Starting last summer, it seemed that every culinary media outlet — from Bon Appétit
to the Food Network — had discovered food trucks.
Those humble kitchens on wheels, once the sole domain of hot dog vendors and Italian sub sandwich makers, were now as likely to be manned by classically trained cooks and former head chefs from white-tablecloth restaurants. Were low prices and low overhead the key to staying in the food business during the economic crisis? Or was it a backlash against the excesses that had gotten us into the crisis in the first place? Regardless of the reason, the trend is now a full-blown phenomenon: look for Food Trucks: A Race Across America, a new reality show coming to the Food Network later this year.
Scott Schronce wasn't trying to be trendy when he (along with friend Executive Chef Dave Rowland) left his position as Catering Manager at the Grove Park Inn to start Chefs On The Go, a mobile food truck, in late 2008. After over 12 years at the Inn, he was ready for hours that he could control and the opportunity to be his own boss. Now operating the truck solo, he says he hasn't reached financial security, but the decreased stress is worth the drop in income. After a few moves, the truck is now located at US 70, next to Dynamite Roasters, which leases space to him and lets his customers eat inside or out on their deck.
Schronce is there every weekday from 7am to 3pm, serving breakfast biscuits with gravy ($2.00), bacon, country ham, or sausage, and a lunch menu, which includes burgers ($4.00), grilled chicken, and a chicken Caesar wrap. The daily blue plate specials, though, are what he's really excited about. From meatloaf to lasagna to barbeque (he makes his own sauce), they're typically simple, but strong on flavor.
On the day we went, Schronce made grilled fish or chicken tacos with black beans and Spanish rice — a selection that sold out early ("Who would think I'd sell out of that here?" he ponders). We had a burger with a great char-grilled flavor, a side of fries ($1.00), and a chicken Caesar wrap ($4.00) with a light Parmesan dressing (no goopy mayonnaise). Schronce says he has plenty of regulars and those who call ahead to place orders or see what's on special.
Over in the Arden/Fletcher area, the cook at EL Güicho probably isn't an alumna of an upscale resort kitchen, but she does know her Mexican home cooking. The truck, which is parked weekdays (open around 11am to 10pm) in the Citgo parking lot on Airport Road, not far from the intersection with 25/Hendersonville Road, serves tacos ($1.60), burritos ($6.40), quesadillas ($6.40) and possibly tortas, although that wasn't clear from the menu written in faded marker on the back of an old clipboard. You can choose from chorizo, carne asada, barbicoa, or carnitas. We both got the asada tacos, which come on a corn tortilla with cilantro and grilled onion, with a grill pepper, tomatillo sauce, and a wedge of lime on the side. One each was not quite enough, and we probably should have ordered two a piece (that's still lunch for just over $3.00 each). The flavor was fresh and simple, not bogged down with a lot of sauce (and no cheese!).
Over on 191, in the parking lot of Waycaster Tire and Auto, another taco truck, Los Cabirtos, has a similar menu: tacos ($2.00), quesadillas ($4.00), tortas ($8.00). I ordered a chorizo quesadilla, which comes with lettuce and sour cream inside the tortilla. It was just the right amount of spice — not terribly hot like some authentic Mexican chorizos can be for us gringos.
Our attempt to find the Snack Shack at the Fletcher Business Park off Old Airport Road met with failure. We found a small wooden sandwich board sign reading: Snack Shack, open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday by the side of the road. But no Snack Shack, despite the fact that it was indeed Tuesday, and before 3:00 pm, which is when the truck reportedly moves to Hendersonville Road (it wasn't there at the time, either). Word on the street is that they have some great currywursts in addition to burgers and fries. That's the thing about mobile food trucks: because they can move, they do.
Grubb's in Hendersonville has had to move as well, but can now be found on Old Spartanburg Highway. Mobile chef Roy Allen serves breakfast (biscuits and pancakes, $1.00 and $2.50 respectively) as well as lunch. Allen specializes in Philly cheesesteaks, plump, tasty hot dogs, burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches, and will take call-ahead orders.
There are reports of bar-b-que trucks in Etowah/Horse Shoe and Mills River, although we haven't had a chance to check them out yet. Then there's Delicias Latinas, which moves around to the bigger construction sites in town, and several taco trucks, which are said to move around West Asheville.
While WNC hasn't quite reached L.A.'s gourmet-food-truck-on-every-corner status, foodies on the go have plenty to choose from locally.