Seeking food trucks with traditional food

by Bryan Salvage
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Last December, Phil Lempert, aka the Supermarket Guru, made his annual predictions regarding the top 10 food trends for 2012 and one was food trucks will replace gourmet and specialty stores as the channel to experiment and discover new food experiences – especially regarding ethnic foods. Food trucks/street food was also included in the National Restaurant Associations’ top 20 menu trends predictions for 2012.

These trends primarily pertain to food trucks cruising urban areas. I have lived in the suburbs on the outskirts of Chicago most of my life and the closest thing I’ve seen to a food truck in my neighborhoods were Good Humor ice cream trucks, home delivery dairy trucks and Peter Wheat bread home delivery bakery trucks – the latter from way back in the mid-1950s. In recent years, we have had Schwan’s trucks making quite a few food deliveries in my current neighborhood.

Food trucks have always been scarce in my neighborhoods. While in high school in the early 1960s, a friend of mine’s dad was a free-spirited entrepreneur and for a summer or two he operated Norm’s Hot Dog truck, which cruised up and down 144th St. in Riverdale, Ill. Norm’s hot dogs were the best I’ve ever eaten. He took great pride in offering steamed hot dogs with a snap that were placed in warmed poppy-seed buns and garnished with freshly cut tomatoes, onions, pickles and hot peppers along with other top-quality condiments of your choice.

I worked in metropolitan Chicago several times and my last job in that area was in an old industrial area on the near north side. There was a food truck that would stop at the end of the block adjacent to an auto body repair shop early and late in the morning offering sweet rolls and traditional Chicago lunch fare – hot dogs, Polish and Italian sausage, chips, chili, etc., but nothing fancy.

While my daughter attended Loyola Univ., we would oftentimes see street vendors in residential neighborhoods pedaling food carts and selling a range of Mexican food near campus.

Once considered a novelty, there’s no doubt street food and/or food trucks are evolving into a daily service in some parts of the US...and more consumers are open to buying food from food trucks, according to those who track such trends. Last year, a National Restaurant Association survey stated nearly 60 percent of consumers would be likely to visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one – that’s up from 47 percent in 2010. NRA also found that food trucks have a more noticeable presence in communities in the West and Northeast than in other parts of the US.

Experts have pointed out that mobile food service can also be a good way to extend an existing restaurant brand beyond the four walls of the establishment. Last July, 91 percent of those consumers who were polled by Technomic indicated they were familiar with mobile food trucks and they view the trend as having staying power and not a passing fad.

In the past, Meat&Poultry has published various reports on the growing food-truck trend and featured several food trucks that offered gourmet fare, such as milk-braised pork bahn and whole-wheat cous cous with Szechuan beef and pickled peppers – plus ground lamb burgers, braised short ribs, pig-ear tacos and chicken tostadas, among other delicacies.

Given the skyrocketing price of gasoline coupled with the consumers’ tight daily work-day schedule, I would think that food trucks offering good, more traditional food at a fair price would make a killing while trolling the suburbs and small towns throughout the US, in particular. Where I live, the closest town to ours is nine miles away with corn fields in between. Few folks have the time (or gas money) to make a trip to the next town for lunch.

While food trucks are growing venues for gourmet food, give me a food truck offering good-quality, traditional offerings, such as hog dogs, hamburgers along with an assortment of hot, cold and sub sandwiches and several salad, side and beverage choices.

Hold the braised pork bahn and pig-eared tacos ... please!

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