The new food revolution comes on wheels – food trucks are here, and they’ve been upgraded. These aren’t your father’s Lucky Dogs; think more along the lines of smoked brisket with blue cheese cilantro slaw. Akin to the types of trucks that have swept over Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles, they use social media as a marketing platform, spring-boarding them to popularity. There are a lot of them, and their number is growing. This article covers only a few. The folks at NOLA Food Trucks (nolafoodtrucks.com) have made finding most of them a snap. Launched in November 2010, the site offers real-time updates as well as the scoop on upcoming events. Combined with Facebook and Twitter, these are the best resources for tracking them, as murky city ordinances and irregular enforcement make establishing vending locations challenging for purveyors.
“There is an old city ordinance that makes things restrictive,” says editor Erica Normand. “One of our goals at NOLA Food Trucks is to try and change that. We are looking to start an annual food truck festival in the fall. In the meantime, we try to help band the trucks together and support them.”
Taceaux Loceaux is run by husband-and-wife team Maribeth and Alex del Castillo. Following Hurricane Katrina, they were casting about for a way to make money to recoup losses from a bad contractor, and they hit upon the food truck idea.
“We started out sort of following what Nathanial Zimet from Boucherie did, only we did it at Dos Jefes instead [of Tipitina’s],” says Alex. “That led to private gigs. We started to get popular, thanks in no small part to Facebook and Twitter.”
Try the Chicken Bulgogi, my favorite at a recent sampling outside of the Kingpin Bar Uptown. Hunks of soy-marinated chicken come topped with cilantro, pickled onions and a Sriracha-spiked aioli. Pig lovers will dig Carnital Knowledge, with chunks of pork, shredded cabbage, sliced radish and chipotle aioli. “Our breakfast taco is getting popular, too,” says Alex. “We call it ‘Woke up in Oaxaca.’” This one comes with eggs, homemade chorizo and potatoes.
“If I had to explain the utility of Twitter, I’d say ‘this could have been invented for food trucks.’ It is perfect for mobile food vendors. We send out real-time menu updates and announce last call, for example.”
Lee and Niki Mouton’s Boo Koo BBQ truck got its start on the barbecue circuit. “My wife and I entered a barbecue competition in Hammond,” Lee says. “We ended up winning grand champion in the first barbecue competition we ever did. We won it on a $35 smoker we bought at Ace Hardware.”
They did the barbecue circuit for a while then started focusing on fairs and festivals. “We started to pay attention to the stuff on TV we’d see about the trucks. We were like, ‘OK, let’s do that!’ I knew I wanted to make a go at selling food because I discovered that I really enjoyed it.”
They dove in headfirst, buying their truck off of Craigslist in Baton Rouge. They worked Audubon and City parks, then camped out for a little while at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Andrew Higgins Drive to catch the late-night crowd heading home after the other restaurants closed. Mechanical problems sidelined them temporarily.
In the interim they were offered the kitchen at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Mid-City and started slinging smoked goods there in late February. Their truck now is used mostly for catering and festivals. “There are different statutes that apply to catering food versus vending food in the city, and catering is less of a hassle,” Lee explains.
Try the panko-crusted deep-fried mac and cheese balls, made with smoked Gouda and flavored with shrimp boil.
Also try their smoked brisket sandwich dressed with a tangy blue cheese and cilantro coleslaw. For Finn’s they’ll be serving up a special burger made with ground brisket, along with pistolettes stuffed with spicy Cajun boudin.
Nathanial Zimet’s Que Crawl is frequently cited as the “Big Purple Truck” that started it all. Zimet leveraged his truck’s success into his restaurant Boucherie. Nowadays the Purple Truck can be seen there through the dining room windows, lounging in the yard between gigs. “I do recognize, humbly, the recognition that it gets,” Zimet says of the truck. “[Recently] my business partner, James Denio, took it out to get a new paint job. He was driving down Oak Street and people were screaming at him for sandwiches.”
Zimet focuses on Southern food approached with a contemporary sensibility. “Southern food is amazingly simple, but in its simplicity is its beauty – take something simple and treat it with respect. Our collard greens are a good example. We make our own bacon, we render that out, cook up some onions, garlic and thyme. We make our own spicy vinegar and add that in – our own special edition.”
If you find yourself at his truck, try the 12-hour roast beef sandwich with pickles, red onions and horseradish cream sauce. “We sell the hell out of it, but it doesn’t always get the love from the judges ’cause it isn’t ‘traditional.’”
Also a hit is the pulled pork with purple cabbage coleslaw. Finally the fries, dusted with his barbecue rub blend, aren’t to be missed, either at the truck or at Boucherie.