food trailer

Jave Del Rosario and AJ Elumn, senior neurobiology majors, eat the Squid Ink Curry Ramen and Sapporo Beer Bacon Miso Ramen at East Side King Monday afternoon. The newly opened East Side King is Chef Paul Qui’s first non-food truck location. 

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Yesterday, local chef Paul Qui opened the fourth location of his East Side King food trailer in the back room of the Hole in the Wall, the long-loved bar and music venue on Guadalupe Street.

In the back room, East Side King has re-decorated by painting bright murals, installing Japanese beers on tap, and rearranging the furniture they inherited from the Hole in the Wall. Still, a line of vintage pinball machines stands at attention along one wall, harkening back to the bar’s beginning as an “arcade restaurant.” The division in the new space between the front room, where live music is played, and the back room, where East Side King serves food, is noticeable, but Hole in the Wall owner Will Tanner says he’s not concerned about the venues being perceived as separate.

“People kind of seem to flow out and spill,” Tanner said, gesturing toward the back room.

Of course, there are those who remain concerned about the integrity of the Hole in the Wall after the addition of East Side King. Since winning the 2012 season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Qui has gained popularity in the foodie world, while the Hole in the Wall has remained, well, that hole-in-the-wall on the Drag. Unhappy fans of the Hole in the Wall feel that bringing the likes of Qui, a former executive chef at Uchiko, into the back will ruin the dingy authenticity of the bar. This reporter, like many UT students, can’t speak to that dingy authenticity: prior to Qui’s venture, minors weren’t allowed inside the Hole in the Wall. Now all ages are welcome in the back room.

In that room, ramen is served hot and unceremoniously in disposable paper bowls, and the food is the better for its lack of pretension. The menu at the Hole in the Wall is intended to be a collection of “greatest hits” from the three other East Side King trailers. From the Liberty Bar location, for example, comes beet home fries and a Brussels sprout salad.

The latter is a favorite of Hole in the Wall general manager Alex Livingston, who sounded only a little out of place when he exclaimed,“I’m psyched about the Brussels sprouts. I’ve recently fallen in love with that vegetable, and it makes me really happy to think I’ll be able to eat
it every day.”

His ardor for the dish isn’t unearned. The salad is a hearty and refreshing mix of fried Brussels sprouts and shredded cabbage, with three dainty slivers of deep-fried bun for garnish. The beet fries are memorable for their bar-food-grease-meets-fresh-vegetables taste. Tiny chunks of deep-fried beet are accompanied by thick Japanese Kewpie mayo. The first taste is of spice, grease and all the good things a dark bar like the Hole in the Wall should offer, but the second bite gets you nothing but the fiber of fresh vegetables. The combination may not be for everyone, but it makes for enjoyable innovative dining.

After the appetizers, order the Gekkeikan Sake to wash it down (provided, of course, you’re of age). A friend put it best when she said that Gekkikan is what you imagine children’s mixed drinks must taste like: refreshing, smooth, magical.

But the real standouts of the menu are the three ramen options (which, incidentally, are the only ones that don’t come in vegan or gluten-free options). Sapporo Beer Bacon Miso Ramen may seem a little heavy, especially when you read that it’s made with two different forms of bacon, beer, butter and pork belly, but you didn’t come to a dark bar to behave healthfully, did you? The beer foam that tops the ramen is the answer to every time you tried to slurp the foam off the top of your cup, and the option to add an extra egg — a soft-boiled, soy sauce-cured egg — shouldn’t be missed. The pork belly is as tender and tasty as Thanksgiving turkey.

Now, the real question: do the dishes still taste good the morning after, in the cold hard light of your refrigerator? Well, results are mixed. Some leftover-samplers wrinkled their noses and said only “tastes like fish,” while others, like this reporter, ate the gelled ramen in all its salty, fishy glory till her spoon scraped the bottom of the paper bowl.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Top chef debuts new Asian venue

The Falafel Wrap at Lizzie’s Lunchbox in northwest Austin combines fried chickpeas and fresh veggies inside a warm pita creating a simple, yet delicious, combination.

Austin’s newest food trailer resides in the Arbor Carwash lot in northwest Austin, boasting its hot-pink flare beneath a lofty oak tree. Lizzie’s Lunchbox sets itself apart in its suburban location and, despite the trendiness of central Austin food trailers, offers a new taste to tantalize trailer-goers through a fresh “Tex-Med” fusion of Tex-Mex and Mediterranean cuisine.

Lunchbox owner Lisa Allen was inspired by a trip to West Texas for the idea of the trailer. After eating great food at a trailer in Marfa, Allen and her friends were talking about how great it would be to open a food trailer of their own. With encouragement from her husband, Keith Allen, Lisa Allen decided to buy a tool truck off Craigslist in Dallas and get the ball rolling.

On the drive back to Austin, the truck engine blew up on Interstate Highway 35. “That’s when the adventure began,” Allen said. She and her husband gave up every weekend for a year and a half to renovate the trailer into a mobile-mini-restaurant.

A former technical writer, Allen was working for the pharmaceutical industry up until mid-June before she switched over to work at the Lunchbox full-time. Allen also runs a catering company part-time.

The disadvantage of the trailer is that it runs on an electrical circuit. Though Allen plans to use the trailer to commute to big events where there are more customers, for now, the Lunchbox will remain on Jollyville Road.

“Our biggest hindrance is that we have to be plugged in to this one location,” said Amy Richards, a Lunchbox employee.

Regardless of this minor setback, it is Allen’s love for Tex-Mex and Mediterranean food that spurred the creation of these blended cuisines that draws a public interest. Cooking since she was a girl, Allen was led to the “road of experimentation” at a young age; growing up watching Julia Child exposed her to a variety of cuisines.

“I love everything about Tex-Mex,” Allen said. “The heat of the peppers, smoky cumin, tangy citrus flavors, the cool and creamy avocado, they kick the flavors of fresh and healthy Mediterranean fare up a notch.”

The Lunchbox’s menu offers wraps that exemplify the spices of the Tex-Med fusion. The chile-lime marinated chicken kabob and Dr. Pepper Cherry-marinated lamb kabob are both served on pita bread with feta, kalamata olives, cucumber yogurt sauce and honey tahini dressing. Allen said they also “throw some heat into the mix with a sprinkling of jalapenos and some Sriracha.”

More traditional Mediterranean options on the menu include the falafel: ground chickpea patties shaped like meatballs consisting of onion, garlic, fresh herbs, spices and lemon, fried golden in non-hydrogenated canola oil.

“With Mediterranean and Mexican food, you get a lot of spices and fresh vegetables with a little bit of heat to it,” Richards said. “The good thing about the fusion is you won’t alienate a lot of people who don’t want to ask what a falafel is.”

Daniel Dennis and Lee Krassner are business partners for the upcoming food trailer Dock and Roll Diner. The trailer is a 1957 airstream trailer and will open in about three weeks.

Photo Credit: Emilia Harris | Daily Texan Staff

Sparks flew from the vintage, aluminum airstream trailer as workers buffed and polished the aluminum shell. In about three weeks, the trailer will be ready for business, carrying out the vision local entrepreneurs Daniel Dennis and Lee Krassner imagined a month earlier.

Like many before them, Dennis and Krassner, both 26, chose to open a food trailer because the flexible business model offers them an easier opportunity to venture into the food industry. The highlights of their food trailer, Dock and Roll Diner, will be an original bread recipe, a funky retro vibe and mobility.

“There is a lot less overhead than a brick-and-mortar restaurant and a lot less risk,” Krassner said.

Krassner, a former chef, had the idea in January when he was living in New York and originally planned to open a food trailer in the Hamptons with another friend. Realizing the venture was not for him, Krassner reworked his original idea and presented it to Dennis, a fitness center manager, to create a trailer in Austin. They decided to move forward with it together and put their plan in motion.

The mobility of the food trailer opens it up to many possibilities, providing the ability to take the business wherever there are new opportunities, Krassner explained. The rough start-up cost for a trailer in Austin, Dennis added, is about $35,000; substantially less than starting a restaurant.

They wanted the trailer to have a real vintage feel, but still hold a fresh, unique vibe. They purchased a rare 1957 airstream trailer from a collector; one of only 300 made in that particular model. The trailer is already retro, but the stripped walls inside give it an industrial quality not normally found in food trailers. Krassner said they aren’t just looking for a box on wheels to serve food in.

They believe the trailer itself is as vital to the business as the partners themselves.

“There are really three partners in this venture,” Dennis said. “Lee, myself and the trailer.”

After finding the right trailer, the next step was to complete retrofitting. Krassner said he was lucky to acquire the services of the guys who outfitted Hey Cupcake! trailers. Renovation of the food trailer includes stripping down all the interior’s many layers of paint, installing kitchen appliances and re-buffing the exterior.

Making sure the trailer is ready for their opening day in mid-July is a top priority, Dennis said, but he doesn’t want to rush the process just to meet a deadline. It is better to take the time to make careful decisions and avoid shortcuts than to finish faster and run into problems down the line, he said.

“You can always go back and fix things,” Dennis said. “But we want to do it one time and do it right.”

While the trailer is under renovations, Dennis and Krassner have been using the time to develop their menu, handle the legal work and find a location. They set up a limited liability company, and once the trailer renovations are complete, it will have to be inspected by the health department. They will also need to take a food handler permit test.

The trailer’s name, Dock and Roll Diner, plays on the concept that the duo are able to dock at any location, provide great food and, if necessary, roll out, Krassner said. The menu, which they are keeping under wraps until the opening, will be based around a bread roll recipe that the two originally created.

For their first location, Dennis and Krassner have settled on a spot in the Westlake area, though they hope to eventually cultivate a rotation of locations. They chose the area because they felt it was a relatively untapped location, leaving opportunity for growth.

Dennis said this is reflective of the food trailer industry itself.

“Although the market has become much more saturated with food trailers in the past few years, it’s still growing,” Dennis said.

With food trailers becoming less of a novelty and more of a business model, Dennis said he and Krassner will have to find other ways to set themselves apart.

“We have our concept,” Krassner said. “But it’s about constant revision and tweaking, finding more and more what we have to offer.”

They say unique and quality food, combined with a willingness to lean and take customer input will be their keys to success.

“We work 27 hours a day on our business,” Krassner said. “We’re always finding new ways to improve and our minds never really shut off.”