Art Of The Meal: Food Truck Thursdays

Oh, these darn kids of today. Always starting something! If it’s not vegan barbecue, it’s a gourmet popsicle. Hearing about the latest trend – food trucks – my initial reaction was to shake my cane and shout, “Get your dang maple-slaw hot dogs off my restaurant beat!” and amble away, muttering about how I don’t like to eat standing up, and how safe is all this anyway?

So, after Grumpy McGrumperson actually tried a food truck Thursday at Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center, I have to admit: These kids are on to something. And actually, they’re not all kids, even if most of the proprietors and their customers are young. Still, their youthful attitudes contain all the attributes required of successful entrepreneurs: passion, expertise, energy and a willingness to bet that others are bound to like a great idea as much as they do.

It works like this: At pre-appointed times and places (among the most popular are Street Food Thursdays, lunchtimes at the Woodruff Arts Center and often also at 10th Street and Peachtree; Wednesday afternoons in The Stove Works parking lot outside Rathbun’s; and Friday lunchtimes at Atlantic Station), a bunch of food trucks show up. The prices are low (usually around $5 for tacos or salads or sandwiches), and the selection large.

The food and drinks are inventive and, like the entire experience, fun. You wander around, checking out what everyone is eating and gauging their blissful expressions before you order.

Apparently it is not mandatory, but helpful to have a clever name for your food cart – such as the now-famous King of Pops, who hand-makes his frozen ’sicles from fresh fruit; Yumbii; The Pickle; Good Food Truck. Their menus offer a smorgasbord of fresh, clever and sometimes dizzying multicultural dishes. Like, say, The Pickle’s Cajun chicken eggrolls ($6), a deep-fried missile chock-full of counterintuitive ingredients like corn and tasso ham; or Yumbii’s (“Korean-Mexican-Southern/Far Out Food”) fish tacos ($3), which employ panko, the crunchy Asian breadcrumbs, for frying.

Some are so handy and healthy you wonder why no one thought of them before – for example, Good Food Truck’s caprese parmesan cone ($6). A lacy cone of crisp parmesan cheese holds a little cornucopia of balsamic-dressed arugula, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella balls, plus weirdly companiable local blueberries. It’s all the jollification of eating an ice cream cone, wrapped in the dignity of a grown-up palate. Some trucks just offer beverages – like Rattletrap ATL Street Coffee’s daily specials, among them fresh-squeezed lemonade with herbs de Provence, ginger plum iced tea (both $3), and cola cocktails (es-presso, vanilla and Mexi-Cola, $4.50).

Three of us ate ourselves silly (we’ll try it so you don’t have to – and you’re welcome). Our favorites: The Pickle’s hearty chicken, crawfish and andouille etouffee, served over rice ($6.50); Yumbii’s crazily good kimchi-spiked sautéed tofu taco ($2); Good Food Truck’s parmesan cone; Tex’s Tacos pastor de puerco (pork taco with grilled onions, pineapple, cheese and cilantro) and lime fries (dusted with a sweet-salty homemade mix); but maybe most of all, Sweet Auburn BBQ’s naughtily fatty brisket taco topped with Asian pear slaw ($3). We strolled away with banana pudding ‘sicles and beatific grins.

Walking down towards 10th Street, we found three more trucks – the Mobile Marlay (whose sophisticated offerings included fried rice balls, or arancini), Hail Caesar (salads), and Just Loaf’N (shrimp and sausage po’boys). Across the street, Pop Up Chef offered goodies from South City Kitchen, baked items and a small fresh vegetable market.

Atlanta’s food truck phenom is in its infancy, but clearly worth checking out. Strict health regulations tend to hamper the chefs’ creativity somewhat – each truck must have some kind of permanent, brick-and-mortar kitchen, which is inspected for approval. Many fresh ingredients, like meats, can’t be cooked on the trucks themselves. And the sites must offer some sort of nearby bathroom facilities for patrons.

Still, the proprietors have thrived. Some proudly post their inspection scores right on their rolling restaurants. That’s good enough for a crusty crank like me – and it ought to be for you, too.

Categories: Art of the Meal