Sunday, August 14, 2011

Off the Grid: Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley

The bulk of the food truck movement has been happening in San Francisco, and I and many other East Bay foodies have been waiting for the food trucks to roll into our neighborhoods. While there are a few sporadic sightings, none have taken the shape of the various Off the Grid gatherings in the city.

But earlier this summer, OTG made it to the East Bay, fittingly parking in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. This being Berkeley, OTG arrived only after negotiating with nearby businesses (which includes Saul's Deli, the Cheeseboard, Gregoire, and all the food places in Epicurious Garden). OTG, the Berkeley version, runs every Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. on a block of Shattuck Avenue between Rose and Vine Streets.

I dropped by last Wednesday to check out the crowds and the food trucks. It was actually smaller than I expected, but still gathered about seven or eight food trucks. As you can expect, the crowd was a mix of families and UC Berkeley students.

I like to check out food trucks I've never heard before and while there were a few familiar faces, there were a few I haven't tried like this one called Fins on the Hoof. They had a few fish dishes, some fried, some not. But I wasn't in a fishy mood.

I love the grassroots signs of 510Burgers. But a lot of the items looked, of course, like a lot of red meat for me, so I kept on searching.

In a way to keep the area businesses in people's minds, this guy from Saul's Deli was passing out free pickles that were quite popular, especially for those waiting in the long lines.

I ended up getting food at 3-Sum Eats, a food truck I've never tried and which happened to have one of the longest lines at OTG. This truck is by Chef Ryan Scott, who once cooked at Myth Cafe and Mission Beach Cafe and is probably more known for being a cheftestant on Top Chef. Along with catering and a new brunch pop up, Chef Scott rolls out this food truck. But he wasn't manning the truck on this night.

I got the pulled pork Cubana, which was incredible. Here's why: it was PACKED with tender pulled pork. This Cubana was huge. The sliver of ham was almost ridiculous on top of the pile of pulled pork. The oddly pale yellow sauce was a poblano aioli, and I just enjoyed the nicely toasted bun and combination of the pork, aioli, and pickled peppers. The sandwich, only $8, really filled me up.

Which makes this photo look odd, considering how full I was from the Cubana. But 3-Sum Eats also makes home-made Twinkies, and I had to try them because Twinkies were my favorite growing up until I realized how much saturated fat they had. But since these were home-made, they didn't need any preservatives. It's sold two for $3, and it tasted great but I felt the texture was more cake-like than Twinkie-like. I remember Twinkies being lighter, almost like sponge cake. Still, these were good, especially the vanilla buttercream filling.

Despite being full, I felt I had to try one more thing, and that's how I ended up at the Taco Guys' truck. Even though I'm not a fan of soft tacos, I was intrigued by its special taco made with lamb with a Moroccan twist.

The taco had amazingly tender lamb with cucumber, yogurt and red onions. It worked well together although a bit difficult to eat. Still, this is street food at its finest so I made do.

North Berkeley is still a bit of a trek for me from Oakland, but it was worth checking out. As I walked to BART, I noticed that many of the nearby restaurants in the Gourmet Ghetto was bustling for a Wednesday night, so it didn't look like the food trucks were stealing away business. Everyone seemed to be living happily side by side. Can I get a round of cumbaya, everybody?


foodhoe said...

ooh, I am going to look out for that 3 Sum Eats truck this weekend at the big SF Street Food Festival! So many great trucks... Berkeley is a bit easier to get to than Fort Mason, but I'm hoping Oakland will get an OTG going on soon!

A said...

Food trucks are mostly all just ok & overpriced. So far I've only liked Chairman Bao - but too expensive.

Still have to try 3SumEats & ButterscotchToGo. Then I'm really gonna stop chasing them.

Oakland to North Berkeley isn't that bad, Fremont to Downtown Berkeley & then walking is far, but closer & cheaper than SF.

Single Guy Ben said...

I see what you're saying about the pricing. There are several that are overpriced, while there are a few that I think is worth it. Like that $8 Cubana at 3Sum totally worth it because of all you get. And I like to support the small businesses, although I also know there's some who argue that they're surpassing all the legal fees and taxes, etc. that regular restaurants pay. But I go to both restaurants and food trucks. It's just nice having both worlds.

Haven't heard of ButterscotchToGo. Are they pudding makers? That would be amazing to check out!

Mrs. L said...

The food truck "get together" around here is on Saturdays and I'm usually out of town or just too busy. I wish they'd do the food truck gathering during the week.

The Old Port Lobster Shack truck is really expensive (you're talking $17 for some of their sandwiches)...but they give a good portion size and it really tastes good! (I went to the food truck gathering on a Monday in Palo Alto)