Not long ago, the phrase “food truck” conjured up images of carnival trailers loaded with corn dogs and elephant ears. Today, food truck owners are just as likely to be serving up sushi and scampi.
Gourmet is the name of the game in two food trucks that have been popping up at Stark County sites and events in recent months. Both the Stone Pelican Rolling Cafe and Denostas Wood Fired Grille are owned by professionally trained chefs, and their menus feature diverse dishes, from lamb chops to vegan wraps.
DENOSTAS WOOD FIRED GRILLE
Owner: Daniel Denham
To book truck for your site: Call 330-437-7501.
Regular stops: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at the Barrel Room, 7901 Cleveland Ave. NW; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays at Quonset Hut, 3235 Cleveland Ave. NW.
On the menu: Herbed lamb “lollipop,” $7; lobster and crab ravioli, $10; pulled pork sliders topped with grilled apples and cole slaw, $8; “Smokin’ Hot Browns,” with smoked turkey, peppered bacon and tomato on artisan bread, $7.
How it happened: Until last spring, Daniel Denham worked as general manager for Ken Stewart’s Lodge and Ken Stewart’s Tres Belle in Akron. He quit and bought a food truck.
Why the career swing?
“I want to open my own restaurant,” said Denham of Canton. “But I want to brand myself before I open my own place. I want to build my following first.”
His plan is working, judging by the long lines outside the truck Wednesdays when he parks in front of the Barrel Room Wine Bar in North Canton. Some customers drive up, get food and drive away, but many place an order then head inside.
Barrel Room owner Adam Todd is delighted with the arrangement.
“He always has somebody on hand who brings the food inside to the customers,” Todd said. “The customers have been loving it. I hope to go all winter with it.”
Why did Denham name his business Denostas?
“When I left my schmancy job, I wanted to include my wife in this, so the name is half my name and half her maiden name (Costas) smashed together,” Denham said.
Although orders are ready fairly quickly, Denham’s “high end American cuisine” isn’t fast food. For instance, his fries are cut fresh when ordered, fried till crisp, topped with fresh chopped rosemary and served with a roasted garlic aioli ($5).
“I do all the sauces by hand,” he said. “Everything is fresh. I don’t use anything from frozen. In season, I only buy from farmers.”
A giant smoker grill on the front of his trailer is a silent enticement to try his pulled pork slider — a generous pile of smoky, tender meat topped with his own cole slaw and a grilled apple slice.
Finishing touches — such as deep fried basil leaves on ravioli — seem to be Denham’s signature. His “lamb lollipops” (lamb chops) are coated with fresh herbs then topped with torched goat cheese. He admits to using his torch often.
“You know who loves torched cheese?” he asked. “Everybody.”
STONE PELICAN ROLLING CAFE
Owner: Jeff Neel
To book truck for your site: Call 330-620-9724.
On the menu: Three fish tacos with crunchy vinegar cole slaw, with a side, $7; Vegan wrap with peppers, eggplant, onion, squashes, spinach and hummus, with a side, $7; Three meatballs on a stick with marinara and garlic toast, $5.
How it happened: Jeff Neel, a parole officer in Summit County, dreamed of retiring and opening a restaurant.
“My wife and I wanted to go south, maybe Florida, and start our own restaurant on the beach,” Neel said.
So he enrolled in culinary school at the University of Akron.
“I started in 2004. It takes a while to finish when you’re taking one or two classes at a time in the evening,” he said, chuckling. “I got my degree in restaurant management and my chef certification a year and half ago. Also worked weekends at area restaurants to get some experience.”
When Neel wrote restaurant business plans for class, he always used the name Stone Pelican, imagining his beach side eatery. When a family situation made it necessary for the Neels to remain in Ohio, his wife, Judy, suggested the food truck. The Stone Pelican Rolling Cafe was born.
From the start, Neel knew his menu would be loaded with healthful items.
“Our entire family works out, my son is a vegan, and we all tend to eat healthier. I wanted to go with that approach,” Neel said.
The gluten-free fish tacos and the vegan wraps are hot sellers, as are the less-healthful “Crabby Tomatoes.”
“We take two slices of green tomatoes, then put seasoned lump crab between them like an Oreo cookie,” he said. “Roll the whole thing in cornmeal, deep fry it, then put a red sauce on it. It’s so good.”
Neel admits business got off to a slow start.
“Our big error was we thought we could pull up somewhere and park and make that work,” he said. “We learned social media is the Mecca. Once you build fans on Facebook and get all the ‘likes,’ you get a lot of business that way.”
Now he’s busy enough that he often calls on a chef friend, Tom Mayberry, to help out.
“I call him a local culinary legend,” Neel said. “Between us, we’re always coming up with something different for the menu.”