The day before I tried the new seasonal menu at Mendocino Farms, I watched as ABC13 meteorologist David Tillman promised his fellow news anchors that a cold front would be shortly passing through the Houston area.
“DAVID, YOU LIE!” I shouted at the television, so vexed was I with this never-ending heat.
But he spoke the truth, for 24 hours later temperatures dipped delightfully into the low 80s, which not only prompted me to retrieve all my sweaters from storage but also made sampling fall-themed eats that recently debuted at Mendocino Farms even more fun.
Although the California-based chain that recently invaded Houston with locations in Rice Village and Uptown Park is best known for its sandwiches, I was most smitten with its special Napa vineyard salad—kale, chopped romaine, and mixed greens with farro, crushed honey-roasted almonds, and grilled feta cubes. Pleasant pops of fruity sweetness from grapes and dried figs rounded it out.
I also enjoyed Nam’s Schoolhouse Charity Banh Mi, named for its creator, Nam Harrison, a Vietnamese-born schoolmate of the daughter of Mendocino Farms’s co-founders. Eleven-year-old Harrison designed the sandwich as an edible vehicle for helping a school in rural Vietnam with supplies and teacher salaries; a portion of the proceeds for every sandwich sold will go to furthering this endeavor.
Consisting of soft-grilled chicken thigh strips and dressed with cilantro, chili aioli, lemongrass relish, and a pineapple slaw, this banh mi holds its own against the many I have tried at Vietnamese restaurants around town. Tipping the ratio between protein and condiments in favor of the former is my only suggestion for its improvement, as the heavy slathers of slaw and aioli tend to make the bun soggy.
Finally, the Pachamama Cubano, layered with honey ham, pork, Havarti, jalapeño aioli, mojo de ajo, and bread-and-butter pickles, has all the features of the standard Cubano, and while satisfying, there is ample room for enhancement. The pork should be juicier, and the aioli lacks the zing that makes a Cubano a Cubano and not simply a ham (and pork) and cheese sandwich.
All in all, there were more hits than misses, and a few reasons to give Mendo a try as we proceed into the long-awaited “chilly” season.