The quintessential embodiment of the Rhode Island spirit sits atop the State House. The Independent Man stands as a reminder to Rhode Islanders: support what you believe in. All over town, people are making it clear that they believe in fresh, affordable, locally minded food. The verdict is in and its official – food trucks are here to stay. This seems particularly true here on the East Side. Chez Pascal runs a highly successful mobile operation (in addition to their seasonal hot dog cart), and various trucks can be spotted on Thayer, Hope, Wickenden and – seemingly – everywhere in between. Based on the belief that food can and should be an experience marked by fervor and an unwavering attention to detail and quality, the city has ushered in a new era of comfort food. Each truck boasts its own version, with enough heart and gusto to have customers returning for more. Many trucks have been established out of a desire to finally break into the food industry at a start-up cost that’s manageable. Others are serving out of their own personalized vehicles, ranging from the typical food truck to vintage vans, in response to the dwindling jobs of a bad economy. Others still vehemently desire the freedom of answering to themselves and being the masters of their own destinies. The food truck is independence incarnate, and ours are not going anywhere anytime soon.
There is a particular kind of person who owns a food truck: one with an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to lovingly create food for the customer. Food truck owners often work long days, sometimes 15-plus hours, with the reward of knowing that their product was well received, just to do it all over again the next day. While the idea of food trucks isn’t something new, the way in which they reach their customers is a sign of the digital times. Sure, there are hotspots of food truck activity, namely along Thayer Street near Brown University, at the bottom of Wickenden Street, at Kennedy Plaza and at the Hope Street Farmer's Market at Lippitt Park. They can also be found at festivals throughout the year at various locations across the state. But the absolute, surest way to find each and every one of the trucks is to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
Each day that a truck is open for lunch or dinner, its location is tweeted along with the times it is serving. Social media has become a part of most of our daily lives, but for food truck proprietors it's an essential tool for doing business.
Trucks have also capitalized on the abundance of food produced by local farmers. Many trucks get their produce, dairy and meats locally through the Market Mobile program run by Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the nonprofit organization responsible for many of the farmer's markets throughout the state. Market Mobile is a farm-to-business delivery service, bringing fresh, local prodcuts from the growers, to Farm Fresh's Pawtucket warehouse and on to restaurants and food trucks. Some trucks get their breads directly from local bakers while others are sourcing their products from other parts of New England.
With offerings as diverse as the city itself, all one truly has to ask is, “What am I in the mood for?” How about an American classic? An honest to goodness, mouthwatering, slap yourself kind of burger. If that sounds appealing, then start at Rocket Fine Street Food (@rockettruck). This husband and wife duo, Joe Meneguzzo and Patricia Natter (pictured above), recognized the food truck trend four years ago and decided that they wanted to provide comfort foods using the best ingredients at a fair price. This is evident in their Parisienne Burger – it’s like they took a regular burger and gave it mutant powers. The first bite actually made me angry that I had gone this long without understanding how a real, good burger tastes. Made with meat produced with no hormones or antibiotics, raised on a vegetarian diet, and humanely raised on sustainable American family ranches, the soul of the food is apparent. Maybe it's how perfectly marbled the meat is; maybe it’s the thin, crispy sear from the flat top grill; maybe it’s the perfectly caramelized onions on top of the Gruyere cheese, nestled under the garlic aioli, all on a Taunton Avenue Bakery Portuguese roll. Maybe it’s the fact that you can actually taste how much love is in this food. It’s soul food, and that’s why the food truck craze has taken hold in Providence.
Plouf Plouf Gastronomie (@PloufPloufTruck) also boasts a husband and wife duo and offers a largely organic menu. Mario Molliere is the talent behind the scenes while his wife Anik Palulian is the graphic designer and creative director. Molliere is a former Connecticut restaurateur, trained in France, with a beyond stellar resume, including time at a three Michelin-starred restaurant. His experience is inescapably evident in his cuisine. His street cuisine offers an opportunity to experience complex flavor combinations served in a non-assuming, gorgeous way. Fine dining has met the street and produced a love child. The menu includes an entirely organic gourmet Kobe beef burger with applewood smoked bacon and goat cheese, in a wild mushroom brandy sauce, served with from-scratch frites. It’s just as decadent as it sounds and literally melts in your mouth.
Going the more traditional burger route is Munchies Food Truck (@munchiesft). Munchies rose out Chef Aiman Saad’s obsession with real food simply prepared with great ingredients. (Chef Saad is one of the executive chefs at Mohegan Sun.) Their Munchie Burger is everything you could want in this straight-forward classic. The meat is from a local butcher, ground fresh from 100% Angus beef that is always choice or higher. Combined with crunchy pickles and thinly sliced red onion – and served with their perfectly crunchy on the outside yet soft on the inside fries – this burger screams excellence.
How about another American classic? I’m talking about barbeque. Head over to LJ’s BBQ (@LJsBBQ) to experience fall-off-the-bone ribs, pulled pork, baked beans and cornbread that mean business. Owners Bernie and Linda Watson have been running LJ’s since 2001. Aside from their restaurant, they also have a food truck that is available for catering and will be opening for late night on Hope Street throughout the summer, Wednesday through Saturday. The truck will be offering their award-winning bbq grilled meats, sandwiches and wood grilled pizzas. They can also be found throughout the summer at various festivals including the India Point Park Cape Verdean Festival and Oktoberfest in downtown Pawtucket.