When I was in college, I ate a lot of crap. Aside from the fact that I could rarely afford to pony up for a fancy dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, the meal plan had limited dining options. I could usually be found at Magic Wok, Wendy's, or in the cafeteria. College of Charleston students are way better off. In fact, the CHAMP meal plan is packed with more than 60 off-campus eating establishments. The latest addition is Fire Street Food, which resides in the former Burger Babies spot right in the heart of the King Street shopping district.
The Asian street food menu appears to have a little something for everyone, whether you're a fan of Japanese sushi or Laotian noodle soup. They've got seaweed salad, lemongrass chicken, beef skewers, and teriyaki dishes, most priced to be friendly to a college student's budget.
A popular Thai dish known as Gang Keowon, or green curry, caught my eye. At Fire Street Food, it's a mound of rice in a blend of green curry paste and coconut milk, accented with a variety of chopped vegetables such as snow peas and zucchini, plus a protein — chicken or tofu — served with a hint of basil and a garnish of cilantro. It's not overly spicy and visually it's a mess, but at least you get a decent bowl of curry ($7.95).
A lineup of simple sushi rolls range in price from $5.95 to $6.95. Ten pieces of spicy tuna sushi march down the plate in two rows, topped with a ribbon of hot sauce and sprinkled with diced green onions. Lurking inside each roll is a bit of mushy tuna and a slice of cucumber that do not do the nori or rice proud, but each bite is damn spicy.
The Fire House Spicy Wrap ($7.95), a flour tortilla filled with chicken, avocado, grilled peppers, onions, mushrooms, squash, zucchini, cilantro, and a generous portion of curried rice, sounded promising, especially since we were looking for something lighter and healthier. It came with a cute plastic cup of dill cream sauce with the word "fire" spelled out in Sriracha. Unfortunately, the rice was too greasy.
Many of the dishes sound great on paper but lack the execution necessary to make them taste as good as described. For example, the pad Thai ($8.95) is a super sweet, gloppy mess. There's so much sauce the noodles are almost gelatinous. Acidity — none. Fish sauce — nonexistent. In desperation, we attempted to mask the sweetness by squeezing half a lime to death and adding copious amounts of Sriracha, but the dish was hopeless. Another disappointment was Sean's BBQ ribs, which are enormous ($9.95) and promise Thai spices. The four big-boned cuts of spare rib are drenched in sauce that resembles KC Masterpiece with sesame seeds.
We expected the Pitoon ($14.95), or braised duck, to be tender, but it was chewy and tough. The clumps of rice and mix of chopped vegetables were topped with a tasty yellow curry. Unfortunately, there was only a small amount of it.
And the food isn't the only thing that falls short; the service needs work too. Over several visits, entrées were delivered to the wrong tables, charisma was nonexistent, and most questions about the menu went unanswered. At least the waters were promptly refilled.
The layout of the space hasn't changed since Burger Babies left the building, though it's much brighter. And speaking of burgers, they also appear on the menu, in Prime or Wagyu iterations. We opted for the Wagyu, ordered medium-rare. The bun was standard-issue and the beef was cooked to a pink medium, but at $14.95 it is a good value for those who want to try the velvety Wagyu beef. What really stood out: the side of french fries, which were the best thing I ate. Yes, the American standard. Piping hot, golden crispy, and delicately seasoned.
And that's what it really boiled down to. The best single bite was a french fry. While Fire Street Food gives students an affordable dining option, there are far too many other places included in the meal plan that I'd recommend for better execution of similar menu items. I can think of specific places where I'd go for quality sushi, a wrap that's actually healthy, or Korean barbecue. But who knows? Maybe these days college students are as discerning as I was back in the day: if it's cheap and it's quick, it's good enough.