A brief break from the Grizzlies, who looked awesome last night, to give a little insight on the increasingly popular Memphis food truck scene. Before I break down the trucks I’ve tried I want to give a few thoughts on the concept as a whole.
I love the idea of food trucks. They provide a cheap way to eat local and there is just something inherently fun about the overall experience. However, I often say that I don’t simply support eating at local restaurants. I support eating at local restaurants that serve awesome food. Luckily, there is no shortage of such places is Memphis. I say this to make the point that simply being a local establishment is not in and of itself a good reason for people to give you their business.
In the same way, serving out of a cool truck doesn’t mean you can get by serving below average food. This isn’t true of most of the trucks I’ve tried. However, both in Memphis and elsewhere I’ve had experiences in which the only positive was that the food came from a truck.
The other issues with some of the trucks in Memphis are less avoidable. It can be hard to locate them as most of the trucks do not operate on a full time basis. I won’t blame them for the inability to operate more regularly. That is a matter of sustainability or schedule. However, it does seem that several trucks could be more active on social media and create their own websites even if it is nothing more than a simple calendar.
As far as the actual trucks, I’ve experienced six of them but one has since shut down. Here is a roundup of the five active trucks I’ve been able to sample, in order from worst to first.
5. Mark’s Grill
The menu at Mark’s Grill is mostly standard American fare. I’ve tried what they call a “Real Deal Philly Cheese Steak” as well as a standard cheeseburger with fries. As I alluded to earlier, I believe these trucks to be a food movement that is about local products, innovation and deliciousness. That said, if you’re going to serve straightforward American cuisine it better be sensational. The Philly is fine but I could name at least two better in Memphis and this isn’t a great Philly town.
As far as the burger, it borderline annoyed me. It tasted like a frozen patty you might have enjoyed in your school lunch room. Again, if you’re going to serve a regular burger it better be phenomenal. This was very far from it. The two other people I ate with also tried the burger and were shocked by it’s lack of flavor. They do serve fresh cut fries which were tasty but greasy to the point of sogginess. Needless to say, my two underwhelming trips were enough. I won’t be back.
4. Tamale Trolley
I’m filing the Tamale Trolley under “needs more study”. I’ve only been once and it was at the inaugural Sunday Food Truck Rodeo. By no fault of the TT, the event was a bit chaotic and the sun was oppressively beating down on the many waiting in line. A tamale on a brutally hot day after waiting in a long line probably didn’t put me in a great frame of mind. What I remember is that the tamale was very tasty but nothing I had to have again at the next available opportunity. The TT is among the easier trucks to track down as they serve frequently and do a great job of letting you know (on twitter) when they will be serving. It seems they have also tinkered with their menu some so I look forward to trying this truck again.
The Fuel food truck is part of the Fuel Cafe in midtown. I’ve never been to the cafe so I don’t know how the food compares to the truck offerings. The first thing Fuel does right is present unique and diverse menu items. I’ve had only limited experience with the Fuel truck but both the bison tacos and the grilled cheese were very tasty.
2. Stick Em
Stick Em provided my most recent food truck experience. You might guess that they specialize in food… on a stick. The menu basically consists of four proteins (ribeye steak, chicken, shrimp, tofu) that can be prepared as a kabob or salad. I sampled both the chicken and steak kabob plates. The meat was incredibly flavorful. It seems simple, but under seasoning continues to be an epidemic in kitchens across America. This is not an issue whatsoever as Stick Em. The seasoning isn’t covering up for tough meat either. Both the chicken and steak were extremely tender. The kabob baskets are a steal as they come with veggies, fresh cut fries and toast all for between $7-$10 depending on the protein.
1. Rock N’ Dough Pizza
As much as I like Stick Em, Rock N’ Dough gets the number one spot and it’s not even remotely close. Unfortunately, this may be the hardest truck to track down but it is completely worth the effort. This truck nails the checklist. First, it is a food truck with a wood-fired pizza oven so uniqueness is covered. The food is phenomenal and I don’t mean just for a food truck. Trust me, the pizza is some of the best you can get in Memphis. So we can check great taste off the list.
How about diverse menu? Well, they make several different pizzas but they earn the checkmark here with what might be my favorite item from any truck: Strata. Strata is basically like a big quiche muffin. The flavor combos vary but my favorite is a beautiful eggy mixture of cheese, jalapeño, fire roasted corn and bacon.
Hopefully, more quality trucks will pop up in the near future. I also hope to update this list after trying the ones I haven’t hit yet. Below are the twitter handles for these trucks. Follow them and by all means go get some strata.