August 30th, 2013

Austin Food Truck Trends

Posted in food tours, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

If you are looking to expand your menu and want to know what trends are relevant, you need look no further than what is cooking up in food trucks in your own backyard.

The menu adoption phase occurs in 4 phases: inception, adoption, ubiquity, proliferation, and ubiquity. In the inception phase, ingredients are introduced that are well ahead of a trend (think Chipotle in the 1990’s, or Pimento Cheese in the 2000’s), and are used in very traditional ways. In the adoption phase, those establishments in the “wait-and-see” mode take the trends from the inception phase and integrate them into a more familiar platform. In the ubiquity phase, a trend has grown to be accepted by most segments. Finally, in the proliferation phase, the trend is widespread and solidly integrated.

According to Data Essential, the inception phase in the menu adoption cycle is most likely to occur in fine dining establishments and food trucks for several reasons. For food truck establishments, portability, affordable risk, and around the clock snacking drive sales. Food trucks have the reputation for being trailblazers. By offering innovative and out-of-the-box menu items, using high-quality ingredients and unique presentation with an approachable price point, food truck establishments target the demographic that likes adventure on a shoestring budget.

So let’s talk about some trends from the food trucks in our back yard here in Austin:

1) Comfort with a Twist

In the spirit of “Keep Austin Weird” a few food trucks are taking classic dishes and breathing in new life. Familiar comfort dishes meet unconventional ingredients.

Take for example, the food at Goldis Sausage Company. Sausage is the focus here, but who would think Mac N’ Cheese sausage (shown below) would be so popular? Creamy Mac N’ Cheese stuffed inside a sausage casing is smoked then grilled. As your teeth snap through the charred crust, you are rewarded with creamy cheesy macaroni.

Other interesting flavors include Blue sausage (pork, blueberry, maple, and mint), Honey-Orange-Mango, Thanksgiving Sausage (turkey, pork, stuffing, pumpkin, cranberries, pecans), and Apple Pie Sausage (pork, apples, spices, and pie crust).

How about the biscuits at Biscuits N’ Groovy? The Biscuits + Groovy features house made biscuits with Bootlegger Brown Ale Gravy, sausage and chives. The Johnny Hash has gravy, cheese potatoes, sausage, bacon, and chives. Both dishes are a new riff on a familiar recipe, comforting yet unique. And while you are at it, bring in your old mix tapes to trade for others for a fun music exploration!

At Fried and True, everything is deep-fried. That includes your favorite comfort food, grilled cheese. Light and airy homemade batter surrounds plain thin sliced white bread and a generous helping of real American cheese. Drizzled with Sriracha, and served with house-made Ranch dressing, it’s a delicious childhood memory brought to life with a dash of spice.

You can also try the deep-fried brownies and cinnamon roll bites, or the deep-fried fluffer nutter sandwich.

I think we can all agree, that when it comes to dessert, there is nothing more classic than chocolate chip cookies.

Torchy’s Tacos takes that classic and turns it on its head. Little Nookies are balls of chocolate chip cookie dough, battered in corn flake batter, then deep-fried. They are served with powdered sugar and maraschino cherries, and are one of those desserts that evoke ‘the moment’: you know, when something is so good, that you are quiet, focused, and in a flavor swoon?

For Austinites, the Texas heat can only be combatted with ice cream. The best place in Austin for great ice cream is Lick. They use local and seasonal ingredients to create unique flavors such as beet ice cream (roasted beets and fresh mint), and Candied Tomato, Basil, and Balsamic (fresh Texas tomatoes and balsamic vinegar swirled with fresh basil ice cream).

2) Shrinking World

We cannot ignore the pull of ethnic tradition. The foods of distant lands have never been more approachable and popular than they are now. Milennials in particular, crave foods from other countries. Emerging cuisines such as Korean, Japanese, and Peruvian delight the palates of well-travelled consumers who yearn for that food at home.

Austin’s own Fresh Off The Truck offers Asian-inspired Musubi hand rolls and gourmet-shaved ice. One of the most popular rolls on the menu is the S.S. Musubi roll (Spam, shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, Shoyu, and spicy Asian sauce). F.O.T Macaroni salad is made with cucumber, pineapple, and pickled carrots. While you are there, don’t forget to try the Mr. Miyagi: house-made shaved ice with mango syrup, mango, vanilla ice cream, chili sauce, and chili powder.

At the Texas Cuban, the focus is on pressed sandwiches with a Mexican flair as well as plantains done three ways: mariquitas (thin-sliced deep-fried plantains), tostones (smashed and double-fried thick-cut plantains), and maduros (deep-fried sweet plantains).

Frank’s has some of the best house made and local artisan sausage and smoked meats. The Notorious P.I.G. consists of tender smoked pork, bacon, jalapeno, sage sausage topped with mac n’ cheese, and Dr. Doppelganger BBQ Sauce. For a side, try the Reuben fries (waffle fries topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, corned beef, and Thousand Island dressing).

With savory pancakes “so good they broke up the Beatles”, the food at Yoko Ono Miyaki is Japanese with a strong Southern influence. Try the Texas Style Okonomiyaki, with brisket and BBQ sauce, or the Cajun style with Boudin and creamy Sriracha lime sauce. For dessert, the melon, sesame peanut butter, or lychees milk shake.

3) Focus on Health

For more and more consumers, health is the focus of the daily diet. As the obesity rates consistently increase, vendors at food trucks are offering more healthful, yet flavorful options.

East Side Kings is one the premiere trucks in Austin, brought to you by Top Chef Texas, Paul Qui. “So good, it make your eye roll back”, yes, indeed. The items on the menu are craveable, yet unique. For starters, the Beet fries are a sure hit: roasted beets are dusted in cornstarch then fried until crispy. They are served sprinkled with Togarashi spice and green onions with Kewpie mayo for dipping. The ESK grilled cheese is a whole new twist on grilled cheese, with Brie on Hawaiian roll; it’s layered with green apple kimchee, Nori, green onion, gochujang, and sesame oil. The perfect summer refreshment is the Watermelon Kale salad (grilled kale, pickled watermelon, miso Kewpie dressing, crispy chicken skin). Broccoli pops served with sweet chili miso are a simple snackable finger food.

For healthy sandwich options, nothing beats the Edamame Fritter at Austin Daily Press. Creamy edamame is prepared falafel-like and topped with ginger-peanut chutney, cilantro, mint, and onion. The house falafel sandwich with hummus, roasted red pepper, yogurt, and pickled cucumber salad with Feta. With some of the best house-made pickles in the city, including cauliflower mix, Asian spice pickles, and sweet & hot mix.

The food truck, Mister Fruitcup, run by Justin Avalos, centers its cuisine on healthy fruit cups in a multitude of flavors. The food truck even employs a nutritionist, one of the only ones in Austin to do so. Ranging from classic sweet offerings to more savory options, the menu has something for everyone. Try the Vermont for apples, cranberries, pecans, Vermont Cheddar, and maple-balsamic glaze. The Napa, with cherry tomatoes, watermelon, fresh Mozzarella, basil, balsamic glaze takes a whole savory slant on the fruitcup. My favorite, Mr. Natural, includes vegan chocolate donuts, strawberries, blackberries, oranges, chocolate sauce, yogurt, and granola, is so good you may want to get your own.

We all know Austin is a vegan friendly town, and Rockin’ Vegan Tacos offers a wide range of healthy vegan, and tasty tacos. The Grilled Avocado Reale features grilled avocado, grilled onions, refried black beans, vegan pepper Jack cheese, cilantro, and creamy Verde sauce. The Rockin’ Vegan Brisket BBQ Taco is all vegan, but very tasty. Veggie tacos with mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onion, and corn are approachable, even for a carnivore:

4) Local/Artisan/Regional

The slow food movement is still going strong, and farm-to-trailer cuisine has never been hotter.

Torchy’s Tacos is the king of the local food movement. The Crossroads Brisket Taco with smoked beef, jalapeno, cilantro, Jack cheese, avocado, and grilled onions is a classic Texas combination. The Democrat features barbacoa, avocado, Queso Fresco, cilantro, onion, wedge of lime, and tomatillo salsa. The Republican with grilled jalapeno sausage, Pico de Gallo, and poblano sauce is a spicy answer to your hot dog craving. For the vegan, the Independent is a sure bet, with fried portabella, refried black beans, roast corn, escabeche carrots, Queso Fresco, cilantro, avocado, and Ancho aioli.

The Noble Pig is nationally known for its handcrafted meats, such as duck pastrami. While it’s not a food truck, it deserves a nod on the list. With house-made pickles and 1000 Island dressing, the duck pastrami is the standout on the menu. The pressed cauliflower and cheese is also a unique grilled cheese experience. Pimento cheese with smoked green onions, romaine, and olive oil pickles is a wonderful homage to the classic pimento cheese sandwich.

For the best Pork Confit sandwich in Austin, look no further that Melvin’s Deli Comfort. On chewy bread with Brie, house mustard, and greens, it is fall apart tender. The Hot Beef with roasted beef, grilled onions, hatch chiles, Jack cheese and green chile aioli is a decidely Texas twist on the deli sandwich. The Corned Beef, piled high with mustard and melted Swiss on rye has some of the best corned beef on the planet, not overly spiced, tender and fall apart.

5) Indulgence

One trend that will not go away is indulgence. While there is an upswing in health-conscious eating, there will always be consumers that crave the indulgent bite, and they are willing to overlook the calorie count of a dish to fulfill that craving.

Austin Daily Press, which we touched on earlier, also has a talent for the indulgent. The Fat Albert, made with breaded deep-fried Mortadella, sweet red pepper relish, house-made whole grain mustard, and Monterey Jack is a decadent, delicious sandwich to eat with two hands. It’s hearty and filling and a perfect blend of flavors. The Pineapple Express with roast chicken, ham, pineapple, ginger chutney, and Monterey Jack is sweet and spicy. For dessert, the Blue Balls, made with deep-fried blueberry banana bread, and vanilla glaze are a memorable ending.

At Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?, the Shiner Monte Cristo is the star of the show. Layers of smoked ham, Mesquite turkey, Cheddar and Provolone are sandwiched, and then battered in Shiner Beer batter. The house-made cherry-fig jam is the perfect counterpoint to the crispy, breaded, gooey sandwich. For a South American flair, try the Chilean Chacarero, with hickory smoked brisket, Beefsteak tomatoes, fried green beans, and chipotle chimichurri. Simple goodness comes in the form of the Lonestar BLT, with thick cut apple wood bacon, fried green tomatoes, lettuce, and poblano aioli.

Anthony Bourdain has featured Gourdough’s, the “Home of the Big Fat Donut” on his show. The truck is now so popular that the owner’s have now opened a brick and mortar with the name Gourdough’s Public House. With donuts the likes of the Squealing Pig (bacon, strawberry jalapeno jelly, cream cheese icing, and candied jalapenos); and donut burgers such as the Ron Burgundy (grilled angus burger, bacon, fried egg, American cheese, cilantro, guacamole, tomato, and mayo, all served on Gourdough’s famous donuts), Gourdough’s Public House is a one of a kind establishment. Finish off with The Big Cheez, fresh Mozzarella wrapped in donut dough and then deep-fried.

So one last question….you hungry???

August 16th, 2013

LITTLE GOAT DINER

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Travel, Trends

I was fortunate enough to make it to Little Goat Diner when I was in Chicago. If you are not aware, Little Goat Diner is the 2nd installment in the restaurant empire of Stephanie Izard, Top Chef winner, season 4.

Little Goat Diner and its adjoining neighbor opened to much anticipation in December of 2012. Little Goat Bakery provides all of the baked goods for the diner, the restaurant across the street, and the booth at the Chicago French market.

The interior of the diner is airy and modern, with soft gray and gold softening the light in the diner. An open-air kitchen faces the main seating area.

When we asked for a seat, we were told we would have to wait for 45 minutes and would receive a text when our table was ready. So in the meantime, we decided to check out the bakery next door.

I was lucky to catch the guy behind the counter singing out names of customers. It definitely added to the atmosphere!

The pastries sold here were pretty interesting, including a cherry chocolate chili bagel, a blueberry fennel scone, and a cherry-corn cupcake. We had other plans though, so filling up on pastries didn’t seem like such a good idea.

We found two stools at the bar, and upon making ourselves comfortable, were informed that the bar was full service. It was nice to know we didn’t have to wait 45 minutes. That was all we needed, and we got right into settling in.

First order of business: coffee with goat’s milk and goat’s milk cajeta. It’s not often that you see goat’s milk coffee on a menu, so we gave it a try. According to the bartender, it’s made with half goat’s milk, half cow’s milk, and goat’s milk cajeta.

THE LITTLE GOAT

For Breakfast we saw quite a few interesting dishes but settled on a couple with a distinctive Asian bent.

KIMCHEE & BACON & EGGS & PANCAKES ASIAN STYLE BREAKFAST TASTY THING

Yes, that is the official name of this dish. By whatever name, this was a really tasty breakfast dish, though a bit unexpected. House Kim Chi, crispy pieces of bacon and fluffy eggs are stuffed inside pancake batter. An overly crispy, caramel edge on the pancake was the highlight of the dish. A handful of fresh bean sprouts and scallion keep the dish fresh and light. A simple sauce of what seems to be sherry, soy and sesame adds the needed acidity.

BRANDADE & BELLY

This dish was the collective favorite at the table. For starters, the biscuits were ethereal, light and tender: the biscuits I wish I could make. Topped with a delicious Brandade, crispy pork belly, two perfectly cooked sunny side up eggs, Kim chi, and pickled banana peppers, I could eat this for breakfast everyday and be perfectly content. Portions here are generous, luckily, or we would have been fighting over the last bite of that bacon/biscuit/Kim chi mash-up.

TEMPURA MASHED POTATOES

For our last taste of the day, we took a ride to Tater Town and ordered the Tempura mashed potatoes. So creamy in the middle with a crispy crust, they were accompanied by shredded vegetables, Asian BBQ, and house ranch dressing. Everything that I love about potatoes was in this dish. The creaminess, the earthiness, all perfectly contained in a crispy little Tempura shell.

Honestly, the menu at Little Goat is so extensive; you could eat at the diner everyday for a week, for 3 squares, and still not sample everything. While quite a few of the dishes were mainstream, there were just as many that were unusual with interesting combinations. We sat next to someone at the bar who ordered poached eggs on toast. Simple dishes will appeal to your picky spouse, while the more adventurous dishes will bring the adventurous eaters by the dozens. Overall, the menu and selection is a bonanza for those playing it safe as well as the diner that likes to eat on the edge of the seat.

One thing to say about the blossoming Izard empire: she does really a great job a promoting her brand. Her goat logo is easy to remember; you can even by a goat bobble head doll if you want to bring the Izard experience home with you.

Make sure to pop in the next time you are in Chicago!