Tag Archives: Lunch

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.

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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?

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Elevenses: A Mini-Brunch For the Weekdays

You already know that The Chop Approves of Brunch. How could anyone not approve of brunch, really? In an age when most breakfasts consist of things like Nutri-grain bars, cereal, frozen waffles and drive-thru fare, it’s nice to sleep late once a week and wake up to eggs benedict, French toast, and fresh fruits and cheeses. Perhaps the menu is not what we like most about brunch. We suspect that these things taste most savory because we have the luxury of time in which to enjoy them.

Of course, this is also the one drawback to brunch… this once a week status. Why should something so delicious and luxurious be relegated to Sundays only? Do we not deserve the chance to stuff our faces mid-morning 7 days a week? Is that not the American way?

Want to be like Joe Strummer? Skip the Wheaties and take elevenses.

The British have one-upped us on this score, America. The English may not be know for their culinary ambition, but they have brought something to the world table which we have by and large failed to sample and savor: Elevenses.

Granted, they may not be very good at this even, with many of them subsisting on Hydrox cookies and Earl Grey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pick up the ball and run with it. We’ve actually got some pretty good convenience foods here stateside, and if your office happens to be near one of Baltimore’s many bakeries, cake shops or cafes, you’re already set to pick up breakfast at 7:30, and a little something extra for elevenses. Just think of it… all that time you spend forwarding emails and fooling around with Facebook, you could be sneaking off to the break room for a fresh cup of coffee and one of these.

For our part, we’re a lazy blogger. We sleep until 11, so for us it’s just breakfast. When we’re outside the country though, you know, doing real work and waking up at 7 am every morning, we always take elevenses. Of course, we don’t call it that. We call it a coffee break. But it’s a perfect chance to sit back for half an hour, relax a bit, and tide yourself over until lunch. It really makes the work go by much more quickly and pleasantly, and is easily one of our favorite moments in the day.

Maybe you’re reading this at your desk right now. Maybe you’re a little hungry and a little bored. (You must be if you’re reading blogs at work.) Go ahead, take elevenses. Right now. If your boss asks, just explain that the English do it every day, so it must be right and proper. And after all, aren’t we better at eating than the Brits?

It’s not just a small, mid-morning meal… it’s a matter of national pride.

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