Some people might consider our food truck season that tiny stretch of warm weather we soak up starting around the Fourth of July and ending somewhere right around Labor Day.
Those people also carry umbrellas and don’t know how to pronounce “geoduck.”
Food truck season in the Northwest? That’s a year-round thing.
During the coldest months of the year, at a time when the rain could easily be described as “violent,” three new mobile food businesses have opened. Two more trucks will open between now and March.
Read on for reports about the flurry of new mobile eateries.
When transplanted diners can’t find something from their hometown they crave, they do one of a few things. They rely on tasty facsimiles made at home or resign themselves to visiting the hometown for said delicacy.
Not Debby Graham. The Chicago transplant was tired of not being able to find authentic Chicago dogs in the South Sound, so she decided to start a food truck serving just that.
Her endeavor was part of an overall mission. Graham is the executive director of Centerforce, a nonprofit that provides job training for developmentally delayed clients.
With grant money tough to secure, Graham was exploring revenue generators that would also give her clients the job skills they wanted in the restaurant industry. She found both in Hometown Dogs, which opened the first week of December in Lakewood.
With a seed grant from Tacoma creative firm Rusty George Creative and expert advice from Catalyst Kitchens (the nonprofit agency behind Seattle’s Farestart), Graham took two years to plan and execute the Hometown Dogs truck. The planning coincided with the launch of the nonprofit’s food services training program, which just graduated its first class Dec. 23.
The Hometown Dogs menu stays simple with five dogs ($6.29-$6.49, with a side), a half dozen side dishes ($1-$2.50), soup ($3-$5) and a smattering of treats (75 cents-$1).
In my experience, if you ask anyone from Chicago what’s the best tasting hot dog, the answer will be — without pause — “Vienna beef dogs.”
“You gotta have the Vienna beef dogs,” Graham said by phone. She orders the truck’s supply through a Seattle distributor, along with Vienna’s snappy sport peppers and neon green relish.
One bite into the Chicago dog ($6.49) and I knew Graham had nailed it. Neon relish, a sprinkle of celery salt, that crunchy intersection of onions and peppers, slices of pickle and tomato jammed into the sturdy poppy seed bun with a Vienna beef. The lightest squiggle of mustard. It was exactly how a Chicago Dog is supposed to taste (The Red Hot on Sixth Avenue also makes a pretty good one).
With warmed kraut and deli mustard, the New York Dog ($6.29) tasted just right, with the sub of a Vienna for a Sabrett (I hope I don’t get hate mail from New Yorkers for writing that).
There’s also an Atlanta dog ($6.49) topped with coleslaw, a nod to a Coney with the Detroit dog ($6.49) topped with chili and onions and a Seattle dog ($6.29) with cream cheese and jalapenos.
Our dogs came with a side. I liked the coleslaw in favor of the still-crunchy creamy potato salad.
Our experience was made better by the friendly counter workers at the truck. It also was a quick meal — we were heading back to our cars in less than five minutes. No seating means you’ll have to stand and eat, or risk a hot dog tumble in your car. Do note: When the truck operates at busy Lakewood Pavilion, take extra care traversing parking lot traffic.
What happens when two of Tacoma’s finest sandwich makers team up with Gig Harbor’s best brewers?
The Gig Harbor food truck is a merge of two families of businesses — the 7 Seas Brewery by Mike Runion and Travis Guterson, and Robby and Justin Peterson, brothers who operate the Eleven Eleven in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood and co-own The Valley in the Dome neighborhood. The truck is parked every day outside the 7 Seas Brewery, home to a large brewing facility and tap room.
Beer is an expected theme here. Not only are The Galley’s sandwiches built well to pair with the brews of 7 Seas, but beer also is an ingredient in a number of menu items — from the beer and cheddar soup made with 7 Sea’s British Pale Ale to the spicy beer mustard and the cherry beer mustard — both made with the 7 Sea’s brown ale.
Chef Roger Weatherhead is a food truck veteran of Seattle’s Skillet Street Food, the Grilled Cheese Experience and Where Ya At Matt. His Galley menu echoes what the Peterson brothers are known for — solidly built sandwiches with a focus on from-scratch cooking.
A must order is the Galley’s Spanish take on a meatball sub ($11). Weatherhead makes by hand chorizo from ground lamb mixed with smoked paprika, chipotle puree, minced garlic and onions. The sturdy meatballs were tucked with manchego cheese into a toasted baguette that was squishy, yet curiously sturdy. (Excellent bread and buns are a hallmark at all Peterson-run restaurants.) This sub was full of smoky, robust flavors, but none of the sloppy mess that can sully a stand-and-eat experience for most meatball subs.
An equal thump of smoke was inserted into the chicken sandwich ($10), built on a toasted baguette with a smoky rub, a smear of goat cheese, arugula, red onion and a citrus heavy lemon-herb mayonnaise. The beer and cheese soup ($4) was a must-order item. The British pale ale lent yeasty heft, but not a note of bitterness some beer soups can carry.
Find your own seat inside the brewery and order beer at the counter, which was manned by friendly and helpful staff. The truck serves lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
When the weather warms, there’s a sizable patio for lounging and eating.
If I ever wrote a food truck rulebook, it would say something like:
1. Paint truck bright colors.
2. Find busy location with near constant stream of traffic.
3. Serve tacos.
One, two and three. Tacos Chaparrito has every one of my imaginary rules nailed. The neon green truck is right off busy Bridgeport, next door to a State Farm office. The truck is so dayglo, it’s absolutely impossible to miss, but if you do, those “taco” feather signs waving out front will guide you to taco land.
The tacos are a good call at Tacos Chaparrito, which opened at its current location in October. The menu is a standard mix of portable taqueria eats — tacos, burritos, tortas, mulitos, gorditos and combo plates — with prices from $1.20-$9.99.
Skip the carne asada — it was way too dry in a combo plate ($9.99) — but garlicky beans and fluffy rice tasted taqueria authentic, and extra care went into the griddled onion and roasted jalapeno garnish. Veer to the outstanding carnitas ($3.80), slow cooked pork shoulder griddled until crunchy edged and served on doubled-up corn tortillas layered with cilantro, chopped onions and a one-two punch of red and green salsas.
You know how you walk up to a truck and the operator is leaning toward you with a smile and you just know you’re going to be treated well? That’s exactly what I got at Tacos Chaparrito. Our server also kindly shuttled our plates of food to the adjoining building outfitted with a single table for dining.
CURBSIDE URBAN CUISINE
Students will make the food, serve the food — and some of them will even design the food. Curbside Urban Cuisine will be an incubator for burgeoning mobile chefs who also are culinary students at Bates Technical College. Food truck instructor Richard Houle is hoping for a February opening. The truck will serve lunch on weekdays at the college’s South campus on 78th Street.
The opening of the truck coincides with a two-quarter program at Bates that will give fledgling business owners the skills to open and operate a mobile food service.
Culinary students at Bates will be responsible, alongside Bates instructors, for cooking and assembling.
Houle described a menu ($5-$6) with a burger, pulled pork sandwich, a chicken wrap and a changing list of specials that mobile food services students will have a hand in designing. Houle said students will get badly needed real-life training they need to get a business started immediately upon graduation. Follow the truck’s progress at twitter.com/batescurbside.
RAM INTERNATIONAL FOOD TRUCK
Coming this March will be a food truck from the company that owns the Ram breweries and C.I. Shenanigan’s. From Jeff Mann, general manager of C.I. Shenanigans, “The food truck will be used primarily for catering and special events throughout Washington and Oregon. We are finalizing a handful of different themed menus and offerings. We already have numerous events booked in 2015 and will be fully functional for public events by mid-March.”
TACOMA FOOD TRUCK FEST
A date has been announced for the second Tacoma Food Truck Fest, sponsored by Metro Parks Tacoma. This year’s gathering will be noon-5 p.m. July 19 at Wright Park. Expect some of the area’s best trucks, as well as a beer garden featuring local craft beers. Find more information at metroparkstacoma.org/foodtruckfest. No date has been set for the Moveable Feast, the food truck festival held at Cheney Stadium.
More on food trucks: Read my guide listing all Tacoma-area trucks at bit.ly/1wYSKRZ.