We've been talking food trucks a lot lately on our food blog, Eat Arkansas, and in print with our recent taco truck cover story. But despite our deep love for the authentic workingman's Mexican food that dominates the scene — not to mention the joy that comes from finding some out of the way truck plying catfish, jerk chicken or some other high calorie delight — for a while now, we've been clamoring for truck culture to evolve, to take a cue from scenes in places like New York, LA and New Orleans, where chefs, attracted to the flexibility, low overhead and slight rogue nature of the enterprise, have gone mobile in droves to produce our favorite kind of fare: cheap, gourmet street food.
And now, praises be, thanks to The Food Truck, we're on our way (and might be further down the path thanks to Green Cuisine; see What's Cookin'). Because the people behind The Food Truck aren't just doing approachable gourmet food, they're doing it downtown and, like their counterparts in bigger cities, they're moving around to different locations and keeping in touch with customers via the internet — with Facebook, Gowalla, Twitter and a nifty website (thefoodtruck-lr.com).
The owners bring the right sorts of backgrounds. Chef Jeffrey Palsa spent time, back in the day, cooking at Allouette's, Graffiti's and 1620. More recently, he's tenured in big name restaurants in D.C., Atlanta and Charleston, S.C. Naturally, he does most of the cookin'. Tyler Rogers is an upstart chef, who, in our experience, mostly mans the window, with a sunny charm. We'd be willing to bet a lot that he's behind the Twitter feed (sample posts: "Come get some grub truckeys!!" and "The truck is closed!!! Thanks everyone for a kick ass day!!"). Tyler's brother Jason Rogers works behind the scenes. He has a day job in advertising, which might have something to do with the outfit's winning web strategy.
"Really good sandwiches and salads" is how Jason Rogers described the menu to us in The Food Truck's early days, and that turns out to be a fairly apt description. Nothing particularly bold — which is probably smart; Little Rock doesn't always embrace boldness. Instead, the truck does the twists-on-standards thing every bistro and ladies lunch spot in town does, but better than or as well as all of them.
The keys: a healthy understanding of the magic found at the intersection of a liberal amount of butter on sandwich bread and a griddle, an emphasis on quality ingredients (many of the condiments are truck-made) and a flair for that little touch that makes a meal. For the Reuben ($7.50), which not without merit the trucksters are promoting as the best in town, it's the sweet onion relish mixed with the sauerkraut. It's more difficult to single out that one element in the Portobello wrap ($7), a variation on the (usually boring) go-to vegetarian sandwich option in cafes everywhere. That the mushrooms are marinated in balsamic vinegar? The rosemary-seasoned sauteed spinach? The roasted red pepper? A drizzle of pesto? Whatever the case, it's heavenly. Ditto for the Clarice ($8.50), a roasted lamb, red pepper and lettuce sandwich, topped with red onion marmalade and balsamic mayonnaise (the name, as movie junkies might've guess, is a "Silence of the Lambs" reference).
More on the sandwich side of the menu: a delicious pesto chicken ($7.50), a ham and brie ($6.50), a roast beef ($6.75), two variation of tuna (one features a hard-boiled egg in Sriracha; it goes for $7; the "classic" for $6.75), chicken salad ($6.50), turkey breast ($8) and a Greek burrito ($6.50). All sandwiches come with a handful of tasty hand-cut sweet potato chips.
On the salad side of things, the truck offers four options: the Fin and Feather Plate ($8.50), which is two massive scoops of creamy tuna and chicken salad on top of a bed of greens; an Acapulco chicken Caesar ($7.50); a Greek salad, with a hearty helping of Kalmata olives and pepperoncini ($6.50; $8 with marinated chicken on top; $8.50 with roasted lamb) and a seven-layer salad ($6.75), described on the menu as "that one you love from all those potlucks!" — shredded iceberg, tomato, celery, English peas, green onions, mayonnaise, bacon and cheddar.
We've yet to catch any of the entree specials — cowboy chili, turkey and dressing, grilled pork chops and candied yams — promising as they've sounded. The dessert special? That's another story. At least lately, the guys have been doing fried Honey Buns ($1), which involves nothing more than taking a Honey Bun out of its wrapper and pressing it on the griddle until the icing caramelizes. It's irresistible. And will kill if the truck ever ventures into the late-night scene.
The trio says it's interested in that potential. Just like it's interested in finding new places to park. More often than not the truck has been at the Bernice Garden on South Main Street. Several times, they've made arrangements to park somewhere only to be told something different once they arrive. Hopefully, more businesses and organizations will follow the lead of the Central Arkansas Library System, which allowed the truck to park in front of the Arkansas Studies Institute last Friday during Second Friday Art night. There've got to be dozens of businesses who'd love the exposure of having a buzz-y new "restaurant" out front for a couple of hours.
Follow this model, enterprising chefs. One roving gourmet food truck is hardly enough.
The Food Truck
Various locations, but often the Bernice Garden at 1401 South Main St.
It's hard to go wrong here, but we highly recommend the Rueben and the Portobello wrap. And the fried Honey Bun is worth the minutes it's probably stealing from the end of your life.
Generally 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., but best check Twitter if you're pushing up against closing.
Tax is included in prices, credit cards accepted for 35 cents extra, available for catering.