As we touched on last week, there’s a revolution flowing through the food truck culture of Baltimore city. The old guard, the taco trucks in Highlandtown and on the street corners of Fells Point’s Broadway, have given way to a new, hipper, more creative culture of food trucks that ain’t shilling your mama’s idea of standard lunch fare.
City records indicate that there are over 60 food trucks setting up shops in the streets of Baltimore. Of those, there are proprietors doling out cupcakes, pies and soups, but five in particular reign supreme when it comes to lunchtime eats: Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon, Curbside Café, GrrChe, The Gypsy Queen, and Creperie Breizh. The five (plus a few more) made headlines last week when they announced plans for a monthly gathering (aptly dubbed The Gathering), Baltimore’s first-ever food truck rally. We think it should set up a little bit of the midnight summit held at the beginning of The Warriors, without the assassination of a Cyrus-like character. (Can you dig it, Baltimore?)
So as to avoid heading into The Gathering with no concept of what I should be feasting on, I set out last week with Stan, my trusty partner-in-gastronomical-crime, to check out Baltimore’s Big 5 and do a little tasting.
It’s fitting that we started at Koop’s. This mobile spinoff of Kooper’s Tavern kickstarted the modern food truck swing, posting up on wheels about a year ago and serving the same delicious, char-grilled burgers you can find down at their brick-and-mortar Fells Point location.
What we got: Stan went with the Otis, a burger topped with sautéed mushrooms & onions with Monterey jack & cheddar cheeses. I ordered a MacGuiness, a simple hamburger with applewood smoked bacon and cheddar.
What’s to like: My MacGuiness had some of the best bacon distribution I’ve ever seen. Lots of bacon burgers come with two slabs that split the middle of the patty. With this one, I got bacon in every bite.
What’s not to like: Unless you were raised on a dairy farm, the double whammy of jack and cheddar cheese can be a bit overwhelming. Same goes for the onions. Also, if you like your burgers bloody, be wary: Health restrictions forbid Kooper’s Chowhound from preparing their burgers anything less than medium well.
Curbside Café does one thing — they make burritos — and they do it very well. For $6, you can get a burrito about the size of two closed fists, and it’s your call how you pack it: Pulled pork, chana masala, spicy chicken, tofu & grilled veggies, or black beans.
What we got: I got the black bean. Stan went with the spicy chicken.
What’s to like: The key to a burrito is keeping a balanced ratio of ingredients, and we couldn’t have been more impressed with the way chefs Shawn Smith and Lesa Bain balanced what they were putting into our burritos. A lot went in, too. Curbside’s burritos aren’t oversized by any means, but condiments (avocado, onion, lettuce, tomato, corn relish, cheese, and sour cream) come free and were liberal with our selections. Best of all: Curbside burritos come sturdy. It won’t devolve into a salad if you take it out of the aluminum foil.
What’s not to like: We’re still looking for something to complain about.
GrrChe isn’t just about putting cheddar on wheat, tossing it on the grill and serving with a side of tomato soup. Their sandwiches are complex concoctions featuring lobster, macaroni & cheese, and grilled slabs of bacon. Also, butter.
What we got: For Stan, The Crab Delight: Grilled Maryland crab cake, Monterey Jack cheese, and tomatoes on two pieces of Texas Toast. Yours truly, The Domonique: Wisconsin Gorgonzola, Parmesan, a grilled chicken breast, and arugula with a walnut pesto.
What’s to like: Crab cakes with melted cheese will make you never want to eat a tuna melt again.
What’s not to like: That butter. GrrChe sandwiches are drenched, which causes the slices of bread to be soggy rather than crisp – which is how your mama made ‘em. Ask for extra napkins, or bring your own. Just do something. And don’t shake hands with anyone important immediately after.
We found The Gypsy Queen Café to be the most creative of the bunch. There’s nary a conventional menu item on the board: Crab cakes come in tacos, falafel comes with salsa, po’ boys are made with flounder. The hearty portions and voodoo aesthetic will make you feel like you’re eating soul food in the South, but this truck’s got no father to its style.
What we got: I went with the Gypsy Queen’s specialty, The Gypsy Cone, a waffle cone filled with extremely creamy mac & cheese and topped with bacon “bling” (basically what you’d get if you made pulled pork with a pig’s belly rather than its shoulder). Stan ordered the Lemon Dill Chicken Salad wrap, a pita stuffed with chicken chunks, lemon dill sauce, and grilled tomatoes. Its notable component: This chicken salad is served hot.
What’s to like: The top of the Gypsy Cone. That combination of barbecued bacon, mac & cheese and sugar from the waffle cone is the most unique flavor either of us tasted all week.
What’s not to like: The bottom. That barbecued bacon we keep coming back to only goes on the top of the cone, and the second half is filled with nothing but mac & cheese. So you’re already sort of full, and you just dropped down to one ingredient.
Some crepes come rolled tight as a Cuban cigar. Others are made flat, like a piece of pizza that’s been doubled over. Creperie Breizh, which launched in November 2010, makes what amounts to a mighty cone, served in a regular crepe or buckwheat galette.
What we got: Stan opted for the Normande, which includes grilled chicken, sliced apples and brie on a buckwheat galette. I ordered the Parisienne: Baby spinach, bacon, swiss cheese, chopped tomato and raspberry vinaigrette.
What’s to like: With fresh tomatoes, thin, crispy bacon, and ripe apples, these crepes are all about freshness. They’re definitely the healthiest of the five trucks we sampled, and a full crepe won’t leave you feeling like you need a nap after your lunch break. Stan was big on the way his brie congealed everything, which prevented ingredients from falling about when the bottom got a little messy.
What’s not to like: Petty, we know, but at their Mt. Vernon location there’s nary a trash can in sight for at least 50 yards.
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