The Uphill Slide

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Pittsburgh Food Truck Roundup

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Pittsburgh has a small fleet of food trucks that traverse the city and surrounding communities. Last summer during Jacob’s trial, we ordered from a pizza food truck at the edge of a parking lot along Grant Street. Suffice it to say, it was probably the most enjoyable part of any of those days. The parked truck was convenient to the Allegheny Courthouse, the service was quick, and the pizza was delicious. My mouth waters again thinking about that pizza in its personal little cardboard box. Jacob and I talked about the Pittsburgh Taco Truck, and we planned to track its location one day; but we never did. So when Cary and I received a concurrent Facebook notice for the February Food Truck Roundup at The Brew Gentlemen in Braddock, we unanimously agreed to go. The day of the event, she arrived with my grandson at Jacob’s house located on a hillside only a few blocks from Braddock. The night was cold, and it was dark by the time we reached Braddock. We parked a few blocks away from where the trucks were serving. We put my grandson in his stroller and walked in the direction of food. Business in the parking lot of The Brew Gentlemen was booming. We maneuvered the stroller through standing customers like a tank down a city street incurring a few dirty looks. The lines of the food trucks were interwoven through each other. We decided on tacos first and then mac & cheese. The Pittsburgh Taco Truck and The Mac & Gold trucks had the longest lines, but surely mobile food trucks prepare and serve food quickly. We had unrealistic hopes of a fairly short wait despite the lines. We waited in a stagnant stationary line. My grandson was soon restless, so I pushed his stroller through the crowd to the sidewalk. There were also a couple of trucks parked along Braddock Avenue with the street still open to traffic. I tried to weave between the customers waiting in line at those trucks and the people milling around on the walk outside the brewery. I stepped off the curb to travel past the food trucks on the street but quickly decided that was unsafe. The lines were not dissipating at all; I measured my daughter’s progress by her position to a menu sign parallel to the queue. If the words on that sign blocked by her body were different from my previous visit, I would know she had moved. Over and over again I found no noticeable movement. I decided to take the stroller back to the car and wear out my grandson with walking. We walked and stopped to peer through the windows of a daycare center where the toys laid just out of reach. We walked past the windows of a florist displaying a pair of white swans on a silver dais surrounded by lacy red hearts heralding the upcoming Valentine’s Day. My grandson was entertained as long as we kept moving.

I returned again and again to Cary for her progress like the doctor returning to check on the imminent arrival of a baby. She seemed to be making no progress. Were people jumping the line to bloat the front end? After an hour and a half, she was just four or five people away from the order counter. We stood there close enough now for me to finally read the sign and decided on our choices. As we dropped down to just two customers between us and the counter, Cary returned to the car. I placed our order for four varieties: the beef, the spicy jerk chicken with lime cream, the Thai peanut chicken and the pork chorizo. The cashier quickly added my bill and placed my order; it came quickly and I walked to the alley behind the truck. I heard the beep from Cary’s little red car, and I climbed in. The mac & cheese would have to wait for another time as would the Leona’s ice cream sandwiches. We had our hopes set on trying the Blackberry Tangerine on Shortbread and the Chocolate on Peanut Butter, but when I walked to the front of the brewery where Leona’s had set up shop, I saw those very choices crossed out, sold out. We came too late this time. As we drove away, I vowed never to return to a Food Truck Roundup. We could visit these trucks in other locations during the month.

So, how were the tacos? I liked them and found them tasty; my daughter was not impressed at all though. I would buy again, and she would not. I would order the beef and chorizo again, but leave the spicy jerk chicken. It was too spicy for our taste, and we did not finish it. So now we had given The Pittsburgh Taco Truck a try while the foods from other trucks waited for our sampling on another visit.

When the notice for the March Food Truck Roundup made the scene again on Facebook, my resolve dissolved. Cary and I made plans to go for the opening hour this time. Earlier in the day, I drove down Braddock Avenue on my way to a walk-around in Turtle Creek and saw no activity in that parking lot. Cary arrived at Jacob’s house in Swissvale and we waited until 4:30 PM to leave. There was traffic on Braddock Avenue as we pulled out, but not many cars turned right before the Rankin Bridge to drive into Braddock. That was a good sign, for us anyway. We quickly found a parking spot behind the food trucks and walked up to the arena. The crowd was sparse, so we should be able to get our food and run. The Pittsburgh Taco Truck was open already as was South Side BBQ Company truck. We had our cravings focused on The Mac & Gold truck first though. I walked to the front of The Brew Gentlemen and found Leona’s inside open for business. We decided it was cold enough to store those frozen treats in the car for 20 minutes. I entered and got behind another customer. On my turn I ordered the Key Lime on Graham, the Blueberry on Oatmeal Lace, and the Salted Heath Chunk. I chatted with the woman filling my order about last month’s experience. She agreed that it was crazy then, and she had sold out and left by 8 PM. She assured me they came with more sandwiches this time. I did not care because I already had what I wanted. I walked back to where Cary was still waiting for the Mac & Gold Truck to open. I took those frozen treats to the car and hid them under some boots and a cover. I returned to Cary where the partly open window and movements inside the truck promised an opening at any moment. As the time approached 5 PM, we decided I would get the half rack of ribs, the grilled sweet potatoes, and cornbread at the South Side BBQ Company truck while she continued to wait in place. I gave them our agreed upon order and included cole slaw as my contribution to the order. I chatted with the two men manning this truck about our visit last month. They both chimed in that you must get here early. They presented me with my two styrofoam containers; I put a little more sauce with the ribs and walked back to my daughter. passing by a wood-fired pizza truck calling me. I ignored it until another day. I got the key to the car and put our main course beside our dessert. When I returned to Cary, she was still waiting but now in a more regimented line in front of that truck. She had secured her #2 spot behind that couple. I took my grandson from her tired arms to walk with him. He is happiest on the move. We walked around the food trucks and then behind the Mac & Gold Truck to plastic tables and chairs under plastic canopies. We walked to another canopy where music came from speakers. I moved rhythmically with my grandson in my arms. He loves music and comes to attention when the music for JEOPARDY comes on or the theme song at the beginning of ELEMENTARY starts to play. He dances to these songs as he spontaneously sways to any musical sounds. We returned to Cary still in her #2 spot. The Mac & Gold truck opens at 5 PM as scheduled. My grandson and I walked a little more and return after the order for french fries, prosciutto and peas mac & cheese, and two Mexican cokes has been placed. We waited together at the end of that counter for our food. It was probably ten minutes between placing the order and getting the food. Other customers came to the window and left with food boxes. I asked my daughter if they had done pre-orders; she told me that those customers had ordered plain mac & cheese. About 5 minutes before our food came out, the cashier handed Cary two opened Mexican cokes. Why did she open them without asking? We wanted to take them home with our food. Finally, the cashier handed us our food. My daughter questioned her about the french fries, and the cashier told her they are in the same box with the mac & cheese. We returned to the car with this last bit of food and drove home to share and enjoy our orders. What a surprise when we opened the mac & cheese to find an order for mac & cheese with cauliflower, fennel and spinach when Cary had ordered the prosciutto and peas for a $1.00 more. What could we do though but enjoy what we had. It was delicious as were the perfectly cooked and flavored fries, but still it was not what we had ordered. How was our food from the South Side BBQ Company? It was also quite good. The ribs were fall-off-the bone tender with good flavor, the grilled sweet potato patties were sweet and tasty but could have been grilled a little more. The coleslaw which my daughter does not usually eat was quite good with a unique dressing more of a vinaigrette than a creamy slaw dressing. I think the best though was the cornbread. It was sweet and moist with the imprint of grill marks. We pondered the moistness and flavor of it thinking perhaps some drizzle over top when it was on the grill. I was glad I had not ordered two pieces of it though; we split it and still left a few bites for another time.

Finally there was the dessert. We broke open the paper on the Lime and Graham Cracker sandwich. I thought the lime flavor in the ice cream was just right, but my daughter thought it should be a bit stronger. Neither of us liked the crispness of the Graham Cracker cookie outside though. My daughter joked that she had broken her tooth on the cookie part of the S’more sandwich we bought a few weeks ago (to be fair, her teeth have required a lot of dental work recently). I have tried several flavors made by this company and usually return to the Apple Cinnamon with Oatmeal Lace or any varieties made by stuffing some flavor of ice cream between two sugar cookies.

Our visit in March to the Food Truck Roundup was certainly much more enjoyable than the February visit. I would recommend going early, unless you like the crush of lines and waiting an hour for food. Do not take small children unless someone can entertain them. Do not take a stroller unless it is early or you just plan to walk around while someone else stands in line. Make a plan on what you want to order, and just enjoy the variety. Give everything a try once, just not all on one visit.

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