Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yep. America's Past-Time.

I recall in high school staying up all night long to finish papers I had been given an embarrassing amount of time to complete. Waving to my dad as he passed me in the hall, on his way to work in the morning, as I clacked along feverishly. The world was asleep, but I could hear the iconic and charming sounds of typewriter keys. Not because I was typing on an actual typewriter, it’s just a good personal sound effect. It’s thematic. It’s cinematic. It’s strange, I know.

This is just like that. I have been gone for too long. I’m rusty, and so I find myself in a Barton Fink hotel room with peeling wallpaper, trying to get back on track. Not really, I’m in my apartment, which has no wallpaper. But a gentleman verrrrry similar to the John Goodman character does in fact live next door.

In high school, I would race into first period a personally unacceptable 5 minutes late, the paper in my hands still hot from the printer. In those days, you watched it print out line by line, hoped it didn’t take in more than one sheet of paper (why the hell did it always do that?!), and went through a couple of crooked printings before success. This traumatic and time-sensitive post-Gutenberg, pre-laser printer experience by extension implied that what you had in your hand was in fact GOLD. Of course, having been banged out in a 3am caffeinated madness of false grandeur, this was rarely true.

Which brings me to: I hope this isn’t like that. But I can’t promise anything.

Since I’ve been gone, I have had some great food truck experiences, and some not so great ones. Here’s the first one to catch you up-

I am not a sports person. Never played them (thought seriously about the bowling team once, but the consistent proximity to bowling-alley fries would have been disaster). I don’t watch them, and never quite know what’s going on until the person next to me has an audible reaction, either negative or positive. And then I quickly piggyback on that, a stealth 3 seconds later.

However, last summer I had the great fortune to attend a family reunion in New York City. I have a big Italian family, and they’re all fantastic. When we get together, there’s no shot of not laughing harder than you ever have before. Harder than the last time we all got together. It’s like we’re a team trying to beat OURSELVES.

And pins. We print pins, appropriate for the event. We make plans, we make shirts, and we exist in a flurry of anticipatory e-mails leading up to the event, and wind down with just as many (sometimes more) re-cap, “gotta do that again,” e-mails afterwards.

We make pins. We print shirts. We e-mail wildly about both. It. Is. AWESOME.

We all camped out in the same hotel in Queens, and walked as a group to Citifield for a Mets game. Or swarmed rather. As someone who refers to “practice” as “rehearsal,” and “half-time,” as “intermission,” I fully expected to be out of place as usual; enjoy my family but be bored by the game, or match, or set, or whatever this was going to be. I prepared myself for an attempt to shorten my 3 second reaction delay.

But then an amazing thing happened. I was given a Mets shirt. I put it on. My sister put some kind of team-supportive tattoo sticker thing on my face. I got a hotdog. And a beer. And an assortment of logoed bracelets. I sat with my entire family in a block of seats and gazed out over the gorgeous field on a gorgeous summer night, in a gorgeous city. And I thought to myself: “Yep. BASEBALL. America’s Past-Time.”

And while I still had no idea what was going on, pretty much ever, I had the best time.

Which leads me to The Patty Wagon truck. It was another perfect summer night, and I knew it was around here somewhere. After a couple of wrong turns, which is extra embarrassing in your OWN neighborhood, I turned a corner onto a scene of classic Americana. A stretch of fields populated with little leaguers, a tennis court, bleachers filled with enthusiastic parents, sun going down, mosquitoes, a dude walking a dog, and a kid with an ice cream cone. I’m talking CLASSIC. Norman Rockwelly, guys.

See, even the pictures came out fuzzy. Convinced I had Sam Becketted myself into a quieter, lovelier time, I did what I do best: I ordered and ate food. It’s a skill I work on daily. It’s alllllllmost a sort of sport, really.

The patty wagon is obsessive about the sourcing of their beef, all-grass fed, single origin. Really good stuff. I am not righteous about food. But when it does taste better, I’m onboard. So if “farm-to-table” equals “delicious,” and “hormone-free” is code for “tasty,” I’m all in.

I had a “Keep Your Sunny Side Up,” burger with parsley-lemon-garlic gremolata on toasted ciabatta. Also, a “La Vie en Rose,” which was a special at the time, but is now on the regular menu. Melty gruyere and caramelized onions with thyme. RELAX. They’re slider-sized, so two was completely appropriate. Modest, even.

And if you’re not sure what gremolata is, it’s a bunch of tasty things chopped up reeeeeely small, and somehow tastes more than the expected 3X better. Combining parsley, lemon, and garlic, results in a kind of superfood, and makes everything else it is applied to wickedly good as well.

While the burgers and toppings themselves were delicious, they were slightly overbunned. Ciabatta is and always has been very bready bread. It’s BREAD. With such great stuff inside, they could use a bit less of it. In my extremely humble opinion.

However, my retro experience suffered not. Swing music floated out of the truck, and made the whole evening more like a hazy memory than something actually currently happening. And as I ate my burger(s), watched the mini-people playing baseball, and killed the millionth mosquito targeting my unguarded legs as though he were the first, I thought: “Yep. HAMBURGERS. America’s Past-Time.”


  1. Glad you are back! Love your writing style!

  2. We love the Patty Wagon, they actually station at our Food truck commissary: La Raza Foods, www.larazafoods.com ... Glad you liked 'em and we look forward to reading more of your blog. If you want us to recommend more of our gourmet trucks, we would be happy to do so, we got lots of 'em!

  3. I just love your writing style!