There’s something to be said for a restaurant you can chase around town. It may be the closest some of us get to running down our own food, like our forebearers of yore. If there is one food truck that I spy on through bushes, Facebook stalk and almost constantly know its whereabouts, it’s The Supper Truck. In typical stalker/lurker fashion, I don’t actually eat there that often, I just always know where it’s parked. And I spend a good deal of unproductive time imagining myself eating there.
If I had a real po’boy for every virtual po’ boy I’ve eaten, an actual fried chicken bahn mi for every pretend bahn mi I’ve pretended to eat, it would probably stretch end-to-end to someplace very far away…I’m not going to say the moon, but… probably the moon.
I adore food trucks, see. I rank them somewhere with the locavore movement and the growers market renaissance as the best thing to happen to the local food scene in the last decade. Food trucks are not just reshaping the mechanics of eating out, but infusing neighborhood parks and tap rooms with new life.
On the upper edge of this new wave is The Supper Truck and a few of their mobile cohort like the Boiler Monkey, converting parks into concert halls, mass picnic grounds, and bike-in movie theaters. It is their joie de vivre and love of the al fresco experience that makes them Euforkia-material.
If you have no clue what I’m talking about when I bandy the phrase “Supper Truck” about, it’s high time you’ve been introduced:
This is Tallulah, as she has been christened by her progenitors. Shiny on the outside, full of shrimp and grits, waffles and fried chicken on the inside.
This is Amy Black: the aforementioned progenitor of Tallulah. Progenitor is kind of awkward so let’s call her the birth mother, also awkward, but more colorful.
And this is the pimento cheese you love, but never knew that you love:
If you’re a child of the 80’s and sort of from the South, you may recall pimento cheese day in the school cafeteria. It was a day of sinking hearts and disgruntled children. Pimento cheese should be good because it’s made of cheese, but we soon learned that we can’t apply that logic. We soon learned there is a mysterious alchemical gestalt at work in food, particularly when mechanical processing is involved. How did that sweet li’l plum that Little Jack Horner pulled out of his Christmas pie turn into a bowl of weepy, sludgy cafeteria prunes? Wasn’t school pizza made out of…pizza? It’s a strange arithmetic, we sadly discovered.
Amy Black is here to balance the ledger. Not just on the pimento cheese travesty, but sundry other travesties as well. But first:
The Backstory: Many of us have fantasized about opening food trucks…horse drawn Amish food carts, creperies on wheels (thank you Boiler Monkey), itinerant donut palaces (thank you Rebel Donut via Supper Truck), but few of us have the business smarts and concept savvy of Amy Black. Originally from central Florida, Amy has a degree in business and marketing (from Emory University) and spent years cutting her teeth as a server in various restaurant in high school and college, then in sales at Half Moon Outfitters, an R.E.I.-esque store in Charleston, South Carolina. There she happily discovered that she likes environments that are fast-paced and people-driven. (This is the point where many of us low-gear, introverts are already dropping out on our food truck dreams).
The Supper Truck first became a glimmer in Amy’s eye when she was living in the Bay Area of California, surrounded by taco and burrito trucks. She embarked on a research campaign, even tracking down Eric Silverstein the owner of The Peached Tortilla food truck in Austin, Texas. (I’ve eaten there, it’s fantastic in the same sort of way as the Supper Truck…wildly creative menu, also a Southern-Asian hybrid.)
Eric’s advice? “Don’t do it.” He warned Amy that the food truck business was not for the faint-hearted. (This is when another percentage of us who suspect that maybe we are indeed afflicted with faint hearts, might be getting cold feet.) Amy, with the Peached Tortilla as her mentor truck, forged ahead and in September 2012 delivered unto the Southern-food deprived Albuquerque streets, the fruit of her long and arduous labors. We have her husband to thank for bringing her to New Mexico, his old stomping grounds (his family lived in Gallup) to fulfill his med school residency.
Eric Silverstein’s admonitions were not lost on Amy. She gets it: “I love park nights, but when it’s 3:00 a.m. in January and your mop is frozen, that’s not fun.”
All of her harrowing mop-freezings and hard work paid off. The Supper Truck is now up to seven employees with regular watering holes (parks, breweries, Talin, UNM) five days per week. This is where ye olde Facebook comes in handy for stalking purposes. Or you can check their itinerary here.
The Supper Truck Concept is, undoubtedly, a huge part of Amy’s success. Decadent, creative, fusion-twist Southern food at an affordable price: shrimp and grits, fried chicken banh mi, catfish po’ boys, watermelon cucumber mint salad, chicken and waffles, pimento grilled cheese…the menu is constantly in flux.
Amy said she thought long and hard about different concepts for her truck, but always found herself returning to what she knows best, the food from her childhood–stick-to-your-ribs Southern victuals. “We were a family-dinner kind of family,” says Amy. (Her mom hails from northern Georgia, her dad lived in Atlanta; both were good cooks.) She became even more entrenched in Southern food while living in the Old Village area of Charleston within walking distance of the shrimp boats. “Charleston is a foodie city, super southern. They define Southern food.”
Another huge part of the Supper Truck concept is (I’m going to spell it so young children don’t understand) F-U-N. The Supper Truck, along with their food truck buddies (Boiler Monkey and Soo Bak to name a few) and Inhabitants of Burque, have organized epic Cleopatra-scale water balloon fights, film screenings in Bataan Park (next up Ghostbusters, Sunday, June 23) and weekly Sage Harrington concerts at Hyder Park.
Eating at the Supper Truck engenders the the exact opposite feeling of walking into a corporate, slicked-up, high-turnover restaurant, or a dark and seedy bar. It’s slow fast food, it’s affordable, you are meant to linger, converse, laze in the grass, bask in the sun, regress to childhood, have another beer.
Which brings us to The Food: The Supper Truck’s two most popular items are their Food-Truck-Rumble-winning shrimp and grits and their fried chicken banh mi, a deep South version of the Vietnamese baguette sandwich.
The former was a no-brainer for Amy. Every restaurant in Charleston has their signature version of this dish (indeed Amy owns a cookbook devoted solely to shrimp and grits), but you can’t find them in Albuquerque. Now after experimenting with a dozen variations, Amy says she’d put her grits up against any in Charleston.
The fried chicken banh mi is a source of pride and joy as well. Amy saw that fried chicken adaptations were en vogue in New York City and culinary capitals of the south and wanted to get a piece of the action. She describes the sandwich as, “A total pain in the butt but really good.”
Probably what pains her butt is pickling her own daikon and carrots, preparing her own momo sauce of sriracha, mayo and lime juice and then frying the chicken. Patrons not familiar with Vietnamese food were at first a little befuddled by the sandwich, now it is one of their most beloved items. To take it off the menu at this point, would start a riot.
Think I’m joking? Supper Truck patrons are a very loyal and involved lot. Their Facebook following is at 2,125 as of this writing. Several of the Supper Truck’s cameo foods (specials with short-lived, ostentatious appearances) have been named by fans in Facebook contests…like the Foghorn Flip Flop, chicken fried in waffle batter, and the dastardly, over-the-top Glazed and Confused, a hamburger sandwiched between glazed doughnut slices. It’s another credit to Amy, the heights to which she has been able to engage Supper Truck fans through social media.
Food Sourcing: Amy weighs both quality and locality when choosing her ingredients. She’s nabbed oyster mushrooms from Exotic Edibles in Edgewood for one iteration of her shrimp and grits. Tucumcari cheddar and Old Windmill Dairy chevre have also made appearances. The banh mi rolls are sensibly baked at Banh Mi Coda and the pimento cheese sandwich bread arrives from Sage Bakehouse.
There are items that Amy can’t buy local–seafood, obviously and artisan-quality Southern-style grits. The former she orders from Above Sea Level, a wholesaler in Santa Fe, the latter she orders from South Carolina’s family-owned Geechie Boy Mill, which is considered the creme de la creme in the grit-sourcing scene. The Supper Truck’s pancetta and smoked bacon are cured by Iowan foodie favorite La Quercia,
One local ingredient they don’t use? Green chile. Amy has fought the green chile pull tooth-and-nail. “People said you have to put green chile on everything here.” Though Amy has occasionally broken her rule for special catering requests, she is very vigilant about not muddling her concept by crossing into New Mexican territory. “I’m not from New Mexico, so I shouldn’t sell New Mexican food.” That said, now that the Supper Truck has kind of carved out its niche, Amy says she is relaxing a bit. Hence this frito pie with pimento cheese:
The Supper Truck’s Secret Weapon–Amy Black may be the creator and visionary of the Supper Truck, but she points vehemently at Jessica Keller as the head chef and hands-on realizer of dreams. “We call her Mama Bear. I don’t even go in the kitchen anymore,” says Amy. They text each other late at night, Amy says, pitching ideas, then Jessica executes them.
It would be easy to assume that Jessica was there from the beginning, a friend-turned-business-partner, but not so. Amy found Jessica by contacting the Santa Fe Culinary Academy. She was scouting for a chef and they recommended Jessica. So next time you’re at the window ordering and see Jessica, just know that it is she who holds your taste buds in thrall.
Food Truck Rumbles, Food Truck Gangs : It’s true that Albuquerque has hosted a handful of Food Truck Rumble contests in which ticket-holders sample fare from multiple trucks and vote for a winner (Supper Truck is the reigning champ), but Amy really prefers and plays up the cooperative events (Bataan Park movie nights, Talin Thursdays). Jessica Keller says the vibe amongst the trucks is more camaraderie than competition.
The Supper Truck has grown particularly attached to the Boiler Monkey gang, who Amy sees as kindred spirits as far as vision and business plan goes. They’re also quite chummy and mutual back-scratchy with brick-and-mortar Rebel Donut, whose East Side location serves as the Supper Truck commissary. You can often buy a Rebel Donut goody from The Supper Truck to round-out your already reckless meal.
Pimento Penance/Pimento Redemption– Amy’s latest Southern obsession is rich and summery pimento cheese. Amy concurs that this spread has a bad reputation, consorting with ambrosia salad and chicken salad in the deli case. But seriously. Don’t buy that junk. Make it yourself! Completely different animal.
In the beginning, people were afraid of the Supper Truck’s pimento cheese covered fries. “We had a lot of explaining to do in the beginning,” says Amy. But like the banh mi, people would now feel like the apocalypse was descending if it were removed from the menu.
Amy recommends spreading it on burgers or fashioning a way-more-exciting grilled cheese sandwich. The Supper Truck melts it over their fries and their limited edition frito pie (see above). Amy realizes people are particular about the usages and composition of pimento cheese: “I have an aunt in Texas who swears you have to eat it cold on cinnamon raisin bread with a scoop of Miracle Whip in the cheese.”
In this recipe, Amy ditches the Miracle Whip for cream cheese.
So see, something very interesting is happening. Pimento cheese has been plucked from the bowels of hell. People are picnicking en masse. Albuquerqueans are getting schooled on Southern food. Tap rooms are suddenly leagues more hospitable.
The Supper Truck (in cahoots with the Boiler Monkey et al) is not just filling bellies, it’s creating and catering a new social culture.
In that way they are like gods, and their logo with the magic-ray-shooting fork and sun-like plate makes perfect sense.
Next week: Come along to farm camp at Rio Grande Community Farm where Kathryn Peters and wide-eyed city children frolick in the fields and the kitchen. On the menu: cinnamon cake, strawberry jam and ice cream in a bag.