A precursor to Restaurant Week, the Fall StrEAT Festival Sept. 18 drew quite a crowd of Philly foodies to Manayunk’s Main Street; those who couldn’t snag a table sat on the curb were with sushi burritos and pizza cones in hand. There were vendors, a farm stand, live music, even street magicians, but it was the lineup of over 50 acclaimed food trucks that stole the show. If you didn’t get a chance to sample some of the best mobile meals that Philly has to offer, look no further: profiled below are five standouts from the festival, parked on a street corner near you.
Farm Truck Philly
It’s clear at first glance that Farm Truck is unique. Its hand-done exterior is a delightful disarray of flying farm animals over spray paint. Co-owners Kris Pepper and Eliot Coven thought it made sense to look to Pennsylvania painter Gabe Felice for the design. After all, supporting a local artist falls in line with the mission of Farm Truck’s food, which uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
“We’re really into the ‘knowing where your food’s coming from’ thing,” Pepper said. “We like the idea of supporting local in all its forms.”
This means occasionally displaying a “tailgate gallery” of local artwork outside of the truck, often as part of First Friday festivities.
As for their food, Farm Truck sources ingredients from nearby farms and makes their own condiments and sauces by hand with no additives and preservatives. Pepper cites environmental and health concerns as reasons for serving mindful meals. But if you assume this simple theme makes for one-note offerings, think again. Their seasonal menus span several cuisines, with selections ranging from tacos to pasta to banh mi.
It’s no surprise to Pepper that such a quirky and passion-driven truck is succeeding here.
“Philly’s a good home for us because it has a burgeoning local food movement,” Pepper said. “There’s a really exciting arts movement in general. Most people want to like food trucks, and if we give them a really good one they’re gonna love it.”
Parked between full-sized trucks the Poi Dog cart may seem small, but when it comes to the Hawaiian food scene in Philly, it’s something of a giant.
Fed up with lack of funding for the humanities, founders Chris Vacca and Kiki Aranita quit their second rounds of graduate school to cash in on the food truck business. Having spent her younger childhood in Hawaii, Aranita noticed a lack of Hawaiian cuisine in Philly.
“… even though it’s considered a relatively diverse city, it felt to me as a consumer that people were opening up places that had mass appeal,” Aranita said. “I think it’s a bigger risk to do something a little bit different.”
For Poi Dog, it was a risk that paid off.
“We do well because nobody serves what we serve,” Aranita said. “We have a customer base that looks for anything that reminds them of home, or of a really good time that they had on vacation.”
What they serve is truly authentic Hawaiian food, a status that doesn’t come easily. Also called “local” food, this cuisine is influenced by Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese and Puerto Rican dishes. Aranita and Vacca travel far and wide during the winter months when the truck is closed for the season to learn more about the cultures that inspire their food.
If you want a true taste of Hawaii without paying for airfare, Poi Dog is the way to go. Before you check them out, though, Aranita wants to make one thing clear:
“A lot of people think that we serve hot dogs,” she said. “We are by no means a hot dog cart.”
You can find Poi Dog at regular locations like City Hall, LOVE Park and Headhouse Square.
Chef Donte’s Delicious Dishes
Amps in front of a blue and white truck blasted music, while large signs taped to the truck’s window advertised a “100 percent legal” cannabis energy drink: Chef Donte’s Delicious Dishes knows how to draw a crowd. They describe themselves as serving soul food “with a twist,” and it shows.
Owner Donte Fassett decided to put his degree in culinary arts to good use after an accident kept him from returning to work. Thus, Chef Dante’s was born, and it’s here to help you forget what you thought you knew about southern cuisine.
“Usually when someone says ‘I’m doing soul food,’ they’re not expecting lamb burgers, crab cakes, homemade sauces,” Fassett said. “They’re expecting more baked mac and cheese and collard greens and sweet potatoes and fried chicken. So when we add a little twist on it, we’re doing soul food, but a different concept.”
Chef Dante’s doesn’t just strive for the unexpected, but the highest possible quality. Their motto, “Never Cheapen the Product,” is stamped on the side of the truck.
For Fasset, a food truck is the better way to carry out this vision, while having some fun in the process.
“It’s a little bit more laid back with a truck,” he said. “Food trucks are awesome; they’re cool. You get to try so much different food and there’s so much creativity.”
At the festival, Sugar Philly’s line was near-constant. If you caught a glimpse through the window of head chef Daniel Tang using a torch to caramelize the edges of a macaroon ice cream sandwich, you might’ve joined the queue yourself.
A graduate of the Fox School of Business, Tang realized his affinity for baking while studying in the Temple Rome program. He struggled to find a fulfilling job in New York and moved back to Philly to open a dessert truck with co-owners Franklin Shen and John Suh.
“There were a lot of food trucks that I went to when I was at Temple,” Tang said. “But it’s not like someone’s gonna get lunch from a Mexican truck and then go next door and get Chinese food and get two lunches. So at that point we were either gonna do beverages or desserts, and then we chose desserts because that was more of my strong point.”
What sets Sugar Philly apart from other dessert trucks isn’t their specialty of fresh macaroons (although they’re pretty damn good) – it’s their love of experimenting. Their menu is always changing, and has included gems like mango rice pudding, peanut panna cotta and green tea ice cream.
“I always search for new flavors and different combinations and things of that sort,” Tang said. “I can do vanilla easily, but I’m more about what hasn’t been done yet.”
What’s next for Sugar Philly? Some daring new dishes, of course, but according to Tang, a storefront isn’t out of the question. With such thriving dining scene nearby, anything is possible.
“Food truck or not, there’s so much good food that’s coming out of Philadelphia,” Tang said. “For me, it’s a real honor to be a part of that.”
You can most often find the Sugar Philly truck on 38th St. between Walnut and Sansom Streets.
Up and down Main Street, festival-goers sipped out of metallic mugs. The origin of these charming souvenirs is Soda City, a truck that, with its set of faux barrel dispensers, looks straight out of an old western.
Family-owned and operated, Soda City is a business of principle. They aim to serve gourmet beverages that people love and won’t stop until every customer is happy.
“Soda in general nowadays isn’t really concerned with customer taste,” said Soda City event coordinator Sunny Coyle, who is the daughter of late founder Peter Coyle. “It’s not personalized anymore, it’s mass-produced. We decided that we were gonna make [our soda] right there at our stand, and then we manipulated the recipe, to tweak to our customers likes and dislikes.”
The only thing as important to Soda City as serving top-notch pop is serving their community. Throughout the year, their three trucks collect patches (pinned to the front of their trucks) from local fire departments, police departments and veterans. They then pull one patch from each truck out in a raffle at year’s end. The winning community group receives a sizable donation from the company.
“We wanted to create awareness and make people realize that these are volunteers that are saving your life every day and they do it because they genuinely want to save your life,” Coyle said.
It is with this cause in mind as they begin expanding: they’ve partnered with Coke and Pepsi and are looking into bottling and possibly even spreading business into Canada.
For now, they’re happy with the loyal consumer base they have, especially in Philly.
“Its the city of brotherly love, and when I think about brotherly love, I think of fire departments and everyone getting together for one great cause,” Coyle said. “[Philadelphians] recognized that we’re fun, we’re happy, we’re about giving back. That’s why Philly has embraced us.”
Check out the food trucks’ social media sites to find out their latest locations and menu offerings.