostada, but where a crispy tortilla base has the propensity to get soggy and crumble under the weight of its toppings, a tostone bears its burden like Atlas, maintaining its crispiness and shape.

The flavor profile is equal parts sweet, tangy and savory, with the citrus slaw (arguably the standout ingredient) adding brightness to the saltiness of the chorizo and tostone base. A pinch from a lime wedge perks it up even further, but the dish is a triumph of simplicity. “We’re really going for just simple, clean ingredients and keeping it on the light side,” says Ashley. And the dish is all of these things, but, ultimately, its sum is greater than its parts. Smokin’ Bowls currently operates 12:00pm-8:00pm on Saturdays at Calusa Brewing.

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