Lunch in the park(ing lot)

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by Eric Ginsburg

You’d miss it if you were driving by, especially headed north on Reynolda Road towards Wake Forest University, but it would be almost as easy not to see it if you knew what you were looking for.

A cluster of trucks forms in front of the Coffee Park and Idlewild Clearance Center during lunch as vendors set up next to the Krankies airstream selling crepes, hot dogs and juices. Tucked along the side of the parking lot almost behind the clearance center and blocked on the other side by more stores, the Screaming Radish food truck is barely visible unless you’re already standing in the lot.

Kevin Reddick — the one who’s known locally as a former chef at Noble’s and Artisan, rather than the former UNC and Carolina Panthers’ football player — is squatting behind the truck, taking a break to smoke and check his phone. It’s after noon on a Wednesday but the wide parking lot remains quiet. As a small queue forms at the truck’s window, Reddick reenters the mobile kitchen to help his man inside.

A crepe from Le Vie En Rose
A crepe from La Vie En Rose

Food trucks enjoy enough popularity here that the Burke Street Food Truck Festival is an exercise in patience, and they’re featured guests at events downtown like Salute Wine Festival and Phuzz Phest. It’s enough to keep drawing new people into the dream, like La Vie en Rose, a crepe truck here today that launched just last month. But the concept hasn’t received full mainstream acceptance here, with ordinances pushing food trucks to the periphery in Winston-Salem, like this semi-suburban stretch of road.

The Coffee Park isn’t the busiest locale for these mobile vendors, but for lunch breakers nearby or with easy car access, it proves ideal. Plentiful parking, a small huddle of trucks and short wait times make the destination easy. Better yet, the site compensates for food trucks’ biggest shortcoming with a handful of chairs and a few tables.

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By 1 p.m., those chairs have started to fill up, and a few people are chasing after napkins torn away by early fall gusts. Couples and coworkers relax together over this casual lunch, which save for the trucks couldn’t be further from the experience of a food truck fest.

Chefs are known more for moving from a mobile format to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, like Peyton Smith who transitioned from a mobile wood-fired pizza oven at Forno Moto to Mission Pizza Napoletana on Trade Street last year. After developing a reputation in some of Winston-Salem’s more chic restaurants, Reddick did the opposite, but he maintains elements of fine dining, especially when it comes to presentation.

He pauses before handing me the Farmer’s Market Vegetarian Entrée — a beautiful and bright salad with eggplant, pea shoots and assorted local vegetables — to take a picture of it on his phone, posting it to Instagram and tagging the Coffee Park. Pink, orange and red colors of tomatoes, peppers and onion jump out against the greens; it’s easily the most colorful meal I can remember eating. (see above)

The chicken entree
The chicken entree

The menu at Screaming Radish rotates, as you’d expect from a kitchen sourcing locally. Today it includes a chicken entrée similar to the vegetarian meal but with butternut squash, poblano peppers and avocado. There are just two other items listed — a bacon and asiago chicken sandwich with house chips and a triple-stack grilled cheese with fresh greens — and at the bottom somebody has written “#LOCAL” in large, capital letters.

The sample menu on the truck’s website isn’t dissimilar, with an alternate grilled cheese, marinated veggie entrée with cucumber spaghetti salad and a chicken entrée with roasted potatoes and a pea shoot salad. But it includes a burger with goat cheese and pickled radish, a chorizo sausage with roasted peppers and pickled shallots and chilaquiles with slow-cooked chicken, chorizo, queso and fresh basil.

Few food trucks incorporate so many vegetables into their menu — hell, most restaurants around here don’t either. Others would’ve considered the grilled cheese enough of a concession to vegetarians, or would forgo the addition of greens to a chicken entrée. That just isn’t Reddick’s style.

The chicken and bacon sandwich
The chicken and bacon sandwich

And that’s why I feel a little bit bashful saying that the chicken sandwich proved to be my favorite today — local bacon, shaved asiago cheese, pickled watermelon radish (Google a picture of one cut in half), a gentle stone-ground mustard aioli and pea shoots. There’s something about that chicken and the way it’s presented that puts any other chicken sandwich to shame.

When I leave the Coffee Park headed down Reynolda to continue delivering copies of this paper, that chicken and a chocolate and caramelized banana crepe from Reddick’s temporary neighbor (above) are what I’m left thinking about.

 

Find the Screaming Radish (W-S) on Facebook or at screamingradish.com.

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