Tag Archives: Foodies

Why Won’t Baltimore Food Trucks Operate at Night?

Well Baltimore, the heat has finally broken. The cold has snapped. The mercury is beginning to drop. Very soon the trees will be bare of leaves, the woodland creatures will burrow in, and birds will fly south for the winter. There’s also another species whose ranks are about to be thinned out a bit… namely Baltimore food trucks.

Food trucks have been multiplying faster than mosquitoes all Summer long. After the great city hall food truck crisis of May 2011, trucks were given their own zones, as well as carte blanche to operate anywhere in the city. A new truck seemed to hit the streets almost once a week.

Believe it or not, people get hungry at night too.

That was Summer though, and this is Fall. While there is certainly no shortage on the supply side, demand for street food is sure to wane as the weather grows colder. Curbside Cafe has already served its last burrito for one reason or another, and we’d be willing to bet that at least a few of its competitors will end up on the scrap heap.

The food trucks that survive the long, cold winter won’t necessarily be the ones with the best food or the most advantageous lunchtime parking spot, but the ones that are willing to work the hardest and put in the longest hours. Up until now, gourmet chuckwagons have catered almost exclusively to the downtown lunch crowd. A few of them will gear up for a Saturday event now and then, but by and large their operators have treated their enterprises mostly like a nine to five job.

Not only does this limited-to-lunchtime business plan completely ignore an entire segment of the local market, it runs counter to the whole purpose of selling food from a truck in the first place. Historically, food trucks have catered to blue collar workers at places like construction sites and steel mills, or any other remote location where people may be hungry. Baltimore’s fleet of trucks has for some reason chosen to operate only in areas that are already glutted with restaurants, and to compete with them directly from 11 to 3.

But what about the other 11-3? The one after dinner and before breakfast? The one where all the restaurants are closed but people are still out and hungry? The trucks that fill this niche are the ones that will survive the winter.

Baltimore has a serious deficit of late night dining options. There’s the Sip and Bite and Captain James’ Carryout, which despite all their charm are frankly pretty crummy restaurants. The Papermoon Diner is still crucial, although they’re no longer 24 hours, and often feature a post-last-call rush and lengthy wait times on weekends. There are a few traditional diners as well, though these are mostly on the outskirts of the city and can be inconvenient for those of us living downtown. We’re sure we don’t speak only for ourselves when we say that after a long night of Chopping it up at the bars, we’d much rather sample some delectable mobile fare than coming home and eating drunkfood like a fatty.

We’re out of luck though, because even though every weekend there are plenty of starving students at Power Plant, Hungry hungry hipsters in Station North, and famished folks in Fell’s the city’s food trucks refuse to claim their rightful place in its nightlife scene. Food truck owners: You are literally leaving piles of money sitting on the corner. All you’ve got to do to double your profits is just show up.

It’s not just insatiate imbibers who would be well served by food trucks hitting the streets at night. There are also plenty of cops, EMT’s, doctors and nurses and other public servants in the downtown sphere who don’t keep regular hours, but enjoy a mid-shift lunch nonetheless. They deserve better than what’s left on the shelf at 7-11 or a sack lunch brought from home. Serving up hot food on cold nights would not only boost a truck’s profits, it would bring the concept full circle, serving hard-working people who can’t get a restaurant meal.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Chop Rants!

If The City Shuts Down Food Trucks, What’s The Next Big Trend in Lunch?

If traffic has seemed to move faster and parking spaces have become more available in the last 24 hours, it might be because Baltimore City sent some obscure bureaucrat out onto the streets at lunchtime yesterday, a day after this article was published, to shut down the ever-growing fleet of food trucks that has been dieseling all over downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods the last couple of years.

We were able to watch the whole thing unfold on Twitter, as well as following the live updates on the Dining at Large Blog on the Sun’s website. It almost seems as if social media, the food trucks’ greatest advertising asset, could also be their downfall, since the Mayor is on Twitter too, and can see exactly where to levy fines. Of course, twitter is a good way to yell at city officials as well, and there was no shortage of that until the operators of food trucks, the upscale ones anyway, were granted an indefinite reprieve later in the afternoon.

One of Charm City's many mobile nosheries.

The Chop is a bystander in all of this. We typically aren’t around downtown during the lunch hour, and even if we were, we’d favor an actual restaurant like Werner’s or Burke’s. (Oops. Guess we’re SOL, huh?) We see food trucks mostly as a trend and a fad, and we don’t think Baltimore could support many more than it has now anyway. In the meantime we’re kind of dubious about the whole notion of ordering and eating as quickly as possible. If you’re not getting a full hour for lunch, you’re getting screwed. We’d rather stick with table service.

It got us wondering though… if the streets were emptied of food trucks, what will be the next great trend for lunch in Baltimore?

Tugboats and gentrification have historically not mixed in Baltimore. Maybe food is the missing link.

Tugboats. Part of the appeal in the food truck movement has always been the same appeal offered by the likes of Bourdain and his ilk, namely co-opting the culture of the working class and repackaging it for the leisure class. Take for example the lowly hot dog. Traditionally, a hot dog truck would be limited to places like construction sites, quarries and Bethlehem Steel, and workers would settle for hot dogs because their jobsite site was inaccessible, and they were likely too dirty to sit down in a real restaurant even if they could get to one. The hot dog was ground up pig guts, two for a buck, not something that was “finished with onion and tomato jam” or listed at “market price.”

Tugboats have long been renowned for their excellent food, and they’ve all got galleys already built right in. This was the next logical step in foodie fads anyway, wasn’t it? We can see it now, some enterprising chef steaming back and forth between the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, and the new Under Armour compound at Locust Point, with customers sitting out on the stern eating $12 bowls of pea soup and posting pictures to Facebook.

A bunch of trendy New Yorkers line up to buy junkfood from a wall.

Return of the Automat. Most people in today’s workforce are far too young to remember the automat, But it ticks all the boxes on the potential food trend checklist: Arcane and obsolete? check. Made for the Poor, re-sold to the Rich? check. Plain food with the potential for dressing up needlessly? check. A novelty which is more about the experience than the menu? check. Nostalgia for something you never lived through? check. Potential to overcharge? That’s a check, my friend.

There’s even a template to follow. It seems New York City has a shiny new upscale automat on the formerly gritty Saint Mark’s Place, complete with ‘opulent brownies’ and ‘Tijuana Taco Krokets.’ Their over-designed website even features a full page of schmoopy media gushing. Since Baltimore pretty much stole the whole foodie-food truck idea from NYC anyway, we might as well pony up $200k and jump on the automat franchising opportunity before the trend peaks.

Lexington Market is "ripe" for gentrification.

Lexington Market. Lexington Market has long been ripe for gentrification by the downtown lunch crowd, yet in 220 years of operation, it’s managed to retain its character. ‘Authenticity’ is at a premium these days though, and it could be the only thing that’s saving Lexington Market from an influx of suburban office workers is the fact that Polock Johnny’s isn’t nearly as adept at rebranding, merchandising and franchising as say, Ben’s Chili Bowl has been.

Of course, it’s kind of tough to repackage the working class experience with all those pesky working class folks hanging around and ruining it for the rest of us. If Lexington Market is ever going to become Baltimore’s hot new food destination, we’re going to have to cut off bus and subway access, and add some valets to the garages. After all, that’s not the safest neighborhood for parking your Prius. Why do you think you don’t see more food trucks there?

2 Comments

Filed under Chop Rants!

Predictions for Baltimore in 2011

Chopstradamus has seen the FUTURE, and we predict the following things will happen in Baltimore in the year of Our Lord two thousand eleven…

The Baltimore Charm of the Lingerie Football League will play their final game and no one will care. It might be because they can’t sell tickets, might be because the Arena is on the way out, or maybe the whole league will fold. Who knows?

Get ready to hear a lot about this junkpile in 2011.

Plans to tear down and replace the Civic Center will be the dominant issue in city politics. It will end to the satisfaction of no one. Meanwhile that ugly old Mechanic Theater building will continue to rot for another year.

Gregg Bernstein will start to clean up Pat Jessamy’s mess. Some old dirty laundry will be aired. No one will care much. Crime will drop slightly.

Michael Steele will come back to Maryland unemployed. Maybe Bob Ehrlich Wigs will hire that dumb, bald motherfucker to model their new line of “Urban” “Street” wigs.

Buck will wave bye-bye to BRob this Summer.

The Orioles will win 71 games. Brian Matusz will be the only pitcher, rotation or bullpen, to fully pull his weight. Brian Roberts will be traded near the deadline. Attendance will improve slightly. Showalter will continue to be an old hoss.

Downtown traffic will be for shit because of Baltimore Grand Prix preparations. Charm City Circulator service will expand, but will still not be worth riding.

Honfest will scale down to two days. Not as a direct result of the recent controversy, but possibly as an indirect result. Beehives can only go so goddamn high before they collapse, and 3 days was a bit much before most of the city went up in arms.

Outsiders will get bored of Beach House and catch on to something equally dull.

J Roddy Walston and the Business will supplant Beach House as the most popular Baltimore band outside Baltimore. This blog will probably continue to ignore both those bands.

Painfully slow progress will continue in Downtown’s Westside. Everyman Theater will be a success in the new location. Alewife will survive and accumulate some new regulars during baseball season.

Something will finally happen to the Chesapeake Restaurant building. This prediction is cloudy, but some kind of thing will definitely happen. Something. Around the corner, the new version of Liam’s Pint Size Pub will be very successful.

U2 will play, and it will be way more trouble than it’s worth for everyone involved. It will also be more trouble than it’s worth for those not involved. We predict a bigger crowd than the pope drew last time he was in town. (50k)

What we'll be eating this Summer.

The food trend for 2011 will be sandwiches. Primarily cold sandwiches. People will go nuts about different possible combinations of bread, meat, cheese, veggies. You’ll also see foodies praising the simple, quick, mobile, utilitarian nature of sandwiches and meals like the Ploughman’s Lunch, pushing these things to extremes the same way they did with cupcakes and small plates. Also, by the end of the year you will have an uncontrollable urge to punch anyone who says “sammich” if you don’t already.

Thus spake Chopstradamus. Go forth, ye Choppers, and prosper in yon new year.

1 Comment

Filed under Chop Rants!

Throwdown Viewing Party, Live Music @ Mum’s Tonight

If you’ve been following this blog with any sort of regularity, you might already know that we’re definitely not a foodie, but you definitely know that the last thing we’ll recommend doing is watching primetime TV.  In a bizarre twist of fate tonight, that’s exactly what we’re recommending  in one of the most random events we can remember happening… ever. Tonight is the night that the Food Network is set to air the Dangerously Delicious episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

The show will premiere at 9 pm, and Baltimore will be celebrating with a viewing party at South Baltimore’s own Mum’s. Yep. Mum’s. This is going to be sublime in so many ways.

If you know Mum’s at all, you know it’s not the kind of place that lacrosse players, condo-board types and tourists just stumble into on a whim. The show will not be competing with the World Cup or the NBA Finals for screen space. Nope, this is going to be a dedicated crowd, and they’re all going to be giving their full attention to booing, hissing and cursing Bobby Flay. And why not? It seems to us that there could be no more stark contrast in the culinary world than Flay and Rodney Henry. One is one of Baltimore’s prominent small businessmen who literally invented what he’s made from nothing. The passion and dedication that Henry has poured into his shop comes through in each bite, and he certainly deserves every bit of success he’s found. He can also rock a hat better than just about anyone in Baltimore. The other is a grating prettyboy with a rich-kid attitude who revels in his own celebrity and is the antithesis of everything Baltimore is about.

The Chop loves us some quiche, and broccoli mushroom cheddar quiche alll-most made our list of the top five late-night drunkfoods. We’re hoping the that the Dangerously Delicious crew will bring along a few varieties to go with Mum’s cheap drinks.

One thing we know the Pie Man will bring along is his guitar. In addition to the throwdown, tonight is one of the more unconventional bills you’ll find in the Baltimore music scene. We haven’t actually seen Rodney Henry play since his days in the Glenmont Popes, and the last time we saw the Popes was right around the same time we got a driver’s license. So yeah, it’s been a while.

He’s also got H.R.’s Human Rights Band to agree to play. They don’t make too many appearances, so the chance to check them out at Mum’s is worth noting. There’s been a lot of talk on Baltimore streets about H.R. since that citypaper article came out a couple years ago. The Chop has heard plenty of gossip and rumors that we will not repeat here. We’re going to go see the man for ourselves.

The bill is going to be rounded out by the duo of Lazlo Lee and Heidi Lynn and Baltimore’s Link Wray influenced garage-a-billy Young Jaguars.

Come on Baltimore. It’s time to put your fork where your mouth is.

__________________________________________________________

Mum’s is at 1132 S. Hanover St. in Federal Hill. Doors at 8. Throwdown airs at 9, and will be re-run at midnight if you’re watching at home.

Share

1 Comment

Filed under Baltimore Events, Other, shows

Foodie Culture Leaves a Bad Taste on Baltimore Palates

Brace yourselves Baltimore, for the Chop is about to take another potentially unpopular position. Today we’re coming out against food.

Did you know that your own humble Chop has been a vegetarian lo these 15 years? Of course you didn’t. We never mentioned it because we’re acutely aware that no one cares what we’re eating. And by that same token, the Chop doesn’t care what anyone else is eating, which leads to much eye-rolling because in 2010 everyone is anxious to tell you exactly what they’re eating.

We can’t hardly get through the day anymore without getting 20+ recommendations on what to eat. And you know what they say, opinions are like assholes… they leave a bad taste in your mouth. All kidding aside though, food is a lot like music in that it’s something which is consumed by everyone you know every day. Everyone has opinions on it, and everyone thinks their opinion is well-informed and superior, even if it’s not.

People who talk at length about what they’ve eaten or photograph their food for the internet are merely showing off. Showing off is distinctly un-Baltimore.

For better or worse, the internet, cable TV and the general proliferation of information have largely erased what was once thought of as the mainstream. In the new century we’re all renaissance men, and in the same way that people are no longer satisfied with lowest-common-denominator generic rock ‘n roll, Swanson dinners and blue plate specials have also become relics of the last century. Just as iTunes and Last.fm can build you personalized playlists of niche artists, there’s now an endless drone of voices telling you where, what and how you should eat.

Something the foodie movement and food industry have been able to do very successfully is to make people believe the myth that eating well equates to living well. It does not. Most of your great starving artists were just that… starving. Looking back at some of the more revered persons of history (Jesus Christ, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela) they didn’t eat very well at all. Any life worth living has been sustained by food, not centered on it. The TV ideals of sophisticated dinner parties, downtown tasting menus and “authenticity” are merely the by-products of a happy life. You can’t eat your way to happiness.

It’s gotten to the point where the Chop can no longer watch Food Network or the Travel Channel. Can’t thumb through domestic magazines or even read food blogs anymore. It’s a shame, because there are a lot of really great food and restaurant blogs based in Baltimore. It’s just such a crowded niche that it quickly becomes an echo chamber. In someplace like NYC or SF, it may well be different but here there are only so many restaurants, and they’re all known quantities. New ones make or break their names in no time, and they do it the old fashioned way, by word of mouth. After all, a friend’s opinion will always trump a blogger’s.

Something the foodie movement and food industry have been able to do very successfully is to make people believe the myth that eating well equates to living well. It does not.

Just as we’ve turned 30 and reached a sort of ‘musical maturity’ where taste is refined, the old favorites are relied upon heavily, and new artists need to prove themselves substantial to receive much attention, so it is with food. There’s just no pressing need to try every new restaurant, to hit the farmers’ market every weekend, to seek out exotic ingredients or to wow ’em at dinner parties. We just eat what we like.

Speaking of wowing ’em at the dinner parties, that might be the thing that bothers most about foodie culture. People who talk at length about what they’ve eaten or photograph their food for the internet are merely showing off. Showing off is distinctly un-Baltimore. It runs contrary to the entire ethos of this city, where (historically) we all live in rowhouses, go to work together, cheer our teams together, and eat our crabs (or bull-and-oysters, or pancake suppers, or fried chicken, silver queen and tomatoes) together. This rush toward SOLE food is kind of akin to the 6 year old who demands something different from what the family’s eating at dinner.

Which is silly, because the best food we’ve ever had comes literally from our grandmothers’ kitchens. Recipes from Mrs. Kittering and the Junior League are every bit as delicious when you make them now as they were when they were made decades ago.

Anyone who really wants to eat well is encouraged to skip the trendy restaurants, and try the basement of the nearest Methodist Church instead.

Share

3 Comments

Filed under Chop Rants!