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Taste of the Month: Food trucks cooking up gourmet meals on wheels

by on August 31, 2018 12:49 PM

From chuck wagons to push carts, the concept of food trucks isn’t new. Popularized in big cities from New York to Los Angeles, food trucks offer a quick bite to eat to hungry, working professionals at a reasonable price. However, food trucks now have gone beyond your typical “street food,” and cater to all levels of foodies, offering gourmet burgers, locally sourced ingredients, and international flavors.

Town&Gown stopped by to check out four food trucks in Centre County to see what kinds of dishes they’re offering up.

Nomad Kitchen

*Tuesday, 2-6 p.m., Boalsburg Farmers Market (Pennsylvania Military Museum parking lot)

*Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., North Atherton Farmers Market at Home Depot parking lot, State College

*Available for private parties and catering

Nomad Kitchen is a one-of-a-kind, teal-colored food truck with an ever-changing menu inspired by Meghan McCracken’s creative take on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with an international flair.

“A banh mi sandwich is the integration of the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine, and I put my own spin on it,” says McCracken. “I do a slow-roasted pork or ginger-soy baked tofu with my homemade quick pickled cucumbers, jalapenos, julienned carrots and cabbage, thinly-sliced radishes, green onions, and cilantro served on a baguette.”

McCracken grew up around her grandparents’ Clearfield County farm. She was an English and women studies major at Penn State and found her passion for food while working as a waitress, bartender, and manager at different cafés and restaurants. She also taught cooking classing to Penn State nutritional science students for three years before deciding to start her own catering company.

With a lot help from friends over a two-year period, McCracken converted a contractor’s truck into her Nomad Kitchen food truck. In 2016, she started selling her food at farmers markets.

“I typically have three items, from a BLT to a kale-cannellini bean soup, and the menu changes depending on what I find at small Amish farms in Sugar Valley or what I grow in my garden,” says McCracken. “I care about sustainable living, so my serving containers are compostable and my silverware is made from renewable bamboo.”

Brazilian Munchies

brazilianmunchies.net 

*Monday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., AccuWeather parking lot on Science Park Road, State College

*Tuesday, 11:30-1:30 p.m., Innovation Park parking lot, Penn State

*Thursday, 11:30-1:30 p.m., Match Factory, Bellefonte

*Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., North Atherton Farmers Market at Home Depot parking lot, State College

*Check website for updates or schedule changes

*Available for private parties and catering

Brazilian Munchies offers a taste of Brazil in central Pennsylvania. Founded in 2013, Flavia Barger and her husband, Nicholas, started the business as a way for Flavia, a newcomer to the United States, to practice her English and meet people in the community. The couple met eight years ago in Brazil when Nicholas was there on an exchange program.

Flavia is from Minas Gerais, an inland mountainous region in the southeastern part of Brazil, home of the country’s comfort food, perhaps best known for a local delicacy called pão de queijo (cheese bread). Beloved across Brazil, these gluten-free cheese puffs are made from cassava or tapioca flour and are served at cafés as snacks.

The cuisine in Minas Gerais is a bold mixture of flavors that pays homage to its colonial past.

“Nicholas loved the food in Brazil and when we moved here, I started to cook it at home and he said to me, ‘You should make it and sell it at farmers markets,’” explains Flavia. “I started with just a table at one market in 2013 with different types of pão de queijos filled with cheese, pulled pork, or ham, and people really liked it, so we expanded our menu to include more items like coxinha (shredded chicken-fried dough bites), and empada, small hand-pies filled with chicken or vegetables that are similar to empanadas.”

A year ago, the couple added a partner, Yamá Castilho, to the business and this June they bought a food truck, painted it yellow and green, and began serving a variety of dishes. These include a feijoada (stewed black beans with pork) burrito, carne de panela (beef stew), cachorro quente (Brazilian hot dog), as well as desserts like brigadeiros (chocolate fudge), mousse de maracujá (passion fruit), and churros filled with dolce de leche.

Street Meat

mvfgrassfed.com 

*Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., North Atherton Farmers Market at Home Depot parking lot, State College

*Grass-fed, pasture-raised beef, pork, and lamb is available at Mountain View Farm, 1375 Nittany Valley Drive in Bellefonte, Monday-Friday; call (814) 404-5412.

From breakfast sandwiches to gourmet Angus burgers, hand-cut fries, and mac and cheese, Street Meat serves only grass-fed, pasture-raised meats from their farm, Mountain View Farms in Bellefonte. Four years ago, Susan Smith-Shannon and her husband, Kerry, bought the farm from her father, Vic Russo, and stepmother, Karen.

Russo, who got his doctorate in physics at Penn State, retired from his position as CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners at Innovation Park, and started the farm in 2004 because he wanted to eat meat raised on pasture. With no background in farming, he began to seek out people to talk to about how to run a farm. “We started with just beef, then lamb, next we raised hogs, and then chickens.”

Like her father, Susan had no background in farming. Although she was born in Bellefonte, she moved away from the area at age 2 and spent most of her adult life living in Boston working in the financial sector.

“It was my husband’s idea to buy a farm and then his contract was extended in Afghanistan, so I have been running a farm for the last four years, by myself!” she says. “The first year, I was on the phone with my father every morning at 6:30.”

That first year, she managed to raise four veal calves, 11 steers, 15 pigs, 31 lambs, and 400 chickens. “I am surprised I recovered from my first year,” she says with a chuckle.  

In the beginning, she was selling her meats out of an all-American blue meat truck at the farmer market. Then, it dawned on Susan that she could get a food truck, park it next to her meat truck at the market, and cook up the best burgers and slow-roasted beef for sandwiches to sell to customers with the goal that they would taste the meat, like it, and buy some to take home. It worked.

“The Full Monty is our grass-fed Angus cheeseburger topped with pasture-raised pork sausage, egg, and our eight-hour, slow-roasted beef,” says Susan. “We have a Pig Mac, which is mac and cheese with our breakfast sausage.”

Happy Dishes

happydishesfood.com 

*Monday-Friday, 11:30-6:30 p.m., ChemCut & DaVita Dialysis parking lot on Science Park Road, State College

*Available for private parties and catering

Happy Dishes is serving up smoked barbeque favorites and a Creole-Cajun Southern-style menu. Owner Mike Johnson has been an executive chef for 25 years, starting as a food and beverage director at a Hilton in Philadelphia and working at the Cowfish and Rumba restaurants in the Hamptons, New York.

“My wife, Kennita, is a breast surgeon at Tyrone Hospital, so we moved to State College about two and a half years ago,” says Mike. “I bought this food trailer about a year ago and we have been open for business since June 2018.”

Sous chef Alex Coenen met Mike in Long Island and moved to the area to help run Happy Dishes. “Mike does a top notch job and the barbeque is where it’s at,” Coenen says. “He smokes his brisket and pulled pork for 16 hours and the ribs for eight hours.”

The most popular item is the Happy Burger, an 8-ounce Angus burger, topped with pulled brisket, apple wood bacon, crumbled blue cheese, sweet pickled slaw, and drizzled with barbecue sauce. Other items include the chicken and waffles, corncakes with fried fish, French toast and ribs, shrimp po boy, pulled brisket sandwich, and an avocado salad with fried shrimp.

Whether it’s a backyard barbeque event or a more upscale special occasion, Mike can customize a catering menu.

“I can do pig roasts and accommodate large parties for corporate events,” he says.

 

Vilma Shu is general manager of Town&Gown.

 

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