By BETSEY GUZIOR | TheState.com
For years now, food trucks — featuring gourmet-style menus with a hipster vibe — have been rolling in places such as Austin, Texas; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Los Angeles.
Food trucks now are parking in the Midlands, using Twitter as a digital beacon. Two new food trucks in the Midlands are serving street food with gourmet touches. Bone-In Artisan Barbecue began its road trips around town last month. The 2 Fat 2 Fly stuffed wings truck began roaming lately after establishing last fall at a base at a bar in Five Points.
Street food meets Top Chef on the menu in this newest generation of roadside diners.
Bone-in Artisan Barbecue sandwiches are made with focaccia bread and pork slow cooked over three days. The cole slaw is made with red cabbage, buttermilk and cilantro. The hand-cut raw fries are seasoned with dill and cumin. Earlier this week on the menu: a bacon brownie sundae with (as described in an appetizing tweet) “maple ice cream, bourbon caramel, red wine cherries and Caw Caw Creek candied bacon.”
Yes, bacon and ice cream. And it was good.
2 Fat 2 Fly experiments with stuffed wings — literally prying open the chicken wing and stuffing it with such delights as jalapeno and cheddar, macaroni and cheese or jambalaya rice and smoked sausage — to make them more portable. “It’s messy on the outside, so we put the mess on the inside,” said co-owner Ramone Dickerson.
And the fried okra side dish? It can win over any okra-phobic with its light but firm batter and delicate taste inside.
The trucks park on private property, usually outside a business, from 11 a.m. to about 2 p.m. (or whenever the food runs out), then head to another place for dinner. Twitter and Facebook fans keep track of the trucks’ whereabouts.
This month, both trucks have been along the perimeters of outdoor festivals, including Crafty Feast and the Urban Tour. Bone-In Artisan Barbecue has a weekly gig at the All-Local Farmers Market on Saturdays outside 701 Whaley. Each is expanding weekly.
Scott Hall, who runs Bone-In Artisan Barbecue, was influenced by the street food culture he saw while working as a caterer and chef in New York City. Hall, whose parents still run Corley Mill House and Garden catering business in Lexington, thought a modern take on the traditional Southern barbecue could anchor the menu.
The pulled pork and brisket are cooked at Corley Mill ahead of time. More of the work in the truck is assembly. “Speed is essential,” said Hall a couple of weeks ago after a successful lunch date at 701 Whaley.
Branding is essential, too. Hall enlisted the event planning duo of Flock and Rally to get the word out about the food truck and build up the 700-plus Twitter followers who make the core of the customer base. The use of social media works as a virtual word of mouth — and the businesses get instant feedback that they often retweet.
2 Fat 2 Fly already had a good reputation among wing lovers when it was catering and working out of a kitchen at China Garden (now Grandma’s). The wings won over fans at the Capital City Music Fest and Wing Fling in 2009.
In November, Ramone Dickerson, one of the two owners, decided to hit the road. 2 Fat 2 Fly has a little more than 200 Twitter fans and also sets up shop outside larger businesses. A regular date a few weeks ago at South Carolina Oncology Associates drew a steady stream of customers.
Both trucks have permits to serve food. Neither is classified the same as a taco cart proposed to operate in the Vista. And they differ from the semi-permanent food trailers, such as a taco truck parked along Decker Boulevard, or the rolling barbecue grills that dot tailgate parties.
The startup financing is much less expensive than for a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but it’s not a cheap venture. Hall has enlisted his parents to help as the business grows. Dickerson, who runs the truck with partner Cory Simmons, contemplated settling down, but when the opportunity to get a truck came up unexpectedly, he took it. The mobile kitchen “is heaven,” he added.
While food trucks are the dining de rigueur for culinary hipsters elsewhere, the sight of one here still mystifies some drivers, though that’s changing.
“If they don’t start looking for a fair or a carnival nearby, then we’re good,” Dickerson said.