Gourmet Foods, On the Go

Did you know that mobile restaurants are the fastest-growing segment in the professional dining industry?

In the Triangle area alone, approximately 60 food trucks are run by spirited entrepreneurs endeavoring to attract consumers and impress them with myriad types of cuisine.

Cary Magazine even featured one such rolling business, The Humble Pig, which was chosen “Best Food Truck” by our readers back in January. More recently, we chased down five of the hottest local trucks on the road. Come along for the ride!

Chirba Chirba
chirbachirba.com  •  Twitter: @chirbachirba

Curiously-named Chirba Chirba is the collective brainchild of Nate Adams, Yin Song, Chela Tu and Ali Safavi. The foursome solidified their friendship around food while attending college at UNC-Chapel Hill. They also share another interesting connection.

“All of us are third-culture kids,” explained Adams, whose parents served as medical missionaries in Taiwan during his formative years. “Chela is half Chinese and half American, Ali is Persian and Yin was born in China.”

The cohorts decided to share their penchant for Asian street fare with others and created Chirba Chirba, which means “eat eat!” in Mandarin Chinese. They began selling dumplings and other dim sum dishes in 2011 from a repurposed taco truck.

“I had no idea when we started that dumplings would receive the kind of overwhelming support that we’ve received,” Adams said. “We’re so thankful for our food truck fans.”

Dumplings are either served steamed or “crispified,” which gives them a different texture. Popular choices include the Porkelicious (pork, scallions and edamame) and vegan-friendly Rootzilla filled with daikon radish, bok choy, button mushrooms, scallions and tofu. Check out the winning seasonal favorite Bayside Chive dumpling with garlicky chive, pork and vegetables that’s available fried or steamed.

Somewhat larger “fluffy buns” (also called baozi) are doughier and envelop braised pork, chicken or vegetables.

“I have a lot of conversations about what it means to serve authentic food,” Adams said. “Our idea of authenticity is reflective, meaning the aroma and flavor make you recall something you’ve had in the past.”

Only Burger
onlyburger.com  •  Twitter: @onlyburger

Expect affordable comfort food at Only Burger, the Triangle’s most well-known food truck. Tasty burgers and fries have been served up to loyal patrons since the orange-and-white portable eatery first rolled out in 2008.

Only Burger proprietor Brian Bottger enjoys a hand-cut French fry as he shows off several mouthwatering burgers.

“We were fortunate to be on the front end of the food truck trend around here,” said owner Brian Bottger. The California native stepped in around 2009 and took over operations of the fledgling enterprise.

“Since there was no established culture of food trucks, which were typically known as ‘roach coaches,’ we had to help break down that stereotype.”

At first, the learning curve was steep when it came to where to go and how to find customers. Bottger used Facebook and Twitter to get the word out. Positive buzz ensued. Soon Only Burger became a traveling phenomenon. Local and national publications took notice. The truck even scored a second-place finish in a nationwide online competition held by the Food Network.

“I come from a fine-dining background, so I know it’s important to provide a great product with solid customer service,” Bottger said. “The meat in our burgers is a blend of Piedmontese chuck and skirt steak that’s ground fresh and hand-pattied every morning.”

Burgers are cooked on a flattop grill, searing the meat and sealing in juices. Hand-cut fries burst with crispness. Rolls come from nearby Neomonde Bakery. Don’t miss the Fried Green Tomato Burger crowned with homemade pimento cheese and farm-fresh egg, or the Carolina Burger featuring American cheese, onions, mustard, slaw and scratch-made chili.

Only Burger also boasts a brick-and-mortar location in Durham.

Big Mike’s BBQ
apexbbq.com  •  Twitter: @bigmikesbbqnc

“My food truck was born from my passion for barbecue,” said former stockbroker, financial adviser and salesman Mike Markham. What started as a part-time job working weekend gigs has become a full-fledged livelihood.

The Redneck Nachos at Big Mike’s BBQ include a heaping portion of pulled pork, baked beans, Fritos and bleu cheese slaw topped with a sweet vinegar and hot mustard sauce.

“I get goose bumps when I open the smoker in the morning and see the crusty bark and smell the savory scent you only get from an all-night, low-and-slow smoke process,” the Concord, N.C., native said. Using natural wood as the only fuel source sets Big Mike’s apart from other barbecue-centric trucks, he added.

The proven method yields fork-tender pulled pork, succulent beef brisket and smoked chicken.

“We have become known as the only people in town doing brisket right,” Markham said. “I get so many compliments from people who lived in or are from Texas. We usually sell out of brisket every time the truck is out.”

For something decidedly different, be sure to try the Redneck Nachos with Fritos, pulled pork, baked beans and a delectable bleu cheese slaw all topped with Big Mike’s sweet vinegar and hot mustard sauce.

As for the distinctive portable red barn, Markham said, “It found me,” and how that happened was a “total act of God.” When you visit the truck, ask him to share the rest of the story.

Big Mike’s fare is also available at View Bar in Raleigh’s Glenwood South district.     Down the road, Markham hopes to establish a traditional restaurant near his home in Apex. “I imagine as soon as I find the right partner, we will open a very simple smokehouse,” he said.

American Meltdown
americanmeltdown.org  •  Twitter: @AmericanMLTDWN

During the financial crisis of 2008, Paul Inserra was released from his position as a wine distributor. Meanwhile, his wife lost her magazine job.

Left: Owner Paul Inserra cooks up made-to-order creations while aboard the American Meltdown truck.

Right: Among the distinctive offerings at American Meltdown is signature side dish deep-fried Brussels sprouts.

“We decided to move from New York to North Carolina and ultimately came up with a grilled cheese concept for a food truck,” he said.

The new venture launched in March 2012, but it was a slow start.

“We sat in vacant parking lots for six hours straight with no customers,” Inserra said. “It was about getting people to try the food. We finally had a breakthrough after the first six months.”
Good word of mouth helped, and the American Meltdown truck began going places — office parks and food rodeos — with sizeable captive audiences. As various municipalities relaxed their restrictions, business continued to thrive.

American Meltdown’s approach to gourmet grilled cheese has drawn a devoted following. Patrons queue up early and often for inventive delicacies such as the Pigs ’n’ Figs with sourdough bread, goat cheese, speck (smoky prosciutto) and black mission figs drizzled with a balsamic reduction; or Beer and Bacon (Welsh rarebit infused with local beer, cheddar, bacon and arugula).

“We use a butter and oil mixture on the bread to give it a nice, crispy texture,” Inserra said. “A lot of people are serving soggy sandwiches out there.”

Ingredients are sourced from independent purveyors like Guglhupf Bakery in Durham and Holly Grove Farms in Mount Olive. Be sure to try the signature side item deep-fried Brussels sprouts, which will explode in your mouth with abundant flavor.

www.porchettardu.com  •  Twitter: @Porchettardu

It’s fitting that a food truck would be named after a signature dish. In the case of Porchetta (pronounced por-ket-a), that specialty is Italian-style pork loin wrapped in pork belly and stuffed with herbs and spices.  

Matthew Hayden, co-owner of Porchetta, presents several platefuls of pork-centric goodness as his young son, Henry, looks on.

“We knew we wanted to focus on pork, so we decided to focus on something a little different than what others were doing,” said Matthew Hayden, co-owner of the Durham-based food truck that started slinging pork-centric cuisine in 2012.

Hayden and his business partner, trained chef Nicholas Crosson, worked together for several years at Raleigh restaurant 18 Seaboard.

“We were joking around one day and said, ‘Why don’t we quit and start a food truck?’” he explained. After a while, the notion became a reality.

“We spent some time researching what part of the market wasn’t being satisfied and what was saturated.”

Hayden credits good timing with helping Porchetta establish a solid clientele. “We got in the business early enough that we now have regulars who hit us up once or twice a week,” he said.

Like many food trucks, Porchetta works closely with property managers and serves office complexes that either don’t have onsite food service or are not located near restaurants.
“At dinnertime we often go to local breweries and park nearby,” said Hayden.

Porchetta’s sandwiches feature shaved, slow-roasted pork on toasted ciabatta bread. Among the specialties, order the rewarding Hot and Sweet with port-braised red onions and pickled hot peppers.

“We source ingredients locally as much as possible,” Hayden said. Purveyors include Cliff’s Meat Market in Carrboro, Pinhole Farm in Louisburg and Capri Flavors in Morrisville.

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