Kalamazoo’s Only Food Truck, Gorilla Gourmet

Chef Noel Corwin, the Gorilla Gourmet, chats with customers from the window of his food truck. Bradley Pines | Kalamazoo Gazette

by William R. Wood | Kalamazoo Gazette

Chef Noel Corwin, the Gorilla Gourmet, chats with customers from the window of his food truck. Bradley Pines | Kalamazoo Gazette

Gorilla Gourmet, a local food truck owned by Noel Corwin, adopted Ghetto Gourmet, an eclectic cheese sandwich business owned by Jamie Perkins. The two set up shop at 415 Oakland Drive, between Bellevue Place and Lovell Street.

“Its like Gorilla Gourmet is a little ghetto and Ghetto Gourmet is a little gorrilla,” said Corwin. “Its about putting our resources together, combining super powers, so we won’t loose our butts (financially). We’re a bunch of culinary terrorists trying to blow up people’s palates,” he joked.

The food truck concept is not new. It has been a part of the New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco (where Corwin got the idea) landscapes for years. It is a phenomenon in Portland, Ore. where intersections and parks have large groupings of food trucks called “pods.” A second season of The Food Network’s reality show “The Great Food Truck Race” will debut in August.

The concept now has moved into to the Midwest. Grand Rapids-based food truck What the Truck is owned by Paul Lee who also owns The Winchester. Ann Arbor also has several new mobile street vendors that serve a variety of foods.

The food at Gorilla Gourmet is not your typical fare. There is no deep-fryer. Corwin sautes foods with a cast-iron skillet passed down from his great grandmother. He makes vegetable soup from scratch with vegetable stock.

Perkins’ cheese sandwiches have more unusual combinations: bacon, avocado and smoked Cheddar cheese (the sugar bear); smoked bleu cheese, spinach, prosciutto and onions slowly caramelized with whiskey (Anders Mountain String Band); and seared Ahi tuna, soy wasabi cream cheese, cucumber and Asian slaw (baby mama). All the bread is made by pastry chef Phil Rose of Oakwood Bistro.

Corwin’s chicken tacos are made with chunks of juicy, seasoned chicken thigh meat, freshly cut pineapple, cole slaw laced with Sriracha hot sauce and crumbled bits of salty Mexican queso.

This is the first time Gorilla Gourmet has established a permanent location. Corwin bought the truck last May and setup once a week at the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market. He also participated in Taste of Kalamazoo and catered.

But now, neighborhood residents, students from Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College can get a taste of their gourmet street food ranging in price from $2 (tacos) to $5 (grilled cheese sandwiches).

“All of my friends are talking about their tacos, stopping by after classes,” said Leigh Ann Ulrey, 22, a student from Kalamazoo College who strolled up to Gorilla Gourmet for the first time on a recent afternoon. “They say the food is amazing.”

A friend, Jillian Reese, 22, who also attends Kalamazoo College, sat down with Ulrey at the one table in front of the truck.

“Now, this is a real taco,” said Reese after taking a bite.

Inside the truck, Corwin and Perkins had to do a little dance each time they passed by one another in the truck’s skinny kitchen. The truck rocked beneath their feet.

If the business were made into a movie, it would most surely be called “When Bellies Collide,” Corwin joked.

Despite the jokes, it was not easy for Corwin to open his business on Oakland. It was snowing the day he opened — April 15 — not exactly good for foot traffic. A water line in the truck froze and broke. The crankshaft cracked and immobilized the truck.

Corwin has a permit for a special transitory touring unit. He leases the parking lot and has access to water and utilities and use of a shed for storage.

The Oakland site is slightly distressed, but that makes Corwin and Perkins feel like culinary pioneers, they said.

“It’s a start, to get our food out there” Corwin said. “It’s good for people to realize I’m not some dirt bag cooking out of a meth lab,” he joked.

Perkins and Corwin met at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

“Noel has been generous to let me put my food out of his window,” said Perkins, a former Oakwood Bistro cook, who also had the idea of creating a food truck.

“I saw the truck and said ‘Man! Somebody beat me to it.’ ”

The food truck is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays.