THERE ARE 3000 FOOD TRUCKS IN THE NAKED CITY – 3000 permit-carrying food trucks, that is, and countless illegals. Last Saturday seven of New York’s finest rumbled north to go dumpling to dumpling with seven of Boston’s best in the first annual NYC- Boston Food Truck Throw-Down. Food trucks, long time purveyors to construction workers and late evening drunks, have become an obsession of the food focused. My assignment was to be Brooklyn Artisan’s taster on record and to plumb the sources of this, to me, unlikely fashion trend. Never mind that my last experience with New York Street food was a dirty-water hot dog on East 28th Street in 1972. It was a sunny, cold day, a fitting start to the eating season.
Boston was definitely the underdog. Long smothered under a deep rooted puritanical impulse we came late to the food-truck fashion parade. Still, I had hopes that our scrappy innovators and home-town spirit would give us a modest advantage. Boston had several contenders: Staff Meal, chef-driven foodie enthusiasms; Roxy’s, a grilled cheese specialist; Lobsta Love, cheap lobster on good rolls; Kickass Cupcakes, name says it all. In the other corner, New York fielded a more conventional lineup: Mike N Willies tacos; Fishing Shrimp, a chipper; Wafels and Dinges, Belgian waffles, etc.
I show up at 3:00 hoping to miss the lunchtime rush. But the social media elves had been busy. Huge, long lines snaked from each truck. The fans were mostly young, chatting, talking on their phones, texting, eternally texting. My calls, “Anyone here from New York?,” were met with sullen, hungry glances. I did my reconnaissance.
Bummer. Aromas of vanilla, sugar and fried dough waffled from the Wafels and Dinges truck. Five cooks in coordinated costumes were stamping out waffels in a well-rehearsed conga line. “Blue Moon” played from their speakers; occasionally they did a New York accented shout out to the waiting crowd. I could imagine them chanting on the highway to Boston:
Food Truck Scrum,
Look out Boston,
Here we come…”
Their menu boasted “Spekuloos Ice Cream” made with “children’s laughter and Unicorns’ tears,” waffles with “chilli con corne” or “bbq pulled pork.” No shame, these New Yorkers. Everything in a county fair sideshow except sausages, peppers and onions. I bet “dinges” is a Yiddishism for a bare-knuckle rap on the forehead.
I asked a healthy looking group, the Sherbet and Copley families from Boston, how long it took them to score their golden, glistening grilled cheese sandwiches. “About an hour,” one of the moms said.
“Was it worth the wait?” I asked.
“At this point, I would have eaten anything,” she replied. A faint steam rose from her sandwich. Melted cheese oozed.
Her daughter was more enthusiastic. In one hand she held a grilled cheese with guacamole and applewood smoked bacon. In the other a cone of truffle fries. “It’s pretty good….”
Another group of sated young people were sitting nearby, a box of “Kickass” cupcakes on their table. “Anyone here from New York?” I asked.
Luck. Andre Loli, come up from Clinton Hill the night before. “What did you eat?”
“A grilled cheese, prime rib sandwich! It was really awesome! The Roxy Food Truck wins, hands down!” I took his picture smiling widely among his friends. Thanks, Andre.
I had to get some food and headed for the Staff Meal truck. The line went on forever. After ten minutes I found out I was waiting in the Lobsta Love line. I snaked my way over to the front of Staff Meals. There was a crowd, but almost no line. I asked the man next to me, “What’s going on?”
Arthur. He said, “My wife is in another line. I got on this one because it is shortest. You place your order and then you wait. I’ve been waiting for about half an hour. You can talk to the other people waiting around and pretend it is a dinner party.”
I looked at the menu. Only two things: A Peking pig’s head taco, and a mushroom bi-bim-bap taco. There you have it. Chef-driven artisan food. Two of the people waiting for their order were foodie flâneurs, followers of food trucks around the city. “These are the guys to beat….” About 20 minutes later I finally got my Peking pig’s head taco. Warmed tacos, fried rice, bits of pig’s head, black-bean mayo, crispy fried garlic. Layers of savory flavors. Needed a little chopped green onion.
Four celebrity tasters awarded it “Best Savory.” The “No Shame” Wafels and Dinges truck won Best Sweet and Best Crew. Roxy Grilled Cheese won Best Design. The temperature plunged, the lines went on forever, the referree shouted “4 to 5 – New York!” and I left for home.
Artisan Food Truck is not an oxymoron. With crowd estimates topping 10,000, jetBlue, the sponsor, made a lot of hungry Bostonians happy. I hope they do something as creative with airline food.
John J. Kochevar is a Brooklyn Artisan special correspondent from Outer Brooklyn/Boston.