Not all food truck operators dream of opening a brick-and-mortar location, but that's always been part of the plan for Eatsie Boys  Ryan Soroka, Alex Vassilakidis and Matt Marcus, the CIA-trained chef who makes the food happen.
They've won a cult following for their smart, quirkily named sandwiches and unusual ice creams at venues such as Agora, Buchanan's Nursery and the Wednesday City Hall farmers market. Now comes the Eatsie Boys Cafe at 4100 Montrose, in the same idyllic, ivy-clad brick complex that houses the Black Labrador pub.
In the weeks before Christmas, the trio staged a soft opening, the industry term that translates more or less as "don't expect the moon, we're just getting on our feet here." And the results, if a little bumpy, were highly promising for the casual semi-service menu they'll be offering after their January 7 grand opening.
A disclosure: I'm a friend of chef Matt Marcus's family, and a longtime fan of the artisanal foodstuffs wrought by his father, Al Marcus, under the Grateful Bread  label. The challah bread that originated as a Grateful Bread collaboration between father and son shows up on the Eatsie Boys Cafe menu in the Eggman breakfast sandwich and the mighty Maestro sandwich, a tower of medium-rare roast beef layered with caramelized onion, cheddar, sharp horseradish aioli and a puckish shatter of crushed potato chips.
"Puckish" is sort of an Eatsie Boys signature, from the wordplay and consonant repetition of their menu names (Mmmontrose; Frozen Awesome) to the sudden appearance of pop-culture food kitsch in an ambitious item like that sandwich.
A friend I shared it with, at an outdoor picnic table on a mild December Saturday, opined that to be truly great, the roast beef should have been a shade rarer and served warm. I was too busy scarfing my half of the monster to pay him much mind. In my book the excellence of the ingredients and the propulsive force of that horseradish aioli justified the $12 price tag, which included a "Trust Us Salad" du jour: in this case, a pile of good-quality mixed greens in a slightly sweet vinaigrette.
I had never tried the Boys' famous Pork Snuggie, an homage to Momofuku chef David Chang's way-more-famous steamed pork buns. They were on the chalkboard menu as a special, but they betrayed opening-week jitters, as the pork belly inside was stiff and its fat unrendered: everything you don't want in a hunk of pork belly.
So the homemade hoisin sauce (an Al Marcus specialty), the quick-pickled cucumber slices and green onion, and the springy steamed buns couldn't help much. I'll try them again when the timing issues are solved.
The small cafe, which occupies the corner spot where Kraftsmen Baking's sandwich shop once did business, was so slammed with customers during its first days of life that basic questions of supply and demand were still being worked out. I wanted to try the Slow Ride sandwich of slow-cooked chicken salad with pickled shallots and crisp bits of chicken skin mixed in, but by noon-thirty they were already out of chicken skin. Next time.
Nor was the ingenious special of matzoh-ball pho delivered at a suitably hot temperature in its fetching silvery mug. But that's what a soft opening is for: working out the kinks, both in the kitchen and on the service level.
The basic pho broth was masterful stuff, full-bodied and hauntingly spiced, with jalapeño wheels and lime wedges to add to taste. The requisite yummy fat globules skittered across its bronzed surface. Any Vietnamese pho shop in town would have been pleased to serve it.
My New York friend (a self-styled connoisseur) opined that the matzoh balls could be a little lighter, but I loved their medium density and sponginess; and I practically cackled with delight over the way they consorted with velvety hunks of slow-cooked chicken, slippery noodles and two kinds of onion, green and crunchy red.
That matzoh-ball pho, with its deft, playful meshing of cultural genres, is a fine omen: both for the future of the Eatsie Boys Cafe and the future of Houston food.
(Eatsie Boys Cafe, 4100 Montrose Blvd., 713.397.0072. Open for business starting Monday, January 7. Call for hours.)