This past Sunday, Mark and I were invited by Laci of the NYC Food Truck Association to cover the Food Truck Rally at Prospect Park. It was a gorgeous Sunday (sun not included) which led to massive lines. Several trucks started running out of food by 3pm! In one shot, we tried six trucks and even grabbed a word with a few of the guys behind the trucks.
**A special thanks to Laci who helped accompany and secure us complimentary tastings from Wafels and Dinges, Rickshaw Dumplings and Phil’s Steaks.Without further ado, in order of consumption:
Wafels and Dinges (@waffeltruck)
This was actually the first food truck I ever visited. Shamefully, I wasn’t hungry that day and had only a mini wafel. This time, we got a real wafel. Initially I had just wanted the liege wafel with their Spekuloos, but the guy convinced us that it tastes way better with whipped-cream. That turned our waffle into the famous “Throwdown Waffle” that competed against Bobby Flay (Wafels and Dinges won, by the way). If you go, you must get the liege wafel. They’re are more dense and sweet than the “Belgian waffles” that Americans are used to, which are usually airier. The liege wafel is made with dough whereas Belgian waffles are made with batter. Although the batter at Wafels and Dinges is a closely guarded secret, Thomas (the founder) admits that pearl sugar is a key ingredient.
Liege wafel with strawberries and maple syrup ($6)
Throwdown wafel: Liege wafel with spekuloos and whipped cream (worth every penny of your $6)
Our Throwdown wafel did not disappoint. It was warm, dense and delightfully chewy. The spekuloos tasted like a marriage between peanut butter and dulce de leche. It’s supposed to taste like a traditional Belgian gingerbread-cinnamon cookie, but how would I know?! I’ve never had one. For all you vegan folks out there, you lucked out because spekuloos is vegan friendly! It does contain gluten though. Mark and I gobbled this quickly.
We had a quick word with Joe, who has been at Wafels and Dinges for a whopping 4.5 years. For his shift, Joe wakes up at 6am, loads up the truck and begins driving to find his spot for the day. Shifts are usually 8-9 hours with 3 people manning the truck at peak times. The busiest times during the day are around 2:30-3pm. When asked what his favorite waffle is, Joe says (and I quote verbatim)- “They’re all my children. But if I had to choose, I’d say a liege with nutella, banana, whipped cream and spekuloos.” Yeah, if I had a kid with those traits, he’d be my favorite too.
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar (@RickshawTruck)
A few years back during undergrad, I had met Kenny Lao as part of an entrepreneurial group meeting at the Rickshaw Dumplings location on 23rd between 5th and 6th ave to explain how he had started this venture. He and his partner, David Weber, actually submitted this idea as a business plan to the Stern Business Plan competition in 2004 and won second place/seed money and entry into the Stern incubator. The menu was created with the help of Chef Anito Lo (of Annisa). We had sampled a variety of dishes including their pork chive dumplings and “Chocolate Shanghai” (an awesome explosion of gooey chocolate in traditional sweet sesame balls).
Pork Chive Dumplings with sesame soy dip (3 for $3.75)
I wasn’t impressed with the dumplings- they were decent, but not far from your common dumpling found in any Chinatown restaurant. Every Chinese would also claim that her mother makes the best dumplings. In this case, my grandmother makes the best dumplings [shameless promotion] and they’re vegetarian too. Booya. Anyhow, the pricing point for me is a bit too expensive. I’m used to getting like 10 dumplings for $1. Luckily, Rickshaw isn’t targeting the cheap/student population (they actually tried and nearly went bankrupt after opening up a location near NYU).
Oh look, it’s Dave himself!
Anyway, I did leave impressed with how Kenny and Dave turned this into a legitimate business. This Sunday, I met the other partner, David, who now runs the Food Truck Association. Here were a few interesting takeaways:
Why did you start the association?
The association was started to address several legal constraints that food trucks face. One of the most important issues is parking. The city has not yet figured out a way to legally incorporate food trucks into the city. There’s a law from 1965 that stipulates that you can’t sell stuff on metered parking. Even though food is technically a “service,” the law became regularly enforced during summer 2011. Parking tickets are a norm and it’s considered a cost of doing business as a food truck.
Are there any other rules/challenges aside from parking?
To work on a food truck, you need a license. It’s a card that takes a few weeks to obtain. Every person on the truck needs to display their license. In fact, if the license is flipped on its backside, it’s an automatic $1k fine. The license incorporates the typical food safety license and is a certificate of authority for sales tax collection. Because it takes so long to obtain, staffing is a giant issue. You’re pretty much guaranteed a job if you can get a license.
What is the difference between a food cart and a food truck?
Food carts operate under different rules but the major difference is that food carts operate on sidewalks so they’re able to obtain permits for that. Some of the permit costs are pretty steep. Supposedly, the guy selling hot dogs in front of the Met museum paid $500k over the span of five years just to secure that heavily traffiked spot.
Phil’s Steaks (@PhilsSteaks)
Cheesesteak isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it’s Mark’s, so I decided that just this once, we could have cheesesteak (just kidding- we can have it twice a year). We met Jim, co-founder of Phil’s Steaks. Originally a musician and from Philly, Jim and his partner thought that there was a niche that needed to be filled in NYC. So, they bought a truck and started selling cheesesteaks. When asked if they could have done anything differently, he thought about it and said, “No. I think we hit everything right where we should have. We were quite lucky.”
American Steak: Beef, American cheese and fried onions ($10)
To be honest, this was above average at best. Mark liked it, but you give him anything steak related and he’s a happy camper. It seemed as if this was a textbook cheesesteak, but I’m just not a fan of thinly sliced beef in bread where the protein quantity outweighs the bread (I know, I am very weird). Mark’s complaint was that he barely tasted any cheese. I had one of the end pieces and there was a plenty’o cheese. Thumbs up there.
Jim says that the most important ingredient to a good cheesesteak is the bread. In fact, they get their bread from a specific bakery Philadelphia. The bun did hold up quite well. I hate it when my sandwiches get soggy.
Kelvin Natural Slush Co. (@Kelvinslush)
Steve from StreetGrubEverday saw us when we first got in line. 20 minutes later, he came back and asked if the line had actually moved. I think overall, the wait was about 30 minutes but it was totally worth it. The special of the day was an Arnold Palmer (a combination of their tea and citrus base) + white peach. We sub’d out the white peach for the pomegranate. Otherwise, you can just choose one of their classic slush flavors (ie spicy ginger, tangy citrus or green & black tea) and add on a “real fruit purée ” mix-in (ie acai, blackberry, blood orange, mango, etc…).
If it weren’t for my thirst, I would have just stared at the cup. It was rich with vibrant colors. One sip and I was in slushie heaven. It’s the same reaction I get when digging my face into a 7-Eleven slushie without the sugar high. All of Kelvin’s slushies skip high fructose corn syrup and use natural ingredients with real fruit and herbs. They’re even kosher. I really don’t want to tout how superior “organic” or “natural” ingredients are over processed sugars, but you really can taste and feel the difference. They won the 2010 Vendy Award for Best Dessert, a testament to how awesome their slushies are. I think that $4 for a slushie was way underpriced compared to paying $4 for a regular Italian ice.
Pulled Pork: Pulled red onions and guac spread ($3.50)
This was pretty disappointing and probably our least favorite of the day. The pulled pork had a mild flavor and we had to douse some hot sauce to give it an edge. The onions were perfectly pickled, but unfortunately, we were not going for a pickled onion taste. It explains why this was one of the last two remaining items on the menu that had not yet sold out. However, the guys behind the truck were amongst the happiest and friendliest all day!
Morris Grilled Cheese (@morristruck)
I could cry just thinking about how great this grilled cheese sandwich tasted. In fact, it was so good, we had to turn back to ask the Paul McCartney look-alike what type of bread they used. They answered with some local farm, but the key word here is sour-dough. Not a surprise. It’s obviously also good-quality and locally sourced Gouda, but the secret ingredient I’d dare say would be the fennel butter. They cook the fennel in its entirety with some butter along with the shallots and then spread it on the bread.
Gouda: Bacon with fennel butter ($9)
There’s not much more you can ask for on a grilled cheese. Possibly some grill marks, but hey, that’s just aesthetics. The sandwich was perfectly crisp. Each bite had a generous glob of cheese that stretched and turned into string, hanging limply from the bread. There were a few small strips of bacon, which was just perfect- otherwise the sandwich would have been too salty. Bangin’ delicious. Can’t believe that this was the last grilled cheese sandwich that they didn’t sell out of. Can you imagine what the other grilled cheese sandwiches must have tasted like?
Andy’s Homemade Italian Ices (@AndysItalianIce)
This was the last stop of the day. After that fabulous grilled cheese, I thought I could consume no more, but Steve convinced us that Andy’s Italian Ice was worth trying. So, we followed his hat tip and got the Pink Lemonade.
Regular Italian Ice: Pink Lemonade ($4)
We had the same reaction as Steve. This is one good Italian Ice. It’s so smooth that it almost tastes like ice cream, but not quite. Mark also remarked that unlike most Italian Ices, this did not melt! So our last bite was not greeted by a sopping mess of liquid, but rather a very fluffy spoonful of ice!
Too bad the lady who served us seemed as if she had better places to be. Hmm, can’t imagine what could be better than being on a truck full of ices!
**A major thanks to the guy who graciously tagged along to hold my bag, endure my lens changing and hours of standing. You were such a good sport. Thanks sharkie!