Chicagoans feast on gourmet fast food

October 29, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The trend has migrated in from the coasts but there are still a few hurdles to overcome.

An ordinance has been introduced to the City Council. But it hasn't passed yet, which means anyone selling food out of a truck must prepare it in a licensed, commercial kitchen. That detail hasn't slowed down mobile entrepreneurs who are criss-crossing the streets in search of some hungry fans.

It started locally with a woman and her cupcakes. Several months ago, Flirty Cupcake truck - or rather, van - started baking in a licensed facility, then loaded them up, and started tweeting. Customers followed them, and gobbled up their fanciful flavors. Over the past few months, a number of other players has emerged, all cooking off-site, then loading up their trucks and blogging or tweeting their daily locations.

Matt Maroni is one of the chefs leading the mobile food truck effort in the city; Edgewater-based Gaztro-wagon offers tasty naan-wiches - rolled up in the puffy flatbread - they include items like chicken thighs, brie and mushrooms or even modified lobster rolls.

Closer to The Loop, the Sandwich truck has been selling its homemade goods during the day. Roast beef and all-natural turkey are dressed with organic ingredients.. and the only to find out where they are on a given day is to follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Petit sandwiches can also be found at the Bodega truck, where brie, basil, tomatoes and arugula are typical. It's mainly sandwiches, coffee and croissants.. but her superstar item is the banana bread pudding. An impulse buy that warrants a quick trip to the truck.

"I'm from Chicago, and lived in New York for the past six years, and every day, morning and lunch, it'd be like, hey, let's run to the bodega, what do you want from the bodega, let's go to the bodega," said Happy Bodega owner Amanda Cavazos.

Former Palmer House Chef Foss just started his Meatyballs truck, offering the namesake sandwich, coated in gooey cheese, nestled into sturdy loaves of bread, and kept warm - at least through the lunch hour.

But the most exciting truck to hit the streets is in Evanston - where the City Council has already passed a mobile food truck ordinance. The Hummingbird Kitchen is ready for private events, and is waiting for a final health inspection.

"So we can bring raw ingredients onto the truck - salmon, lamb, crabcakes - and we can make them to order for you," said Hummingbird Kitchen Co-owner Heather Behm.

This means a range of items is possible: veggie sandwiches, pan-roasted salmon.. even braised shortrib tacos with radish and cilantro slaw. Social media will be their only means of promotion.

"We will text them, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and on our website, they'll know where we're at," Behm said.

The big question is, what happens when it starts snowing out? Will people be willing to wait in line outside, and will those trucks be able to find parking on a snow-covered street?

Featured (with Twitter and web address):

Gaztro-Wagon
5973 N. Clark St. (storefront)
@wherezthewagon
www.gaztro-wagon.com

Hummingbird
@hummingbirdkitchen
www.hummingbirdkitchen.com

Flirty Cupcakes
@FlirtyCupcakes
www.flirtycupcakes.com

Meatyballs
@FossFoodTrucks

Happy Bodega
@happybodega
www.happybodega.com

Simple Sandwich
@simplechicago
www.simplechicago.com

Also out there:

More Cupcakes
@themoremobile
www.morecupcakes.com

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