November 16, 2012

The truck stops here: Shopping Ellis’s mobile market

Jamie Manley / The Chicago Maroon

Ellis Avenue has been occupied. Don’t worry, though, the invaders come in peace. Well, actually, they come in trucks.

The city has recently experienced an incredible boom in the presence of food trucks, and these mobile mini-restaurants have made their way to the U of C. What began last spring with a few tasty regulars has grown into a mouth-watering horde that descends upon campus each day around lunchtime, bringing with it an overwhelming spread of meal options. Curious about this fashion of feasting, four of us tried out a few trucks on our own. Here are our takes on the street grub Ellis has to offer.

Beaver’s Coffee and Donuts, parked just outside the north entrance of Cobb, specializes in fresh coffee and mini doughnuts. The golden-brown morsels come with a variety of toppings—there are traditional ones for those with a taste for simple elegance, and gourmet ones for connoisseurs of indulgence. The doughnuts are surprisingly mini—a little over an inch in diameter—but they are certainly fresh. They have a distinctive, delicate crunch to them, unlike a run-of-the-mill bakery doughnut. The plain powdered-sugar doughnut definitely ups the sweetness factor. These doughnuts are good both for treating others and pampering yourself, because they are simply awesome.

Latin Fusion is a small, unassuming red truck, but don’t let its subtle exterior fool you. Their $3 tacos are a flavorful deal among Ellis’s options. The veggie taco was especially good, considering that most taco places focus their efforts on crafting meat dishes. The flour tortilla was filled with onions, peppers, and zucchini sautéed in a savory red sauce. Whether you’re looking for something to tide you over between classes or a full-on meal, Latin Fusion’s tacos are a reasonable choice.

— Tori Borengasser

Arts Contributor

Once my teeth had sunk through the tough, baguette-like bread of my sandwich from StopNGo, flavor jumped from the pulled chicken. An oniony, peppery, soupy, stewy kind of zest hit my taste buds—certainly more than I expected out of a sandwich in a brown paper bag. Juices from the thick mess of the innards had soaked into the bread, creating a mushy mouthful. For the price, this sandwich packs a flavorful punch and a solid deal, thick enough to satisfy a normal appetite for a reasonable $6.

“Slop with a biscuit” would be a more adequate description of the appearance of the “chicken pot pie” from the Beyond Borders Farm to Food Truck. Although it had a simple appearance, the savory taste filled my mouth at the first bite, and brought a wide-eyed expression to my face. The peas, carrots, and chicken all burst with one chomp, exploding with a salty flavor, blending well with the heavy, chewy biscuit. To top it off, the warmth of this delicious pot pie–imposter was perfect on a cold, windy day. Like the pulled chicken from StopNGo, Beyond Borders brings a good deal that’s not a bad portion—although it could be larger—for $6.

— Sam Zacher

Arts Contributor

Unlike most of the food trucks on campus, JB Alberto’s is basically a fast food mobile version of the chain of pizza restaurants that are spread out throughout the Chicago area. As such, the meals are for the most part pre-cooked dishes from the restaurants. The menu ranges from lasagna to meatball subs to a decent range of personal pizzas, with standard toppings like pepperoni, sausage, and vegetables. I had a cheese pizza, while my carnivorous friend opted for pepperoni, and we agreed that both were rather good. The crusts were firm and warm. Overall, the JB Alberto’s food truck provides a satisfying quick fix for any pizza lovers, but if you find yourself with a limited budget, it might be best to explore other options—personal pizzas are $5 each.

­— Paola Cardona

Arts Contributor

Apparently, before my experience with The Slide Ride, I had no idea what a slider is. When the friendly cashier chirped my total, I was pleasantly surprised—a burger for under $4? But then, removing the foil, I got it. For those of you who have never tried a slider, let me explain my meal to you: The burger was delicious, the meat well-cooked, the combination of bacon and mustard juicily pleasing. But the whole thing was packed into a miniature sesame seed bun no larger than a tennis ball. My “Bacon Baby Burger” came together with a subtle zest that was really pretty delicious—but the key word here is “baby.” These things are tiny. Each burger might cost less than $4, but you’re going to need more than one to make a meal.

I’m not sure what drew me to the Falafel Brothers food truck as I was meandering through the maze of nomadic restaurants the other day—maybe it was the smell of lamb, maybe it was the chalkboard menu advertising “two for $1” baklava, maybe it was the fact that the truck is plastered in pictures of falafel. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I stopped by. My well-sized meal, a falafel wrap with hummus, turnips, and pickled cucumbers, was a reasonable $6, and perfectly good. The falafel itself was light and zesty, and the mysterious white sauce that came alongside—oh, that sauce—gave the wrap a rich, tangy taste. The baklava, well-seasoned and flaky, provided the perfect close to a filling, enjoyable meal.

— Anna Hill

Arts Staff

On the whole, the food truck experience was a positive one. Although a bit pricey, the street treats were delicious (if not quite filling) and convenient. We only got a chance to try out a fraction of the options Ellis has to offer, though, so hit the pavement and do some experimenting of your own. Happy automobrunching!