Saturday, July 09, 2011

Food Truck Gathering (and why I wound up eating at Max's Empanadas instead)

Last night's food truck rally was, by most accounts, a big success - especially if you were one of the many food trucks that showed up to non-stop patrons drooling over burritos (Curbside Café - Twitter: @Curbside_Cafe), cupcakes (my favorite: Iced Gems Baking - Twitter: @icedgemsbaking), crepes (Creperie Breizh - Twitter: @creperiebreizh), lobster rolls and pulled pork (Silver Platter), haute Southern (Miss Shirley's - Twitter: @missshirleys) and so much more. If you were a food truck operator, you got a LOT of revenue and publicity last night.

You also probably got a lot of people early on that you had to send away because you ran out of food. This was the one failing of the Food Truck Gathering, and it was a big one. The event was supposed to last from 5 to 10pm, so understandably many people - myself included - came at a more leisurely pace, say 7ish, when we found this:

As popular as food trucks are, I have to say the sheer volume of patrons did, in fact, surprise me. What did not go through my head at the time I snapped that photo was, "Gee, I hope they don't run out before I can get something to eat!" But as I stood in the line for Creperie Breizh, exactly that happened: in line for 45 minutes, the woman in the window let the group of women right in front of me know that they had just run out of batter for their crepes. This was about 8:30.

So near, and yet soooooooo far...

Needless to say, I was frustrated. But I knew there was no reason to take this out on them or on anyone, for that matter. It wasn't the food trucks' fault, nor the patrons, nor even the organizers: nobody could have foreseen just how big this was going to be. And please note that Creperie Breizh was one of the later food trucks to run out of food - a few had run out by 7, only two hours into the event! Plus, the few remaining lines of still-functioning trucks, such as the Gypsy Queen Café (Twitter: @thegypsytruck) and Dangerously Delicious Pies trucks, had experienced a massive growth in their lines just as I found out that I had waited in line for nothing.

So instead, I cut my losses and tapped the massive array of restaurants awaiting me in Little Italy. Thanks to my new Android phone, which now has this Urbanspoon app, I was able to price some restaurants and just how well liked they were if I wasn't familiar. I walked right into the priciest part of Little Italy - Sabatino's and Aldo's? Love them but cannot afford them right now. But then I saw Max's Empanadas, an Argentinian restaurant, grocery and wine store in the heart of the neighborhood (Argentina has a sizable Italian population anyway, so in a way Max's is, technically, sort of Italian). So I figured I would think outside the box and head in there instead.

Not a food truck.

Max's is small and brightly lit, but with warm earthy colors in its dining area. Its big thing is empanadas, and they have a wide variety, from chicken to beef to ham & cheese, from chorizo to the delicious sweet beef empanada that I eventually bought as part of a $10 combo with a second chorizo empanada (your choice of empanadas, though a few special ones cost 40 cents extra) and Argentinian potato salad, with parsley, olive oil and lemon juice. If you get a chance, please stop in Max's and get some empanadas. You can buy them individually, take them with you, eat in their dining area - and mine came out fast, before I even sat down. With the thirst-quenching Quilmes cerveza (about $4 or $5), it was a filling meal. And I was so appreciative of the fact that I actually got to eat last night, too!

As an addendum to the Food Truck Gathering: they have to do this differently next time. Though I was fortunate in that the experience forced me to find a new place to eat in Little Italy, it shouldn't have come to that. And again, nobody could have foreseen the sheer volume of patrons, lest most of the food trucks wouldn't have run out of food by 8:30 (or well before in some cases). So some thoughts to make sure that most if not all of the food truck aficionados get to eat next time (both from me and from other things I have read on Twitter):

1. For the organizers: Put it in a larger place if you can, to alleviate the ridiculously large and often confusing lines (this was some advice a Twitter user wrote to Richard Gorelick at the Sun). Some cities - Los Angeles, Washington - often experience a lunch rush where literally a dozen food trucks will be lined up over a long stretch. Portland, Oregon, has a dedicated space just for food trucks! As for Baltimore: I am not quite sure where this could happen. Perhaps the Inner Harbor? Under the Jones Falls? It should be somewhere downtown or near there, so as many people can access this as possible.

2. Also for the organizers: Shorten the time, so that latecomers who show up three hours before the event is supposed to end (or only two hours after it started) will actually be able to find food. Waiting for almost an hour to leave empty handed is not fun.

3. For the patrons: Come early if you are eating, and expect lines.

4. For the food trucks: This may be easier said than done, since I have never run a food truck, but bring more than you expect to sell! Again, most of the food trucks had completely run out of food well before the event ended, which led to some very apologetic vendors. Now that we all know just how big the next one is going to be, you know how much to bring now!

Here is hoping that I get something to eat next time this happens!


Angry Asian said...

i stood in line for about an hour at Silver Platter for their lobster roll and half way thru they ran out...i made do with their crab dish and it was wonderful. i finally tried their lobster roll at Artscape & it was the best i'd ever had.

i got to the Gathering early, probably around 5:45ish and it was great to see the turnout!