(This is not an image of the gaztro wagon. I just think it's neat.)
The other day, my brother asked me why Chicago doesn’t have food trucks. He’s a college student in Philly, where food trucks abound and are his primary food source. At the time, I was stumped. It’s a good question. Why wouldn’t Chicago – a city known for the quality and quantity of its restaurants, a place that prides itself on culinary cutting edginess - be a part of this trend? Why wouldn’t we embrace an amenity that so many other major cities have enjoyed for years?
I did some research. There is an answer. In Chicago, food trucks are illegal. Sort of. Can you sell food from a truck? Yes. Otherwise what would you tell all the children (think of the children!) who, upon hearing the tinny chime of pop-goes-the weasel, drop whatever they’re doing, no matter how important, and run for blocks in a mad and desperate search for ice cream? Luckily, you needn’t tell them anything because selling food from a truck is Daley-approved, as long as the food isn’t prepared (in any way, shape or form) inside the truck itself.
So, technically, that answers the question of why we don’t have said trucks, but it’s not good enough for me. Apparently I’m not alone. As it turns out, there is an entire mobile food movement and the revolution has been brewing right under my nose. Who knew? (Lots of people, I guarantee.) Anyway, Chef Matt Maroni, the founder of Chicago Food Trucks, is at the head of this movement and he’s opened up a sandwich shop, the Gaztro Wagon, just around the corner. His approach targets an urban market with a focus on naan-wiches (sandwiches made with Indian flatbread, rather than sand), filled with interesting options like wild boar belly, pork shoulder and even New England Lobster. As of a few days ago, the “wagon” was a small stationary storefront with limited seating, but the plan is for the operation to go mobile and become a fully functioning travelling restaurant with limitless seating. You’ll even be able to follow the wagon via Twitter or sign up to receive text alerts on their current location. First, Maroni’s proposal to change the current restrictions must be accepted by city council. In the meantime (and this is breaking news), he’ll be able to sell, but not prepare, his naan-wiches from the truck. This compromise will require him to reload at the Edgewater store every few hours. It’s a work in progress, but one with a whole lot of momentum. Pun intended.
As for the naan-wiches, they sure are tasty. I went with my friend Laura (my guy was working, so I got him one to go). We split the portabella naan-wich – which was filled with arugula pesto, goat cheese, and roasted shallots on top of a very flavorful and meaty portabella mushroom – and the vegetarian cappicola (hold the cappicola), filled with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato. On the side, we ordered a bag of homemade plantain chips. (A woman behind the counter peeled and sliced box after box of fresh plantains while we ate.) The chips, cut length-wise, were sprinkled in sea salt, and served with a pureed herb dip that looks like pesto but tastes like it contains mint, sage, ginger and vinegar. I’m guessing - I asked what was in the sauce and was told, ”herbs.”
Laura and I also ordered a container of refreshing watermelon gazpacho, perfect for a hot summer day, but even more perfect for a hot summer day spent in the beautiful streets of this beautiful city. Gaztro Wagon, yummy as it was, probably isn’t a destination spot, but that’s the whole point. They’ll bring the delicious to you.
As a former New Yorker, let me say I approve of all sorts of food trucks. I didn’t love hot dog carts (dirty water dogs, we called them) but halal trucks are the bomb. I still remember making post-bar cab stops at a food truck in midtown and having to wait in a line of other cabs for the chicken shawarma.
So when my beautiful lady told me she was going to pick up some food at a gastro-wagon of some sort, I was thrilled. I took a look at the menu and knew right off that I was going to love the slow-roasted lamb with gyro fixings.
Don’t know much about gastronomy
As she said, I was stuck at home working. I didn’t get to experience any of it, other than the food. You can imagine, can’t you dear reader, why it was somewhat confusing when she tried to explain to me that the Gaztro Wagon wasn’t a wagon? I mean, it has the word wagon right in it. It should have some mode of transport. The more I sought clarity on this issue, the less helpful she was. I think she was hungry.
But I do know that I love the food
Thank goodness I had my delicious naan-wich to help me deal with my frustration. I was entirely right about the lamb with gyro fixings. It was awesome. The lamb was amazing, cooked perfectly. They could have served that meat in a steakhouse. And the fresh tomatoes (baked a little bit, I believe) and tzatziki sauce were awesome. It was the most delicious, well-made gyro I’ve ever had.
If I had one quibble, it was that the naan didn’t do much for me as a bread. I couldn’t tell much difference between it and a pita. But honestly, with the tastiness going on inside the bread, I wasn’t paying that much attention.
Thankfully, I also got to try a couple plantain chips. Equally awesome. The herb sauce was amazing. My coworker tried a bite, pointed at the sauce and said, “Now that’s something I won’t be able to live without.”
Maybe one of these days I’ll actually see the Gaztro Wagon on the street. I have high hopes for the mobile food revolution. Maybe I’ll even be able to find me some some shawarma.