We've been itching all summer to write about the gourmet food trucks that have hit Midcoast Maine, but had to wait until the Penobscot Bay Pilot launched! Food trucks (and carts) may be all too familiar in other parts of the United States, but they've become a recent novelty here, where each of the following has their own style, flavor and territory. There is still time to sample the fare of all three of these foodie hubs on wheels before they close for the fall. Something about two people working hard side by side with a passion for good food is worth the trip. No wait... they'll come to you — that's right!
Good ‘n’ You
Owners: Sarah Waldron and Seth Whited
Territory: Belfast, next to the public parking lot behind Rollies Bar and Grill on Main Street.
Food: Mexican, Middle Eastern, Tex-Mex, Vegetarian
Open til: End of September, early October. Reopening in May
Seth, who is from Unity, and Sarah, who is originally from Virginia, both live in the Belfast area and have worked in restaurants and bartended for a number of years. They were on vacation together in Jamaica when they began brainstorming what they wanted to do next with their careers. Thoughts turned naturally to he Jamaican Grill, a food truck that operated in the Midcoast, and which served authentic Jamaican fare. A dream was born.
It so happened when they came back that the Jamaican Grill was up for sale. They bought the truck in June 2011, and spent the next year working on it, rehabilitating old equipment, repainting, removing the old rear doors and building a service window, which it never had. Next: the name.
“Mainers always ask ‘How are ya?'” Sarah said. And the response is usually ‘Good, 'n' you?’ One word almost. We wanted the business to have something to do with the place we live.”
With support from the local community and the intent to offer healthy, locally-sourced street food, they’ve had a successful summer. They offer an eclectic array of cuisine, but their best sellers are simmered pulled pork tacos in handmade corn tortillas; falafel, a traditional Middle Eastern sandwich; and crispy tostadas. Their tostadas might be topped with garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed broccoli, bacon and cheese, or pesto, fresh tomato, goat cheese and a balsamic reduction, to name a few.
Every day they put out a specials board featuring many gluten-free items, including fried green tomatoes, Jalapeno poppers filled with some novel stuffings, such as cheese, pineapple and spicy chilis, or pepperoni pizza. The pair have also started to offer a variety of soups now that autumn is on the way. They had a long productive summer, but will close down around October, due in part to the fact that the truck's utilities are not winterized; but more importantly, Sarah said: “Because all of our produce is local and I don’t want to change that. For example cilantro is such a huge part of my menu that I won’t be able to get it locally past a certain season."
She said next year they plan to be open a little longer, from May to November. See their Facebook page for hours and locations.
Taco Libre Truck
Owners: Jessica Neves Graham and Becky Neves
Territory: Camden, Rockport, Rockland and Hope (Summer 2012)
Food: Traditional Mexican-inspired
Open til: Season has ended, but they are still doing private parties and special events
Jessica and Becky are sisters who have both cooked and worked in catering for a number of years in the Midcoast. They had already decided they were going to venture out together and create the kind of Mexican food they so craved, but could rarely find in the Midcoast, when the idea of taking the show on the road, so to speak, occurred while searching Craigslist last year.
“Finding the food truck was serendipitous,” said Jessica, who originally thought they might open a physical location. “We just stumbled upon it.”
Once purchased, the food truck’s repairs took a number of months. Simultaneously while giving it a facelift , the sisters worked on the branding. They christened the truck and the business “Taco Libre,” which was inspired by the Jack Black movie, Nacho Libre.
“Libre means to ‘liberate’,” said Jessica. “We fell in love with the idea of a taco liberation in the Midcoast by taking our truck out and delivering tacos all over.”
Jessica and Becky grew up in Washington, D.C., and moved to Maine in 1988 with their family. After both leaving again for high school, college and various travels, they both eventually moved back to settle down in the Midcoast. They took their knowledge of social media branding and experience with New York and San Francisco street food to create a niche that is still very new to the Midcoast.
Taco Libre’s menu consists mostly of tacos, burritos and sides with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and homemade salsas. Jessica said that people have liked everything on the menu evenly.
“I think the biggest success is that people have tried things they might have never tried before like the vegetarian taco,” she said.
A review from the food blog FromAway.com describes this particular dish in more detail: “The surprise standout was the taco verdura, a mash of potato and seasonal vegetables. Spiked with a ton of cumin, the overall effect was that of a giant Indian samosa, in taco form.”
Now mostly closed for the season with the exception of private parties and special events, (for example, the upcoming Rocktoberfest in Hope on Sept. 22, in which they will be serving food 4 – 10 p.m. at the Snow Bowl), the sisters plan to reopen in the spring and adding another day to the schedule. See their Facebook page for contact information.
Matt and Reena's Italian street food cart
Owners: Matt Maniscalco and Reena Nemirovsky
Territory: Rockland and Damaricotta farmer’s markets
Food: Italian, seafood, vegetarian
Open til: end of October; re-opening again in April.
Matt and Reena were working at restaurants and living in New York City when they had an epiphany to make a total life overhaul, move to Maine and start a food cart business.
“We just wanted to go somewhere on the ocean and start something not a whole lot of people were already doing,” said Matt.
Unlike the other self-contained two food trucks in this article, Matt and Reena’s rig is a covered food cart that they trail behind their car. They have been active this summer at the Maine, Boats, Homes & Harbors weekend show, the Friday Art Walk nights in Rockland and at the farmer’s markets. They offer Italian street food, the kind you’re going to get in Italy, like panelle, which is a Sicilian chickpea savory fritter served on a bulkie roll. They also make farinata, a thin savory pancake which rolls up with roasted tomatoes and cheese or caramelized onions and arugula. They buy locally-sourced ingredients as much as they can from farmer’s markets such as basil for pesto from the Rockland farmer’s market, and cheese from Appleton Creamery.
Maniscalco said: “I learned to cook Italian from my mama. My mom always made polenta with the roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. I went to culinary school, the C.I.A. in New York, and even though I learned all the fancy French stuff, my heart was in the rustic street food of Italy. Inexpensive, made with a lot of soul — that kind of food.” ”
He said it was challenging in the beginning of the summer to get people to try something new like panelle, but that a number of people in the area who have traveled extensively, began to flock to the cart. Suddenly, they had a following. For the winter, they will take a trip to Italy to get some new ideas. Next year they’re going to try to find a more permanent spot, and are aiming for Rockland, which is where they’ve found the most customers. See their Facebook page for hours and locations.