Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mama Cass Serves Sliders the Asian Way

What happens when traditional Vietnamese flavors are paired with a classic American hamburger? Lunchgoers hungry for fusion bites will soon know the answer when Mama Cass starts offering up the inventive concoction owner Cass Pham Thacher has coined a "Vietnamese slider." Carving her niche in the street food scene, Thacher will start slinging her sliders from her minimally-adorned grey and white truck this Friday, when she will be officially launching in Mission Bay.

Mama Cass, not to be confused with the iconic Cass Elliot of the 1960's group The Mamas & the Papas, was founded by San Francisco resident Thacher after she spent several years working in both high tech and helping husband Sam open Modern Dentistry. She was inspired both by her love of Vietnamese food as well as her preference for non-Asian food cooked, "the Asian way."

"It was something very personal to me," Thacher remarked about the evolution of her menu. "It was just sort of an idea we were playing with. When I crave foods I always want the Asian spin on it. If my husband wants to barbecue something, like ribs, I always ask him to do it 'the Asian way.'"

Her current menu consists of three sliders. The Meatball Slider is savory and sweet pork, topped with baby spinach and finished with sriracha mayo. The Chicken Slider combines caramelized chicken with avocado and sriracha mayo, and the Beef Slider is Vietnamese marinated shaking beef with caramelized red onions and a horseradish "tiger" sauce. This targeted menu is intentional and has grown organically from Thacher's own food preferences. She has been refining these recipes from ones she makes at home for her Caucasian husband and three children.

"For me it was a natural concept," Thacher said.

She describes the sliders as sort of a cultural representation of her kids, a bi-cultural mix, so to speak. The slider recipes began when she would make the meat portion and serve it over rice. As any parent knows, it's impossible to please all the kids every time, and Thacher commented on how sometimes it took the bun for her children to eat it. That, plus her cravings for Asian food and her husband's craving for sandwiches and burgers meant that it was inevitable that the two meet.

"This is a nice compromise," Thacher said of the sliders. "I can get my Asian savory flavors, and he can get something he can hold in his hands."

Thacher makes all of her own sauces and marinades, and she has been experimenting with different variations to see what works best with the bun. She said that she began with a pulled pork, which she called Vietnamese comfort food, but that in the bun it didn't taste the way she wanted it to. So she then began playing with flavors that that she knew, eventually settling on the ones that worked best in the slider version.

Future plans include some sides, a vegetarian option and the possibility of branching out into other Asian flavors, but no definitive decisions have been made. She wants to launch with her Vietnamese-influenced menu, but new ideas are constantly in the works.

She said she will see what works best once the truck is up and running, so don't be surprised to find an innovative special or two. "I want to make sure I am serving something I am proud of," Thacher said.

Starting this Friday, the Mama Cass truck will be parked in its permitted location at 401 Mission Bay, purposely chosen for Thacher's short commute time and, according to her, to keep things "local to where I am." She eventually plans to expand to other locations, but for now will concentrate on this up and coming area.

Mama Cass (@gomamacass)

 All photos are courtesy of Mama Cass.

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