The transition from food truck to brick and mortar restaurant can be challenging for a concept. After all, the kitsch that does well to make a catchy selling point for a truck often comes off as, well, cheesy in restaurant form.
That's why, in some ways, Cheesy Rider's move to the Foothills Mall food court actually kind of makes sense as the next step after food truck. Compared to a truck, food court ordering is pretty similar and the back of house staff is used to the random bursts of business, which happen at both.
Despite this, seeing Cheesy Rider's painted logo on the wall amidst bright neon signs for Sbarro's, Taco Bell, Panda Express, Arby's, and the other national fast food chains is kind of sad. This food court microcosm almost perfectly illustrates the battle for your food dollar everywhere else. For every one Cheesy Rider customer that ordered, I saw about three or four order at the other spots each. No surprise because those big national food joints spend way more on brand recognition than a local grilled cheese joint ever could or would and your typical mall goer is most likely going to stick with the familiar orange chicken or curly fries for their comfort food fix.
Cheesy Rider, which made the jump from truck to food court last year, is the grilled cheese concept from Sean Scott and chef Robert Bruce. Its recent retranslation saw the addition of menu items like salads, breakfast sandwiches and scrambles, and three regular soup options. While it makes sense to add these option to cater to as many different tastes as possible, if you order, say, a sandwich, soup, and side, you'll likely wait about 10 minutes for your order—a time frame that isn't out of the question for a food truck, but is kind of silly in the food court.
The reason for the wait is pretty clear: You can see in the open kitchen that there's only one (maybe two) people working back of house at any given time and possibly one more at the register. This keeps the slim, food truck-sized staff pretty busy with one order every five minutes or so.
I ordered those three items, along with a friend who got another sandwich and soup combo. After waiting the 10 minutes, one soup was lukewarm and one was piping hot. The sandwiches fared the same. This would make more sense if one of us ordered the joint's Grim Reaper Challenge—a disturbing $20 pile of four grilled cheese sandwiches, nine slices of bacon, guacamole, tomato, green chile, three fried eggs, Texas chile, chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce that if finished in 20 minutes, earns you a T-shirt—but neither of us were looking for a challenge necessarily.
The Old Pueblo that I ordered gave me just that, though. Complete with grilled chicken, guacamole, green chile, tomato, and pepper jack cheese, once it got to my table it was a little on the soggy side—not exactly the pride of its namesake. Unfortunately, the bigger issue was the pink chicken inside the sandwich. Not willing to take that challenge either, I gave up on my Old Pueblo.
Luckily, I could and did steal some of my friend's sandwich, which was overtly fully cooked and much better than mine anyway. The Mr. Castro is a tangy, flavorful take on a Cuban sandwich with ham, roasted pork, muenster cheese, pickles, and a mustard aioli that's definitely worth the wait.
While my friend's tomato soup was over seasoned on both the salt and especially pepper fronts, my creamy corn chowder with mushrooms was much smoother in flavor, despite being lukewarm by the time it got tableside. The side of tots is standard and won't disappoint.
On another visit, I ordered a mac and bacon sandwich and the house spuds. You'd expect a sandwich filled with house made mac and cheese and bacon to be a bit of a carb bomb, and you'd be exactly right. All dietary resolutions you might've made aside, it is tasty. The creamy mac and cheese and salty, crunchy bacon would be good on their own, but they certainly don't lose anything being put between two pieces of buttery crunchy bread.
Unfortunately, my spuds, which were described as potato chips but thicker, were a little gloomy. They were coated in so much grease that they stuck to the bag they were served in even after I tried to shake them out. Once they were out of the bag, they were floppy from all of the grease too. While I'm not afraid of a little grease, I wasn't happy to find that one of my spuds was half black. It's likely the spot was just a bruise on the potato, but it still wasn't the most appetizing to look at.
Overall, with 13 sandwiches most of which boast unique-to-the-dish ingredients, three breakfast options, a meat loaf plate, three soups, one cold sandwich, three potato-based sides, three entrée-sized salads, and a pita wrap, Cheesy Rider's menu gives more to the kitchen to juggle than it seems to be able to handle. I'm guessing if they paired down the menu to about half its current size, consistency would go up and wait times would go down, making it much more manageable for the small operating staff.
Still, it's the best option for lunch if you're stuck inside the Foothills Mall.