Truckin' Around the Midlands
Food trucks hit the ground rolling
Forget greasy hamburgers and hot dogs – Columbia’s food trucks offer fresh, delicious, practically gourmet, fare. Scott Hall’s Bone-In Artisan BBQ on Wheels serves Sarah Hettich some of her favorite dishes.
Photo by Robert Clark
A grassroots food-truck revolution exploding across the nation has landed full force in the Midlands. Mobile food vendors have always been part of the local street scene, but a new generation of motorized kitchens has appeared and is breaking new ground. Columbia has four of these specialty food trucks: Bone-In Artisan BBQ on Wheels; 2 Fat 2 Fly Food Truck; Pawley’s Mobile Eats and Alfresco Mobilista (a.k.a. AlfMob). When they opened for business about a year and a half ago, they hit the ground rolling, with no signs of slowing down.
The operators are a group of executive chefs, accomplished cooks and culinary enthusiasts who share an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for the culinary arts. Inspired by regional, ethnic and fusion cuisines, they think creatively about flavors and ingredients to give their signature dishes inventive twists. Menu items are characterized by buzzwords like organic, local and fresh. In the spirit of the iconic West Coast food trucks – vanguards of the movement – these newcomers are distinguishing themselves by carving out culinary niches and building their brands.
The nouveau food truck is one of the fastest-growing small business concepts in the country. Some operators have parleyed their success into brick-and-mortar establishments. Restaurants are jumping onto the food truck bandwagon, even adding street food items to their menus. Thus far, the Food Network has dedicated three seasons to The Great Food Truck Race. The show’s host is Food Network star Tyler Florence, a Greenville native. Even Zagat Survey® online is developing a tracking site. Food trucks are only one component of the local food economy, yet they are an important one, bringing vibrancy to the community and adding value to people’s lives. Easily tracked, the eye-catching trucks transform grassy pastures and parking lots into some of the most hip, au courant dining spots around. The Midlands truck operators buy locally from producers and farms, when possible, focusing on seasonal, sustainable fare.
From Grease Trucks To Niche Trucks
The food truck’s pathway to the present starts in the late 19th century when chuck wagons roamed the prairies and horse-drawn tamaleros peddled fresh tamales in old Los Angeles. East Coast European immigrants were involved in similar pursuits. WWI military field kitchens led to motorized mobile canteens and Good Humor ice cream trucks in the 1920s. Hot dog carts were on the streets by the 1940s. Around 1950, construction and industrial sites filled up with lunch trucks serving “blue collar cuisine.” Through technological innovation, “grease trucks” with questionable foods have evolved into highly specialized units turning out top-notch cuisine. With strict health regulations in place, food trucks have become socially acceptable. “They are not the roach coaches of the past,” explains Ben Griffin, food truck operator for Pawley’s Mobile Eats. “We serve restaurant-quality foods at a reasonable price.”
The Social Side of Business
To beckon hungry cowboys to a campfire meal, chuck wagon trail cooks would ring the dinner bell or bang loudly on their pots, yelling, “Come and get it!” Today’s roving food trucks round up their customers through social media — a technology that has fueled their success. Keeping the lines of communication open is essential. Mobile kitchens broadcast their locations to the cyber world in multiple ways: Facebook, food blogs, GPS satellite, mobile applications like TruxMap or Eat St. and microblogs like Twitter. A Twitter account is not even needed to follow the trucks via SMS (Short Message Service) on a cell phone, using Twitter’s new feature called “Fast Follow.” Physical mobility allows “Twitter trucks” to attract a broader customer base that includes foodies, baby boomers and the tech-savvy Generation Y. Digital-age tools also help build customer relationships, develop marketing strategies and advertise deals.
The New Kids on the Block
BONE-IN ARTISANAL BBQ ON WHEELS
After a decade working in New York City’s food industry, Chef Scott Hall returned to Columbia to open Scott Hall Catering and Bone-In Artisan BBQ food truck, divisions of Hall Hospitalities. In January, the truck was featured on the Food Network Canada’s Eat St., a show dedicated to trendy, upscale meals on wheels, and in the March 2012 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Bone-In was named one of the 20 best food trucks in the country.
Chef Scott Hall returned to Columbia from New York to open Bone-In Artisanal BBQ on Wheels. Photo by Robert Clark
Using traditional Southern slow smoking techniques, Scott cooks pulled pork, St. Louis ribs and brisket, which is smoked 14 hours. Pulled brisket with hickory-hoisin barbecue sauce is piled high on squares of house-made focaccia. There’s even a smoked brisket meatloaf sandwich with handmade sun-dried tomato ketchup. Scott’s basic macaroni and cheese recipe can be found online at www.columbiametro.com. Sometimes, he stuffs it with the pulled pork as a satisfying main dish. Other dishes rotate with the season. The springtime menu promises layers of flavor in lobster-mushroom macaroni and cheese. In a nod to West Coast cuisine, Scott has created a grilled chicken Caesar, with romaine halves grilled with anchovy butter and smoky cornbread croutons. Down-home desserts change often too. Don’t miss the outstanding fruit cobblers or the decadent bacon brownie sundae.
“Food trucks offer a change of pace from the usual fast food places,” says Chef Scott. “Our food is respectfully prepared, and we strive to keep the price of food items under $10. Our food guidelines are strict: nothing is frozen and the dishes are made 100 percent from scratch each day.”
Locations: The parking lot of The Big Apple at 1000 Hampton St., between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays. Locations and times change; check online for updated information.
2 FAT 2 FLY FOOD TRUCK
2 Fat 2 Fly Food Truck co-owners Ramone Dickerson and Corey Simmons have garnered several awards for their wings, including “Best Wings” at the 2011 Capital City Music & Wing Fling. In January, they were also featured on Food Network Canada’s Eat St.
A long-time staple of Southern cooking, chicken wings are one of America’s top restaurant snacks, even when it’s not Super Bowl Sunday. The partners elevated them to gourmet status by stuffing and deep-frying Amick Farm’s premium, jumbo, bone-in wings then finishing them with a special seasoning or sauce. The resulting crispy skin, unique savory stuffing and melt-in-your-mouth goodness are addictive. What kind of stuffing goes inside the wings? “Food,” says Ramone, with a laugh. “Anything you can imagine!”
Ramone worked in the food industry for 15 years and has cooked wings since he was a boy, while Corey is a seasoned eater of foods. In flights of fancy, they dream up irresistible stuffing combinations like jalapeños, bacon and cheddar-Jack cheese. The jambalaya wings are stuffed with rice and smoked sausage; macaroni and cheese stuffed wings are finished with cheese sauce. The Garden Variety is a springtime version with onion, green pepper, zucchini and Swiss cheese with a light, special dressing. Bayside Wings are packed with hush puppies, cooked onion and crabmeat then finished with Old Bay Seasoning.
Ramone Dickerson and Corey Simmons run 2 Fat 2 Fly Food Truck. Photo courtesy of 2 Fat 2 Fly
Appreciative of their success, Ramone and Corey place philanthropic activities high on their to-do list. They hope to initiate a food recovery effort from restaurants, supermarkets and farms to help feed needy individuals in homeless shelters. They leveraged their resources recently to offer culinary workshops during an after-school enrichment program at W. G. Sanders Middle School. Their encouragement to students was, “Believe in yourself because you can do anything you put your mind to. Refuse to fail!”
Locations: Suggs and Kelly Firm, 500 Taylor St. Locations and times can change. Check online for updated information.
PAWLEY’S MOBILE EATS
Food trucks are a moving billboard and powerful marketing tool for established restaurants like Pawley’s Front Porch. Ben Griffin, who is also sous-chef and catering director, says their food truck, Pawley’s Mobile Eats, was designed and specially crafted in Los Angeles. The catering truck serves a condensed version of the restaurant menu, which Ben describes as “new Americana burger cuisine.” In 2010, Pawley’s was featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives with host Guy Fieri.
Ben Griffin, with Pawley’s Mobile Eats, says their food truck was specially crafted in Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of Pawleys Front Porch
Burgers are one of those foods that define American casual cuisine. Besides three types of fish tacos, Pawley’s Mobile Eats offers a smorgasbord of burgers made with certified Angus beef. Perfectly seared on the outside, they are juicy and seasoned just right. Specialty burgers include the Isle of Palms with pimento cheese and jalapeño bacon. The Edisto includes caramelized onions and goat cheese. The Wadmalaw is fully loaded with chipotle BBQ sauce, fried pickle chips, applewood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. A fried green tomato sandwich with house-made pimento cheese and applewood bacon on jalapeño cheddar bread offers a mouthful of satisfying Southern flavors. Sides include hand-cut home fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings and pasta salad. Fans rave about these burgers, each bearing a coastal name. Columbia serves some fantastic burgers and these are among the best.
Locations: Edventure; the corner of Gervais and Huger Streets, across from Publix; The All Local Farmers’ Market, Saturday morning breakfast, 8 a.m. to noon, 711 Whaley St. Locations and times can change. Check online for updated information.
Chef Adams Hayne and Julie, his wife, love to share good food and good times. Their philosophy is simple – guests should eat well whether they grab a quick lunch from Alfresco Mobilista (AlfMob) or dine on elegant wedding fare, which they provide through their Columbia associate, Wedding 101. AlfMob was in the running for a spot on season three of the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. One of four South Carolina trucks running and the only one from Columbia, the truck ranked 53 of 213 trucks.
Adams and Julie Hayne run Alfresco Mobilista. Photo Courtest of Alfresco Mobilista
Adams’s inspiration to become a chef started when he was a latchkey kid in the early 1980s. He prepared snacks and helped his parents and grandmother in the kitchen. As a young U.S. Marine, he says, “I would cook for my fellow jarheads, taking any chance to relax from long weeks spent in the field preparing for deployment.” After leaving the Corps, he used his GI bill to enter Johnson & Wales and earn a Bachelor Degree in Culinary Arts. Adams honed his skills at several fine Charleston restaurants and at Sea Island Resort in Georgia, where he was chef de partie. He also worked at the Palmetto Club and at the Blue Marlin as chef de cuisine.
Alfresco Mobilista is a gourmet bistro on wheels. The name comes from Alfresco for “eating outdoors” and Mobilista for “on the move.” The food line-up on the truck’s menu board could be described as fusion food with attitude or Southern comfort food with international flair. Adams lightheartedly defines it as, “Redneck Italian married to Mexican cuisine.” Fusion food is a vibrant cooking style that crosses culinary boundaries, combining ingredients and cooking techniques in exciting new ways. (Think pulled pork Bánh mì.) Creating harmony among the many elements requires a skillful touch, and Adams is a master.
People rave over sandwiches like the Redneck Cuban with hickory smoked pulled pork, grilled ham, homemade pickles, blue cheese aioli and stout chili pepper Q-sauce. Fans also recommend the Jules of the City Salad with pecan encrusted boursin cheese and the shrimp burgers with corn relish. There are steak tacos, chimichangas and a special favorite, the chicken meatball gyro (pita sandwich). House-made Mobilista Chips come unleaded, leaded or diesel — seasoned with blue cheese aioli, pulled pork, feta and pickled peppers.
Adams says one big reward from running the food truck is spending more time at home with Julie. But they’re not becoming idle. They search for new culinary inspirations on “field trips” through the South and, most recently, in Canada.
Locations: Connoisseurs Corner Wine Tasting & Tapas Dinner at Lake Carolina at 5 p.m. every 2 to 3 weeks. Locations change daily. Check the website for upcoming locations and lunch dates.
Recipe for Success
From coast to coast, cities are grappling with food truck issues; more and more are willing to loosen restrictions. The Columbia City Council voted this past November to amend a restrictive vendor law allowing more flexibility for food truck operations. The owners feel the new restrictions are not too harsh. Ramone Dickerson says, “Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin is progressive and appreciates the food truck culture.”
Adams Hayne hopes the group can create a coalition of food trucks similar to the Charleston Food Truck Federation. Scott Hall comments, “I’d like to see more events that include all the food trucks. We do best when we are together in a communal spot.” A food trucker’s wish list might include a dedicated community-gathering place where the gourmet food trucks could assemble in a safe, fun atmosphere.
Columbia food trucks could benefit from partnering with local brick-and-mortar restaurants and grocery stores, thus increasing marketing opportunities for both. Such a partnership would create a greater perceived value for the customer base. “It’s fun to watch the community excitement as the food truck culture grows,” Scott Hall says. “It is gratifying to see all the support.”
SPECIAL ONLINE RECIPES
COLUMBIA SUPPORTS FOOD TRUCKS
Online Columbia communities have sprung up to support the growing South Carolina food truck culture. Food Truck Rodeos are held periodically at City Roots Farm, Columbia’s first urban sustainable farm. When the food trucks assemble, fans eagerly line up to sample their “street eats.” Popular gatherings like The Famously Hot Food Truck Food Courts are periodically held at multiple venues like Cromer’s, Adluh Flour, Cross Hill Market (site of the new Whole Foods market) and the Brickworks in Cayce. Food Truck Rodeos at City Roots Farm will take place on the first and third Friday in April. On April 28, the trucks will appear at Utopia Food & Spirits located in the Rosewood area. For more information, visit the websites below.
Facebook - Food Truck Court: http://www.facebook.com/FTFCola
Facebook - City Roots Farm: http://www.facebook.com/CityRootsFarmFood
Facebook - Food Truck Rodeo: http://www.facebook.com/ColumbiaFoodTruckRodeo
Zagat Food Truck Survey: http://foodtrucks.zagat.com/
Friends of Columbia’s Food Trucks and Carts: http://www.facebook.com/CAEfoodTrucks
THE LAST BITE
We just learned about an exciting newcomer to the Columbia food truck scene. “The No Frills Grill” is a mobile food truck owned by Judy’s at the Market, a new restaurant located within the South Carolina State Farmers’ Market in West Columbia. Director of Market Operations Joe Numberger says the state-of-the art truck caters Southern comfort food and also offers employee meals throughout the large market area. The No Frills Grill is expanding operations to appear at city food truck events. Customers are already clamoring for their home-cooked vegetables (fresh from the market, of course), Southern fried chicken and roast pork tenderloin with Carolina caviar. Don’t overlook the made-from-scratch desserts: mile-high red velvet cake, chocolate cloud cake and homemade fresh fruit cobbler. For more information contact: Judy’s at the Market, 3483 Charleston Highway, West Columbia, 29172. Phone: (803) 509-5641
New York’s Famous Hot Dogs is a long-time family-owned Columbia business with food carts that appear at the food truck events mentioned in this article. Their hot dogs are a local favorite, featuring the original famous New York Sabrett® wieners. Offerings include the Brooklyn Dog (hot dog meets the BLT), Little Italy (with mozzarella, pepperoni and chili), and Papa B’s Atomic Dog (slathered in jalapeños, chiles and Greek pepper spread.) The company also sells Mexican fare, catfish nuggets and fried fish sandwiches. Learn more about their services at: www.facebook.com/NYFHD.
Recipes From the Food Trucks
Alfresco Shrimp Burgers
When Adams Hayne was executive chef at Columbia’s Palmetto Club, he occasionally offered a shrimp cake special at lunch. Playing off the idea, he added a dynamite shrimp burger with signature touches to the menu of his food truck, Alfresco Mobilista. Adams serves the shrimp burgers fresh off the grill, with a light orzo pasta salad on the side. He tosses grilled vegetables into the orzo then dresses the mixture with fresh herb vinaigrette. It’s the perfect recipe to make at home for springtime alfresco dining.
Corn Salsa (recipe below)
Alfresco Rémoulade (recipe below)
Sweet & Sour Slaw (recipe below)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
3 large hamburger buns
Prepare the Shrimp Burgers, Corn Salsa, Alfresco Rémoulade and Sweet & Sour Slaw. Heat a large sauté pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp patties 8 to 10 minutes, until both sides become golden brown. Place the patties on toasted burger buns. Top each one with some of the rémoulade, corn salsa and slaw. Serve and enjoy! Serves 3. Recipe can be doubled to serve 6.
1 pound shrimp (31/40-count), peeled and deveined
1 ounce feta cheese
1 ounce basil pesto
salt and pepper, to taste
Using a food processor with the steel blade, pulse-grind half (8 ounces) of the shrimp. In a medium bowl, mix the ground shrimp with the remaining whole shrimp, feta cheese and basil pesto. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture into 3 equal-size portions (each slightly over 5 ounces) and shape into patties. Cook as directed above or refrigerate until remaining ingredients are prepared.
3 ears corn, shucked and silk removed
1 green bell pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 Roma tomato, diced
3 sprigs cilantro, rough-chopped
1 fresh lime, juiced
1 tablespoon chili powder
salt and pepper, to taste
On a gas or charcoal grill, slowly cook the corn, bell pepper and onion to bring out the natural sugars and sweetness of each. If you don’t have a grill, preheat an oven to 400 degrees and roast for ten minutes. Carve the corn kernels from the cob and put into a mixing bowl. Peel away the skin from the bell pepper and remove seeds; dice small about the size of the corn kernels. Dice the onion to the same size. Add diced bell pepper and onion to the corn; thoroughly combine. Add tomato, cilantro, lime juice and chili powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
1 cup mayonnaise
1 medium cucumber, diced small1 Roma tomato, diced small
1 ounce scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Creole mustard
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients to a sauce consistency.
Sweet & Sour Slaw
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons crushed chili flakes
1/2 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the vinegar, sugar and crushed chili flakes until sugar is dissolved. Add the thinly sliced cabbage to the vinegar mixture and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Pawley’s Jalapeño “Pimento” Cheese
Ben Griffin, food truck director for Pawley’s Mobile Eats, shares this spicy-delicious pimento cheese recipe. It is featured on the Caw Caw Creek, one of the most popular burgers served at the restaurant and at the food truck. Fresh spinach gives the mixture a green hue similar to the jalapeños. To build a burger, top the bottom half of a sesame bun with a freshly ground, 8-ounce grilled beef patty. Add a generous scoop of jalapeño pimento cheese (Pawleys melts it on the burger), bread-and-butter pickled green tomato, applewood smoked bacon, lettuce and grilled onions. Add the bun top and serve at once. You’ll appreciate the juxtaposition of umami flavors – spicy, salty and sweet – enhanced with a gentle smokiness. Now you can create your own version of a Pawley’s-style grilled hamburger at home.
20 roasted jalapeños (skinned and seeded)
1 small bag fresh baby spinach
6 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces honey
4 ounces hot sauce
4 ounces Worcestershire Sauce
salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
5 pounds shredded white, sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put jalapeños on a heavy sheet pan; roast until skins are slightly blistered. Sweat in a covered bowl until cool; remove and discard the skins and seeds. With a food processor using the steel blade, blend jalapeños, spinach and cream cheese until smooth. Briefly blend in honey, hot sauce, Worcestershire Sauce and salt and pepper, to taste. Scrape mixture into a large bowl then thoroughly stir in the shredded cheese until all the ingredients are well combined. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until used.
2 Fat 2 Fly Savory Sausage Stuffing
Nearly everyone loves stuffing, one of the ultimate comfort foods. The 2 Fat to Fly Food Truck team sells plump chicken wings packed with delicious herb-sausage dressing. They are deep-fried and generously drizzled with savory brown gravy. Marketed as “Thanksgiving Wings,” they are so tasty that they WILL fly right into your mouth! Since stuffing is just too good to eat only once a year, Ramone and Corey have shared their recipe for you to make year round. They suggest serving it as a side dish to your favorite chicken wings or with any other poultry dish.
1 loaf French bread with crust, cut into 1-inch cubes
10 tablespoons butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)
1 bunch green onions, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 cups finely chopped celery
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup sage-flavored Jimmy Dean sausage, cooked and drained
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 ounces grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread bread cubes on baking sheet and bake until bread is dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. Leave the oven heated.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the next 8 ingredients and sauté until celery is tender and onions are translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Generously butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Put the toasted, cooled bread cubes into a large bowl, add the warm sautéed vegetables and the cooked sausage; toss together until combined. Add salt and pepper. Whisk together eggs and chicken broth; add to the stuffing blend and toss to coat. Gently mix in the Parmesan. Transfer mixture to the prepared dish; cover with buttered foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden, about 30 minutes more. Serve warm. Makes 8 portions.