March 7, 2012

Burnt

Could Boston have the best food trucks in the country? Bonme, Roxy’s, Cupcakory. They are not only our friends, they’re making some killer food.

[PLUG: Dreaming about food trucks? Check the upper left column for details about our latest Food Truck Seminar 3/22/12. Free and open to all. Oh yeah, and those guys are going to be there speaking on a panel of food truck operators.]

I know, I know, we’re not the big deal here in Boston that NYC and LA are. We don’t have the food truck history of SF, or the lots and lots of wagons that dot Portland. We don’t have the lax laws that make Austin so much fun. But hear me out here.

Enzo and I were just in NYC. This was my latest of dozens of trips around the country to keep up with the quickly evolving world of street food. Talking to Ernie, who is the best truck builder in NYC, I realized something. When we told him we made our food to order, I think he nodded, but I’m not sure he believed us. But then we were talking about certain menu items and all of a sudden Ernie said “wait a minute, Eggplant, you fry eggplant? But you can’t HOLD eggplant!”

At that moment standing surrounded by Ernie’s forest of food trucks and wagons I realized that none of these vendors are making food to order. Most of the trucks are basically different versions of the hot dog truck. Empanadas: heat and serve. Dumplings: heat and serve. Pizza: heat and serve. Grilled Cheese: heat and serve. Treats truck: heat and serve. Waffles: heat and serve. Hot dogs: heat and serve. You get the idea. Sort of amazing, right? And all of the sudden I’m seeing trucks differently. After nearly 4 years in this business my whole understanding of food trucks is shifting under my feet.

(read past the break to learn about the burnt stuff)

So how does that bring me to Boston? We’ve got some amazing trucks here.

At Clover we started cooking our food on our trucks. If you come by for breakfast you’ll see us making the soup. This was sort of a funny accident in the beginning. The commissary in JP we were using would charge us by the hour. So as business grew we couldn’t afford to keep adding hours back there. So instead we started doing prep on the truck. And we liked the idea that you could see the prep happening on the trucks.

The other part of the model, the eggplant not holding part, has a different background. Rolando and I both really love stuff that was just made. Most of my favorite foods are sort of messy, and they don’t hold at all. It’s sort of natural that our menu would be built around stuff that is best the minute we put it in your hand (though it makes our take-out challenging).

And I think given how the Boston food truck scene evolved, maybe others were thinking the same thing as us. Clover got going in 2008, the only truck in our line-up crazy enough to build food to order. We kept hearing it from the guy who ran MIT dining: “You’re doing this all wrong. You can’t make food this way. You can’t make it to order.” But we didn’t listen, we’ve never had freezers, never had steam tables.

And as the other trucks evolved, many of them are also making real food for you. And while you could argue that Roxy’s isn’t exactly building those grilled cheese to order, they are cooking with real food. Their fries are real potatoes, par cooked and all. It’s pretty awesome. There are some trucks out there that aren’t anything like this, but for a smallish city Boston has really amazing food coming off of trucks. This is more than heat and serve.

Whether or not we have the best trucks, we definitely have a better grilled cheese. I don’t think Roxy’s has ever put anything like this burnt specimen through their window. While in NYC I had burnt grilled cheese from a grilled cheese truck. Burnt pizza from a pizza truck (not kidding), and burnt ice cream from an ice cream truck. Really, the ice cream was from Coolhaus and it was just totally freezer burned. You know, the kind when you have it in your own freezer it’s just not worth eating, you just throw it away. These trucks were all working hard in the rain at one of the most choice spots in the city. Made me think differently about our little food truck scene here in Boston.

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