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Teodora’s Kitchen

26 Jul

Teodora's panamanian food truck

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Teodora’s is a mother/daughter+ operation serving the mother’s native Panamanian cuisine. I caught them on their first day of operation, and may well have been their first customer.

This usually isn’t a good thing – you can’t really evaluate a food business of any sort based upon their opening moments, but you can, at minimum, reasonably surmise that if it’s good at the start, it has a promising future.

So, to be frank – if it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t be writing this. It wouldn’t be fair. And, while there were a few minor hiccups here and there, the food, the truck, and the value proposition were truly impressive from the very start.

panamanian food truck

As to value, look at what you get for $8:
carne frita teodoras

That’s Teodora’s carne fritas – a generous portion of flavorful skirt steak, on a rice and yuca base smothered in lentils, served with an intriguing take on potato salad and a nice, chunky house made pico de gallo style salsa. Everything was spot on, and for someone who isn’t normally much of a fan of potato salad, their take, which includes beets and fresh peas, satisfied completely. Freshness of the ingredients was conspicuous.

Another $8 option was the empanadas:

panamanian empanadas

These were solidly good, though perhaps a bit less so than the carne fritas. The empanada shells are of the central American variety – corn meal based and delightfully crispy on the outside – and ground beef filled them. I’m a huge fan of these in general, and while I enjoyed them I felt the shell to filling ratio was a bit off and that the flavor of the filling could’ve been amped up a bit more. Still, plenty satisfying, and also a great deal.

Other menu items that you can bet I’ll be back to try include tamales and arroz con pollo.

A fun parting thought – Panama is the connector between North & South America, and I couldn’t help but be tickled by how the two dishes I tried illustrated that vividly. The carne fritas vibed very similar to a Brazilian PF style picanha steak dish (substitute beans for the lentils and it’d be a dead ringer), and the empanadas were reminiscent of a Salvadoran favorite.

Mai Chau

9 Apr

vietnamese food truck columbus

Facebook.com/MaiChauTruck
Twitter: @MaiChauTruck

A diverse range of cuisines have been finding their way to the local food truck scene, and Mai Chau’s contribution furthers this trend. Started by a duo that spent a couple of years teaching in Hanoi, Vietnamese food is their calling card.

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We caught the truck on it’s second outing, so the menu was limited but poised to grow. Here’s what we had:

In the pork banh mi sandwich the expected components were in attendance, except for pate. The quality of ingredients seemed high, and the signature freshness of the dish clearly came through. The Sriracha pulled pork was a bit of a curve ball, though – while tasty in its own right, it seemed slightly odd in context and we suspect that the saucing was perhaps dialed back to keep the heat of the sriracha in check. As a result, the sauce flavor was difficult to detect. It’s not as spicy as the menu description might suggest. Nonetheless, a likeable enough sandwich.

mai chau food truck

The bun – a cold rice noodle dish – had us nervous… a bit unnecessarily, as it turns out. The key to this dish is the nuoc cham sauce, and none was provided on the side (as we’ve come to expect from local Vietnamese restaurants). Instead, it was drizzled over the noodles and pooled in the bottom, which led us to wonder if it’d be too much or not enough. Turns out, with a quick mix, it was just right. The aforementioned pork is a topping option, as are tempeh and chicken. We opted for the chicken, and enjoyed the flavor of it. Bun is a great summer dish and a nice healthy food truck menu option.

vietnamese food truck ohio

The spring roll was similarly pleasant – a cold dish composed of a generous portion of shrimp, bean sprouts, herbs and greens. It was consistent with what you’d find at any Vietnamese restaurant, which is to say solidly good.

asian food trucks columbus

Mai Chau is off to a promising start, and we’re looking forward to what they come up with next. If you find them in your neighborhood, check ‘em out!

Tokyo GoGo

13 Dec

tokyo gogo food truck mobile food vendor

26 E. 5th Ave., Columbus OH 43201 (near corner of 5th & High, next to Brother’s Drake)

Mobile food in Columbus seems to evolve in phases – first came the taco trucks, and more recently there’s been a boom in trucks serving some fine riffs on what would be considered ‘American’ food. Now, it seems, international cuisines are having their turn. With the opening of Ajumama (Korean), Aromaku (Indonesian), the as-of-yet unreviewed Empanada Joe’s (Colombian), and now Tokyo GoGo, the range of flavors that mobile food offers continues to grow.

From a business perspective, Tokyo GoGo seems especially well conceived. It’s found a set location in a well-trafficked area; tightly integrated with the bustling bar at Brother’s Drake Mead. In fact, with the ability to order their food inside at the bar, it seems to more or less operate as Brother’s Drake’s kitchen. Which is a beautiful thing, particularly during inclement weather. Furthering that connection, Tokyo GoGo’s menu primarily consists of Japanese style bar snacks, which, while traditionally eaten with beer (which Brother’s Drake does carry), we’ve found to also pair reasonably well with their meads.

But wait… Brother’s Drake… Short North… aren’t there already a ton of Japanese food options in the area?

There certainly are, but by and large, this is better – conspicuously handmade (nobody’s reheating frozen dumplings from the freezer) and conceived with a menu tailored to ingredients that can be found locally. So, no fish of questionable quality, and no 100+ item menus, just a tightly focused list of 11 well-executed dishes.

karaage tokyo gogo

The first and foremost of which, for us, was the karaage. It’s simple enough – chunks of chicken thigh meat that have been lightly battered and flash fried – but the chicken is sublimely moist and flavorful, and the sauces, one of which reminded us of a Korean gochujang, are nothing short of brilliant.

gyoza tokyo gogo

Their gyoza, available with both pork and vegetable fillings, make for a pleasant surprise as the 6 dumplings that come to an order are arranged in a circle and grilled into a thin, flaky crepe. The accompanying photo (above) will elaborate on this intriguing arrangement better than words ever could, but the effect is that as each piece separates from the whole it brings along crispy, flaky bits that make for a pleasant textural counterpoint. Delicious.

udon tokyogogo food truck mobile food vendor

The Japanese noodle soup – served with your choice of soba or udon noodles – is exactly what it should be; a great broth covering plenty of noodles, topped with veggies and the like. It’s a perfect winter-month bowl of comforting warmth.

Beyond that, we’ve tried the tempura vegetables, karokke (potato croquettes), hijiki (seaweed) salad, inari, and edamame. All were, at minimum, good, and most were better than.

We’ve enjoyed the bar at Brother’s Drake for some time, and with the addition of Tokyo GoGo, we can make an evening of it. We’d suggest that you do, too.

Swoop Food Group

2 Aug

swoop food truck

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614.256.9342

I’ll cut to the chase – Swoop is good. And, sometimes, very very good.

The gist of the menu, as it stands, is relatively ‘easy-to-prepare’ things done the hard way. Like, for example, their tater tots. A breeze to prepare, unless you make them from scratch, as they do. Beautifully browned and crispy, and tender on the inside, they’re clearly worth the effort and a whole lot better than what you’ll find elsewhere.

 food truck tatertots

Ladle some gravy atop them, and sprinkle with cheese curds, and you have, to my mind, the best rendition of poutine in town. If it’s on the menu, get it – the flavor of that gravy will leave you wondering how so many in the past have gotten it so wrong, and the way it clings to the crusty surface of the tots will make you wonder why poutine isn’t always done like this.

swoop food truck columbus

Their Brussels sprouts are also among the best around – crispy, slightly charred, and bacon bedecked, they’re nothing fancy, but done with a deft touch.

swoop food truck

And those are just the sides. Swoop’s main focus, as of now, is on sliders. If you’re looking for a straightforward cheeseburger, they have it, but from there they take all sorts of liberties with the concept – think B(elly, pork)LTs, jerk chicken, and a BBQ rib version, all on slider buns and priced at $3 each or 2 for $5.

columbus food trucks

They’re perhaps even more varied in flavor than the descriptions would suggest. The jerk chicken was pleasantly, but unusually spiced with what one taster thought might be Chinese 5 spice and another guessed might be cumin. Either way, it was on a juicy slice of nicely fried white meat. The BLT was intriguingly sauced as well.

All were enjoyed, with the only possible critique being that the flavor of the homemade quick pickles asserted themselves more than would be ideal on some of them. Also good are the gooey pimento cheese filled empanadas.

We haven’t had too much time to talk with the guys behind Swoop, but in brief discussions we’ve learned that they’re pushing to source locally as much as possible, with an ultimate goal of purchasing 90% of their raw ingredients within central Ohio.

They’re also likeable guys – treat yourself, check them out.

best columbus food trucks

That Food Truck

19 Jul

food trucks in columbus ohio

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The whole food truck thing has been moving fast, and we try to keep up by hitting new trucks as soon as they debut. Though we don’t always succeed, we’ve caught a fair number of trucks during either their soft opening or their first night of business.

This means we’ve seen a lot of trucks at the stage where they’re still trying to work the bugs out – everything from dealing with electrical issues to serious difficulties with the menu items to inability to estimate food quantities to match up with their crowd.

We tried That Food Truck during their soft opening, and none of above applies. In fact, if our experience is any indication, they’ve hit the ground running… and they’ve done it while putting out a quality menu that pushes all of our happy buttons.

food trucks 2012 columbus

These include locally purchased meats from a single farmer that one of the owners (Chef Dan Kraus) butchers himself (!). And, beyond that, a whole lot of locally sourced goodness, including vegetables from their own garden. As well as local farmers, That Food Truck are also working with Eleni Christina Bakery and North Market Spices. NMS have made a special blend for them that they’re calling truck dust. It’s sprinkled on most of the dishes.

The owners of That Food Truck, Dan and Steve, have significant restaurant back-of-house experience, and are using the truck as a means to explore avenues not open to them within a traditional restaurant setting. The truck kitchen is well equipped. They even have an oven and Dan bakes his own chocolate chip cookies each morning.

that food truck columbus ohio

The quality shows in the end product. The hamburger was easily among the best we’ve had from a food truck, and the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ was definitely worth returning for. The chicken confit sandwich was exceptional.

food truck using local ingredients

Really, everything we had hit the mark, with the possible exception of the squash fritters which were a bit mushy on the inside. Those were quite possibly an anomaly, or a small reminder to us that it was indeed a soft opening. We do like that That Food Truck offers some small bites and snack sized items. We really enjoyed the spicy carrot fries. Thin slices of carrot deep fried, salty, a little spicy and not at all greasy.

locally sourced food truck

In talking with them, we were assured that there was more to come, menu-wise. Pork belly lettuce wraps and Tomahawk pork chops were cited as  examples. We’re curious… and will be back.

You can expect to find That Food Truck at Gay and Grant in the evenings and at Campus Pit stop Kenny and Lane during the day – but check their Facebook and Twitter for updates.

WOSU Article on Food Trucks

20 Jun

We’re going to post this without comment, but we’d love to know what you think about it (click below to read the article):

Commentary: Columbus Food Trucks — Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Do you agree?

Ajumama and the Point of Mobile Food

7 May

korean food truck

Cuisine: Korean street food
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On the way to covering Ajumama, allow me to pose a bigger picture question: what is the point of the mobile food vendor?

At the most basic level, a mobile food vendor’s product – prepared food – is not inherently (key qualifier) different to that of a restaurant. The levels of service provided, however, are night-and-day distinct. This even extends to location, as you’ll never have to refer to Facebook or Twitter to figure out where a restaurant will be stationed at any given time. At a truck, there’s no A/C or accommodation for shelter from the elements, often no seating, no refills on drinks, no alcohol options, and you’ll likely stand to wait for the stretch between ordering and receiving your food.*

Yet stand and wait they did, during Ajumama’s debut last week, to the tune of roughly 80 people deep. Rain threatened, and finally made good as predicted, but social media drove an enviable number of paying customers to a truck that nobody had ever tried.

Clearly, despite the absence of service (and shelter!), some mobile food vendors have tremendous pull. This suggests that there are advantages inherent to the medium, and, no doubt there are. A clever young chef can get their own mobile business off of the ground for a small fraction of the cost of opening a restaurant, and the relatively low overhead can provide the leeway to be far more creative and novel in their offering. Recurring costs are also far lower, and these savings can be passed on to the consumer. When considering a strict price/quality proposition, mobile can provide the best food deals in town.

Which takes us back to those 80 hungry customers willing to spend an evening betting on a few mentions swirling around the inter-tubes about this new Korean-style street food vendor.

That’s all about the novelty, folks – I cannot emphasize this enough (especially to those looking to get in on the mobile craze). The promise of the new and the interesting has tremendous, enduring appeal that, at best, trumps all other considerations.

Or, to be bluntly personal: when I have a rare free evening to choose whatever food offering I please, providing something that is both unique and well executed is exactly what it will take to get me to forgo the many comforts of a restaurant. Full stop.

korean food truck

So, yeah… Korean-style street food. At Ajumama, this means several things, but first and foremost it means pajeon - a savory, thick and eggy pancake crisscrossed with strands of green onion. Four types are found on the menu, including seafood, pork, chicken, and a choose-your-own-ingredients option. We tried the chicken, and enjoyed it tremendously, though the accompanying sauce had a bit more vinegar than we’d prefer. Portions were generous, and prices ranged from $6 – $9.

korean pancakes ajumama

We also tried the hodduk, a sweet, roughly english muffin sized hotcake filled with a gooey brown sugar, cinnamon, and nut mix. This was very easy to like, and in our explorations we’ve not found anything like it in the city. Even those with a distaste for Asian flavors will find hodduk to be unchallenging and likely downright addictive.

One of my favorite things about Ajumama is that they have daily specials, and that they actually change. On the first visit, it was kimbap – think Korean sushi roll – and on the second it was spicy squid skewers. The kimbap, served with either tuna or spam (don’t knock it, pretty good!) filling, was refreshing on an unseasonably warm spring evening, and the squid was a tasty hot sauce and hot pepper sinus clearer.

korean street food

These are early days for Ajumama, so early that it’s almost unfair to review them prior to allowing for opportunity to work out the inevitable start-up kinks. But, with that said, there’s clearly so much that’s right about what they’re doing from the start, and so much promise in what they can do, that I feel compelled to answer the intro question with this:

Operations like Ajumama are the point of mobile food vending. If you’re hungry, we strongly encourage you to check them out. And, if you’re looking to start up a mobile food operation of your own, give some thought to how Ajumama have shrewdly structured just about all aspects of their business to target the advantages of the mobile food model.

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* Many of these service-related concerns are being taken on by groups trying to create what are called street food ‘pods’, the most developed of which is ‘Dinin’ Hall‘.  Dinin’ Hall is a slick operation that provides a gathering point for trucks, plenty of indoor seating, a central point of sale, and delivery of your order to your table. The participating trucks vary from day to day, so look here for the schedule.

Paddy Wagon (1.0 – The Early Years)

9 Jul

Cuisine: Burgers & Wraps, mostly
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Twitter: @PaddyWagonFood

Recently, we’ve encountered burgers stuffed with foie gras, burgers made with any of a number of different wild game meats, and burgers comprised entirely of lobster flesh and scallop puree. Clearly, the humble hamburger has been putting on the cocktail gown quite a bit lately, and more often than not it wears it surprisingly well.

But sometimes, dammitall, I just want a good, straightforward, no BS hamburger. Maybe a little bacon if we’re “feeling creative”, and, of course the Kraft single is a must.

This is where Paddy Wagon comes in. Parked at the BP station near Neil & Goodale, they’re putting out a solid menu of comfort food burger favorites such as the ‘Bacon the Law Burger’:

This was a big, satisfying sandwich – a 1/2 pound angus beef patty topped with bacon, sauteed mushrooms, peppers, onions, and a slice of the aforementioned cheese. Home fried potato chips (a bit on the salty side on our visit) and a parsley garnish round it out.

All for a scant $5.00.

Paddy Wagon also serves wraps, grilled cheese, and a few desserts, and is open Mon-Fri, 11am – 10pm. They may occasionally be absent on weekends if they’re working a festival or the like. Service was quick, operators are very friendly, and the hoosegow-themed truck provides plenty of entertainment while you wait.

Families Mobile Kitchen

20 Oct

1235 Oak St. (near corner of Oak & Wilson)
Open 11am – 9pm, Mon – Sat

We’ve often observed the usefulness of a mobile food operation as a stepping stone towards opening a bricks & mortar restaurant, but we’ve never seen anyone quite as aggressive about that strategy as Families. Their cart is set up outside of a retail space in Old Towne East that they’ve already taken possession of and are renovating as we speak. Presumably, proceeds from the truck help with renovation costs.

Gotta respect that. And, gotta respect the mac & cheese.  Continue reading

Recap – Food Cart Food Court at Wonderland

19 Oct

What a great event! The weather couldn’t have been better, and the turnout was phenomenal. We were going to write up a quick recap, but after seeing this excellent video by Mike Beaumont, we realized that it says everything we’d want to say about the event much better than we could with mere words.

If you’d like to see the video in high resolution (and I’d like to suggest that you really should), there’s a 720p versions here. Don’t forget to hit the ‘full screen’ button on the bottom right.

 

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