Ain’t no joke, Yo. It wasn’t too long ago that someone asked me, “why don’t you like food trucks, Stu?” I was ashamed, because I do like food trucks, but hadn’t frequented them with enough regularity for many to show up in my writing. Well, I corrected that right away and since that particular question was asked, I have judged at two different food truck rallies, and I have eaten off of at least 20 different food trucks. Several good ones happen to park at the breweries near me on the South Slope and River Arts District, like Melt Your Heart, Belly Up Truck, and Root Down. All three of those trucks are top notch food makers in my opinion, and don’t forget Salt & Smoke the no-longer-mobile food truck bolted to the side of Burial Beer, who are serving some of the finest locally sourced eats that money can buy anywhere. But let’s talk about three other trucks that might not get as much play as those, but are definitely deserving of our love and attention. All three happen to serve international cuisine… if you consider pizza to be international cuisine… which I do.. or will for the sake of this write-up. It’s pizza. It’s from Italy, right?
Anyhoodles… Let’s begin…
Last week I got the following message through Facebook…
Its Santiago Vargas I would love to have you over one day, so you can try my whole menu, we have new dishes that I would love for you to taste.
Check my schedule
Tuesdays at New belgium
And thursdays at Mahec & Pisgah
Have a great day
It’s an enjoyable 30 minute walk from my house to New Belguim, through the River Arts District and over the French Broad River to the West Side, so I wrote back and let Santiago know that I would come by the following Tuesday. When I showed up there was a ghostly quality to the brand-spankin’-new brewing facilities and surrounding grounds and buildings. It felt like a movie set, or Jurassic Park after closing time… but before Dino-smash time. Everything was quiet, still, creepy. Just the way I like it! I was already in a good mood, happy to see that the entire place seemed almost completely void of human life, save Santiago’s truck and one other patron, named Ashley, who kindly allowed me to use her as my model. She is featured in the picture of the top of this post, and again right below with Santiago, who is leaning out of the truck to give her a little sample of something tasty. Thanks for modeling, Ashley, you were super!
I was expecting Santiago to give me several tiny portions of everything on his menu, but he’s smarter than that: He knew I’d be taking pictures to post on IG and Facebook, so he gave me good portions, arranged very nicely on the plates. He also wants me to come back, and so I don’t think he wanted to reveal all of his secrets to me in one visit. Shrewd. I like that. Here are some pictures of what-all he served me, please forgive the parking lot lighting, which was very harsh, and ugly, and coming from about a million different directions.
The Peruvian beef stew was fucking excellent, although not at all what I was expecting. It was very much like… beef stew. Nothing crazy or exotic about it. Some different ingredients, such as locally grown Peruvian style giant corn kernels, and rice & beans instead of mashed taters, but other than that it was only slightly different in flavor from the beef stew I grew up eating in Boston, which was cooked by my 2nd generation Canadian-American mom. So, my point: Canada is a long way from Peru, but this beef stew felt as familiar to me as a fuzzy blanket, and that was part of what made it so damn good.
This beef stew was right there on both those counts. Also, it was cooked perfectly. Every single piece of beef was tender, flavorful, fat & gristle free, and was cut to just the right size. The vegetables were stewed until soft, but not cooked to death. I ate as much of this as I could possibly fit into my stomach while still leaving room for the empanada and chicken wings. Oh yeah, there were chicken wings…
Santiago let me know that he was entering these wings in the 2017 Wing War, at which I will be a judge. I looked him straight in the eye and I told him, “These wings are very competitive.” And I meant it too. They were fucking goood, Yo. Like, smoky, crispy, all falling off the bone ‘n’ shit. Fuck yes. The cilantro sauce was very unique, and took the wings from familiar to different with one dip.
I also told Santiago point blank: “Hear me on this one, Brother: These are NOT traditional wings. Do not submit these as traditional wings. If you submit these wings to the judges at the Wing War, submit them in the ‘specialty’ wing category.” I had Kelly Densen from the Wing War on The Food Fan radio show recently, and we confirmed that, in no uncertain terms, the “traditional” wing category does in fact mean Buffalo wings exclusively. That means: A melted butter and hot sauce base. BBQ and smoked wings DO NOT COUNT as traditional wings. Know that, Wing Warriors. Know that. [TFF no. 45 prt 2 “Winning The Wing Wings.”]
Before I move on, I want to say thanks, Santiago, the food was fucking great, and I’ll be back for sure! Also, I should mention real quick that the cheese empanda was excellent, not goopy at all on the inside, it was light and crispy on the outside, and tasted very fresh. The crunchy Peruvian corn-nut-esque snack food sample was also very good! I ate the fuck out of some food that night, and on my waddle home I was very full.
That didn’t stop me from eating pizza!
Just as I was passing The Wedge, my friend Monroe FB messaged me: “Have you tried Tin Can yet?” “NO!” I replied, “maybe they’re here right now!” Sure ’nuff, there they were! Having heard really great things about their pizza from more than a few people, I decided to loosen my belt, and sidle-up to a pie. Verdict: It was really fucking GOOD! Like, super good. Like among the best pizza in town, no fucking lie. Keep in mind that I was already STUFFED with beef stew, an empanda, and chicken wings, yet I still put a serious dent in this pie. So, kudos to Tin Can Pizzeria, you guys crushed it. I’ll be back when I’m not seriously about to vomit from excessive food-binging.
I kinda felt like I might actually die a violent death accompanied by a loud POP, but I stopped at a THIRD food truck on my walk ho… just kidding. This last one I had visited the night before, at Catawba Brewery and Tasting Room on the South Slope, when I was far from full. I was really really hungry in fact.
I work at home. I lose track of time. I get super-fucking-hungry at weird hours of the day and night, and I don’t own a car, so I usually rise from my seat in front of the computer, head out my door, and start walking towards food in a zombie-like condition. Not slow-zombie-like, a la Dawn of the Dead, but fast, ravenous, 28 Days Later zombie-like, crazed with hunger. Recently, finding myself in such a condition at 9pm, I started hot-footing a bee-line through the South Slope making for downtown… foaming at the mouth, my stomach-lining eating itself, so hungry I was prepared to chew the face off of another human being if I didn’t find food soon. Salt & Smoke: Closed. Dirty Jack’s: No food truck. Prospect: Plenty of pickled human faces if it did come to that, but no food. Wait! What’s that up ahead. Sparkling lights… An amazing scent… Holy fuck! SHAKTI SHIVA FOOD TRUCK!!! I’d been meaning to try this one. Thank you, Catawba Brewing & Tasting Room, for hosting different food trucks every night of the week!
And since I no longer needed human beings as my back-up meal, thank YOU, Chilly Weather, for allowing me to have the en-tire outdoor dining area to myself. Yay! Fuck other people! When I’m border-line hangry like that, I’d rather sit alone in the cold than cozy up to society in the warmth. So, I did just that and it was great! I ordered the chicken tikka masala.
My food was piping hot, and super good. I’m not gonna say that it blew my mind, but it hit the fucking spot, big time, and satisfied my every need for delicious food right then and there.. I mixed it all together, broke off pieces of the weird crispy disc, and scooped up every molecule in the picture above, devouring this meal faster than the family dog.
It was creamy, and tangy, and tomato-y, and tasted exactly like chicken tikka masala! The chicken was cooked just right, it was tender, tasty, and cut into manageable pieces. The vegetables and rice were pretty basic, but kinda perfect in their basic-ness. The crispy disc was weird, or at least I thought it was gonna be weird, but it was actually pretty genius as a utilitarian tool for eating. Scoop. Nom. Scoop. Nom. Gahd… now I want this whole meal, all over again, right now! And I want to go back and try all of their other stuff. I’m sure it’s equally as good as what I ate, and I’m thinking that I will eventually hit upon a dish that does blow my mind.
I’m definitely going to be a more frequent patron of all of the food trucks from now on. For comfort food, Southern favorites, good old American fare, and a really great selection International eats, the food truck scene is as diverse, delicious, and interesting as the brick-n-mortar restaurant scene is in this town. Also: I’m totally going to take advantage of the cold, dark, empty, outdoor seating areas during the Fall and Winter while I can. No kids, no dogs, no drunken dude bros. Ahhh… the solitude of a post-human world… with food trucks!
Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion
“Introducing Peruvian Fusion cuisine to the city of Asheville… Family, friends and smiles are what it’s all about. We believe good cooking is the glue that keeps us together.”
Phone: (828) 552-4511
New Belgium Brewing Company
“100% employee owned · US’s biggest sour program · Award winning beers · Craft beer leader Styles: IPAs, Sours, Belgian Style, Seasonals”
21 Craven St, Asheville, NC 28806
Phone: (828) 333-6900
Tin Can Pizzeria
“A tiny restaurant on wheels serving up luscious pizza pies.”
Tuesday, Thursday, & every other Sunday @ Wedge Brewery.
Phone: (828) 782-8331
The Wedge Brewery
“Relaxed brewery in a 19th-century warehouse with craft beer on tap & food trucks parked outside.”
37 Paynes Way, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 505-2792
“We are a food truck that serves Indian food with a twist!”
Catawba Brewery and Tasting Room
“From the sale of our first 5-barrel batch in 1999 to the christening of our new, 30- barrel brew house in 2016, our mission has remained the same: Produce drinkable flagship beers of the highest quality. Create unique, small-batch beers inspired by our communities, folklore, and lifestyle. Service our distributor partner with availability of product and support. Educate anyone interested in craft brewing and craft beer. Grow a solid business that creates jobs, withstands the inevitable ups and downs of our industry, and actively gives-back to our communities.”
32 Banks Ave #105, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 552-3934
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
ON THE RADIO: wpvmfm.org