How a food truck scene evolves. First, trucks move around from place to place, in many cases because that’s what city law requires. Then they find a parking lot or vacant lot in which to stay parked all the time. If the landlord has more room to add…
For the grand opening of his new “veggie-centric” food trailer, Soular Food Garden, Hoover Alexander invited attendees to take a celebratory stroll with him around his childhood stomping grounds. The small group began their walk at the trailer’s East 12th street plot, continued to his church’s community garden, and finished at the high school where his parents first met. Along the way, Alexander detailed his memories of living and cooking just east of IH-35. “Soular Food Garden came out of a desire to literally and metaphorically get back to my roots," Alexander said. "All of these things stirred around in my head in what I call ‘the divine stirring of the pudding.’ Thirteen years ago I opened Hoover’s Cooking, and I’d describe it as almost a spiritual experience. We looked at a lot of different places to open up, but it was meant to be here in the East Side. The same goes for Soular Food Garden. I’ve closed my eyes and taken a leap of faith.” The two establishments couldn’t sit further away from one another on the lifestyle spectrum. Frequenters at Hoover’s know the menu isn't “veggie-centric," unless crunchy fried okra, creamy macaroni and cheese, and sweet candied yams count. The healthier, greener menu choices of Soular Food Garden are Alexander's personal choice, a result of his efforts to take better care of his own health. By incorporating more vegetables into his eating habits, the chef has already lost 30 pounds. “I’ve got some work to do in terms of health and wellness, and the idea of taking baby steps resonated with me. I’m not an either/or kind of guy. I like my meat and ain’t no denying that,” he said. “This just gives me an opportunity to take a new direction. I can learn to plant some things, learn to grow some things, and just embrace what veggies have to offer.” It’s not that Alexander hasn’t always appreciated his Southern sides, but the affection for mashed potatoes and cowboy beans has been replaced with cleaner vegetables such as collard greens and beets. “I’m a product of the Texas culture,” he said. “But I’m going through a period of personal and business deconstruction.”
I first saw Japanese takoyaki - a delectably ambrosial octopus dumpling that has graced the shops and street corners of Japan for centuries - on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Immediately I hopped to my computer and conducted a frantic search for takoyaki restaurants in Texas. There had to be some Japanese transplant living the American Dream somewhere in Texas peddling authentic foods of the homeland to American foodies. There just had to be. Needless to say, I got nothing, not even a nibble. I should’ve known better. The extent of authentic Japanese cookery here is as far-reaching as a Philadelphia roll at happy hour on a store-bought tatami downtown. Then one fateful afternoon, a friend called me up and suggested we visit a new food truck: Love Balls. Putting other possible connotations aside, this truck really holds true to the name. “We make balls, and we put love into them,” says owner Gabe Rothschild, 27. They certainly do, with all entrees made right to order. The process is a meticulous and slow one, but it’s worth the approximate 10-20 minute wait. Each order of takoyaki comes with eight chewy chunks of octopus encased in a searing-hot ball of dough, seasoned to savory perfection and topped with a helpful heap of special Japanese mayo, powdered seaweed and bonito flakes. “We were eating at a lot of food trailers and something was missing: Japanese street food,” says Rothschild. “And we thought takoyaki was accessible, quirky and fit into the Austin food scene. Nobody was doing it town; nobody was even doing it in Texas. And we figured a lot of people would be interested, curious about it. And it was a form we could play with.”
Flickr/Sean Loyless Last year, a massive horde of foodies and families descended on Auditorium Shores for the first-annual Gypsy Picnic. This time around, festival organizers are making tweaks that they hope will ensure last year’s long lines and long waits remain a thing of the past. “We learned a ton from last year's festival and have adjusted our plans accordingly,” says Lindsay Hoffman, festival marketing manager. “We've expanded our footprint in Auditorium Shores giving people more room to spread out and enjoy the park. We've also been working closely with the trailers to prepare for the kind of numbers we saw last year.” And this means, as their website says, that visitors should expect “improved service to get food faster,” as well as a “larger line-up of Austin’s food trailers.” Oh yes, that's right; there’s going to be much more food, probably enough to stuff yourself to your heart’s, or, rather, gut’s desire. More than 40 vendors are on the bill, and the Picnic is welcoming back Gypsy veterans Torchy’s Tacos and Gourdough’s. Among the many trailers making their festival debut are Hey Cupcake! and Kebabalicious.
When you think "BBQ in Lockhart," you think Kreuz & Smitty's - but a lot of people swear by Black's. And when you think "taco trailer on South 1st St.," you think Torchy's - but there's also Izzoz Tacos, which opened in December of 2008 in the same parking lot that the first Torchy's used to be in. Izzoz has since moved its 42-foot trailer (bigger than some restaurant kitchens!) farther south, down to the corner of W. Monroe. But it's all still one big taco neighborhood. "A lot of people said 'you’re f’in crazy - why would you open up a taco trailer right across from Torchy's?,'" says Izzoz manager Adam Winters. "But we felt like we could compete. Other than the fried "avo," [avocado], I don’t know if there’s too many similarities between our tacos and theirs." Now run by Winters and his wife, Jessica Galindo-Winters, Izzoz was originally started by Jessica's brother John Galindo, a professional chef whose resume includes stints at Wimberley's Cedar Grove Steakhouse, North at the Domain and Red House Pizzeria (he's now working for Texas A&M, having recently relocated to College Station with his girlfriend). The Galindo family's history with food in Austin goes back 50 years. They ran a restaurant called Casa Loma at E. 7th St. and Lydia; more recently they had a place of the same name in Wimberley.
Through recent years of watching celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and Giada De Laurentiis magically unveil classic Italian dishes on television screens, many have been convinced the dish is as easy as 1, 2, 3 (eggs, flour, water). But the chefs and cooks who have mastered it know better; the truth is, pasta is utterly deceiving. Nevertheless, a new food trailer has deemed itself up to the culinary challenge. Regal Ravioli, a vibrant yellow trailer, has parked its wheels in East Austin and invited all ravioli lovers to come out and chew. Speaking to those who are awaiting cooler temperatures to brave outdoor dining, the blackboard outside wants a word with you: “No, it’s not too hot for pasta.” Behind the trailer’s small, sliding window stands Zach Adams. Adams spent over a decade with The Neighborhood Restaurant Group in Washington, D.C., opening an eclectic mix of restaurants, and also has a film degree from American University. Two years ago, he migrated to Austin, hoping to undertake a new direction. He spent those two years working as a bartender at Corazon at Castle Hill, studying the techniques and styles of local food trailers in his spare time. Within a year, he found an open niche and began developing the menu and concept of his trailer. Despite being born and raised in New Jersey by a Sicilian mother, Adams quickly nixed the assumption that he cooks Italian food because of his heritage. “The idea to open the trailer came after I realized I wasn’t getting the food options I was used to after I moved here. It got me really excited to know that there might be an opening in this saturated trailer market,” he said. “I don’t want my food to be categorized as strictly Italian, though. Just because it’s pasta doesn’t mean that it is only Italian food. I’m going to think outside the box of heavy red sauce and loads of cheese.” The primary option on the menu, ravioli, is where Adams’ innovation breaks free. “I have hundreds of ravioli ideas in my head,” he said. “I can’t wait to start trying all of them out.” Utilizing Texas ingredients has only aided in his creations. “Smoked food is wonderful, and I want to figure out how to start incorporating more of that in my dishes, and the use of chili peppers has opened up a window I knew was there, but didn’t think all that much about,” he said. “I’ve been able to get in touch with all that this region has to offer.”
A bright red sign outlined in neon lights screams CHICKEN as you approach Ms P’s Electric Cock, a large silver trailer on a quieter part of South Congress Avenue. As you may have guessed from the attention-getting name, Ms P’s is not a place for subtlety. It is, however, a place for really good fried chicken. Or should I say fried CHICKEN! Owner Perry Ray (a.k.a. Ms P) was inspired to open the trailer because she didn’t feel there was a place in Austin focused on putting out great fried chicken and southern comfort side dishes. Growing up in Tahoka, TX, Ray learned how to make fried chicken from her great grandmother, who she called “Big Mama.” (Awesome-sounding nicknames appear to run in the family). Ray says her great grandmother “was a self-taught cook and a baker and was really good at both. Since I could stand on a stool to reach the cabinets she was teaching me how to cook.” Big Mama made her fried chicken in a cast-iron skillet, but to make larger quantities to order, Ray had to learn how to make it taste just as good in a fryer. She developed a two-step brining process and amped up the spice level of the original recipe. I stopped by Ms P’s on a Friday night to sample the goods. Funky music blasted from the trailer’s window. Official t-shirts featured a proud rooster sporting a hip pompadour and radiating electric sparks. Slogan on the back of the t-shirt: Good Cluck’n Chicken. The chicken earned its star billing. Juicy meat was encased in a crispy coating that tasted just-the-right-amount of spicy. A three-piece platter was served with soft rolls and topped with big fresh jalapenos that just about dared you to bite into them. The fries, called Farm Frites, had an extra jolt of flavor from an unexpected sprinkling of thyme.
It wasn't chili dogs that brought me to Dogello's on yet another 105-degree day in Austin. It was coffee ice cubes. Joe Holland's trailer in the parking lot of Freewheeling Bicycles was formerly The Good Bike coffee stand, so when he opened up in January, he kept serving their signature Cuban coffee for existing customers. Hot or iced, he now makes it with Third Coast Italian espresso and cane sugar, French pressed all together and then mixed with 2% milk. I don't take sugar in my coffee ever, so I found it a bit sweet, in a dessertish Frappucino/Thai iced coffee sort of way. Fortunately, regular unsweetened coffee's also on the menu. The coffee ice cubes not only keep the drink at full flavor and strength, but melt more slowly. "Over time it turns into almost like a slushy for adults," says Holland. A Los Angeles native, the 47 year-old Holland has lived in Austin since 1999, working for various software and e-commerce start-ups. When his last job ended in November, he finally said, "I’m going to do this thing which surprisingly has been my dream." That dream: to make the perfect chili for the perfect chili dog, inspired by his favorite LA franchise Cupid's, which has been around since 1946
Well, folks, it’s been almost a year and half since I braved a sushi trailer in June and lived to tell about it. In that time, I’ve circled Texas’ cities in search of the best trailer food. I’ve binged on bulgogi-and-kimchee tacos, bogarted some…
This week I thought I’d take a cue from Jared Fogle, of acclaimed Subway fame, and start my own sub sandwich diet. But rather than jump on the Subway bandwagon a decade too late, I decided to support Austin’s neighborhood trailer sub shop, Short Bus…