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101 Best Food Trucks in America 2012

101 Best Food Trucks in America 2012



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Once the purview of immigrant cooks, food trucks are now often art-designed and run by culinary school grads, celebrity chefs, and even aspiring stars with no culinary cred. Their quirky names pun on sexual innuendo, they serve food (often fusion) to go, they’ve lowered the financial bar for becoming a restaurateur, and have helped make the everyman and woman, critics. A year ago, editorial pushback on the trend indicated a peak. Instead, it increased twofold over the past two years in cities like St. Louis and Boston, while on tested asphalt in Los Angeles and New York, its presence strengthened; Restaurant Reporter approximated that there were more than 6,000 food trucks in Los Angeles County alone as of 2011. No, food trucks are here to stay, many serving terrific grub — enough to merit determining America’s best.

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How does the popularity of food trucks break down by the numbers? According to Smart Money, trucks accounted for 37 percent of the $1.4 billion in street vending revenue nationwide last year — a 15 percent increase over the past five years. That revenue uptick was not without obstacle; the same report noted that according to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 2,000 different state and local agencies in America are responsible for inspecting food trucks.

There’s quite a bit that trucks have to overcome. New Orleans, for example, requires mobile food vendors to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot. Among other restrictions, Chicago’s food trucks have had to fight to cook onboard, Washington, D.C.’s are technically supposed to vacate once their line of clients clears, LA’s have to park within 200 feet of a bathroom where workers can wash hands, New York’s got booted from Midtown, and in cities like Atlanta and Austin, where trucks have largely been relegated to group parks, even those sometimes face shutdown.

Other obstacles are brick-and-mortar establishments, who claim trucks feed on their customers. You’d think they could coexist, but let’s offer three points:

Competition breeds better restaurants. Worried about competition? Don’t lower prices. Create better food and service. You have a roof, a walk-in, and a staff. Shouldn’t you be able to do this?
Make customers feel more valued or that they’re getting more value.
Having walls doesn’t entitle you to business.

And hey, trucks pull their weight. As Gourmet noted, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, taco trucks sprang up in NOLA "providing sustenance for New Orleanians who were too busy rebuilding their businesses, homes, and lives to cook, and for the influx of Mexican immigrants who came to fill the huge need for construction labor." And in New York City, the food truck association sent an armada of them to donate food in different parts of blacked-out Manhattan and the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy. And their popularity is only going to continue to grow as they mainstream with shows like Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race and food truck events at festivals in South Beach and New York City crowning event winners.

Organizations like The Street Vendor Project have expanded from New York City to Philadelphia and Los Angeles, establishing a somewhat incomplete hierarchy with awards like the Vendy’s. But surprisingly, nobody’s established a concrete ranking with much foundation. There have been best lists, of course, roundups highlighting a handful of trucks in individual cities, and a few scattered nationally. These are good places to begin. They feature innovative cuisines and showmanship of some special trucks. But they don’t tell the whole story, often include street carts, aren’t that geographically diverse, and for the most part, don’t indicate much in the way of methodology.

So who should be counted among America’s best food trucks?

To come up with a comprehensive pool of candidates we canvassed more than 30 cities, seeking out some 300 street vendors. To those we added staff favorites, and any trucks not already included that have been singled out for praise by organizations, and national and local publications, both in print and online.

First, a few notes. This is a list of food trucks. Only trucks were considered. If it was a trailer, or a cart, if it needed something to pull, drag, push, or carry it, if it wasn’t on at least four wheels and didn’t have the ability to move on its own power from parking ticket to parking spot, it was omitted. Sorry, Pizza Moto. That means you, Grillwalker types. Apologies, Portland’s street food scene. You may serve great street food. You probably even deserve a list. But you’re not food trucks.

Also, this is a list of food trucks. While a few dessert trucks ranked, they were the exceptions. If you just make cupcakes or serve coffee, you’re not a food truck — you’re a cupcake truck, or a coffee truck. That doesn’t mean you’re bad people. Nobody disputes the challenges of creating innovative desserts for mobile distribution, but with rare exception it didn’t seem fair to include trucks serving shaved ice, slushies, and ice cream with those doing full savory menus. You’re beloved during summer, but for these purposes? Discounted. The same went, mostly, for an integral component of the business model: social media. Not engaged with Twitter, or at least Facebook? Gonzo.

These factors eliminated quite a few contenders. Even so, it left at least a good 270 food trucks for consideration. These were judged on four criteria: popularity, critical review, social score, and originality.

We consulted popular review sites and tallied reviews and critical appraisal. We analyzed trucks’ number of followers and in cases where there wasn’t a Twitter presence, considered visibility on Facebook. For originality, we examined menu innovation, concept, concept relative to inception (to wit, Asian tacos have become about as original as truffle oil fries, or a beet and goat cheese salad), and how that all might play into geography.

What did we discover? The best of the best. How did they rank? You’ll have to peruse the list, or watch the slideshow for specifics, but it’s interesting to note that Kogi’s birthplace of Los Angeles lead all cities with 18 trucks. San Francisco, New York, and D.C. were runners-up with 13, 11, and eight respectively. Asian fusion, tacos, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, and lobster, were predictable leaders, but there are some impressive chef-y menus, too.

Needless to say, despite everything we knew about the country’s best trucks, we discovered more — an impressive, growing legion of amazing people making some terrific food on trucks across America. Doubtless, a few of your favorites are missing, and the ranking is sure to rankle some. We can hear it now, "Jogasaki is better than Spencer on the Go, Smack Shack, Staff Meal, and Where Ya At Matt?!"

First, remember that social media was a determining factor. So get your favorite trucks to seek out more followers! Second, we’d love to learn how you’d have voted. So if you think you can better rank these trucks, here’s your chance. For the next month, The Daily Meal will hold an open survey. Vote, and on Dec. 11, we’ll announce America’s Favorite Food Trucks for 2012.

Vote for Your Favorite Food Trucks!

Whoever wins, and however you feel about this list, we’re sure you, like us, have confidence that nascent food truck scenes will continue popping up across the country, be discovered in places the media has yet to report on, and eventually persevere against any pushback they’ve begun to face.

From sexy babes serving gooey cheese-covered medium-rare burgers amongst palm trees and silicone to faux-mustachioed and turbaned Fojol brothers from mythical lands serving butter chicken to those walking the corridors of power, here’s the definitive list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America for 2012, any of which we’d be thrilled to wait in line at for a meal worthy of eating standing up.

101 Best Food Trucks in America 2012

#101 Ebbett's Good to Go (San Francisco)
#100 Happy Grillmore (Seattle)
#99 Pot Kettle Blac (Charleston, S.C.)
#98 The Slide Ride (Chicago)
#97 Tokyo Crêpes (Charleston, S.C.)
#96 Seoul Taco (St. Louis)
#95 Bloomy’s Roast Beef (Twin Cities)
#94 Cucina Zapata (Philadelphia)
#93 Hello My Name is BB (Charleston, S.C.)
#92 Vellee Deli (Twin Cities)
#91 Momogoose (Boston)
#90 Sushi Fix (Twin Cities)
#89 Empanada Intifada (New Orleans)
#88 Seoul Sausage (Los Angeles)
#87 Iyanzé aka "The African Truck" (Chicago)
#86 Foodie Call (New Orleans)
#85 The People's Pig (Portland, Ore.)
#84 Curbside Cravings (Los Angeles)
#83 Cha Cha Chow (St. Louis)
#82 Tacos El Asadero (Seattle)
#81 El Norteño (San Francisco)
#80 CapMac (Washington, D.C.)
#79 Tasty Kabob ((Washington, D.C.)
#78 South Philly Experience (Los Angeles)
#77 Solber Pupusas (New York City)
#76 Liba Falafel Truck (San Francsico)
#75 Souvlaki GR (New York City)
#74 Ms. Cheezious Fresh Made Grilled Cheese (Miami)
#73 Streetza (Milwaukee, Wis.)
#72 The Peached Tortilla (Austin)
#71 Rancho Bravo Tacos (Seattle)
#70 Basic Kneads Pizza (Denver)
#69 Marination Mobile (Seattle)
#68 The Eatsie Boys (Houston)
#67 Scratch Truck (Indianapolis)
#66 Diggity Donuts/Little Blue Brunch Truc (Charleston, S.C.)
#65 Rib Whip (San Francisco)
#64 KoJa Kitchen (San Francisco)
#63 Riffs Fine Street Food (Nashville, Tenn.)
#62 Kung Fu Tacos (San Francisco)
#61 The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck (Chicago)
#60 Lucky Old Souls (Philadelphia)
#59 The Big Cheese (Washington, D.C.)
#58 Oh My Gogi! BBQ (Houston)
#57 Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs (Denver)
#56 JapaCurry (San Francisco)
#55 Taim Mobile (New York City)
#54 The Mighty Cone (Austin)
#53 DC Slice (Washington, D.C.)
#52 5411 Empanadas (Chicago)
#51 Jefe's Original Fish Taco & Burgers (Miami)

See page two for the top 50 food trucks...


Food Trucks 101: How to Start a Mobile Food Business

Today, a new generation of street-food lovers is lining up at food trucks and food carts like never before. Little do they know that neither food trucks nor food carts are new to the streets of American cities. Like so many other popular trends, they are the latest version of a long-standing part of American and world culture. Yet the street-food industry has never enjoyed so much publicity or notoriety.

According to Los Angeles-based industry-research firm IBISWorld, the street-food business -- including mobile food trucks and nonmechanized carts -- is a $1 billion industry that has seen an 8.4 percent growth rate from 2007 to 2012. It's very entrepreneurial: 78 percent of operators have four or fewer employees. The true number of these businesses is difficult to count, since the mobile food industry is comprised of food trucks, food carts and kiosks, which have appeared in malls as well as at train and bus stations, airports, stadiums, conference centers, resorts, and other locations in recent years.

Food-industry observers claim that the food-truck business is increasing largely in response to the slow-growing economy. People are seeking inexpensive breakfasts and lunches. Also, employees today are often pressed for time, with more work and shorter lunch hours. These factors make the mobile-food concept more appealing than ever.

From an entrepreneurial standpoint, kiosks, carts, trailers, and food trucks have a lower overhead than restaurants and can be moved if one location does not generate enough business. Rather than having to determine where to open a restaurant and worry about the old real-estate adage "location, location, location," the owner can actually drive to a new location, location, location if business is poor.For customers, you add the convenience of having food favorites right outside a particular location -- or inside with a kiosk -- and meet several needs by serving mobile food. First, you offer food that is cost friendly because you need not pay wait staff or bussers. You also offer the convenience of quick service. In many cases you provide food choices that can save those on a busy schedule from the need to sit down. Typically customers can eat street foods while en route to their next destination. Finally, mobile food is often fun to eat and (if it's good) great to talk about.


Strip Steak — Iron Chef America Ingredients 101

If I am ever asked to name my favorite cut of beef, my first answer will not be strip steak. I will probably offer up a beautifully marbled bone-in rib-eye as my cow part of preference.

I know that for many people in the United States, however, the strip steak, under its many different names, is the beef cut of choice, particularly when it comes to finding a perfect steak to place on the grill during the summer months.

Having seen the Iron Chef and his competitor turn their attention to strip steak, I am definitely willing to be convinced that I should give this popular cut another try.

A strip steak is a cut of beef taken from the short loin of the cow. This is at the top and the middle of the animal, before the rump. The short loin itself comprises two muscles: the tenderloin (from where you get filet mignon) and the top loin, which gives us the strip steak.

The top loin is a muscle in the cow that does not do a great deal of work, so the cuts produced from it are well-noted for their tenderness if not for being the most highly flavored cuts of beef.

The strip steak can be found under many different guises throughout the United States, with its name dependent upon the region in which it is sold. Some of the most familiar names would be: New York strip, Kansas strip, shell steak, Ambassador steak and hotel steak. Although the names vary, the cuts of meat are essentially the same.

If you were to imagine a T-bone steak, which is cut from the short loin of the cow, the strip steak would be the larger piece of meat to the left of the dividing bone, while the tenderloin would be the smaller cut to the right of the bone.

The strip steak is usually served as a boneless cut, but in recent years, more restaurants and retailers have been supplying it with the bone attached to create more flavor in the finished product.

What should I look for when I'm buying strip steak?

As with choosing any cut of beef, the first thing you should do is decide what grade of beef suits you and your budget. Beef is graded, amongst other things, by the maturity of the animal and the amount of marbling in the flesh. Although there are actually eight grades of beef, the only ones that really concern the consumer are:

USDA Prime - The very top grade, noted for its flavor and marbling, is usually found in good restaurants and high-end retailers.

USDA Choice - Usually found in most supermarkets and mid-range restaurants.

USDA Select - A grade that lacks much of the marbling and therefore the flavor of the two higher grades of beef, but it can still produce a great end result.

My advice is to buy the very best grade your budget will allow. I would much rather eat the very best beef less frequently than poor-quality steak all the time.

Once you have selected your grade of beef, the next thing to do is to decide how aged you would like your strip steak to be. Beef is aged, either by wet or dry aging, to intensify the natural flavors of the meat, and I usually look for cuts that have been dry aged for at least 28 days.

Finally, look for the amount of marbling in your steak. This marbling is, in fact, intramuscular fat that will break down during cooking, keeping your steak juicy and adding flavor to the meat. If the steak is too lean, it will dry out as you cook it and produce a tough end result.

I am sure that the Iron Chef and his challenger have given you lots of ideas, but for me there is no better way to cook any steak than to simply grill it, on an outside grill, if you are lucky enough to have space for one, or on a ridged cast-iron pan on the stove-top, if, like me, you have a tiny apartment.

Buy steaks that are at least 1 1/2 inches thick. Take them out from the fridge at least two hours before you plan to cook them and dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel, then season them liberally with salt. This salting process is, in effect, a kind of cure and removes excess liquid from the surface of the meat, allowing you to create a great crust on your finished steak.

When the grill has come up to temperature, rub the sides of the steaks with a little cooking oil and cook them for 4-5 minutes a side. With steaks of this thickness, you should get beautifully medium-rare steaks (with an internal temperature of 125 degrees F). Cook for a minute less if you like your steaks more rare and for a minute or so more if you like them closer to medium.

Finally, make sure to rest your steaks before serving. Although there are plenty of myths about why this is essential, the bottom line is: If you allow your steaks to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes after they have been cooked, they will be considerably juicier than if you cut straight into them as soon as they come off the grill.

Strip steak is an easy cut of meat to find. Great strip steak is, on the other hand, much harder to source.

While all supermarkets sell many cuts of beef, they are often sold in packaging that allows the meat to "sweat." The packaging can also often carry deliberately misleading words such as "premium" as the supermarket tries to confuse the consumer as to what grade of beef is being sold.

If you are lucky enough to have a good independent butcher nearby, you can talk to him or her about what grade of beef is offered, and you can ask to have your steaks cut to your exact specification. Also, many of the gourmet markets will have butcher counters. Their products may well be more expensive, but usually of a high quality.

Finally, there are now many superb online retailers of steaks. Check them out, but be sure to read the fine print so you know exactly what you are buying.


Top street eats: ‘101 Best Food Trucks in America’

There is no shortage of street-side gourmet food available across the country, but with all of the intriguing and delicious-smelling options out there, how is a hungry meal seeker supposed to choose where to eat?

The Daily Meal recently released its second annual list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America, which can help undecided diners narrow the field while providing traveling foodies with a bucket list of must-visit vendors.

For its 2013 ranking, The Daily Meal's staffers sought out hundreds of street vendors in dozens of cities.

Los Angeles had the most street vendors on the list, with 16 making the cut. San Francisco followed with 11.

Ten New York food trucks made the list, with the Red Hook Lobster Pound Truck surpassing last year's Los Angeles-based winner Kogi BBQ to claim the top spot. Other high-ranking Big Apple vendors included Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (#4), The Cinnamon Snail (#8), Schnitzel & Things (#11) and Wafels & Dinges (#13).

Notable non-New York vendors include Where Ya At Matt, a Seattle food truck with some of the best Creole cuisine outside of New Orleans, and Rickshaw Shop, a family-owned Pakistani truck in San Antonio that serves top-notch kebabs and samosas.

The folks at The Daily Meal consulted popular review sites, the comments of critics and the overall originality of the truck. The number of Twitter followers and the vendors' Facebook visibility also came into play.

The Daily Meal noted that only food trucks were considered, so trailers, carts, most dessert trucks and anything that needed to be pushed or pulled were all left off of the list.


Six D.C. food trucks included among America’s 101 best

Sometimes I think listicles are the lifeblood of the U.S. workplace, the vital fluid that supplies bored office workers with enough oxygen to keep their eyes open during those interminable afternoons following a carb-heavy Chipotle lunch. If this theory holds — admittedly a long shot — then the Daily Meal may be America's left ventricle, pumping out listicles at a pulse-racing speed.

The latest: The 101 Best Food Trucks in America. It includes six trucks that roam the streets of Washington D.C., including Rito Loco (No. 78), DC Slices (No. 72), Red Hook Lobster Pound D.C. (No. 66), Pepe (No. 45), Basil Thyme (No. 32) and Fojol Bros. (No. 3).

As a whole, the District fared well as a food truck town, which makes the D.C. Council's recent actions on the proposed vending regulations look even wiser. Washington ranked fourth among U.S. cities with its half-dozen trucks on the list, lagging behind only New York City (10), San Francisco (12) and perennial street-eats powerhouse Los Angeles (15).

You could argue the Daily Meal even missed a few quality trucks in the District, like chef Jerry Trice's excellent ChefDriven (which may be closing down operations, we hear) or the rolling Peruvian chuck wagon, El Fuego, or my current favorite, Kushi-Moto. Or even Goodies Frozen Custard.

The truth is, I hadn't even tried Rito Loco before the Daily Meal's list appeared this week. So I tracked the truck down on Farragut Square this afternoon and asked the friendly man inside the tin can for his best burrito. "Probably the Rib Rito," he said. The Rib Rito ($8) it was.

If you've only experienced a burrito from a chain, you're in for a surprise with the Rib Rito. Within the hollow of this griddled flour-tortilla log, you will find no rice, black beans, sour cream, chopped lettuce or any other ingredients to provide contrasting flavors (or cheap, starchy filler), aside from random dices of red onion and tomato. No, the Rib Rito is packed tight with pulled baby-back rib meat, rich in juices and sly, insidious spices. It's sort of sweet on the palate, sort of piquant on the finish and a total anvil in the stomach. I found it simultaneously delicious and too much for one sitting.


Tea

Estimated Cost: $28 – $100 per pound.

Estimated Retail Price: $2 – $6 per unit depending on size.

How to make it work: One pound of tea leaves yields 200 (6 oz) cups. Even if you invest in higher-price teas there’s plenty of room for profit. According to reports, millennials (people born from 1981 – 1996) are drinking more unique flavors of tea, especially iced teas. There’s still increased consumption of the drink in the western world with tea sales doubling in recent years in Canada.

You only need to look as far as Starbucks to see that iced tea’s and fusion drinks are becoming more popular, especially in the afternoon when coffee is not enjoyed as often. Custom flavor ideas for your concession include strawberry basil iced tea, ginger detox, peach, or a mint lime tea cooler. You can find all sorts of recipes for these free online.


America's Top 10 Favorite Baked Goods

America's baking history is both diverse and delicious. Any favorites list (especially if based on editorial curiosity rather than hard data) is sure to spark debate, and we expect this one will be no different. After all, Americans are fiercely protective and passionate about beloved foods and recipes, and most of our fine fare is already rife with cloudy history and convoluted origin.

And the fact that you can put your own twist on most baked goods makes a favorites list even more difficult. Most baking recipes are particularly easy to modify, whether deliberately or by accident -- all it takes is a different shape of pan, a pinch of spice here or an "oops!" there. Countless numbers of these recipe variations are documented, thanks to America's love of cookbooks, so anyone can try his or her own personal take on a classic.

Keep reading to see how America's rich history continues to be shaped by innovation, pop culture and good taste.

History traces the twisted scraps of baked dough from Italy to Austria, Germany to the United States. Though it's likely pretzels landed stateside on the Mayflower, the waves of Dutch immigrants heading to Pennsylvania in the 1800s cemented the state's reputation as America's pretzel capital, and the Amish have gained a reputation for baking the best around.

Auntie Anne's, one of the largest purveyors of soft pretzels, is of Amish origin: Its founder, Anne Beiler, grew up in an Amish household and got her pretzel-twisting start in a farmer's market [source: Kovalchik]. The chain's grown to 1050 locations since 1987, tempting shopping mall patrons across the globe with a sweet, buttery aroma.

Pretzels remain such a part of Pennsylvania culture that an episode of "The Office" revolved around an annual free pretzel day. According to food personality Alton Brown, the average American eats 2 pounds (0.91 kilograms) of pretzels a year in Philadelphia, that number swells to 20 (9.1 kilogrames). Brown's a huge fan of pretzels and believes the interesting textures of the warm, soft version hold tremendous advantages over the hard-baked option. The bready elasticity is thanks to the generous amounts of yeast, which explains why the pretzel is such a good companion for beer. This might account for the pretzel's popularity in sports stadiums -- it's essentially a tasty sponge to soak up brew.

Variations on banana bread have been around forever, or so it seems. What food historians know, but can't explain, is that traditional banana bread enjoyed a sudden surge of popularity in the 1960s, despite a plethora of newly available cake and bread mixes. Its practicality (enabling conscious consumers to use up nearly rotting fruit), simple recipe and comforting aroma are all important factors, but they nevertheless fail to really account for banana bread's rising star.

The favoritism may come down to something as simple and undefinable as taste. Like most sweet, cakey things, banana bread's really easy to personalize -- just add more sweets. The 1962 edition of "The Good Housekeeping Cook Book" included recipes that added apricots and prunes in addition to the more common date and nut variations. Newer recipes include peanut butter or chocolate chips to capitalize on the kid-friendly appeal of such flavor combinations.

Quick breads are faster to make from scratch than their leavening counterparts (think batter, rather than dough) and are so named thanks to the absence of yeast in the recipe. This category of bread is often eaten as breakfast, dessert, or an accompaniment for coffee and tea. Quick breads can be made with nearly any "mashable" fruit or vegetable, like pumpkin, carrot or zucchini for cinnamon coffee cake, simply swirl in a streusel. The high moisture content yields cakelike results, and the most popular flavors are also ideal for muffins.

The first red velvet cakes were a result of better living through chemistry: When buttermilk and baking soda meet, they cause a reaction that results in a reddish tinge. The first known published recipe is dated 1962 before artificial dyes and digital editing tweaked our visual expectations, the offbeat but natural hue was enough to spark imagination.

Now, most chefs enhance the color's saturation to satisfy the masses. Purists prefer a version tinted with beets. When that doesn't cut it, food coloring is enlisted to make the red tint more crimson. Unfortunately, tricky bakers sometimes use the unnatural color to overwhelm your senses and disguise a bland cake.

For all the chatter about red velvet cake's color, little is said of the flavor. It should be rich with a subtle kiss of cocoa (though the actual chocolate content varies wildly in recipes), and it's traditionally topped and layered with white or cream cheese frosting to emphasize its most striking feature and contrast with the chocolate notes.

Nothing adds to a food's appeal like a good mystery once the color was explained, the question of red velvet cake's origin remained. It's reputed to be Southern in origin (supported by its prominence on the rosters of Southern restaurants and bakeries all over the country), though foodie urban myths abound that give credit to New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Here we have another concoction that can be traced to the mid-Atlantic. Few dispute the treat's Pennsylvania Dutch roots -- the state even boasts an annual whoopie pie eating contest held, of course, at the Whoopie Pie Festival. Throughout Maine and the rest of New England, though, whoopie pies are particularly celebrated.

Texture is key to the whoopie pie. The outer sections are dry, cakelike cookies cemented together with a thick layer of dense, heavy filling. Old recipes of Amish origin feature a filling composed mainly of sugar-saturated vegetable shortening, which leaves a greasy aftertaste.

Traditionally, the outers are a devil's-food-like chocolate, while the middle is a super-sweet vanilla flavor. Like most of the treats on our list, though, the formula just begs for tinkering. Common variations include pumpkin, maple or red velvet cookies with cream cheese frosting, or the ever-popular chocolate and peanut butter combo.

A handful of New England-based whoopie pie bakeries compete for the most counter space at the general store and the most outrageous flavor selections. Over the past several years, whoopie pies have earned shelf space at upscale bakeries and graced the pages of the Williams-Sonoma catalog [source: Maynard]. The fervor even inspired an ice cream flavor from Ben & Jerry's -- the short-lived, dearly departed "Makin' Whoopie Pie."

Though the word "muffin" can be traced back to 18th century Germany ("muffe" meaning, loosely, "small cake"), it's become an American breakfast basic. After the muffin crossed the Atlantic, it quickly gained recognition for its portability and versatility, since a wide variety of local fruits, veggies, nuts and spices could easily be added to the flexible recipes [source: North American Blueberry Council].

The native blueberry became a fast favorite in American muffin recipes, thanks to its sweetness, wide availability (it often could be found dried and preserved, even out of season), and the cheerful, unique violet color spread throughout each morsel. When scientists began to study nutrition and discovered the anti-aging powers of antioxidants, the indulgence became easier to justify -- blending low-calorie, notably nutrient-rich blueberries into each muffin diminishes the fluffy treat's guilt factor.

Blueberries' healthy hype is for real, even if the muffins have a lot to answer for. That might be why, according to the North American Blueberry Council, blueberry is the most popular muffin flavor in the country. Whether you're looking to offset your muffin's heft or simply enjoying one of America's favorite homegrown crops, blueberries let America pretend that even the most sugary, butter-laden breakfast can be vindicated by a generous handful of fruit.

Cornbread is truly American, in both origin and in tradition. Thanks to the widespread availability and convenience of corn, Native Americans depended on a diet of baked cornmeal concoctions long before Europeans stepped ashore. Today, cornbread serves the noble purpose of reviving rivalry between the North and South (though we think it's fairly good-natured).

Standard cornbread, which follows a quick bread formula, is great for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But while Northerners are generally content with a simple version from a cake pan (or in muffin form, for the sake of convenience), such complacency earns scorn south of the Mason-Dixon. Southerners are known to get particularly feisty, according to food author Regina Charboneau: "Cornbread in the South is as controversial as gumbo. Everyone has a recipe and everyone has an opinion."

The first debate: sweet or savory? Sweet cornbread, flavored with sugar, molasses or maple, is best topped with honey butter. Savory bread can get as hot as you like it. Try onions or jalapeno peppers for a kick, or grease the pan with bacon drippings for a smoky flavor.

Then, the cook must decide: cake or bread? For a cakelike texture, create a batter and use a cake pan. Often, though, cornbread connoisseurs will insist on serving straight from a cast iron skillet, the contents of which can be baked, steamed or fried.

Assuming it's not Turkey Day, cornbread can be served alone, topped with butter, or alongside a hearty bowl of chili. It can be crumbled into a stuffing for a poultry or seafood entree, or you can just grab a handful and go.

Woe unto the soul who tells steadfast Midwesterners that their beloved, century-old tradition is a fad. Over the past several years, though, the indulgent combination of a crunchy shell and fluffy filling inspired food consultants and restaurateurs to predict a gourmet version of the cream puff would become the next upscale dessert [source: Dougherty]. In 2004, two Japanese chains started several stateside franchises, starting in Manhattan and expanding outward. The franchise cream puff is marketed as a luxury experience, but whether the concept can stand the test of time remains to be seen.

All of this matters little to Wisconsinites, who have held the basic, no-frills cream puff in a position of reverence for more than 150 years [source: MSNBC]. The denizens of the Badger State gather at the annual Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis to watch as large pastry shells are piled high with filling, available in one flavor: whipped cream. These fat- and calorie-laden treats are consumed by the truckload in homage to the agricultural industry, using locally sourced milk, cream and eggs. Bakers work around the clock to satisfy demand, and according to the Wisconsin Bakers Association, 345,000 puffs were devoured at 2009's fair.

Like the famous Wisconsin puffs, the Japanese approach emphasizes freshness, but that's where the similarities end. At a cream puff bakery, the puff pastry shells and custard filling are prepared in fresh batches several times a day. Wisconsinites boast about the quality (and volume!) of the cream, but the puff is the focus of dessert shops. Choux pastry, composed of butter, flour and eggs, is also used for similar French sweets like profiteroles and eclairs.

The bagel is instantly recognizable, ubiquitous in our breakfast-obsessed culture, undisputedly Jewish in origin, but hardly the first round-shaped bread. The first rolls-with-a-hole, found in the Mediterranean, were unlike the bagels we know and love they weren't boiled before they were baked. Bakers in Poland are credited with developing the method that develops a definitive, glossy crust. This hard outer layer drastically increased the bread's shelf life [source: Nathan].

This made bagels a practical choice to pack for a transatlantic cruise. Soon, more bagels were sighted on American shores, and their popularity grew. Eastern European immigrants arriving in U.S. cities were comforted by the sight of a familiar food. Jewish bakers modified their recipes to comply with kosher laws, catering to a key demographic while further increasing the unique bread's prevalence. The International Beigel Bakers' Union was created in 1907 in New York City, cementing its reputation as America's bagel capital.

Over a century later, sales are still increasing as Americans grab more breakfast on the fly. According to breakfast sales data from 2008, bagels (13.3 percent of sales) trailed doughnuts and muffins (34.3 and 20 percent, respectively). However, overall bagel sales had increased more than 10 percent from a nearly identical time frame in 2007, even though they usually cost more than doughnuts and muffins.

Murray Lender, a first-generation American whose father had immigrated from Poland, discovered that bagels could be frozen and thawed without serious impact on flavor and texture, increasing their availability across the country. Before, they were limited to areas with large Jewish and Polish populations. Pinnacle Foods, which now owns the Lender's brand, was the No. 2 seller of frozen bagels in the United States in 2007, with sales just breaking the $25 million mark. In 2009, Lender's was the No. 10 overall bagel brand [source: AIB International].

The exact year of the first chocolate chip cookie is up for debate. Different sources date its genesis to 1930, 1933 and 1937. Regardless, it's earned its rightful place as America's favorite cookie, and like many awesome innovations, it arrived somewhat by accident. According to dessert lore, Ruth Wakefield, proprietor of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts, was baking a batch of "Butter Drop Do" cookies and decided to blend in a chopped chocolate bar, expecting it to melt and flavor the whole batch of dough.

Instead, the bits stayed solid. Mrs. Wakefield liked the haphazard marriage of texture and flavor, and the method quickly earned space in the pages of a Boston newspaper and heavy rotation in recipe repertoires across New England. Nestle, whose semi-sweet chocolate bars were featured in the Toll House Cookie (and who later negotiated with Mrs. Wakefield for the rights to the Toll House name), saw a spike in sales in areas where the recipe had been published, prompting the company to create the product we came to know as the chocolate chip.

Now, the beloved chocolate chip cookie is available nearly everywhere in America. The dough can be enhanced with cocoa, coffee, melted chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal or canned pumpkin the chips can be dark or white and coupled with nuts, butterscotch or candy-coated varieties they can be baked chewy or crisp. Often, the dough is eaten raw before it even makes it to the oven. Faced with these distractions, it's easy to forget that you can enjoy a chocolate chip cookie in pure form, home-baked and fresh off the sheet, falling apart as it's dipped in a glass of milk.

The chocolate chip cookie's rise to popularity was well underway by the beginning of World War II, thanks to the recipe's frequent publication and a mention on Betty Crocker's radio show. But a detour to Europe rapidly cemented the cookie's reputation as an All-American specialty. Soldiers often received care packages with home-baked goods, but were only allowed to keep them for 24 hours -- rather than let the food go to waste, they decided to share [source: Beyer].

You might have noticed that many of the classics we've chosen have European origins, which is something that's inevitable. Not to disappoint you, but the beloved apple pie, born in Great Britain, is no exception. No worries, though, since we've thoroughly and wholeheartedly embraced it as our own. What's not to love? It's sweet, tart, reasonably easy to make and extremely rewarding. The recipe can be as complicated as the chef, but even the simplest method can yield intricate results by experimenting with the variety of apple. And in the United States, we have apple choices aplenty, all over the country.

Once you've mastered the basics -- the apples, filling and pastry -- why stop there? By now, it's pretty clear that a creative chef can yield to intuition. Nearly anything stirred into a legacy recipe gets reasonably tasty results. Apple pie's no exception. The top crust can be vented or latticed, or, as they do in Pennsylvania, removed in favor of crumb. The filling can be highlighted with nuts, raisins or liquor. In Vermont, a slice of pie (sweetened with a dash of maple, if you're lucky) is accompanied by a slice of sharp cheddar.

Few things have so strongly captured our national collective imagination, despite the British pedigree, so it's only fitting we turn to the Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms for an explanation of the ubiquitous catchphrase, "As American as apple pie." They say, simply, it means, "To be typically American."

One of the most fascinating variations of apple pie doesn't even involve the namesake ingredient. When desperate and faced with the absence of actual apples, a substitute -- especially a shelf-stable one -- will suffice. In mock apple pie, crackers take the place of apple slices, and the other ingredients are nearly the same. History suggests Civil War soldiers simulated apple pie with their rations of crackerlike hard bread food historians believe the covered-wagon crowd were the real pioneers [source: Kracklauer]. It's a long-lasting testament to American ingenuity.


25 Waffle Iron Recipes To Make With Your Waffle Maker

Ever wondered what to do with your waffle maker aside from breakfast treats? Feast your eyes on this list of easy and inventive waffle iron recipes!


Beyond the Food Truck: Six Ideas for Mobile Food Businesses

Even when you don't have a lot of money or time, you still want a tasty meal, and mobile food businesses are uniquely positioned to provide it. Whether serving crepes from a splashily painted food truck, a bacon-wrapped hotdog from a push cart, or Baskin-Robbins ice cream from a franchised kiosk, food is going where consumers are.

Even though street food is enjoying a resurgence, this is a tried-and-true business model that's fed generations of eaters. Today, there are approximately 3 million food trucks operating in the U.S., more than 5 million food carts, and an unknown number of kiosks.

If you multiply the following six mobile options with the myriad cuisines and foods you can serve, possible locations, and the time of day you are open, your options for a mobile food business are endless.

1. Food kiosks
Food kiosks are temporary booths or stands used to prepare and sell foods like pretzels, ice cream and hot dogs. The low overhead, flexibility and ease by which a kiosk can be opened and closed are among the reasons why they&rsquore so popular. Because they are usually operating indoors, kiosk owners typically sign licensing agreements at malls, stadiums, movie theaters or other locations. Many major food businesses such as Ben & Jerry&rsquos franchise express kiosks.

2. Food carts and concession trailers

This style of mobile food business has been around for decades and is a multibillion-dollar industry. Cart owners prepare food in advance or purchase ready-made food like ice cream bars. Then, the food is heated up or pulled from the freezer. Food carts used to focus on simple fare like ice cream and hot dogs, but have expanded their menus in recent years to include dishes like kebobs, gyros, salads, and fish and chips.

Food carts usually either have room for the vendor to be inside and serve food through a window, or they utilize all the cart space for food storage and cooking equipment. Concession trailers, on the other hand, are often found at fairs, sporting events, or other places where they can be unhitched and sit for awhile. Unlike most carts, trailers allow for cooking and have room for two or three people inside.

Carts are less expensive than food trucks, and are usually pulled by a vehicle or pushed by hand. They're fairly easy to maintain and, in many areas, require less licensing than the full-sized food trucks.

3. Food trucks
Larger than carts, trucks can carry more food and handle more business. However, food trucks need more space to park both when doing business and when off-duty.

A food truck can carry more sophisticated equipment for storing, serving, cooking and preparing foods. Food trucks can serve traditional quick lunch fare, be stocked with food from concessionaires, be run by a chain restaurant like In-n-Out or California Pizza Kitchen, or serve gourmet fare by an up-and-coming chef. They can do big business in corporate parks and places that have limited access to restaurants.

There are two types of food trucks: the mobile food preparation vehicle (MFPV), where food is prepared as customers wait, and the industrial catering vehicle (ICV), which sells only prepackaged foods. An MFPV costs more than an ICV, and both cost more than a food cart. A used hotdog cart may cost under $2,500, while a retro-fitted used food truck typically costs $30,000 or more. A new MFPV could cost upwards of $100,000. Complying with additional health department rules and regulations can also drive up food truck costs.

4. Gourmet food trucks
Basically the same as a food truck, the gourmet food truck takes food quality to a higher level. Of the 4,000 food trucks licensed to do business in the Los Angeles area, only about 115 are considered gourmet. They are run by ambitious young chefs who offer cuisine not typically found in food trucks, such as specialty crepes, Korean-Mexican fusion, osso buco or velvet cupcakes. Many gourmet trucks have specialties and themes. In addition, they let their clientele know where they&rsquoll be parked through their websites and social media sites like Twitter. While food trucks need not have kitchens, gourmet trucks are more likely to have food prepared on the spot -- and high-end food at that.

5. Mobile catering businesses
Mobile catering trucks are similar to mobile food trucks, but are hired for specific events. The client chooses food from a catering menu, and the truck then serves the food at the event.

The differences between catering trucks and food trucks are primarily in the manner of doing business. One particular advantage of a mobile catering business is you're not risking as much in inventory because you are cooking and bringing food as ordered for the party. You also have a specific destination, so you need not worry whether your favorite destinations will be busy or not.

6. Bustaurants
As the name implies, a bustaurant is not a truck but a bus, often a double-decker with the lower level for the kitchen and the upper level for customers to sit and eat. This is a new concept and hasn't really been proven yet, especially since the idea tests a rash of licensing issues. They also require more room to park, and are more costly to start because the buses need to be fully refurbished.


Oink and Moo Food Truck Wins No. 2 in The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Food Trucks in America 2017

Oink and Moo, a food truck that has operated in New Jersey since 2012, is making big news! The truck is known throughout NJ towns like Hoboken and Asbury Park, but after expanding to Philadelphia, it won a Vendy award for Rookie of the Year. Now, The Daily Meal has rated Oink and Moo the No. 2 best food truck in the United States. The food is straight up BBQ—beef brisket or pulled pork sliders, chili, tacos, quesadillas, and ribs. There is also a brick-and-mortar location in Florham Park.

We profiled Oink and Moo in our Food Truck Roundup in the Summer 2014 issue. Care to read it again? You can find it on our website! Food trucks—and the smiles they elict—never get old and bring a fun twist to any event. Congrats, Oink and Moo. We’re bursting with Jersey pride for your success.

Who says you can’t have a meeting without some pampering mixed in? Several hot springs resorts in the U.S. Mountain West can accommodate smaller meetings complete with lodging, function space, din- ing and soaking. Some even have on-site spas and other standout features like an ice museum or microbrewery to include on an itinerary.

Erase any vision you might have of a dude ranch, especially the “City Slicker” version. For the purposes of this story, let’s use the name ranch resort and picture a big dose of vision and thousands of acres for both herds and people to roam. It’s a fairly different option, but one with similar friendliness and the Western spirit of a dude ranch.


Watch the video: History of Food Trucks (August 2022).