Friday, June 19, 2009

The mobile food craze

I like the phrase on Marination’s website: curbside cuisine. It’s food that appears on the street sometimes at varying locations and sometimes not, and includes everything from the straightforward taco to upscale pasta and salad. I keep reading on various blogs and websites that Seattle is no Portland when it comes to street food options (who knew that our little sister to the south was so food advanced!) but apparently we’re catching up in that department.

I’ve spent some time sampling some of the options around town but I have no doubt that there are all sorts of places that I haven’t even heard about yet. So get busy – write in and tell me what I’m missing!

The big mobile metal pig, out of which Maximus Minimus operates, is of course eye-catching and has to be a huge draw on this busy downtown corner at 2nd and Pike. The menu is straightforward: a pulled pork or veg sandwich, either minimus (sweet) or maximus (spicy) sauce, and the option to top with Beecher’s Flagship cheese. Add a side of fried vegetable chips (potato, beet, carrot, and green bean) or slaw (again sweet or spicy) and there you have it. I didn’t try the veg sandwich but I thought that the pulled pork topped with sprigs of cilantro was truly fantastic, and I loved the minimus sauce that’s a nicely sweet combination of tamarind, honey, and molasses. My friend’s maximus sauce was tasty as well though not nearly spicy enough to be called spicy, so I suggest taking their advice and “put the hurt on it” to crank it up a bit. One really nice touch was the addition of metal tables that ring the two streetlights on the nearby sidewalk, as the lack of a space on which to eat is one of the typical challenges of mobile food.

Skillet is one of the street food options that has been around for a little while now and I kept meaning to get there and meaning to get there, and now I can check it off the list. They offer high brow food (that’s slightly more expensive than your average mobile options) served out of a couple of airstream trailers, on this particular day in a dusty lot in SoDo just south of Safeco Field. The growing line was a visible sign that Skillet is clearly a very popular lunch destination. Ordering wasn’t the challenge so much as waiting to get our food, but perhaps that’s due to the nature of what they’re serving. On menu the week we were there was a burger of grass fed beef, cambazola, arugula, bacon jam, brioche and handcut fries, which looks to be a fairly standard offering. While that was excellent, particularly the bacon jam, I also really liked the cilantro cream on the fish taco. Probably my favorite of the day was the Thai cured confit of duck, rice, and mizuna salad with a cilantro plum vinaigrette. Yum! I just checked the website and new on the menu as of Wednesday is a pasta I’d love to try: trailer made gnocchi with Oregon corn, frisee, pancetta, and sage. I love a food world in which we’ve moved on from “house made” as the phrase of the moment to “trailer made.”

We made it to Marination, the home of Hawaiian and Korean curb cuisine, on their official opening day at the Fremont location along the canal. Being the organized and efficient sort that I am, I was immediately impressed by the wireless point of sale system they were using to take orders. The line moved speedily, much more so than the glacial pace at Skillet. (Should I cut Skillet some slack because of the upscale nature of their food? I’ll consider it.) I wouldn’t normally call myself a fan of kimchi, but it turns out that the kimchi quesadilla (which also included kalua pork) and the kimchi rice bowl (served with a fried egg and tofu) were my favorites of the meal. Both had a whole lot of flavor and spice, which I thought was a little lacking from the tacos and sliders. The signature slaw wasn’t as saucy and tangy as I might have hoped, though the ginger in the miso ginger chicken was just right. I didn’t see the SPAM musubi on offer which made me a little sad -- or maybe just made me want to make a future stop at Marination.

Tako Truk is a funny little spot that operates a few nights a week out of the kitchen at 14 Carrot Café on Eastlake. And I mean out of the kitchen, because they literally set up a table on the sidewalk that blocks the door to the restaurant and you order from the guy with the fanny pack. Just like the website describes. It looks as though the menu is totally variable and eclectic, with all sorts of different insides in soft taco outsides. The night I stopped by I paid a very budget $5 for three of the most tasty, interesting tacos I’ve had in a long while: Coco Piggy (pork belly and slaw), Beef and Fries (brisket and tiny shoestring fries), and Channaloo (chickpea and potato curry).

A few places that started out mobile and now have permanent locations as well:

Rancho Bravo in Wallingford is a fantastic example of the taco truck, one of my favorites in this whole genre of mobile food. I mean, who doesn’t like a good old fashioned pork or chicken taco, or maybe a carne asada burrito? Rancho Bravo does it well, and I’m a frequent visitor whenever I can make it over that way. A friend was just telling me about their new location on Capitol Hill across from Oddfellows, and on a recent swing through that neighborhood I walked by to check it out. Sure enough, there was the Rancho Bravo banner on the (mostly unchanged) former KFC. And let me tell you, late on a Thursday night the place was absolutely packed.

Anita’s Crepes was always a Ballard farmer’s market staple for me, and people watching while I ate my fantastic crepe all part of the experience. Although I love the interior of the Fremont-Ballard restaurant, the savory crepe I tried just didn’t seem to have the same soul. The crepe itself was papery and the filling pretty plain Jane: fresh spinach, feta, fresh mozzarella, and a sunny-side up free range egg. Or maybe it was the fact that I wish I had known that my entrée would come with a side of fresh spinach, because I was definitely fresh-spinach-ed out by the end of the meal. The good news is that my old standby, the nutella and banana crepe, was everything that I remembered and hit the mark exactly. What I would like to return for is Anita’s non-mobile options, things like the croque madame and bangers and mash.

Veraci Pizza, on the other hand, seems to have lost nothing in translation between farmer’s market and restaurant. There is something about their version of the wood-fired Neapolitan pizza that I like better than the one served at the ever-expanding Via Tribunali. One of the specials the day I was there is my new favorite at Veraci: the Deluxe with CasCioppo Brothers Italian sausage, Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, onions, and fresh mushrooms. One enormous slice of pizza for $5 is a perfect meal in itself, though I could of course be convinced to add a slice of the Tuscan as well: sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, chevre, and roasted garlic olive oil.

[Photo of Maximus Minimus courtesy of citywalker]

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