Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: when MCC launched five years ago, one of our recurring habits was keeping tabs on the Indianapolis food truck experience whenever those mighty mobile merchants rocked my world and my lunchtime. (Past entries were here, here, here, here, and here, though a few of the older trucks are sadly no longer with us.) They’re not in my path as often as I’d like, but we see enough of them from time to time that the occasional gallery is warranted as our way of thanking these eminent entrepreneurs for outstanding achievement in the field of edible excellence.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: when we launched four years ago, one of our first miniseries was an ongoing look at the then-burgeoning food truck craze that was sweeping downtown Indianapolis, improving quality of life and giving me viable lunch options besides middling pizza and Subway. (Past entries were here, here, here, and here, though I know a few of those trucks have left the road since then.) The reviews stopped when all that food-truck food exceeded my restricted work-lunch budget, and when they stopped showing up within convenient walking distance.
This summer my wife and I attended multiple events here in town, which we’ve talked about here at length over the past four months. Food trucks showed up to save us on most of these occasions, but I withheld their pics for some future, separate group gallery rather than sandwiching them between photos of parade floats and cosplayers. I was planning to share these within the next two weeks anyway, but with the politically endearing hashtag #tacostrucksoneverycorner now justly trending on Twitter, now’s as good a time as any to catch the mobile-foodie wave, especially since Labor Day is coming up and your fall wardrobe and your precious pumpkin-spiced everything may clash with a few of these.
It’s that time again! The Indiana State Fair is an annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides and big-ticket concerts by musicians that other people love. My wife and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context. Usually, 70% of our quest is food.
Each year the State Fair announces the annual theme of a single ingredient and holds a contest daring all the vendors to create a new dish around it, like a sort of Food Network cooking show except I think the grand prize is just “for exposure”. Recent history has brought us the Year of the Tomato, the Year of Corn, the Year of Soy, the Year of Popcorn, and last year’s disappointingly non-food-based Year of the Coliseum, in honor of the longtime event venue that had reopened after a two-year closure for extensive renovations. This year’s theme was “the Year of the Farmer”, a.k.a. “the Year We Ran Out of Food Themes”. For anyone who thought “the Year of the Coliseum” wasn’t directionless enough, 2015 had only a handful of the many vendors offering a random, disconnected assortment of ostensibly new dishes, at least one of which was flat-out pretending to be new.
We tried to make the most of it anyway and found a few items worth actual dollars.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife and I attended Gen Con 2014 and took pictures as usual.
The first five parts were all costumes, costumes, costumes. In this, the final chapter in the Gen Con 2014 saga: slightly fewer costumes. Because there are other persons, places, and things at entertainment conventions besides costumes. Yes, really.
In our previous installment, you saw signs of the forthcoming spring as heralded through the exhibits at the 2014 Indiana Flower and Patio Show. While flowers were the star attraction, they weren’t the only uncommon objects on site. The two buildings that contained this year’s show were filled with various examples of gardens, patios, spas, tools, local repairmen, self-employed salespeople, As Seen on TV hucksters, chocolate stands, and concrete constructions we’ll never be able to afford.
Also, someone turned a piano into a fountain. See, music lovers, this is what happens when you walk away from your talent and abandon your instrument: someone jams a hose in it and turns it into their patio centerpiece.
It’s that time of year again! This weekend GenCon returns to Indianapolis for another extended weekend of gaming and related forms of competition and geekery. My wife and I aren’t fullly accredited gamers, but we frequently find interesting activities and objects tangentially included in the proceedings, so we’ve dropped in on a few Saturdays. This year marks a bold new experiment for us: we’ll be taking our nephew along for the ride. Should be fun.
This year’s GenCon kicked off early today with a pre-show party downtown on Georgia Street, east of the Indiana Convention Center. Whereas the official focus was on alcohol provided by locally owned Sun King Brewery, we non-drinkers took advantage of the large cluster of food trucks on hand.
For those who didn’t attended GenCon 2012 in Indianapolis last weekend and are beginning to wonder: yes, the gaming convention had games, for playing as well as for buying. Participation in most gaming sessions and tournaments requires extra ticket purchases above and beyond your admission fee, so your personal budget has to be drastically inflated accordingly. Foreknowledge of the game and its rules is a plus, thus shutting me out of a good number of opportunities. Also, I always worry that my first try will devolve into an hours-long heated debate about everyone’s variant rules they use back home versus what the rulebook actually mandates. And then there would be egos involved, followed by machismo, expressed through the throwing of dice and props at me, and then my whole weekend is in shambles and I have to forfeit the game and fees out of concern for my safety and mood. Rather than risk this ludicrous scenario coming to life, I leave the gameplay to others.
My wife and I did play-test one game in the exhibit hall. Luckily for us, the folks at Smirk and Dagger Games are always accommodating to inexperienced passersby who seek something that’s different instead of alienating. It helps that they never seem to have crowded tables. The last time I attended GenCon, I bought a copy of Run for Your Life, Candyman, a spoof of Candyland that adds a violent gingerbread-man-on-gingerbread-man combat system, after they impressed me with a demo of its then-upcoming sequel, Shoots and Ladders, in which the armed cookie-killers are transplanted into a familiar, interconnected, 100-square setting. This time around we tried Sutakku, in which those frustrating small and large straights from Yahtzee are given slightly relaxed rules, then adapted into a tower-building scenario using a handful of d6’s whose standard pips are replaced with Japanese kanji. The game master handily beat us, but I’m proud that it wasn’t a shutout. $24 seemed steep for a handful of designer dice, a cardboard circle, a rulebook, a scorepad, and a deck of tiny penalty cards that worked much the same as the “Share the Wealth” cards from Life, but it was fun while it lasted.
Beyond that, the following photo parade captures an assortment of sights and statues from our GenCon 2012 thumbs-up experience:
Previously I shared my impressions of sixteen different competitors in the burgeoning field of Indianapolis food truckery, still available in parts one, two, and three. These wondrous, infrequently convenient providers still enliven many a humdrum rat-race weekday…and they won’t stop multiplying.
In the month that’s passed since the conclusion of the trilogy, I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with four more trucks, all worth hunting down.
Hoosier Fat Daddy’s Food Bus — Some trucks too closely resemble delivery trucks and repair services. I’m embarrassed how many times I’ve looked out the window and convinced myself I’ve spotted a new truck, only to realize it’s just a crew of linemen from Indianapolis Power and Light. The HFD distinctive purple bus doesn’t share that problem. Their meat loaf sliders were right up my alley, mostly because I’m the only member of my household who’ll eat meat loaf, a rare treat in my eyes because of meat loaf deprivation. The Barney-colored purveyor of cuisine Americana also offer rib tips and turkey legs, for those seeking traditional fare in non-slider formats.
Chuck Wagon Deli — As one of the few people on Earth who winces whenever he sees a Subway sign (long story), I had low expectations when approaching the very nicely painted truck that offers deli sandwiches, something I rarely crave because I’ve eaten cold turkey sandwiches for lunch three days a week for over a decade. Then I found out that a six-inch extra-wide jam-packed fully flavorful Philly cheesesteak and a bag of chips would only set me back $4.50. I was also impressed at their selection of nearly a dozen different sandwiches. Most food trucks are lucky to have half that much variety. For the space of one meal, I recanted my anti-sub hate and mentally awarded them five stars out of four.
Circle City Spuds — Also not normally exciting to me: baked potatoes. My wife can’t get enough of them. I can. I gave Circle City Spuds a shot nonetheless, and found myself the proud, temporary owner of a fresh, hot potato topped with BBQ pulled pork and macaroni-‘n’-cheese. As toppings. Yes, it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t care. If it helps, some of their varieties contain healthy vegetables, including but not limited to broccoli. You can enjoy those while I go back to reminiscing about my amazing mac-‘n’-pork potato of death.
Some of This, Some of That — At last, after several timing failures, SOTSOT finally stopped by on a day when I could avail myself of their Cajun fare. I take it as a good sign that they’ve upgraded to a larger truck and ditched their original illegible logo in favor of bright red boldness that fairly glows from across the street. I grumbled as I waited one-third of my half-hour lunch break for them to whip up a sausage po’boy, but it was so generous and pretty, I forgave them as I carried it back to work amidst stares from jealous passersby. It was one of the sloppiest food-truck dishes I’ve had to date, but I can live with that.
With those, my personal food-truck sampling total now stands at twenty. I know more trucks are out there somewhere, plying their wares in the wrong parts of the city and intentionally avoiding my money. FINE. Suit yourselves. I’ll just be over here lamenting what might have been and still avoiding Subway as much as possible.
Concluding my recollections of what our local food trucks have done for me. My experiences with the following trucks weren’t exactly scarring, but arguably had margin for improvement. Some cases may have been singular events unlike the average customer’s experience; others may simply not be my cup of tea.
Scratchtruck — Our side of downtown offers very few oases for large, fast burgers. Make no mistake, I was grateful for the chance to try their 1/3-pound Scratch Burgers, topped with bacon marmalade, arugula and gorgonzola. It was worth the money and deserves some repeat business. My fries, which cooled off in no time flat, were less demanding of an encore.
West Coast Tacos — The granddaddy of all trucks, the one that started it all here in Indy. They were the first to specialize in imaginative tacos bereft of cheese, lettuce, or tomatoes. They’re absolutely not a Taco Bell homage. Unfortunately, when I tried three varieties in one meal, the meat on my chicken teriyaki taco tasted as though it had been sitting in a dry marinating pan for hours. As someone who once worked at McDonald’s during a time when they failed at venturing into the fajita market, I know a thing or two about dry marinating pans and the meat they ruin. If I’m wrong and that texture was intentional, then this isn’t my thing after all.
Molly’s Great Chicago Fire — Chicago-style hot dogs with tons of toppings. Great toppings and decent deli-style buns, but on a good day our downtown also has hot dog carts with same-size dogs for half the price. They’re the only truck I know with a breakfast menu (my all-time favorite food group), but I’ve never seen them around in the morning.
Der Pretzel Wagen — I support the concept of pretzels presented in various wondrous forms. My pretzel dogs were great, but when der Wagenmeister asked if I wanted any mustard, I had the audacity to ask for mustard…and ketchup. I could feel the temperature in the air between us drop fifteen degrees as he searched the truck for a packet with such a look. In my defense, I don’t insist on ketchup for every hot dog I eat. I almost never dump it on burgers or fries. Sometimes I’m just in a weird mood and don’t feel responsible for upholding everyone else’s high-falutin’ culinary standards. Besides, if I really wanted to gauche it up, I would’ve asked for Cheez Whiz, or maybe grape jelly.
Groovy Guys Gourmet Fries — Nacho fries, pizza fries, and other variations in the topped-fries genre. The top layer of my steak-‘n’-cheese fries was a small, delectable meal. Below the surface, all that remained were ordinary fries. I had hoped in vain for total meat saturation. They also offered deluxe fry dips such as hummus and sesame ginger sauce — something I should try next time, perhaps, but not as a main dish. I’ll need to pack a sandwich that day.
The following trucks have parked nearby but found ways for me to miss them anyway:
Some of This, Some of That — The first couple times they stopped by, their logo was so hard to read that I couldn’t discern their name well enough from my floor to google them for details. Eventually I caught the name and learned they’re another Cajun truck. I wouldn’t mind trying them, but they’ve mastered the art of hanging out only on days when I have no extra money. That bad timing is totally not their fault, unless they have spy sensors in my wallet and a cruel sense of humor.
Side Wok Dumplings — The first time I noticed them out front, a police car later double-parked near them with lights flashing and hung out for quite a while. The next time they appeared, the sign on their side had been removed. I haven’t seen them since. Their last tweet was five months ago. I’m betting somewhere out there is a great anecdote that connects those sketchy details.
Fat Sammies — An Italian food truck should be a saucy, intoxicating experience. I wish I knew. They pulled away just as I was walking toward them with cash on hand and appetite in stomach. This happened twice. The second time, it was 12:30 on a Friday. As of this writing their last tweet was four months ago. I sense something is amiss.
The list presented in this three-part miniseries is by no means complete. I’m aware of a few trucks that stake out territories outside downtown, and not just in the suburbs. I’ve found this is the biggest drawback to the food truck concept: if you know a specific truck you want to sample, or if you grow too attached to a great one, then you may have to hunt them down. Their collective, lively Twitter presence is a boon for keeping fans and foodies informed of their whereabouts, as are food-truck locator sites such as Roaming Hunger or TruxMap.
More often than not, you’ll have to be patient and wait for them to appear unto you as a pleasant surprise. I like to think the stronger and more popular among them are here to stay. Just the same, check ’em out when the opportunity arises, before a food truck glut begins culling more of the herd…or worse, before someone gives Unigov a reason to brainstorm harsh new rules and regulations to appease their brick-‘n’-mortar competition.