An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Jul 10, 2014
12:54 PMThe Connecticut Table
Best Gourmet Food Trucks in Connecticut, a Sampling (Festival July 19, 20)
Douglas P. Clement/Connecticut Magazine
The Everything Burger and sea salt fries from the Munchies food truck.
One of the hottest trends on the Connecticut dining scene is food trucks going gourmet, with everything from Angus beef burgers to lobster rolls, tacos and even cupcakes—and that delicious bounty is being celebrated July 19 and 20 at the 1st Annual Connecticut Food Truck Festival, taking place both days from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the North Haven Fairgrounds on Washington Avenue (Route 5) in North Haven. The goal of the event is to raise funds for local food banks.
The cost is $5 per person, which is good for both days and also covers parking; those 17 and younger are admitted for free. Blog posts about the festival say 50 trucks are expected; there will also be music, entertainment and lots of family activities. The best source of updates is the festival's Facebook page, and those with questions, or seeking information on exhibiting at the food truck festival, should send an email to email@example.com.
In part to preview the festival, Connecticut Magazine assembled this sampling of more than 15 of the best gourmet food trucks in Connecticut (which appears in print in our August issue.) Enjoy!
The last time we bumped into the Lobster Craft truck it was outside the Greenwich Public Library at lunchtime and there was a line of hungry customers waiting. What did they know? Capt. William Michael Harden is a licensed lobster fisherman who knows his way around a crustacean. He purchased a truck in 2012 and began rolling, literally, across the state from a base in Norwalk, serving lobster rolls with fresh, hot-buttered lobster meat and a pinch of Lobster Craft’s 12-ingredient proprietary seasoning blend, all on a lightly toasted split-top bun. The “Fan favorite” is the “L.B.L.T.”, or lobster roll with bacon, lettuce and tomato, and topped with a little mayo and fresh hot lobster. (See the blog post on Lobster Craft from our friends at OnNomCT.)
After a bit of a search, we found the Munchies truck set up behind a medical office building near the waterfront in New London—and, wow, was our effort rewarded. Aiman Saad, whose “day job” is being a chef de cuisine at Mohegan Sun casino, operates the gourmet truck as a side venture with his wife, Manal. Their mission is to give people restaurant quality “fast food” on the go. The Munchie Burger Deluxe (right) (fried egg, bacon, cheese, pickles, red onions, tomato, iceberg lettuce, ketchup and mustard, mayonnaise) is melt-in-your-mouth amazing, and the hand-cut sea salt fries are a work of art gilded by the connoisseur’s touch of being served with garlic-pepper mayonnaise (or ketchup). Munchies travels the state (check its Facebook page) and is at the big Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market every Sunday in season. The catering side of the gourmet food truck business features a menu that includes eggplant bruschetta to mini pepper-and-garlic-chicken skewers, mini Munchie burgers, Philly cheese steak and sausage-meatball sliders, and beer-battered onion rings.
The childhood classic goes chic in this mobile extension of the beloved New Haven fromagerie and bistro Caseus. The Caseus truck offers decadent (and gigantic) grilled cheeses. They blend six different cheeses and allow hungry patrons to top them with everything from tomato to grilled red onion and Berkshire pulled pork to guacamole. Or opt for the grilled cheese of the day for something truly extraordinary. There are soup and salads available individually or in a combo. And for the really brave: You can name your own Caseus sandwich provided you’re able to eat (and keep down) 10 of your specialty sandwiches in an hour. (Above left, The Drop Box Combo, a grilled cheese with tomato, bacon and arugula served with whole grain dijon and pickles.)
Based out of East Haven, this sweet-tooth truck is the mobile satellite location of Sugar Bakery. The brainchild of mother-daughter team Carol Vollono and Brenda DePonte, it is an Italian cupcake paradise that can fulfill even the most intense sugar craving. The truck offers a daily selection of 36 creative cupcake flavors, featuring the 24 best-selling while the remaining 12flavors rotate. Highlights include the Peanut Butter Sundae, Chocolate Covered Cherry, and summer seasonal favorites such as Peach Cobbler, Orange Creamsicle and Watermelon. This truck is a favorite addition to many Connecticut weddings. It’s easy to see/taste why.
If you ever find yourself with a carload of screaming kids on the way to Quassy Amusement Park, be sure to pull over along Route 64 and treat yourself to a delicious taco that will surely keep you going as you’re relentlessly dragged around the park. Woodbury native Christopher (Haig) Leonard is serving up something new out of his El Camión food truck—California-style tacos with fresh ingredients and an even fresher taste. For now, the menu is limited to a variety of three tacos and two quesadillas, but the fish tacos (left) are a definite must-try. After being marinated in coconut and lime, the swai fish is battered in cornmeal and fried until it’s “crispy, crunchy.” Then it’s served with a tangy, sweet fresh mango salsa and topped with shaved red and green cabbage and a drizzle of light vinaigrette, sour cream and a splash of lime. For an extra kick, he adds a bit of sriracha chili sauce, but customers are welcome to choose from a variety of sauces displayed on the truck’s window ledge for that extra spiciness—one of which is Leonard’s own chipotle sauce that’s “smoky hot.” Now in his third year of serving tacos out of El Camión (Spanish for “the truck”), Leonard plans to open his own restaurant in the near future, but for now, he will continue to serve from his food truck. “The truck is not going anywhere—it’s where it all started,” says Leonard.
As they say in The Godfather: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” So how can you not try the cannoli? Opened in 1988, Meriano’s Bakery Shoppe has been squeezing out tasty cannoli and Italian pastries for over 25 years and now they serve desserts on wheels. So what makes these cannolis so delicious? We’d love to tell you, but Andrea Meriano declined to share the secret family recipe. She did say all the pastries are made from whole ingredients without additional artificial flavoring. “It’s a simple recipe that we’ve been using for 30 years but it’s phenomenal,” says Meriano. Even with a variety of wild flavors like Creamsicle andS’mores, the traditional cannoli remains the top seller. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale, and as the website indicates, the Cannoli Truck is “cruising to get closer to free.”
“Life ain’t easy, take it cheesy.” So says Melt Mobile, which brings gourmet grilled cheese to Stamford in new—and crazy delicious—ways. Case in point: The Insanewich, a grilled 6 oz. Angus burger with bacon, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato and Melt sauce between two Originals, each of which are a blend of Tillamook cheddar, Gruyère and Monterey Jack on country white bread. If that’s too much, try the Svelt Melt, which features low-fat Jarlsberg, oven-roasted turkey, Roma tomato and honey mustard on a 7-grain bread, and clocks in at 350 calories. And not only does Melt Mobile taste good, it does good, donating 2 percent of proceeds to The Umbrella Club, which supports children in need. (Photo courtesy of OmNomCT; see the blog post including Melt Mobile.)
When you see the black truck with the bright orange flames across the front grill, you know that Firedog is on the scene—and with it, great hot dogs, burgers and more. Firedog prides itself on using all-beef Sabrett hot dogs and red hots, but it’s what they do with those that’s special: The New Yorker is topped with cooked onions in sauce and sauerkraut; the Dream Dog doubles down with barbecue pulled pork; the Chicago dog features a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, sweet relish, celery salt, yellow mustard and hot banana peppers; and the eponymous Fire Dog is a red hot slathered in Firedog’s signature spicy relish and spicy brown mustard. Don’t miss the specialty burgers (Elvis’ Last Dinner: bacon and peanut butter) and subs, either!
Vitals: (203) 627-6970, twitter.com/firedogct, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Firedog-Food-Truck/203318446390876
The hook (and ladder?) is “real food” made by “real firemen,” so it’s not surprising that the menu of this Stamford-based truck features comfort food in man-sized portions. Some foot-long treats: The Original Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich has 3/4-lb. of rib-eye steak, peppers, onions and American cheese; the Cheeseburger Wedge features more than a half-pound of ground chuck, plus ketchup, mayo, lettuce, cheddar and onion; and Mama’s Homemade Meatballs is served Parmigiana-style. And then there’s founder Mark Lutz’s homemade firehouse chili, packed with beef, veggies and spices, and served in a warm bread bowl. Sound the alarm!
This Hartford-based food truck believes fresh, seasonable, high-quality food is totally doable on the move. C&M Soup ’r Samich serves a variety of soups and sandwiches made from scratch and to order with locally grown ingredients and baked breads. The New England Clam Chowder is an old family recipe while the tomato soup is sweetened with carrots, honey and made with creamy coconut milk. A best-seller is the simple chicken salad, which is unapologetically delicious. There are vegetarian and vegan options available daily.
This New Haven-based truck takes the summer food classic—the French fry—and does it in a memorable and original way, specializing in hand-cut, double-fried fries served with a plethora of dipping sauces and toppings. Try the BLT Fries topped with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, chopped bacon and mayo, or maybe the Assimilation Fries, smothered with a fried egg, Thousand Island dressing, melted American cheese and onion. There is also a variety of sandwiches (served with fries, of course) and everything can be washed down with real sugar sodas served in glass bottles—choose from more than 20 flavors from the traditional cola and root beer to pineapple, pistachio cream and pumpkin pie.
This food truck has been a staple on the University of Connecticut campus since 1991. Dedicated to bringing fresh and local food to the students and school staff, Lizzie’s makes its own soups, seasonal pasta, quinoa and garden salads, hot sauces and more. There are a variety of signature sandwiches and loads of vegan and gluten free options. The food truck is a fresh extension of the real life Lizzie Searing’s full-time catering business, Taking Care of Tummies LLC.
Founded by Fairfield resident Michael DiStassio, who started the business after being unhappy with the meatball options available in Connecticut, this mobile meatball mecca serves seven distinct styles of meatball. DiStassio’s recipes are based on his grandmother’s but are infused with some New World style. Flavors include: “Kick In Da,” a spicy fusion of pork and red-hot cherry peppers with a definite kick; “Nach Yo,” a beef meatball smothered in cheese sauce that tastes like a hot plate of nachos; and the more traditional “Serious,” an old-fashioned beef meatball with plenty of heartiness. Try them “dressed,” with bread, or “naked” without.
Conceived by husband-and-wife team Jessica and Alex Grutkowski as an ice cream truck for grownups, this artisan coffee shop on wheels is just that. From their perch within a sleek mini-school bus that’s painted black, the Grutkowskis are dedicated to caffeinating Fairfield and surrounding towns one cup of Joe at a time. The Buzz Truck is fueled by Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters, a U. S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic coffee roaster, and features the tasty creations of Sweet & Simple, a local pastry making company that provides The Buzz Truck with traditional American baked goods, made from scratch.
This colorful Norwalk-area food truck is adorned with a sunny cartoonish picture of a surfing cow decked out in sunglasses and holding a juicy hamburger. That image will give you an idea of the “fun in the sun” vibe of this burger and shake truck—the totally gnarly motto is “surf’s up, so chow down.” The highlight of the menu is America’s classic beach food (think soft serve ice cream and burgers), but the Cowabunga truck also serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese steak sandwiches and hand-cut French fries.
Maddy’s is based in Stamford and spices up the gourmet food truck scene with authentic gourmet Caribbean and contemporary American cuisine that features Haitian Creole flavors “sure to satisfy your taste buds and keep you coming back for more.” The motto is “Quality at its Peak” and the menu features dishes like Crispy Conch with Seasoned Fries & Spicy Tartar Sauce, Jerk Chicken Tenders, and Tassot Boeuf & Fried Plantains, which are tender pieces of marinated Beef & Spicy Pickled Cabbage. It all adds up to yum in any language.
Nexcalli Taco Truck
At the end of the row of ethnic food trucks along New Haven’s Long Wharf stands Nexcalli—a black truck with a cartoon of a sombrero-clad man riding a bull; this is the spot in the lot for something savory-sweet that’s sure to be satisfying. The simple English-Spanish menu makes ordering easy, but the food is far from simple. The most popular “must try” is the Al Pastor taco—marinated pork loin in a light red sauce grilled with pineapple bits and topped with chopped onions and fresh cilantro, all served on a soft shell. For those with an adventurous appetite, Nexcalli offers more than just steak or grilled chicken; how about a beef tongue taco or perhaps a beef head burrito? At a buck and a half each, you can try all the delicious taco varieties.
No contact info.
Founded way back in, well, 2013 by Ricky Landry—who picks up the phone personally and promptly—Big Dawggs is one of those “roadfood” gems that has become an instant legend. Consider that on the free-for-all site Yelp, where some restaurant owners feel folks get nasty as a lark, Dawggs rates nothing but exclamatory accolades: “awesome,” “cooked to perfection” “place is great.” The hot dogs are Nathan’s Famous all-beef ¼-lb. dogs, “dressed up or down any way you like.” There’s also burgers and fresh hand-cut French fries as well, homemade clam chowder and chili. “All food is prepared fresh daily, cooked to order, and served with a smile!”
Vitals: (860) 334-9778, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Big-Dawggs-Specialty-Hot-Dogs/460725910629467
This feature was managed by Connecticut Magazine summer intern Monica Zielinski, and researched and written by Zielinksi, Kate Hartman, Erik Ofgang, Ray Bendici and Douglas P. Clement. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.Best Gourmet Food Trucks in Connecticut, a Sampling (Festival July 19, 20)