By Frank Sabatini Jr.
A friend drew both ire and applause recently from a casual gathering of peeps when he uttered an ouchy to the group: “The most fascinating people I know don’t have Facebook accounts.”
Having been privy to such debates in the past, and being a partial user of the network, I remain neutral. Yet in the case of an eccentric little eatery named Twist, which has cultivated a brisk following without social media, the point carries a quart of merit.
Moroccan co-owner Saad El Quarati and his American-Cambodian business partner, Judy Sy-Gonzales, opened Twist more than a year ago with sandwiches, burgers, wings and fries that defy tradition.
Based on their cultural backgrounds and world travels, it’s where you’ll find smoked Gouda cheese mingling with lemon grass on a Thai-inspired steak hoagie, and chipotle labne draping french fries strewn with feta cheese and Moroccan-spiced beef.
El Quarati maintains that outside of a user-friendly web site showing off their fused meals, “We’re running the business like everyone did in the ’90s, before cell phones, Facebook and Twitter existed, relying mainly on organic word-of-mouth.”
The duo, he points out, isn’t opposed to using social media; they simply don’t feel the need for it at this time given there are only five stools parked at a small eating counter and two tables out front.
Asian, North African and Mediterranean ingredients enter into what is otherwise everyday American grub. The aforementioned Moroccan fries with minced chuck steak, for example, harbor 17 different spices such as coriander and cinnamon. The “pico de gallo” also crowning them is Moroccan pickle relish.
“It’s our big spin on carne asada fries,” says El Quarati.
Indeed, the outcome is exotic and busy, yet surprisingly cohesive. Ditto for the “Thai spice” marinated steak sandwich on a telera roll, which unleashes a torrent of flavors from pickled papaya, lemon grass, carrots and cucumbers. A puck of smoked Gouda contributes a most unusual, yet welcome element of dairy to the scheme.
Other sandwiches include the pulled pork “Asian swine” with hoisin syrup, tomatoes, cilantro and spicy aioli. Less twisty is the Chicken Ranch, which sent our taste buds to familiar grounds with the additions of applewood bacon, arugula and kicky ranch sauce.
There are four different burgers on the menu, one of them made with ground turkey breast topped with goat cheese, bacon and reduced cranberry jam. The “twist” burger takes on prosciutto, goat cheese and balsamic syrup while the “SD” traipses through the Southwest with panela cheese, avocado and chili cream.
Ironically, the “boring burger” was anything but dull. Fried shallots, smoked Gouda and bacon aioli made it worthy of the “like” button if there was one. The patty itself was particularly flavorful due to several secret spices incorporated into the meat. We clearly tasted black pepper and garlic.
Wings come in four flavors, including your everyday Buffalo-style. We skipped those but haven’t ruled them out for a future visit, because the sauce uses a key ingredient skipped over oftentimes in other kitchens. We’re talking butter.
Served eight to an order and dusted in self-rising bread flour, we instead tried the sweet chipotle version. They were the stickiest wings I’ve ever handled, but their sweet-smoky flavor and reasonable crunch from requesting them “extra crispy” kept us gnawing to the very last bone. If you prefer sauce-less wings, the “twist” option features only a sprinkling of Mediterranean herbs.
Aside from plain fries and side salads, either of which comes with any food order, there are no vegetarian options – at least not yet. In a couple months, El Quarati plans on adding grilled eggplant sandwiches, tofu-mushroom burgers and vegetarian sushi rolls, assuring they will be stamped with “funky twists.”
—Contact Frank Sabatini Jr. at email@example.com.