I met Keidra at an amazing dinner pulled together by the amazing Leah Jones, and WOWEE ZOWEE is she awesome. (Actually everyone at that dinner was amazing, but who’s counting?) And double appropriate to be a guest poster this week, since I ran through Chicago on my way to Puerto Rico.
A Chicagoan’s lament: where’s our food truck scene?
by Keidra Chaney from The Web Farm and The Learned Fangirl
To be a foodie in Chicago is a glorious thing; there are a lot of great food cities in the United States, but food is a lifestyle in Chicago. “Brunch” is a Twitter trending topic nearly every weekend in Chicago; we take it seriously. We had our own Baconfest this year – and it sold out within minutes; that’s how hardcore we are. I have friends who approach farmers market shopping like a competitive sport.
But as a city we are set in our ways at times. I had an opportunity to spend some extended time in Austin, TX last March for South By Southwest, and I became quickly enamored of Chilantro, a Korean BBQ taco truck, Hey Cupcake, which has a fleet of divine little trucks across the city, and a BBQ truck that I can’t remember the name of. I spent the entire week at SxSW strategically stalking food trucks. After I returned home, I came to a bitter realization: until Chicago rectifies our food truck situation, I don’t think we can truly hold our heads high as a major foodie city.
High concept food trucks are all the rage in Los Angeles, Portland and New York right now, I know, and this is not about me wanting Chicago to follow the crowd. We have so many restaurants that would lend themselves perfectly to a food truck: the exotic encased meat offerings of Hot Doug’s, the veggie delights of Chicago Diner, the punk-rock flavored treats of Bleeding Heart Bakery. My mouth waters when I think of all the great food ideas that could take flight with a food truck, and all the things we’re lacking here that could find an audience. (I’d punch a man in the face for some decent Belgian fries in Chicago. Just sayin’) What better way to introduce our city’s awesome culinary scene to visitors than to have little wheeled ambassadors of nom traveling around the city? Not only that, it would be great for the local economy to usher in a whole crop of new small business owners.
Chicago has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to street food in general; It’s such a huge part of the culture of so many major metropolitan cities, here in the U.S. and around the world, and frankly we just come up short. City officials are skittish about curbside food vendors/food trucks in Chicago and have traditionally given a hard time to the few food trucks operating in the city, not to mention that city law prohibits food trucks in the city to actually cook food, it can only carry and deliver items. It’s a real shame. For a city of self-proclaimed foodies, there’s a lot we’re missing out on and a lot of great culinary talent the city is possibly losing because starting a restaurant is too much of a financial risk.
There’s a small but growing movement of folks in the city who are pushing for a real food truck scene in Chicago, and I think it will catch on. The time is certainly right. I’m hoping that by next March, I’ll have a homegrown food truck stalking strategy to share with folks.