Street Grindz: Not just @food!
We visit 10 food trucks and, between bites, reflect on the phenomena of mobile food and Twitter.
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My month of lunch trucks. Hold onto your hats. We're not starting at the beginning here, but smack in the middle.
We’re not even going to start with comprehensible prose. Here goes:
@johnheckathorn At #EatTheStreet Hawaii’s 1st Food Truck Rally! 2 Fr*kin much! 13 Food Trucks in 1 parking lot! crowds, mega long lines!
That’s only 120 characters, in case you want to RT it.
However, in case you’re averse to ReTweeting anything, let’s start again, in English this time:
Hawaii has always had lunch trucks, but this is a phenomenon of a different scale and character.
The parking lot next to Aaxtion Adult Video on Kapiolani Boulevard is packed—perhaps super packed!!! as people say in Twitterese.
As many as 1,000 people have shown up for the first EatTheStreet food-truck rally, standing in lines that stretch 30, 40, 50 minutes long. Why? To eat from food trucks—buttermilk fried chicken, hot dogs with bulgogi, cheese and egg, and tacos of all varieties, Baja fish, Greek gyros, Korean spicy pork.
All the food trucks have Twitter handles: @MeltHNL, @EatGogi, @PacificSoul. As does almost everyone in the young crowd—not 18-years-old young, but 34-years-old young, the prime demographic for Twitter users.
Two trends have converged here, forcefully.
The first: After 40 years, American foodie culture has filtered down from the Alice Waters, Thomas Kellers and Alan Wongs of the world to people eating street food. As my 23-year-old daughter puts it, “Dad, people will eat everything now.”
No more mixed plates and beef stew. These trucks scramble cultures (kalbi quesadilla, anyone?) and high and low cuisine (foie gras soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches with duck confit).
But it’s not just about food. Jubilation seems to be running high, as if this is a huge success, though, from a foodie standpoint, EatTheStreet is a disaster. Too many people, punitively long lines, truck crews overwhelmed, food running out, limited seating, loud DJ, no wine, no restrooms.
No matter, this event is, to cobble together a term, technotribal. You can almost hear the crowd thinking, “Look how many of us there are! This is TOTALLY AWESOME!”
EatTheStreet was organized by Poni Askew (@streetgrindz). Askew wanted her own food truck. Since she couldn’t afford one, she became, instead, Hawaii food trucks’ unpaid online evangelist.
She organized and publicized EatTheStreet via Twitter and, she says, “It just sort of spiraled out from there.”
These new trucks are nomadic. To find one, you need Twitter. When you do find one, you can’t just eat, you have to tweet.
At EatTheStreet, the trucks are tweeting, the crowd is tweeting, people in the crowd are tweeting each other: I’m eating this with @soandso; The lines are long; This is off the hook; Here’s a cell phone pix of my plate.
If it’s not tweeted, it’s like it didn’t happen. A gentleman named Augusto DeCastro (who I know only as @augusto_photo) had by the next morning posted a web scrapbook composed entirely of Tweets and Twitpics from the event, including one of mine.
Yes, when the guy in front of me in line at Soul Patrol got the last piece of buttermilk fried chicken, I could do nothing with my disappointment but tweet it out to the universe.
Locations and hours vary, (808) 542-8749, (808) 735-SOUL, www.pacificsoulhawaii.com
I wasn’t surprised Soul Patrol ran out of chicken. I was surprised that Sean Priester’s food truck was at EatTheStreet at all. Not long ago, Priester had told me that, despite the romance associated with lunch trucks, Soul Patrol would never roll again, now that he had a fixed location for his restaurant, Soul.
Reluctantly, he gave in to fan clamor and showed up. “Great reluctance,” he said. “My first concern was to protect the food, so we could use it at the restaurant if it didn’t sell.”
Priester all but sold out, despite selling plates at very unplate-lunch prices, $11, $12 and $13. He talked me into ordering shrimp and grits.
He had plenty, because nobody much in Hawaii eats grits, but this was shrimp in a bacon pan sauce, dotted with toasted garlic and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Startling flavor accents, crunchy shrimp, soft yet toothsome white grits enriched with cheese. You might stand in line yourself for something this good.
You can, of course, have chicken or shrimp and grits, six days a week at Priester’s Waialae Avenue eatery. But I guess that’s not the same as buying it from a beat-up truck. Emboldened by EatTheStreet, Soul Patrol is once again rolling. “Having fun now,” says Priester.
Locations and hours vary, (808) 599-0597, www.xtremetacos.com
Soul Patrol was my second truck at EatTheStreet. That I made it to two was a testament to my perseverance and patience. On my arrival, some friends were standing at the edge, appalled by the crowd. They suggested I join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Couldn’t. I was on a mission. What I needed were younger, less sensible friends—and, luckily, I found a pair who let me slip into line with them at Xtreme Tacos. Xtreme Tacos, to its credit, seemed on top of things.
After only 20 or so minutes, we ordered every kind of tacos they had left. Tacos were $2.50 each, but they weren’t exactly Xtreme. More like bland, the chicken tasting like the carnitas tasting like the sweet pork. You needed to grab squirt bottles of salsa to make them come alive.
We were still hungry, hence another half hour in line for Soul Patrol. By then, most of the trucks were running out of food.
Fortunately, I wasn’t relying on this food-truck rally for my street-food adventure. I’d armed myself with my own Twitter account.