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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On the Streets

Milwaukee’s food trucks’ fast, tasty options

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“Location, location, location” may have originally been used to describe the ruthless, unforgiving world of real estate, but the universally accepted mantra is often applied to the hypercompetitive restaurant business, where picking the wrong location is tantamount to picking the wrong spouse. The fear of being tied down to one spot, which may or may not prove viable, has been one of the driving forces behind the increase in gourmet street vendors in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and now Milwaukee. Whether it’s “Take-Out Tuesdays” at Schlitz Park, Thursdays outside the courthouse or Fridays in Red Arrow Park, Milwaukee’s street food scene has continued to branch out, providing an ever-changing assortment of options for even the most fickle of foodies.

 

Good Food Fast at Milwaukee’s Street Vendors

Since opening last spring, Jeppa Joe’s food cart has become something of a lunchtime favorite among hurried and hungry downtown professionals. Owned and operated by Jeff Steckel, Jeppa Joe’s features a small selection of inventive sandwiches, like Korean-style barbequed beef, caramelized pork bánh mi and jerk chicken. A graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Ariz., Steckel worked as a chef in Madison and New York City before journeying to South Korea to teach English. There, he became a self-professed student of Korean cuisine, developing a deep appreciation for Korean cooking and the techniques of street vendors as he continued his travels through Southeast Asia. His experiences abroad eventually served as inspiration for Jeppa Joe’s menu. Though apt to change as summer arrives, the menu will continue to reflect Steckel’s culinary mission of preparing fresh food, with high quality ingredients at a reasonable cost. Visit jeppajoes.com to learn more.

Home of the trademarked “Glabaco” global taco, The Fast Foodie offers up an impressive selection of international flavors, ranging from a vegetarian interpretation of Puerto Rican pigeon peas, rice and plantains, to a spicy New Orleans-inspired jambalaya Glabaco. Served in a warm flour tortilla or as a larger portion in “naked bowls,” owner Jackie Valent Lucca prepares the Globacos in her unmissable 24-foot trailer. The Fast Foodie has been a dream come true for Valent Lucca, who launched the venture after saying goodbye to a successful career in human resources management. Valent Lucca concluded, after some soul-searching, that she wanted to start a business that would incorporate her passions for cooking and meeting new people. As of now, The Fast Foodie entrepreneur is focusing on fulfilling her regular catering assignments and event bookings, as well as promoting a global line of spice blends called “Love Dust.” Visit thefastfoodieonline.com to learn more.

Since opening what has been billed as “Wisconsin’s first electric food vendor” nearly four years ago, Pita Brothers has become one of Milwaukee’s most popular street vendors. Grilling up freshly made Middle Eastern and American favorites on Lebanese flatbread, owners Vijay and Manoj Swearingen can often be spotted serving up pitas at Marquette University, Schlitz Park, Red Arrow Park, Catalano Square or outside the courthouse, depending on the day and time, of course. In addition to their regular haunts, the brothers also work large events and festivals and are available for bookings. The Pita Brothers are considering expansion in the form of a retail location, according to Vijay Swearingen, who says that he and his brother are weighing their options at present, but plan to keep Pita Brothers’ customer base up to date on Twitter and Facebook. Visit pitabrothers.com to learn more.

On most weather-permitting Tuesday afternoons, husband-and-wife team Debbie and Craig Mengeling join a select group of Milwaukee street vendors for “Take-Out Tuesdays” in Schlitz Park. Parked within a tempting line of food trucks and carts, the handcrafted Hard Wood Café and Catering “Traveler’s wagon” houses a smoker, grill and one very busy couple. The barbeque pork-laden “Street Faire” menu certainly doesn’t outdo Hard Wood Café and Catering’s impressive “Dinner Buffet” and “Picnic and Platters” menus, but it does provide some excellent comfort food on the cheap. The best-selling “Deluxe Pulled Pork Sandwich,” covered with “Uncle Poppy’s River Sauce” and topped with coleslaw and a pickle is just the beginning. There are pork nachos, which should require no explanation, “The Porky Burger” and something called a “Pork Poncho.” The list goes on and fortunately for fans of Hard Wood Café and Catering there is another wagon in the works and a commercial kitchen in development. Visit hardwoodcafe-catering.com to learn more.

Emily Patti writes about food and culture for the Shepherd Express. She can be reached at empatti2@gmail.com.

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