Just over a year ago, Portland Foodies (yea, I dropped the “F” word) were all in a tizzy as The Food Network was rolling into town for one of their last stops in ‘The Great American Food Truck Race.” The timing couldn’t have been better as the city council was scratching their heads over what to do about our simmering desire for a fleet of own. The opposition was needlessly crying that it would hurt the brick and mortar establishments, while the rest of us were calling “SHENANIGANS” over their empty argument. The fact was, and remains, if you’re putting out good food–whether at a set table within four walls or dishing it out from a slot window with wheels–people will show up. That didn’t stop the council, however, from burdening food truck owners with a list of silly rules and fees once they did finally gave them the green light. Because of the hurdles of money and space, the rush of food trucks to Portland’s streets has been more of a trickle than a tidal wave as little more than a handful have finally pulled up curbside.
But, in celebration of Summer, and the rolling out of the food trucks, Professor A. has gathered us once again (like we’re some weird version of a food based X-Men) for a round robin review of their offerings.
The latest to open is Small Axe Truck, run by Karl Deuben and Bill Levy–both well known from their work at Hugo’s and Miyake. In the morning the stunning orange truck is set up in the back of Anderson Street, along side Bunker Brewing and Tandem Coffee, serving up the usual fare of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, yogurt and breakfast bowls. What isn’t homemade (like eggs and veggies) on the menu , is locally procured–like the bagels from 158 Picket Street Cafe in South Portland–and everything is under $7. The morning I went, the weather was perfect and there was already a hearty line of more than half a dozen people, with more streaming in as I waited.
While my usual inclination is to go for anything with a sausage gravy (theirs is made with green chiles), I opted for their breakfast bowl with veggies and goats milk ricotta…because, well, I f’ing love goats milk ricotta.
Because of the line, the wait was around fifteen minutes from ordering to delivery and, if I hadn’t already had too much coffee, I would have taken advantage of their location and popped into Tandem for a malted ice coffee. But, the wait was more manageable, especially on such a gorgeous morning.
When my name was called, I grabbed my box and quickly scurried back to my car, ready to devour its contents.
The veggies consisted of sauteed arugula, and the eggs were fried over easy. The hash browns were done more like lincoln log sized tater tots and the goats milk ricotta was sprinkled atop the eggs. It was also the first thing I went after. I want to say that it was delicate, tangy and light, but the cheese had an off bitterness and unpleasant musty ‘goatiness’ that I usually associate with a much older goats cheese. Now, the bitterness may have been from the arugula or an issue with the making of the ricotta itself, but it lacked the cream and tanginess (and salt) of ricottas I’ve had from Tourmaline Hill Farm and, most recently, Blue Rooster. The eggs, however, were nicely cooked with their beautifully runny, bright orange yolks and the arugula added a bit of subdued pepper to the mix. The hash browns, though, were a bit over fried and greasy, leaving a not so pleasant coating on my tongue by the time I finished my meal. Overall, I felt generally “Meh..” about the whole dish, but don’t necessarily hold it against them as they’d only been open just over a week when I made my visit. I’ve also heard absolute raves about their lunch offerings, which honestly appeal to me more than what their early morning menu offers. So, because of those reasons–and because I know Karl can make some amazing food–I’ll definitely be paying them a visit soon at their location on 385 Congress Street for lunch.
But, now to move on from the newest truck in the fleet, to one that has been established for the past few years, Bite Into Maine, which touts itself as a ‘Mainecentric Mobile Eatery.”
For the past two years, the husband and wife team of Sarah and Karl Sutton have set up shop across the bridge at Fort Williams Park, in Cape Elizabeth, and have gotten rave reviews in both local and national press for their centerpiece offering: Maine Lobster Rolls.
But, thankfully, their location–and the wonky rules for trucks in Portland (is there such thing as a food truck guest pass?) hasn’t stopped them from gracing us with some of the tastiest rolls in all of Maine. They’ve made cameos at Picnic Music and Arts Festival (where I tasted my first BIM roll last summer) and the ingenious “Flea Bites,” a gathering of mobile food vendors, hosted in the warmer months at the Portland Flea-for-All.
When we came across them in town, they were hitched up at Rising Tide Brewing Company on Fox Street, where they seem to be hosting a food truck every week. The crowd was light, but it allowed The Missus and I to talk a bit with Sarah and Karl, who were just gearing up for the Lobster Roll Rumble in NYC. They may not have won later on during the Rumble, but they apparently had one hell of a time if their Facebook photos are any indication.
I asked Sarah to choose which style we should have and, without hestitation, she said “The Picnic. It’s my favorite.” Well, when the owner of the establishment tells you it’s their personal choice, you don’t question it–and I’m glad we didn’t. Like all of their rolls, which include traditional, wasabi and Connecticut style, this one was piled thick and tall with at least a 1/2 pound of fresh lobster meat. The meat, which is also drizzled with butter, is somehow balanced upon a good heap of homemade coleslaw and topped with a dash of celery salt. And, to round it out, it’s served on a toasted bun, made exclusively for them Sorella’s Bakehouse on Anderson Street (which also makes some fantastic breads that you can buy at Miccuci’s Market on India).
On first bite, it was easy to see why it was Sarah’s favorite, and their choice for entry into The Rumble. The coleslaw is lightly dressed, leaving a lot of crunch in the red and green cabbage. Add that to a perfect crisp on the bun and you have the perfect balance to the buttery lobster. The roll itself weighed a pound–if not a bit more–and was near impossible to eat with simple bites without plucking out some of the lobster with the fork they provided (this is by no means a criticism of the roll). Full claws, ample chunks of tail meat–Maine bliss on a bun, my friends and well worth the $13.95 price per roll. We didn’t need to bother with any sides like chips or a meal ending whoopie pie, as the roll was more than enough to satiate the hunger we arrived with.