If your appetite is driving you crazy, or you’re just hungry for the next big thing, you may want to take the area food trucks—Ithaca’s newest trend—for a spin. Every Wednesday between 5 to 8:30 p.m. at Thompson Park on North Cayuga the mobile meal purveyors gather.
The next step-up from food carts you’ll find throughout farmer’s market and on the Commons, these mobile restaurants are tricked-out and often self-propelled. And they give a new meaning to the phrase “moveable feast.”
With a diverse array of menu offerings that matches the many makes and models you’ll find at a new car lot, it’s easy to find a food truck that is the right speed for you.
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“Roundups are the way to go because not only is it a place to grab a quick bite, but it also serves as a community space and an event,” said Jes Seaver, one of the organizers of the Food Truck Round Up that’s now in its beta stage through September of this year. Seaver, as well as her business partner Katy Walker, most famous perhaps for running the food hospitality tent at the GrassRoots Festival for Music & Dance, teamed up last October to conceive what’s been pulling up to curbs and parking lots across the country.
The food truck craze exploded in New York City as far back as five years ago, but successful associations have formed in Portland (Oregon) and Miami, as well as other progressive cities that have adventurous tastebuds. The greater Ithaca region has already had a bit of a history with meals on wheels with Lou’s famous Hot Truck on Cornell Campus, and assorted plein air offerings at the farmers market and on the Commons.
Like what you’ll find at the farmers market, the food truck round-up so far has offered more than your standard picnic fare. “We’ve been having a fun time experimenting with flavors,” Seaver said. “Though it’s a lot of logistics, when it comes down to sourcing and producing the food it’s really a labor of love.”
Seaver and Walker co-own two of the four vendors at the current round-up: Crepe de Luc, and the farm-to-picnic truck Silo. The Food Truck Association of Ithaca includes Seaver and Walker, as well as the Good Truck’s Mandy Beem-Miller, who has been serving up locally sourced tacos for longer than the other newer generation of food trucks.
“One of the goals of the starting community was making a space conducive to community,” Seaver said by phone, while working with Walker at the Clearwater festival down in Croton, N.Y., where the two contract with the festival to provide artist hospitality. “We were looking for a place where people could play, and lie in the grass; and we worked together on menu items, bringing that food to people.”
Seaver, who also has served as the executive director of the Ithaca Festival for the last five years, has experience with both food and hospitality. She owns the fry bread stand that is a central fixture at the annual festival, as well as at other local events.
“This was more a labor of love,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to coordinate, create agreements, as well as fees, and even working on getting a customer base.” But, she added, it’s not all work: “It is a fun way to experiment with menu concepts.”
Ithaca has proven itself an adventurous palette. Between carts, trucks, and pop-ups, the traditional brick and mortar can begin to resemble the horse and buggy: slow to adapt, and almost quaint. My favorite new vendor du jour, Belly, which has set up shop at Lot 10 Thursday through Saturday, waited a scant few months providing iterations of pork before it began serving a chicken dinner for eight ($90); and Sadya Snacks’ street food from the Indian Subcontinent can complement Macro Mama’s and Lou’s hot dog stand (still a nostalgic favorite of mine).
With more restaurants per capita than New York City, one can easily get lost in what The New York Times called a “gastronomic oasis.” Here’s a roundup of the roundup.
La Crepe de Luc
Named after the owner’s son, Seaver started a creperie because it is both a great “food to grab on the go” and something you can’t find around Ithaca. “We’ve run crepe stands at other locations, including Renaissance fairs and here at the [Clearwater] Festival, and I just think it’s a really fun menu item,” Seaver said, while multi-tasking at the hospitality tent at Clearwater. Strawberry and Nutella is the favorite, but Seaver and Walker have been serving up a variety of locally sourced items: a braised greens and oyster mushroom mix with a sherry reduction and a French Brie and Piggery bacon. “We make sure to have both a sweet and savory crepe,” Seaver said.
The Good Truck
The size of the small tacos and other locally driven offerings at The Food Truck belie their robust taste. Boasting an inventive Mexican-inspired menu and top-notch service, the truck will drive your taste buds wild, and you’ll probably stop back for a return trip.
Those homemade masa harina-based corn tortillas take a little time to prepare, so be patient.
The Good Truck isn’t actually a truck at all, but a tow-behind trailer. Just seven by seventeen feet, it sits in state on North Cayuga Street next to the other vehicles in the roundup. The counter service is appropriate to the cuisine, which is limited to a handful of tacos, the fixings for a sandwich, a single pepita salad, a quesadilla, and some chips, salsa and guacamole. Don’t miss the specials.
The clever tag line of “locally driven tacos” says it all: arugula from Remembrance Farm, asparagus from the Good Life, rhubarb and ramps from Rosy Bone, meat from Autumn’s Harvest and Murray’s Chickens, and a roster of regionally gathered accoutrements.
The Icebox Snowballs
With so many milk-based options in the area it’s easy to be forgiven for thinking that in the summer “Ithaca is ice cream,” but at least one mobile refrigerator is challenging sweet tooths to go dairy-free. The Icebox Snowballs serves up fist-sized iced desserts in small, medium, and extra-large—and with both Maryland-style syrup in exotic flavors and an expanding range of locally derived options, this shaved ice is savored nice.
The vast majority of flavors invoke your standard spectrum of snowballs: lemon, strawberry, watermelon, and cotton candy. But it’s the local flavors that really shine: a local maple and honey with no sugar added; a local sweet mint, and more recently a collection of emerging fruit: currant and rhubarb.
The tart cherry is the latest locally made entry—a gently sweetened stone fruit from Singer Farms, and supplied by Stick and Stone—the flavor is a welcome addition to the trailer’s freezer. And if you really crave dairy, try the Gimme! Coffee. With condensed milk it resembles a Vietnamese treat.
Silo: Farm to Foodtruck
Katy Walker has had over fifteen years in the catering business, so when she decided to open a food-cart, it was no surprise to her friends and associates. “Katy’s been specializing in large-scale events,” Seaver said, citing GrassRoots and other festivals. “We’ve always served food in unique circumstances, so this was a fun challenge to try something on a small scale.”
Though co-owned with Seaver, Silo is Walker’s focus, specializing in sliders and other sandwiches. With a $3 price tag and a serving that has about that many bites, it’s best to try as many as possible: a New York Sausage with broccoli rabe and provolone; a pulled pork and Asian spices with fresh slaw, and a delicious braised chicken slider that invokes the sorely missed satay at Thai Cuisine. My personal favorite is an egg and pickle combo (Silo, like the other food trucks, always keep at least one vegetarian option on the menu).
“Right now we’re looking to expand the customer base,” Seaver said when asked whether the Food Truck Association would welcome new members. “Of course it would be nice to add another truck or two.” (the permit for Thompson Park currently allows for a single extra vendor, though one imagines that Seaver and Walker could consolidate considering they are co-owners of essentially one truck).
That said, most are just excited that the concept is gaining traction. “Sometimes it will be raining, but we’ve been out there still, building the brand,” said Seaver. “There was a huge turn-out for the first night, but since then there have been maybe 40-80 customers at the round-up. You can’t have five carts for five customers.”
Summing up, Seaver said: “But then again, the weather is starting to get better, so I bet numbers will go up.” If buzz throughout town and around the country is any indication, food trucks are parked to stay.
Louie's Lunch, the Hot Truck, and Big Red Dogs are Cornell/Collegetown food trucks that do not take part in the Thompson Park roundup, but are open for business all summer long. The Circus Truck can be found at the corner of West Seneca and Meadow streets.