Examining the haute return of Food Trucks in America
Before five-time James Beard award-winner for food writing John T. Edge's's Boswell Books event, TCD looks at his new cookbook on roadside cuisine.
There was a time when the mobile food vendor was parked outside of construction sites, serving cold sandwiches and hot coffee to workers on a lunch break. Soon they would appear at street fairs, college universities or late-night outside nightclubs offering a slice of pizza out of a delivery truck or a hot dog from a bicycle cart. More commonly in recent years, we think of the taco truck with a full slate of Mexican dishes from the burrito to churros.
But what of the resurgence of food trucks in America, with it’s simple hand-held fare now holding some serious culinary cred?
This is part of the focus of New York Times columnist John T. Edge’s latest offering, The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America’s Best Restaurants on Wheels. It’s one part travelogue, one part profiles and recipes, one part visual food porn, and a dash of insightful contemporary history discussing how we got from here to there. Edge is a five-time James Beard award-winner for food writing, and conducted a major part of the research while on a fellowship at Escape to Create in Florida.
Guided by knowledgeable locals and assistants, the street food gourmand manages to find unique foods in ten different states—with a lion’s share of the attention going to the West Coast (especially Portland). Other well-covered locations include Austin, Tex., and Philadelphia, Penn., two cities that traditionally garner cult foodies based on experimentation. Madison, Wisconsin makes appearances with four locations: Jamerica, Buraka, The Dandelion, and LMN O’Pies—the last one featuring their Chicken Cheddar Bacon Pasties.
The book doesn’t go far into the process of making the recipes but often examines a required condiment or a certain step in the process, such as how Lindsay Gehl cultured the pasties dough at LMN O’Pies. Very often, this cookbook is more like an Atlas of Americana both for the ethnic foods like falafels and curry rice and beloved national foods like the hot dog and how it’s evolving (fennel slaw? Basil leaves? Take it easy, California).
He also thinks about where we are going with food trucks: “…across the country taco trucks were no longer considered exceptional. For a New Wave of chef-entrepreneurs, they were now inspirational.”
Edge comes to this realization watching an office building in San Francisco. A food truck specializing in kimchi-topped burgers and Korean burritos (korritos) parks outside, and a flood of middle-managers in khakis and on cell phones come flooding out. Think about the buzz over hip food trucks in Milwaukee—Streetza Pizza, Satellite Crepes, Tigerbite, Big Frank’s Wiener Waggin, and Haute Taco Truck to name a few—who surround Cathedral Square Park on Fridays, or camp outside Fish Fry and a Flick at Discovery World, or circle workers from the Innovation Research Park in Wauwatosa look for customers. The growing access to finer recipes via Food Network or the Epicurious website has opened up palettes on a mainstream level.
My favorite recipe in the whole book was not the grilled macaroni-and-cheese sandwich, nor the spicy chicken buradi roll. It was the bag of tater tots dusted with sumac. An excerpt: “‘Sumac cuts the grease,’ was Michele Grant’s rationale when I asked her why she sprinkles a comparitively exotic spice, associated with Persia, on mundane American Tater Tots. ‘Plus the lemony notes give the tots balance.'”
At the time of Edge’s visit, they were working on a lemon and garlic aioli as a condiment. Venice, California here I come.
Boswell Books on Downer Avenue hosts John T. Edge with a talk about his cookbook tonight (May 15) at 7 p.m.—gourmet food truck “The Fast Foodie” will be there with its signature Global Taco (the ‘Globaco’). For more information, visit the Boswell blog here. For more on the author’s other books, visit his website here.