If you’re trying to save on fuel during a summer that makes the case for global warming and when gasoline prices flirt with $4 per gallon, there’s a lot to like about a friendly food truck operator who brings lunch to your neighborhood. Across the country, a veritable food truck race is under way, with food truck “pods” growing in with-it towns like Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore.
Louisville hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of this trend. Sprawling suburbs, our devotion to driving in a pedestrian-hostile environment, and state and local ordinances that snarl vendors in a web of red tape have seen to that. But food trucks are becoming a more realistic option here, thanks to a growing cadre of creative folks who’ve endowed the city in recent months with food truck options that go beyond the ordinary.
Or, in the case of the Velveeta-yellow Li’l Cheezers truck (www.lilcheezers.com), Matt Davis and crew take the ordinary (grilled cheese sandwiches) and turn it extraordinary with quality ingredients, creative toppings and service with a smile. A half-dozen variations on the hearty grilled cheese, made on thick Texas wheatberry toast, are mostly $8; the Plain Jane, with your choice of American, cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, pepper jack or Swiss, is $6. Sandwiches come with excellent fresh-cooked potato chips, an addictive house-made curried ketchup, and pickles. We chowed down on the Caprese (mozzarella sandwiched with a thick slice of beefsteak tomato, fresh basil, garlic and balsamic reduction) and the pizza (mozz’ with sizzling slices of pepperoni to go with the tomato and garlic).
The wild-mushroom-color van that houses the Morels food truck (www.morelsfoodtruck.com) unveils the unexpected, too, as proprietor Stanley Chase offers sliders, fiery Korean-style bratwursts, spicy Vietnamese banh mi hot dogs, buffalo wraps, a filling breakfast burrito, and even, coming soon, lox and cream cheese on bagels. But, wait for it: It’s all vegan. Yep. There’s no dog in the dog, no meat in the burrito; no animals whatsoever were harmed or even forced to work for our enjoyment. It’s all about tofu, tempeh and seitan, oh my, not to mention a little meatless “coconut bacon.” You can also buy some of Morels’ treats at Heine Bros. Coffee (where the buffalo tempeh wrap and tofu scramble breakfast burrito are both $6.59) and Rainbow Blossom. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it: The first time I tasted the banh mi, I was blown away and couldn’t believe that hot dog wasn’t made of delicious pigmeat. Nope! This dog is made of soybeans and wheat products with smoke and garlic flavors. A dog contains 45 calories and 0 percent fat. Just sayin’.
The trucks just keep on coming. MozzaPi (www.mozzapi.com), which plans eventually to settle into a permanent home without wheels at 1015 Bardstown Road, is food-trucking it now in a van with a wood-burning pizza oven built into the hull. The pies, in my judgment, rank with the city’s best, and this isn’t surprising, as proprietors Justyne Richardson and Tom Edwards are seeking certification as Verace Pizza Napoletana, the true Neapolitan-style formalized under Italian law.
Want more? San Diego Sandwich Works (www.sdsworks.com), a school bus tricked out with gleaming turquoise and wood paneling like a ’50s station wagon, puts a California surfer spin on wraps, quesadillas, soups and sandwiches — er, panini — mostly priced at $7.
Holy Mole (www.facebook.com/holymoletacos) hums a Latino tune, too, with its cactus-green step van and Mexican bill of fare focused on “fresh gourmet tacos on handmade masa tortillas.” The ancient Aztecs didn’t save chocolate for dessert but used it in savory mole. Holy Mole’s version, the owners tell Facebook followers, boasts “more than 30 ingredients, homemade and simmered for hours. Try it 4 lunch!” Don’t mind if I do.
Don’t overlook the Latino mobile eateries that blazed the trail here: El Rumbon Cuban food truck, which often turns up at auto dealerships near Oxmoor or out Dixie Highway (LEO Weekly, Sept. 1, 2010); and Las Gorditas, a Mexico City-style food trailer that usually parks around the Eastland shopping center on Bardstown Road (May 28, 2008).
Some free spirits even operate food “trucks” with no truck. Busta Grill (www.facebook.com/bustagrill), a modern, gourmet-style take on the old-fashioned hot-dog wagon, often parks downtown around First and Washington streets. SoupBycycle (www.soupbycycle.com) delivers soup to you on two wheels, and chef Gabe Sowder, formerly of 610 Magnolia, often sets up his Taco Punk (http://on.fb.me/nvsRlq) booth at the Douglass Loop farmers market.
Where to find them
Food trucks move around, and current city and state ordinances foster this nomadic lifestyle by forbidding a truck to remain in one location more than 14 days before moving on down the road. We’ve tried to help by providing web addresses where available; check the websites for Facebook pages and Twitter links. I’ve created a Twitter Louisville Food Truck list, too, where you’ll find their live tweets assembled in one place: http://bit.ly/foodtrucksLHB. Also, check out www.louisvillestreetfood.com.
Finally, many of the trucks will assemble on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m., for the second Food Truckus Ruckus (twitter.com/#!/FdTruckusRuckus) in the parking lot of Fresh Start Growers Supply Co., 1007 E. Jefferson St.
In fact, drive by Growers Supply just about any day at lunchtime. Chances are you’ll spot a food truck there. I suggest you stop while it’s standing still.