Food Trucks

St. John's Fire Fills the Gourmet Egg Roll Niche

I recently rewatched St. Elmo's Fire after a roughly 20-year viewing hiatus. That film does not stand the test of time. And it's especially creepy how -- in retrospect -- the seminal Brat Pack movie was unintentionally filled with more earnest sociopaths per square foot than all of Bret Easton Ellis's novels put together.

Ever since then, I've had a hard time getting the St. Elmo's Fire theme song out of my head. It's one of those particularly fierce earworms, but I had it almost under control when I met Joel St. John at Grand Prize Bar at a recent crawfish boil. He was introduced to me by a friend as the owner of a new food truck in town: St. John's Fire. And the earworm was back more viciously than ever.

St. John is a displaced Louisianan and a 25-year industry veteran, with his most recent experience as both the chef and GM at downtown Houston steakhouse Spencer's. He's among a growing number of serious chefs (see: Bernie's Burger Bus, H-Town StrEATS) who have decided to strike out on their own with a food truck rather than a full-fledged restaurant.

The day I met him, St. John told me that he was serving both "gourmet" egg rolls as well as an array of upscale, restaurant-style dishes from the truck. The gourmet egg roll filling piqued my interest -- crawfish and Tasso, he promised -- and the wrapper piqued my friend's interest.

"Is it the bubbly kind? Like Ming's?" he asked expectantly. "Or is it a spring roll-style wrapper?"

"It's the bubbly kind," St. John responded with a laugh. We were sold.

By the time I made it to St. John's Fire the next week, however, the Cajun egg rolls were off the menu. In their place were egg rolls stuffed with a Southwestern chicken mixture that struck me at first glance as similar to the infamously delicious egg rolls at Chili's. I grabbed an egg roll and a salmon wrap and headed back to the office, where I found that the St. Elmo's Fire earworm had been replaced with "Different Drum" by the Stone Poneys -- and has been lodged there for five days now. Go figure.

The egg roll was a small thing of beauty, one that was clearly hand-rolled and -filled. And its wrapper, as promised, was bubbly and golden-brown. Each bite spilled forth with corn, black beans, caramelized onions, chicken breast meat and gooey cheese. This was far better than any deep-fried Chili's egg roll by a mile.

The creamy poblano dip served on the side was good enough to eat with a spoon, but I carefully rationed it to last for the entire egg roll. Even though only one comes to an order, they're nearly large enough to serve as an entree if you're possessed of a small appetite like me.

The salmon wrap, to me, seemed large enough to feed two people. It wasn't anything remarkable save for the excellent pecan-smoked salmon inside -- a filling of cream cheese, olives and roasted red peppers inside a spinach wrap played solid supporting roles -- but it was nice to grab a meal off a food truck that wasn't battered, fried and topped with foie gras. Moderation in all things, and all that jive.

That said, I can't wait to head back to St. John's Fire and try the smoked beef brisket nachos the truck has been advertising on its Twitter page. Now where did I put my Nacho Grabber...?

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Katharine Shilcutt