Wednesday, January 13, 2010

FoodTrek: Seattle Mobile Chowdown, Rolling in for Seconds

As a wee little wasabi (note the small "w"), I remember Papa Wasabi-san would mention grabbing food off the "roach coach" at work, if he didn't bring a lunch to the office. He would usually get a sandwich, maybe a bag of chips, and the all-important box of Junior Mints, which he'd always save a few in the box and sneak them to me before dinner. At the time, I didn't understand why this lunch wagon had a somewhat unappealing insectoid-sounding name, but I knew it must be a good thing if it provided the convenience of a quickly-prepared lunch and the all-important mint chocolate candies. Fast forward a few years -- while there are still many traditional chuckwagon-like lunch trucks that feed the noontime masses, there's a new movement on the rise, seeking to provide restaurant-quality food, minus the restaurant itself. The meals-on-wheels phenomena waved its banner high over the weekend, as Seattle's Mobile Chowdown rolled in for a sequel to last year's tummy-pleasing premiere.

Yeah, the lines are long -- just stand in one; your tummy won't be disappointed - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The surprisingly pleasant weather was a good omen (or a bad one, if you hate crowds), as it heralded a large turnout at a puddle-spotted gravel lot in Interbay. Mr. Wasabi and I mustered up our appetites, as well as Miss Indy D. Pupple, and headed out to explore the offerings from the rolling restaurants that included the likes of: Here and There Grill, Marination Mobile, Anita's Crepes, Kaosamai Thai, El Camion, and Top Pot Doughnuts.

Waiting, waiting, more waiting... for Marination Mobile - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I ain't gonna lie -- it was Lineup City as we arrived maybe an hour after the event started, and there was already a two-hour wait for the mother of all moveable feasts, Marination Mobile. Their imaginative mix of Korean, Hawaiian, and Mexican-inspired food has garnered much local success, so much that it's attracted well-deserved national recognition by the likes of Good Morning, America, being crowned the Best Food Cart in the Country. They offer sexy tofu and have Spam sliders, so really, it would be crime if they weren't getting nation-wide attention.

Rollin, rollin, rollin... man, my belly's swollen -- with delicious food! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

We did a good walkabout, taking in our options, observing the heaping plates of food from happy customers, and letting Indy get her dose of doggy butt-sniffing/sniffing-butts. This really should have been called the Mobile Chowhound, as there was a delightful number of dogs with their foodie owners, happily waiting for a sneaky nibble or two. The only thing we had in our bellies was an ample supply of coffee, so we had dessert first, visiting the Airstream silver bullet goodness of Top Pot Doughnuts. Fortified with the sugar-glazed power of a cake doughnut and an apple fritter, we pondered which of the many lines to stake our claim in.

Morning powered by apple fritter - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Don't be hatin', but we had the hunger of gibraltar and didn't want to wait in line for two-plus hours for Marination Mobile holy Spam goodness. We came to this event to om some nomz, plus we were parked illegally, so I'm fairly certain we were on borrowed time. The menu at the Here and There Grill caught my eye, specifically their braised boneless beef short rib sandwich with horseradish cream and grilled sweet onion, cradled in the heavenly embrace of a cibatta roll from the magical ovens of Columbia City Bakery. With a side of chickpea salad, this was the perfect followup to the doughnuts. The cibatta roll was pillow-soft, with the savory wedge of short rib nestled in the thick, creamy horseradish sauce and caramelized onions.

Delicious beef rib sandwich, moments before it met a devoured fate - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Standing away from the bustle of the crowds, napkins in hand, swapping bites from the sandwich and the salad, it bolstered the oft-heard saying that eating outside makes food taste better. Granted, this was probably said when one is sitting on a beach with a fruity drink in hand, but even on a chilly, sunny Seattle day, a hot sandwich and fresh doughnuts were a pretty nifty way to spend the afternoon. There were the scattered murmurings complaining of the long lines, but considering there was always a shorter wait time somewhere, offering an equally delicious menu, it's not a nit worth picking. The absence of familiar coaches like Skillet Street Food and Maximus Minimus was notable, but it just gave more incentive to track them down and enjoy them the way they were meant to be appreciated, in their native weekday grounds of the concrete jungle. Mobile meal vendors like these tear down traditional restaurant walls to evangelize new food choices to hungry workerbees. Nothing will take the place of the favorite neighborhood taqueria or BBQ truck, which are always a winner. These posh, hipster choices are simply the spoonful of sugar to get the message out to convince wary, germaphobe luncheoners that street food is good food, and to join the mobile revolution.

And yes, for the record, even Indy was able to partake as a Mobile Chowhound, getting a small bite or two of the beef rib, which she found to be om-nom-a-licious. Best of all, we didn't get our car towed -- bonus!!

The Power of Indy compels you to SHARE THAT DAMN SANDWICH! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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  1. Love this post! The "mobile chowdown" craze is just starting in NY (maybe because it's not sunny, hot CA)! We'll see what it brings us. That chickpea salad looks really fabulous... and so does those apple fritters... A good chow for sure!

  2. I so wish the food truck movement would make its way to Dallas! What I wouldn't give to be able to sneak out during lunch hour at the office to get a taco or two full of slightly greasy goodness!

  3. I think you choose well, spam sandwiches just don't offer the same satisfying flavor. At least to this New Yorker.
    Sounds like a fun afternoon.

  4. Some fun eats here, I would love the apple fritter!

  5. Wow, this is very interesting. There's a hype for food trucks in LA too. I've eaten in a few, but overall wasn't too impressed. But the eats here sound really, really cool!

  6. oh yum, that's amazing. there's actually going to be the 1st annual LA Street Food Fest happening next month where 50 food vendors will serve food in their trucks, similar to this. i may really consider going!

  7. I'm jealous! Though I haven't embraced the I Hate Orlando craze among the city's residents, I will admit that our mobile chow-down festivals are a joke. You usually pay for both entry AND samples (just pick a way to gouge us already) and then stand around in the 90 degree heat eating miniature foods from local restaurants that you probably already patronize. Happy to see that other towns offer decent mobile food events. Looks like you guys had a lot of fun and a lot of delicious chow!

  8. Indy looks so amused, and I want that mini Airstream! How cute is that!


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