At the Edge of America: Wherein I make excuses for a pathetic lack of photos

3 Aug
charleston house

A photo of a house in Charleston. I did not take this photo. I “borrowed” it.  Source

Earlier this week, I spent 36 hours in what is arguably the most beautiful city in the South. I ate grouper and key lime pie and grilled crab cakes. I navigated my rental car through downtown Charleston’s maze of one-way streets, all spilling over with fanny-packed tourists in pleated shorts. I saw the dusky sky over the low country, brightened by a lightning storm. With every blink I saw something begging to be photographed– canopies of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and rows of Charleston’s signature single houses, all rimmed with piazzas. In case you’re curious about these houses, here’s one I’m considering purchasing… once the price drops by $8 million.

So, yeah. I’m not the first person to ramble on about how photogenic Charleston is, and I certainly won’t be the last. I say all of this simply to note that, despite the beauty here, I took only six photos during my stay. Six.

Why?

Well, because I am the worst photo-taker you know (the word ‘photographer’ doesn’t even apply here). It never matters how amazing my photo subjects are, I manage to produce the most dreadfully boring photos ever. The angles are all wrong, the lighting is unfortunate, my hand starts to shake, and a sunset becomes one big pastel smudge. It’s bad. So, I choose instead to let my memory stand in for the photos that never seem to accurately depict my surroundings. Thank HEAVENS for the talented photographers who will be shooting the photos for this book!

“How bad are these photos, really?” you ask.

Here’s one of the six:

This photo is not fair to this crepe. It was really really good. Getcha’ one! Head to Folly Beach, SC the next time you start jonesing for the ocean. Destin has been done to death, anyway!

Yeah. THAT bad. Cloudy day at Folly Beach, nondescript snack– poorly executed iPhone photo of said snack. As always, I am totally overachieving here. HOWEVER, the people who made that snack truly ARE overachievers. Yukari Yada and John Baker have been serving up an enormous menu of Tokyo-style crepes for the past four years, out of their food truck, Tokyo Crepes, at Folly Beach (about 15 miles outside of Charleston).  Maybe I’m missing the mark here, but South Carolina just might be the last place on earth I would have expected to find Tokyo-style crepes.

I suppose I oughta first tell you what a Tokyo-style crepe is, eh? Well, to be perfectly honest, I had no idea until a few days ago. I think we’re all probably familiar with traditional French crepes, which are usually rolled with fillings and served on a plate. Tokyo crepes, on the other hand, are sold cone-style and they seemed a little thicker and fluffier than their paper-thin French counterparts.

In the spirit of thorough research, I ordered two. The picture doesn’t really convey the size of these things, but they were enormous and packed full of fruit, chocolate and ice cream. I ordered the Sweet Devil and the Crunchy Apple.

That Sweet Devil was packed full of strawberries, sweet red beans (frequently used in Japanese confections), caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream.

Tokyo Crepes: A little bit of Japan, on the “Edge of America” (as Folly Beach is knowncream, whipped cream and poki (thin chocolate-dipped cookie sticks). Those sweet red beans, indeed, taste like beans. I didn’t pick up a whole lot of sweetness; in fact, that were kind of earthy, which I liked. It really cut the sweetness a bit

The Crunchy Apple was filled with ice cream, whipped cream, freshly chopped apples, caramel and Frosted Flakes. Both crepes were delicious and perfect for a muggy beach day– like ice cream cones, but so much better.  And if you’re wondering, the answer is no, I did not eat them both myself. I’m shared them with my darling mother, who is accompanying me on this trip. She was a huge fan of those crepes!

More updates coming! I’ve already moved on through Atlanta. So much to say about that one. Ceviche! Lobster mac ‘n cheese! Kale waldorf salad! Traffic! Madness! Food trucks EVERYWHERE.

It’s tako night in Richmond

28 Jul
BOKA

The Holy Trinity of tacos! BOKA Tako Truck in Richmond serves it up. Clockwise from top right: Shrimp and Grits Taco, Fish Taco with Agave Watermelon, Asian Beef Taco with Kimchi

I keep waiting to eat a food truck meal that’s sub-par in some way. You know… too salty, too soggy, too wilted, not hot enough, nothing special, etc.

Thursday was not the night for that to happen. I suspect it will happen at some point before the end of this trip, but in the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy buying food from people who are really good at preparing it.

As planned, I checked out Richmond’s Food Truck Court at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. Every Thursday during the summer, Hardywood serves up its specialty brews and opens its parking lot to 1o or so local food trucks.

Thursday was really really really hot– as in, still hotter than 100 degrees after 6 p.m., and it occurred to me as I drove over to Hardywood that perhaps people would shrug off the food trucks in favor of their air-conditioned living rooms. I was way off.  Several hundred Richmondites (ers?) showed up to dine at the food trucks and drink ice cold craft beer. Pretty perfect summer combo, eh? Take that, AC!

Before I even arrived, I knew BOKA Tako Truck was a must-taste. I’d read lots about them and had been emailing with owner, Chef Patrick Harris. Technically, BOKA is a taco truck… specifically, that’s an oversimplification. While traditional Mexican street tacos (with lime juice, radishes, and cotija cheese!) will always be one of my favorite mobile meals, I appreciate the idea that you can put pretty much anything in a tortilla and achieve varying degrees of a favorable result (and by “you,” I mean hotshots like Chef Patrick– people who know what they’re doing).

Oh, and does he ever know what he’s doing. After agonizing over what to order, I settled on a trio of tacos:

The Asian: Shredded beef, kimchi, sesame aioli, Thai herbs (Outstanding! Chef Patrick makes his own kimchi– something I, admittedly, haven’t always enjoyed. I’m not sure what his fermentation process is, but wow! I also really dug the strong sesame flavor)

The Fish: Agave-marinated watermelon, white fish, habanero slaw, sweet soy (The idea of putting watermelon in a fish taco really knocks me out of my chair. This is the perfect summertime taco)

The Shrimp & Grits: Crispy prosciutto, onions, white cheddar, shrimp, grits (The addition of prosciutto, an alternative to the traditional bacon in this dish, was remarkable.)

BOKA

Food truck essentials: menu, Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, napkins, tip jar

I’m not sure I’ve ever had three items on the same plate that were more different from each other, or more individually perfect. And yeah… shrimp and grits in a taco?! I don’t know if Chef Patrick is the first person to hook up those two meals, but until someone tells me otherwise (and please feel free), I’m giving him credit.

SHRIMP and GRITS in a TACO!

Summer 2012 is making me very happy so far.

 

UP NEXT… Noshin’ in North Carolina!

Truckin’ along: The Virginias

26 Jul
heatherwva

State line muggin’

So nice to be back in the land of Food Lion, 100 percent humidity, and waitresses who call you “hon.” So far, this trip has reinforced all the things I love about this region… AND reminded me of a few things I miss about the Pacific Northwest, actually. For example: being a pedestrian! Drivers in the South DO NOT slow down at crosswalks. Seems so odd for me after living for the last four years in Washington state, where pedestrians are king!

As a lifelong Southerner, I’m sort of ashamed to admit that I haven’t spent much (if any?) time in the Virginias! What a delight these states are. So green and forested and free of highway billboards. No sprawling fireworks superstores (that I saw) or glowing fluorescent gas stations right off the Interstate. They’re all concealed by the greenery! It’s lovely here.

Made a quick stop in Charleston, West Virginia yesterday to meet with Jennifer Miller, who runs Mission Savvy– one of the most unique sorts of food trucks I’ve encountered. Jennifer’s business lineup includes not only the food truck, but also a juice bar/cafe and an eco-friendly clothing boutique. Jennifer is committed to serving vegan/raw/organic/gluten-free meals, snacks, and desserts on the truck and in her cafe.

Her goal was to “bring healthy fast food culture to West Virginia”– an area not necessarily known for its raw/vegan scene. The Mission Savvy truck has allowed Jennifer to bring her health-focused, eco-friendly lifestyle to people who might not otherwise have had access to it. The truck is a regular at many of Charleston’s community events, including the farmers market and the weekly summer concert series, where she serves her Sunshine Burgers and Ginger Marinated Tofu Satays.

“I’ll have 50-year-old men who come up to me (at events) and say, ‘My doctor says I need to eat less meat, but I don’t know how to do that,’” Jennifer said. “And then he eats a veggie burger and likes it!”

Sadly, Jennifer’s truck wasn’t open while I was in town yesterday, but she was nice enough to chat with me for a few minutes at her cafe. Even though I’m not vegan, I really love what she’s doing. I love that five percent of her profits are given to animal rescue charities. I love that she’s doing something so wonderfully and healthfully different in such a carnivorous region. Way to go, Mission Savvy!

AND TODAY…

I’m in Richmond, Virginia, anxious to hit up the Richmond Food Truck Court’s Thirsty Thursday tonight! I’m particularly pumped to check out Dressed and Pressed and BOKA Tako Truck. I’ve already been chatting with the operators of both trucks, and I’m excited meet them and taste those menus I’ve been drooling over for the past few weeks!

Oh, and if I may– a restaurant recommendation! Ate at Basili’s Greek Restaurant in the Carytown neighborhood of Richmond last night, and what a dazzling Greek feast it was! Souvlaki, spanakopita, dolmades, tzatziki, tiropita, kalamata olives, with finikia and baklava for dessert. Polí nóstimos!

Louisville + Heather = Love

24 Jul Louisville_montage

I often develop crushes… on cities. Chicago, Austin, Savannah, New York, Santa Fe, San Francisco– all the usual suspects, I realize. Want to hear something a little more original? I have a crush on Louisville, Kentucky, and I have since I first explored it seven years ago. Being back in the Derby City for the past 24 hours has been ultra dreamy– the weather, the food, the people, the food, the dive bars, the charming architecture, the food…

After today, I am more in lust than ever with this city.

This afternoon, I boogied on over to Lil’ Cheezers, Louisville’s first and arguably most popular food truck. Today, they were parked out in the cul-de-sac of a sprawling office complex, as food trucks often are during the week– a smart grab for hungry cubicle jockeys.

After chatting it up with manager Manny Bowling, I ordered up a couple of sandwiches — the Caprese and the Fancy Pants. Both were served on wheatberry bread, with a side of with sweet potato chips and curried ketchup (<— the star of the show).

I’d like to interject here that I’m going to try very hard over the next few weeks not to gush indiscriminately about everything I eat. I certainly won’t bash anything, but I’m going to reasonable here, people! I will not declare everything I eat to be “the most amazing______ I’ve ever eaten.” I promise.

That said, Lil’ Cheezers was really really good– pretty much the ideal grilled cheese sandwich.  The Caprese was was heavy with gooey mozzarella, fresh basil, tomato, garlic and balsamic vinegar reduction. This certainly wasn’t the first caprese grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten, but it was the first one I’ve ever had with addition of balsamic. It was a nice punch– loved it! Since I (sadly) don’t live in Louisville, I’m already scheming how I can recreate a version of it at home.

The Caprese, Lil’ Cheezers

The Fancy Pants was an equal delight– Granny Smith apples, Brie, caramelized onions, walnuts. Yes, it was even better than it sounds. Lots of textures, lots of flavors. A true treat.

The Fancy Pants

Oh, and that curried ketchup? It was an ideal complement the sweet potato chips, which are a great alternative to the Frito-Lay option that usually accompanies a sandwich (I don’t actually have any problem with Frito-Lay products; it’s just nice to see something different). Great job, Lil’ Cheezers! You were officially the first food truck meal of my food truck road trip, and my lunch certainly didn’t disappoint. You guys live up to the hype!

Next Up: My conversation at Nach Bar with Max Balliet and Rob Ross, two food truckers who are responsible for one of the most cleverly named trucks I’ve encountered– Holy Molé!  AND, tomorrow I’m hitting up Louisville’s Food Truck Tuesday, where a whole gaggle of the city’s mobile eateries will roll up on Louisville Metro Hall.

Roadtrippin’ through the motherland

20 Jul

In a few short days, I will begin a journey that can be attributed largely to extraordinarily good luck, and credited at least partially to a lifelong fascination with eating.

Thanks to my Southern roots, my always-raging appetite, and the encouragement of a wonderful editor, I am writing a book. Yup! The Southern Food Truck Cookbook (working title) will be published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

So, why a road trip?

On Sunday, I will throw a bag into the trunk of my car and head north out of Tennessee and up into Kentucky. From there, I’ll spend three weeks eating my my way across the Southeast’s food truck landscape (there are hundreds of food trucks all over the South, didn’t you know? Hundreds). After I’ve had my fill in Kentucky, I’ll trek east to Virginia, until I run nearly headlong into the Atlantic Ocean. From there, I’ll venture down into the lovely Carolinas, and I’ll keep on movin’ southward into the deep South– Georgia, Alabama and on into the Louisiana low-country. Then, I’ll travel on up to Arkansas and back east to my native Tennessee. Roughly 16 cities later, I will have eaten at dozens of food trucks, yet will very likely wish I could have covered even more ground.

I hope you’ll come along as I spend the next few weeks consuming a buffet of BBQ, tacos, crepes, dumplings, fried chicken, pupusas, skewered meats, waffles, wood-fired pizzas, jambalaya, gyros, farm fresh salads, vegan confections, deep-fried samosas, and so so so much more. Oh, that list could go on and on and on. There are very few corners of the globe that aren’t represented by a food truck somewhere in the South– somewhat ironic for a region that is not generally celebrated for its diversity!

I should stop here, for anyone who still might be scratching their head, wondering, “What the heck is a food truck? You mean a hot dog cart?” Well, yes and no. Go here for a (very) general idea of the greatness that is mobile dining. Yes, Wikipedia… general indeed.) Food trucks were initially popular in places such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Portland. But, in the past five years, blessedly, the concept has spread inward from the coasts and taken root– in places such as Little Rock, Chattanooga, and Baton Rouge.

Still have no idea what I’m saying? Here a few examples of Southern food trucks with the right idea:

Part road guide, part cookbook, part travelogue, this project puts me squarely at the intersection of the three things that make me the happiest: travel, food, and the South.

So, let’s get going! Do you eat at food trucks? Tell me your favorites. Never eaten at a food truck? Maybe I can change that.

It’s time for some Southern food truckin’, and I’d love it if you joined me!

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