There's a lot of buzz lately about food trucks. They've been around for over a hundred years, originally as chuck wagons to feed people during westward expansion in the late 1800s, and later as mobile canteens or lunch carts at workplaces beginning in the 1950s. Today, food trucks are popular and trendy, and are a respected outlet for making excellent quality food affordable and accessible. Published this year, Heather Shouse's book Food Trucks – Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels, contains mouth watering photographs from food trucks scouted out in big cities all over the United States. The book has profiles of multiple acclaimed restaurant chefs who have turned to food trucks later in their career. The trend is not just a big city one, it's hit smaller cities and towns like Hartford and Middletown just the same.
Food trucks have been a staple of Hartford near Bushnell Park for years. Durham's Shadle Farm launched their Gmonkey truck this year. Perry's Hot Food has been in Middletown for years and is often spotted on the South Green. In 2006, two years after the Mamoun's Falafel restaurant closed on Main Street, they were resurrected in Middletown as a late night food truck. There are a couple of cupcake trucks that have been known to pass through Middletown on occasion. The Whey Station is the latest addition to Middletown streets, with regular hours on William Street serving creative comfort food, with an emphasis on quality cheeses. Streets near the Wesleyan campus are a naturally logical place for trucks to park and serve, but that should not relegate them to being thought of as catering only to students. They are easy to get to and of course will make tasty and inexpensive food for anyone, no student ID card required. Scouring information sources like the Wesleying blog and the campus news, The Argus, turn up mentions of several other food trucks that sometimes surface around the area or have in the past.
Last Friday, my spouse and I ventured out to patronize The Whey Station. Night owls and second shift workers like my husband, or anyone who's wished anything besides a diner is open late around here, time to rejoice. At 10:30 p.m. the truck was just getting started on their service which goes into the wee hours of the morning. It was worth dragging ourselves out into the cold from the cozy couch in our warm living room (and certainly no lack of appreciation for that, after nearly a week without heat or electricity). We are big eaters and ordered a lot of food, which cost almost $22, not too bad for feeding two hungry people. The sandwiches are called gourmet grilled cheese, but I think that even throwing the word “gourmet” in front of something that tends to conjure images of a kid's lunch made of plasticky yellow slices sort of downgrades the wonderfulness of the food that comes out of this kitchen. It is filling and delicious. My husband thought it was rich and flavorful without being greasy, and that the bread tasted very fresh. The bread was my favorite part of the sandwich too, certainly not for lack of goodness on the inside, but the bread was exquisitely buttery and crunchy in exactly the right way. It was thick toast, but still did not make the sandwich seem too “bready” as can be with grinders. The sandwich was not overstuffed to the point of being messy; the amount of filling was just right. The cheese, grilled onions, and sausage inside all complimented each other and were so savory and powerful tasting that a little went a very long way. Not that the sandwiches were tiny. They were a good size, but not huge. The pickles that came on the side tasted like they were just made fresh that morning and had a perfect salty crunch. I didn't get any specific taste notes out of my husband about the chili cheese hot dog and the "Zappachos" he ate, but the speed with which they disappeared and the satisfied grin on his face were quite telling. Zappachos are like nachos, except using Zapp's brand potato chips instead of tortilla chips. The have a serious heft and crunch so keep their texture pretty well. The service was fast and friendly and we will definitely be back there again.
Food trucks can take advantage of the fact that they are, well, trucks, thus making their way around to fairs and festivals, farmers markets and the like. Part of the fun is finding them. Even if a truck has regular hours in a certain spot, it's not always there the way a traditional restaurant is, so spotting it while driving by is almost like a new discovery every time. Some trucks use social media like Facebook and Twitter to announce their locations. That also takes some of the mystery out of it, but for real fans there's still the anticipation and suspense of waiting to get that tweet or status update. The irregularity created by the mobility of food trucks makes it a real treat, rather than something that is always available and more easily taken for granted. Food trucks might be thought of as seasonal, and it must be tough for their owners to make it through the winter with the challenges of snow and ice, parking bans and difficulty, and of course people with our creature comforts who don't want to go out into the cold to get food. Going out into the cold to find a food truck is an adventure, and it has a delectable reward.
Mmmmmmm cheese. The Whey Station uses locally made cheeses like this one from Cato Corner Farm. I can't eat too much cheese, so when I do, I want it to be good stuff like this.
Heather Shrouse's book is full of eye candy for food lovers. It is, of course, available at the Russell Library.
Do you know of any other food trucks that serve Middletown? Are you willing to go out in the dead of winter to get food from a truck? Post a comment and tell us about it!