There’s a bright side to every dark cloud, and in the case of COVID-19, a bright side could be the rebirth of food trucks. Mobile kitchens have long been a staple, catering to office workers on city streets during the week and setting up shop at venues from farmers markets to breweries on weekends. But this past year, many trucks have added by-request visits to residential neighborhoods, bringing a tasty diversion to families who are staying close to home.
Since they don’t have designated dining areas, many food trucks are able to maintain a socially distant business model. Some have even adopted online ordering systems to keep lines from forming around the parking lot—all convenient adaptations that will likely stick around as life gets back to normal.
Another plus: Mobile eateries run the gamut in style and flavor, and their owner/chefs aren’t afraid to experiment. If you haven’t checked one out lately, here is a tasty sampling to whet your appetite.
Virginia Beach, Va.
A Baltimore native, M.J. Medlar moved to Colorado and was surprised by the lack of quality seafood available. “We couldn’t find anything that wasn’t frozen or deep fried,” she said. Having worked in restaurants since she was 14, Medlar decided to run her own food truck, in partnership with her husband Steve Jones, and opened Capt’n Crabby in Denver in 2011.
After providing Colorado with authentic Chesapeake cooking for a few years, Medlar felt the urge to head back to her roots. “We could have stayed out there and been very successful, but we wanted to move back east,” Medlar said. “The good thing about a mobile business is, we just packed it up and drove it out here!”
They re-opened in Virginia Beach in 2015, sourcing local ingredients as much as possible for their kitchen on wheels. Their Maryland-style crabcakes come in all sorts of variations, from classic to “The Hipster,” a crabcake sandwich with bourbon bacon jam, Frosted Flakes, and a fried egg. You’ll also find an assortment of gyros, plus sandwiches and a tasty Frito pie.
Where to find them: Crabcakes and crabby fries are a natural pairing with breweries; they hit one or two around the Virginia Beach area most weekends. Check out the online calendar at captncrabby.com or follow on Facebook and Instagram at @captncrabby.
Newport News, Va.
“I’ve loved grilling probably since I was about eight years old,” says DD214 owner and pitmaster Kevin Russell. So when he got out of the Navy in 1991, he tried his hand at making pork ribs for fun. After winning a local competition, he left his day job as a grocer and started a business. Within a couple of years, he bought out his partner and began serving all around coastal Virginia under the name DD214 Smokehouse.
Befitting a business named after the military discharge form, DD214 offers a discount for veterans, which is much appreciated when your home turf is also home to the world’s largest naval base. “Whatever we do, we gotta do it with honor and respect for everybody,” Russell said. “We are very honored and proud to serve the military, and we’re very honored and proud to serve the community as well.”
Russell’s ribs are an award-winning fan favorite, and DD214 offers pulled pork (as a sandwich, or atop fries, burgers or nachos) plus smoked chicken wings, Bang Bang shrimp, and more.
Where to find them: DD214 gets all around the Virginia Beach area, from the Exchange at Langley Air Force Base to Sly Clyde Ciderworks in Hampton. Find their “Deployment Schedule” online at dd214smokehouse.com or on Facebook and Instagram at @DD214smokehouse.
Back in 2005, Toyin Alli wanted to share her love of the bread pudding her mother used to make so she applied to sell at the Eastern Market in D.C. They already had a dessert vendor so she wasn’t accepted. Undaunted, Alli took some time to finish up her master’s in public finance before applying again in 2010 with a wider menu. Her business took off, selling shrimp and grits, gumbo, and bread pudding to a hungry public. Soon enough, Alli was able to leave her job as an auditor and make Puddin’ her full-time gig.
Over the next few years, Alli converted an old ice-cream truck into a mobile kitchen, expanding her range. “Essentially you’re building a kitchen on wheels, so you have to have some basic understanding of how plumbing, electrical, mechanics all work,” Alli said. “And I didn’t have that, so it was a huge learning curve.”
Puddin’ specializes in Cajun dishes like chicken ‘n’ beef sausage gumbo, and po’boys made with wild blue catfish—all rich with West African influences Alli got from her father. The signature blend of African American and West African flavors gives the food truck a sense of history you can taste, she said. “When we look at American food, Cajun and Creole food is probably the most American food that we have, because it is really a melting pot of everything.”
Where to find them: Puddin’ has a daily retail space in D.C.’s Union Market, and two food trucks hitting popular farmers markets including Dupont Circle and Mt. Vernon. They also offer delivery. Learn more at dcpuddin.com or @dcpuddin on Facebook and Instagram.
Love. Crust. Pizza.
Jesse Lang and his family have been operating Love. Crust. Pizza. near Bel Air, Md., for about two years now. “We started cooking pizzas in our backyard with family and friends,” Lang said. “It started off with your typical cheeses and pepperonis and by the end of the night, you’re kind of experimenting into trying chicken and waffles and putting peaches on top of pizzas.”
Love. Crust. Pizza.’s signature brick-oven trailer takes about two hours to heat up, which gives Lang and his family just enough time to prep ingredients and set up tables and tents for service. “It’s really a 5,000-pound beast that you don’t see every day,” Lang said.
With rotating weekly specials drawn from old favorites as well as customer suggestions, you can get almost anything on a Love. Crust. pizza, from crispy prosciutto to crabmeat to breakfast pizzas with scrambled eggs, mozzarella, and sausage. Bonus: As regular vendors of the Bel Air Farmers Market, they have access to fresh-from-the-field produce, which they use to adorn their pizzas.
Where to find them: In addition to the Bel Air Farmers Market, you’ll find Love.Crust.Pizza at spots including Pooles Island Brewing Company and food-truck events like Hump Day at Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Department. Check out lovecrustpizza.com, facebook.com/Love.Crust.Pizza or Instagram at @lovecrustpizza.
2 BOLD Chefs
Together, Chef Emile Debsia and Chef Hooverlay Rodas are 2 BOLD Chefs. Having previously worked together over long careers in hotels, the pair combined forces for a new venture, purchasing a truck and leaving their jobs behind to take their passion on the road in the Baltimore area. “Six years later, we have now two food trucks, a deli, and a catering company,” Chef Emile said.
Rather than focus on cuisine from a single country, Chef Emile said they wanted to offer fusion dishes that could encompass a variety of Mediterranean flavors. The creative menu asks you to choose a protein—chicken shawarma, beef kabobs, lamb gyro, or falafel—and then enjoy it in a wrap or a rice bowl, with flavors reflecting a variety of different nationalities including French, Moroccan, and Portuguese. You can order a gyro done in the traditional Greek style or add an Italian twist with a special blend of spices and pesto sauce, said Chef Emile.
Along with wraps and bowls, the menu caters to vegetarians with an array of salads. They hope to integrate seafood into the menu in 2021 with a chili-glazed grilled salmon, said Chef Emile.
Where to find them: 2 BOLD Trucks have daily contracts in different areas, so call ahead to reserve them for an event. You can also try most of their dishes at Lucia’s International Deli, located in Glen Burnie, Md. Get the latest online at 2boldchefs.com or facebook.com/2-BOLD-Chefs-a-Mediterranean-Truck-Catering, or find them on Instagram at @2boldchefs.
The Gospel Chick
Working as a pastor and musician, Gerald Ricks spent 15 years traveling the southern United States. Shortly after moving to Maryland in 2018, Ricks was looking for his next step when his daughter suggested he try to sell his fried chicken. Commercial real estate for a restaurant was pricey, so Ricks opted for a food truck instead of brick and mortar.
Ricks combined his love of gospel music with Southern home cooking and dubbed his truck “The Gospel Chick.” The menu is as fun to read as it is to eat, with items like the popular Heavenly Heat Mac & Cheese (the heat comes from jalapeños), Alabama Swamp Soup with collards, sausage, and two types of beans, and the Three Hebrew Boys Collard Green Egg Rolls.
The Gospel Chick is a family affair, including Ricks’s wife, Crystal, and their children. He credits the solid approach he learned from his mother for the quality of his fried chicken: Nothing flashy nor fancy, just well-refined technique and fresh ingredients over frozen. Or, as he puts it, The Gospel According to Fried Chicken.
Where to find them: Check out the menu at thegospelchick.com or via Instagram at @thegospelchick, then pick up curbside in Lusby, Md., at the site of their forthcoming standalone restaurant, Holy Hell Kitchen.
Gladys Springsteel and her husband, John, were looking for something to do with their savings after John left a landscaping job. When one of John’s former coworkers asked to buy some of Gladys’s empanadas, she said, “You know what? There you go: Everyone loves my empanadas. Maybe we should do an empanada food truck.” They’ve been selling their empanadas from a bright orange trailer for nearly three years now.
The star of the menu is Springsteel’s original beef empanada, “The OG,” which she’s been making at home for over 30 years. But at 410 Empanadas you can find everything from buffalo chicken to Thanksgiving fixings fried up in a pastry, she said. The Korean BBQ beef is slow cooked for eight to 10 hours, and the authentic Peruvian empanada—accented with boiled ghee, sweet black raisins, and manzanilla olives—represents Springsteel’s mother. The Cuban-style guava con queso adds a sweet finish.
Where to find them: The little orange trailer gets all around Harford County, from breweries to food truck meetups, and visits Baltimore and Cecil County as well. Check out the schedule at 410empanadas.com, or on Facebook and Instagram at @410empanadas.
Black Market Bakers
Sarah Carr had been working as a baker at various outlets around Maryland for over 10 years when she was contacted by Annapolis restaurateur/entrepreneur, Tom O’Leary. “He wanted to do a French bistro/bakery-inspired project and so he reached out to me for some help there, and we ended up becoming business partners,” Carr said.
Together with O’Leary’s son, Steve, the team sought out a retail space before settling on the idea of a bakery food truck. This was cheaper than brick and mortar, and Carr thought a bakery food truck would fit a unique niche. The Black Market Bakers truck began rolling in June, and despite opening during a global pandemic, their food is in high demand, with lines gathering before their daily opening time to scarf up their ever-changing menu of muffins, scones, and cinnamon buns, along with breakfast sandwiches and avocado toasts.
“It feels like this business grew legs and we’re just trying to chase after it,” Carr said. Black Market Bakers is currently looking for a place to establish a physical location, she told us. Once they have a storefront in Annapolis, they plan on taking the truck on the road to other places.
Where to find them: The truck has a regular spot on Route 2 in Annapolis, outside of Chevy’s Restaurant. Follow them at facebook.com/blackmarketbakers.