On a bitterly cold and snowy day in January 2011, I introduced myself to one of KC’s first local food truck operators. She had set up during lunch in Westport and was serving up transcendent all-natural burgers while wrestling with a testy generator.
Besides my order, she attracted only two other customers that day. Still, as more newly minted truck owners hit the road in earnest that winter, I found their stories intriguing, their use of social media cutting edge and their well-executed food offerings worth seeking out.
All the trucks were looking for a “rally” point to help introduce the concept to the dining public. I went back to the newsroom and lobbied my editor to let them use one of our parking lots. That May, The Star hosted its first-ever Food Truck Friday.
Today it is almost comical to recall some owners trucks weren’t ready, and I convinced a few to hand out samples instead.
As luck would have it, the lineup included Port Fonda on its maiden Airstream voyage. Back then Patrick Ryan was a relative unknown. Now he’s a James Beard Best Chef Midwest semifinalist with restaurants in Westport and Lawrence.
Food trucks have become a vibrant and important part of Kansas City’s food culture as reflected in the popularity of the movie “Chef,” food truck catering at weddings and business classes at the Mid-Continent Public Library for would-be truck entrepreneurs.
My goal from the beginning was to offer Chow Town readers a chance to wade into the unique and then-unfamiliar culture of street eats. The grassroots popularity has spurred growth, from two events the first year to six scheduled for 2016.
This year we’ve added April and November to our lineup, so mark your calendars to join us from 5 to 8 p.m. on First Fridays (except July and August). We’ve picked up Argosy Casino (with its new Pip’s Burgers mobile unit) and Budweiser as sponsors.
We’ll be rotating lots of new trucks in and out of the parking lot over the next few months, so you’ll have an opportunity to try more new mobile food concepts than ever (check Chow Town each month for the next lineup). You will also be able to stop by the beer garden, presented by Ollie’s Local.
Here’s our April truck lineup and a few featured items worth waiting in line for.
2-piece boneless stuffed jumbo chicken wing with Asian slaw ($8)
While teaching English in Taiwan for a year, Xiong Chang became mesmerized by the stuffed chicken wings sold at the night markets.
“I wondered how they deboned so many wings so fast,” he says.
Back in the U.S., Chang practiced deboning and stuffing them with increasing speed, finally landing on the use of the top of a cut-off plastic soda bottle to funnel the rice inside.
Bochi’s traditional wing is stuffed with fried rice seasoned with minced chicken, garlic, onions, scallions, ginger and shiitake mushrooms.
Chang relies on a meat supplier to get enough big wings for his venture. Not one to waste, he uses the smaller pieces for other dishes and drummette specials.
Bread pudding ($3.75)
Mark Drouin arrived in Kansas City from New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
After five years he started a food truck dishing up such Louisiana favorites as red beans and rice, etouffee and jambalaya, but this year he has plans to branch out with Fleur de Lis Catering.
The sister catering company will “speak to a broader range” of Southern-inspired favorites. “The most common question I get is how hot is your food,” Drouin says. “There’s a perception that it’s spicy even when it is fairly mild.”
His wife, Robin, has been tapped to make French bread pudding, and Star readers will get to taste test it at Food Truck Friday.
The family recipe is from Robin’s mother and features cinnamon raisin custard topped with a potent butter-rum sauce. Robin has agreed to scale back the amount of rum, though.
“We pulled a pan out of the oven (during a recent catering) and the fumes of rum filled their office,” Mark says.
“There’s only a couple of tablespoons,” Robin counters.
Chicken fusion tacos (3 for $9)
The lines at Crave can be long, thanks in part to the constant demand for its distinctive fusion tacos.
Herb-marinated charbroiled chicken is tucked into flour tortillas, topped with a tangy Asian slaw and garnished with peanut sauce, pico de gallo and Colby Jack cheese.
“It’s our best-seller because it’s different,” says Chris Ireland, who co-owns the truck with her husband, Joe.
Chris says the idea for a food truck came from their son Brad, 38, who has a full-time job but helps out on the truck on weekends.
“We were watching ‘Eat Street’ when Brad said, ‘You know Dad, we should try that.’ Every Sunday he would come over and we’d experiment.”
The elder Irelands were retired before starting their food truck. “We have so much business now we could run two Crave trucks a week,” she says.
Slow-roasted pork tacos (2 for $7 or 3 for $10)
Pork tacos have become a signature item for owner Jen Stoppel, who added a food truck to her catering business in 2010.
“Everyone does tacos, but it’s a great street food. That’s where it belongs, whether in the markets of Mexico or in The Star’s parking lot,” she says.
Her tacos are a three-day process that includes rubbing, marinating and slow cooking the meat to the right tenderness. The tacos are served with cilantro-lime slaw and house-made chipotle aioli in a flour tortilla. (Side salad pictured is extra.)
Buñuelos de bacalao (Catalan-style codfish fritters) with aioli ($8) and Croquetas de langosta and gambas (traditional Spanish lobster and shrimp croquettes) ($10)
Chef Carmen Cabia hails from Barcelona and is well-known in food truck circles for her authentic and picture-perfect Spanish tapas menu served from one of the tiniest trailers on the scene.
The trailer is akin to a circus clown car — the food just keeps coming and coming, despite the small space. Meanwhile, Cabia is rehabbing two more recreational vehicles to allow her to expand her growing business.
El Tenedor is a member of the Little Piggy food truck hub coming to Southwest Boulevard in May.
Classic burger ($8)
Argosy Casino has rolled the dice with the casino’s first food truck.
“We’re the only one in our company that has one,” says Greg Personelli, vice president of operations for Argosy and a 2016 sponsor of The Star’s Food Truck Friday.
When the City of Riverside asked Argosy if it could fill the void of restaurants for nearby businesses moving into the industrial parks, food trucks seemed a logical way to expand its brand and expose new customers to its food service.
The truck is named for pips, gaming-speak for the dots on playing dice or marks on a playing card. The featured food is hardly a gamble: a classic, 6-ounce ground short rib burger served on a brioche bun with sharp cheddar cheese, sliced hot house tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced red onion and Pip’s sauce.
Pip’s 30-foot Ford truck was customized at Mag Specialty Vehicles in Grain Valley and hit the road October 2015.
“We always like a challenge and want to expand our product recognition,” Personelli says.
Push-up pops ($3), cake in a jar ($6, $8, $12)
Consider the cupcake, in push-up cake pops and various sizes of cake jars.
Tiffany Boggan has moved her brick-and-mortar bakery to 1121 W. Main St. in Blue Springs and renamed it. Now she’s rarin’ to go with her food truck, which sells both her best-selling cookie dough cupcake and a variety of newfangled cupcake-themed delivery systems that take the mess out of traditional cupcakes.
Boggan discovered the push-up pop during a trip to the University of Mississippi to see her niece. “We always stop at little bakeries now when we see them,” she says. The pops are “perfect because kids can literally hold them without making a mess.”
Boggan also sells several sizes of cake jars, and she plans to eventually add pie in a jar.
Maple bacon waffle (Belgian gaufre de liege waffles) ($5)
Russell Viers’ daughter, Meghan, wanted a food truck at her wedding, so Viers, who also has done a bit of a jet-setting as a transition expert for publishing companies, decided to re-create the liege waffles he fell in love with while in a train station in Belgium.
Liege waffles are made from a yeast dough rather than a batter. The dough, similar to French brioche, contains tiny lumps of certified Belgian pearl beet sugar that partially melts when the dough is pressed on a cast-iron Krampouz waffle iron.
The waffles’ inherent sweetness means there is no need to pool maple syrup in the honeycombs, making liege waffles perfect for eating in a food truck setting.
The Waffler launched in June 2015. Maple bacon waffles are his most popular flavor, but he also has a classic rolled with cinnamon sugar or with powdered sugar and a rotating menu of flavored waffles.
An interesting feature to this food truck is a tip jar. All tips are earmarked for Central Ave Center of Hope, home of the Lloyd Siebert Food Pantry.
Reverse-Engingeered Cheeseburger or Meatpickle ($7)
Chef Brett Atkinson of Wilma’s Real Good Food has been a part of The Star’s Food Truck Friday since the beginning, and every time we hold our breath to see what new and outrageous menu item he’ll dream up next.
Will it be Redneck Sushi? Fried Chicken Salad Po’Boys? A Bone Marrow and Lobster Croquette?
This year he’s trying out a clever Reverse-Engineered Cheeseburger. A what? OK, maybe he should just call it a “meatpickle”?
Whatever you call it, it’s fascinating, and if history proves out, darn delicious. Imagine a tempura-fried pickle stuffed with ground beef, pimento cheese, stone-ground honey mustard, fried onion and arugula, all on a bun.
Wilma’s is also member of the Little Piggie food truck hub on Southwest Boulevard opening in May.