I'm old enough to remember when the intersection of University and Colonel Glenn (back then known as University and Asher) was the good part of town. I saw my first music video on a projection screen TV at the Godfather's Pizza just west of there. Four years old, at the Kmart on the southwest corner, I climbed into the middle of a clothes rack and fell asleep, scaring my mother so bad she called the cops. I used to beg for birthday trips to nearby Casa Bonita. My brother and I saw "The Empire Strikes Back" four times at the Cinema 150, with an uncle who has been dead 30 years now, crushed by a falling oil derrick in the wilds of New Mexico. At 17, I bought a gas tank for my '63 Chevy at an ancient junkyard a little further west toward Rock Creek. Later on, I met the woman I eventually married at UALR, just north of the crossroads. Graduated from there, and still teach there, too.
Given how much of my life seems to have revolved around that broad and busy intersection, it's been a shame to see the neighborhood go downhill so much in the past few decades. Kmart and the Cinema 150 and Casa Bonita are long gone. The junkyard down the street fell prey to the crusher years ago. Other businesses have moved in, but it's just not the same. Things change. Such is life.
It's good, then, that someone is trying to raise the fortunes and spirits around University/Colonel Glenn. The Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas is in the process of buying the old Kmart building and plans on renovating it. In the meantime, they've started a daily food-truck court in the parking lot called University Market @ 4Corners. Mosaic Church pastor Mark DeYmaz said that the goal of the food truck court is to help be "a contributing partner to the city and to urban revitalization."
The plan is for University Market to be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with a rotating ensemble of eight pre-screened vendors (see attached list). Those looking to visit can check out the University Market Facebook page to see which trucks will be there and when.
As someone who has eagerly watched the food truck parade in recent years — led by the taco wagons down in SWLR and the rolling love machine that is Hot Dog Mike's pull-behind cart — I am a big supporter of the idea of getting a bunch of them together in one place. I've been to University Market a few times recently, and the coolest thing about it is the variety. Even if you go on a day when there are only a few trucks there (as was the case on a recent cloudy Thursday, with only three in residence), there's still a fabulous variety of stuff to eat, most of it cheap. (Be sure to bring cash, though. Many of the vendors can't do credit cards).
On a recent run, two friends and I went in opposite directions. Companion A and I tried The Food Truck, while Companion B headed to Red River Catering for a little catfish, fries and shrimp.
I've caught The Food Truck a few times at various events, and I'm already a fan. I tried My Momma's Sandwich ($7): turkey breast, Swiss cheese, red onion, tomato and mustard on parmesan sourdough. Companion, meanwhile, tried The Clarice ($7), which features lamb (get the name now?) roasted in garlic and rosemary, with a red onion marmalade, balsamic mayo on multi-grain bread. We both opted for the sweet potato chips with our sandwiches.
Companion bleated that her lambwich looked and smelled divine, the garlic-scented steam rising from the bag with the promise of a hearty, filling meal, perfect for a blustery day of outdoor dining. She's generally a big fan of onions, and said the red onion marmalade did not disappoint, adding a sweet tang to each bite without being overpowering. I found similar heaven in My Momma's Sandwich, which was big, sloppy and flavorful — perfectly grilled and with generous goodies inside. On the other hand, we both found the sweet potato chips to be a buzzkill: soggy, limp and soaked in grease. It's hard to ruin a sweet potato, so Companion and I agreed that we'd give The Food Truck the benefit of the doubt and assume we had a bad batch.
Overall, a dang fine lunch, and that was before our other friend returned with his Red River fish and shrimp combo plate ($11.50), which turned out to be an overload of golden, meaty fillets, butterflied shrimp and delicious fish-grease fries. By the time we staggered to the trash can to dispose of the evidence, we were all groaning.
In short: great idea, great location, great food, great spirit. One crucial thing missing that, according to organizers, thanks to a zoning limitation they're working with the city to address is that there are no picnic tables or any other kind of seating. Here's hoping that gets fixed sooner rather than later. Who wants to come out for truck food on a sunny day and then have to eat in the car?
One suggestion might be to take a page from the Farmer's Market downtown and restrict the Market @ 4Corners to only a few days: all-day Saturday and lunch on Wednesday has a nice ring to it. While that might seem like an unnecessary restriction, I'd bet that, with a little Facebook and Twitter promotion, it could turn the food truck court into a Wednesday-lunch destination for people all over the city ("Hey, it's Wednesday! Let's load up and go eat at the food trucks!"), not to mention helping assure that they'd have a full complement of vendors on hand when they are open.