To paraphrase one of my favorite lines in a favorite movie, what I don’t know about street food is a lot. (Moonstruck/John Patrick Shanley) The scene here in San Francisco, with its abundance of opportunities to check it out – regular venues like Off the Grid, farmers’ markets and handmade food festivals – is lively and pretty phenomenal when you look at the freshness and high quality of the food that is coming off the trucks.
I got a wonderful opportunity to sample some top-of-the-line street food on Sunday when friends of ours invited us to come to their food truck party at their home. The Chez Spencer truck served hors d’oeuvres out front and the Roli Roti truck served food from its spot in the driveway. The business end of the truck, open to the sight of Fulton Valley rotisseried chicken and a porchetta roast, faced the assembly and made an appetizing backdrop (for a carnivore) for the buffet tables arrayed with roasted root veggies and several fresh and inventive salads. Kara’s Cupcakes later rolled up to the front curb with an assortment of mini cupcakes and guest Chuck Siegel (Charles of Charles Chocolates) contributed wonderful artisinal fudgicle-esque push-up pops and organic truffles. And did I mention that the sun was actually shining too? Everyone attending was elated by the happy circumstances.
This party package of three trucks was an auction item from the Meals on Wheels gala that our friends had won. Because of all the generosity that put this special afternoon together (to my knowledge, auction experiences available at charity auctions are almost always donated by the vendors) I do just want to take a moment to say a grace-like thanks to the vendors and Meals on Wheels org as well as our philanthropic friends for their charitable priorities. Senior meal programs, food banks and food pantries are all under tremendous strain in this economy; and as we try to get back to basics in buying and preparing food it would also be great to remember how functioning communities built in ways to take care of people who were struggling to get enough to eat – corners of the fields, tithes. Now we have Meals on Wheels, with branches nationally, and the SF Food Bank and Glide among those that spring to mind and also Foodrunners, which will pick up excess food from catered events and deliver it to places where it will get eaten.
The Chez Spencer on the Go truck served delicious, French restaurant quality hors d’oeuvres. My favorite was the escargot lollipop, which if you bought it at the Off the Grid site, would cost $2 each, according to the menu on their website. It had a wonderful texture and a second wave of taste that is hard to describe simply by the word tangy. I don’t think it was ‘umame’ either, but I kind of wish I’d had a second one to be able to say more definitively what was going on.
The food from Roli Roti was splendid. I wish I’d scooped up a copy of the printed menu. Even with filling my plate I only had half of the choices. Their roasted corn salad with avocado was so good I wanted to have it analyzed. When encountering the master of the carving board, I asked for a small portion of each the chicken and the porchetta but he gently steered me toward the porchetta sandwich. “I can make you a half.” He recommended it as the more authentic choice. Trying to detect the origins of his accent I asked him what he meant by authentic. As he took the cut side of the rustic sandwich roll and swabbed it in the juice on the cutting board he explained authentic as, “how I would have it.” The sandwich then got topped with carmelized onions for sweetness, some baby greens (watercress maybe?), a salt and herb mixture and the crackling pieces of skin that he diced and placed on top like a garnish. I later checked out the Roli Roti website to learn a few things, including the price the sandwich would cost on the street ($8.50) and the ethnicity of the man with the truck and origins of the rotisserie style (Swiss-Italian). I personally went a little light on desserts but I am assured they were delicious. I particularly like the aesthetically pleasing bouffant frosting tops of the Kara’s cupcakes and their very green business practices: http://karascupcakes.com/green.html
I love the Internet and all the information that’s made instantly available there. The fresh/slow food movement also benefits by being able to list the purveyors and sources of their products, which Roli Roti does on its site. The pedigree of the food is all impeccable and, using a term also used by several of the food truck sites, ‘carefully sourced.’ From the internet perusal I also was able to verify that my sandwich maker had been Roli Roti’s owner Thomas Odermatt. Odermatt grew up in his family business, a butcher shop in the Swiss Alps that served its very popular rotisserie selections to customers on Saturdays.
So as I’ve said, I don’t know much about the phenomenon; but after this rarerified introduction to it, I am starting on some research of the many more trucks that make the rounds in the city and other cities with a similar ‘scene’ (Roaming Hunger website provides a directory for 20 cities nationally). I’m happy to report that it’s not the exception but actually the norm that these trucks work with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. And the prices are gauged to be no higher or less than what you might pay for a deli item at a high-end grocery store. If more research in the field awaits, I will gladly do my duty and experiment with the many other itinerant institutions serving street food out there.
A sampling of links about street food vendors, Off the Grid and others:
http://offthegridsf.com/ Their tagline: Making Street food happen all the time
http://roaminghunger.com/sf covers food truck options in 20+ U.S. cities
Apparently there’s a reality show called the great food truck race… http://www.foodnetwork.com/the-great-food-truck-race/index.html
Site for an intriguing truck vendor that I wandered over to from the Off the Grid site:http://www.eatletruc.com/about.html
Roli Roti: http://roliroti.com/food/food-purveyors
Plus a video of Roli Roti’s owner describing the perfect way to rotisserie a chicken: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9K2YapK2slo
Charles Chocolates: http://www.charleschocolates.com/our-story/
Meals on Wheels San Francisco site: http://www.mowsf.org/
Foodrunners site: http://www.foodrunners.org/about-foodrunners.asp