Without a doubt, the gourmet food truck scene is one of the hottest trends rolling right now in the gastronomical world. Between the TV offerings of, The Great Food Truck Race on The Food Network, and Eat St on The Cooking Channel, to President Obama tweeting about his fave truck in D.C., (D.C. Empanadas) you just can’t get any more au courant with a hopefully, long lasting fad.
It all started just a short four years ago here on the West Coast, with the Kogi BBQ truck in Los Angeles. I remember reading about it when I still lived there and was hoping to catch up with it someday, but never did.
In the beginning of 2010, the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association (SoCalMFVA) was created, becoming the first organization started to protect the rights of gourmet food truck owners.
Also in 2010, Los Angeles starting giving letter grades to food trucks just like they do in restaurants. Even the prestigious Zagat Guide added food trucks to its rating guide in 2011.
And of course, this is a phenomenon that is busting out all over big cities across the U.S.
Along with our world famous micro brew scene, the food trucks are trending right here in San Diego too. I have been to several of the local food truck gatherings. This is when maybe four to a dozen trucks gather in different spots and invite the public to come sample their wares. It’s an awesome way to try many different varieties of food. The more friends you go with, the more you can sample, as you can share what you have bought. There is Asian, Mexican, Seafood, Italian, Thai, American, BBQ, Vegetarian, etc. Something for everyone is the motto at these events.
And aren’t we lucky, because right in our little town of OB, we have our very own mobile gourmet gastrotruck, the Ocean Beach Seafood Truck, owned by John and Angie Patnode.
John and Angie moved here from Seattle late last year and fell in love with OB. John was already a sea foodie, being a fish monger in London, and at the world famous Pike Place Market in Seattle. As a chef friend of mine said, it takes as much talent to pick out fresh fish as it does to cook it right. And cook it more than right, the Patnode’s have proven.
While most gourmet food trucks’ offerings are not of the healthiest fare, John picks out fresh local fish every morning at his seafood purveyor, then cleans and fillets it right on the truck. There is no deep fryer on their truck, so you get the freshest, and most good-for-you food as possible. They are unique in the fact that no other truck serves fresh fish with no fried offerings as they do. John also has the very efficient help of Haley Williams, cooking in the truck with him. Affable Angie takes the orders and stands outside and schmoozes with the customers.
They even have a name for their truck. They call her Pearl….get it? Oysters, Pearl?
I swore off oysters myself many years ago. Just didn’t like the taste or the texture. But John said you have to try one again, it’s like a taste of the ocean. A little truckmade cocktail sauce, a little lemon, and boy, it really was like a delicious morsel from the sea. I guess I just had never had them that fresh before. And you can buy oysters one by one, or an oyster shooter.
Have tried most everything on the menu, even though the fresh fish of the day may change, they always have fresh grilled fish plates with sides that may vary too, but I recently had some garlic baby red potatoes that were quite delicious. Absolutely love their Yellowtail burgers, their scallop skewers, shrimp cocktail, fish tacos, steamed clams, they pretty much have it all covered when it comes to satisfying any Afishianado’s (an Angieism!) cravings.
One of the fun things about their truck is that John keeps all the whole fish, filleted fish and shellfish on ice right in that display area on the side of the truck where one usually sees drinks and chips. It’s amazing to see the fish, with clear eyes (an important sign of freshness) and all the other seafood yummies just sitting there ripe for the shucking and filleting.
Another feature of the OB Seafood Truck is that you can buy any size piece of fish, as John will portion it up for you to take home and cook yourself. That goes for the shellfish too.
Angie also works for Microsoft as a project manager, so this woman knows how to market and promote their business. Pearl now appears at most of the local food truck gatherings, (see link above for locations) which go on most any night during the week. From La Mesa, to North Park, from Chula Vista to Normal Heights, there are at least fifteen gatherings going on all week long.
One of the biggest coups they have scored is the Charger’s games. Yep, you can find them along with three other trucks at various home games and they just love doing them. The fans have been awesome and very supportive.
You will now find their truck and many others at local festivals, events and just recently, Pearl appeared at the launch party of the new Little Fish Comic Book Studios on Voltaire St.
Their new regular spot in OB, is on Wednesday nights in the parking lot of the Ocean Beach Hotel on Newport Ave. It’s a great combo for both businesses. Guests staying at the hotel get a 10% discount on their meals. You can find them there from 4 pm to about 8 pm.
A question I had for Angie was, ‘where in the heck do you park Pearl every night?’ I learned that all food trucks are parked at one of several commissaries around San Diego that are specifically designed to house food carts and trucks. They are inspected there by the Health Department too. And boy do they pay rent there.
Now, we move onto the dark side of the food truck scene. Yes, there is a dark side.
Food trucks must carry various licenses and permits that they have to produce if asked for by local authorities. Some brick and mortar businesses don’t like having them around. They think they steal business from them. John and Angie’s truck has been chased off quite a few streets in OB by angry restaurant owners claiming they own certain streets and have threatened to call the Health Department on them even when they have a legal right to be there. I can vouch for this, as I have witnessed it happening.
Some may remember the delicious German Mariscos Truck that was parked in the Apple Tree Parking Lot on Cable and Santa Monica St. Rumor has it that local businesses complained and they were asked to leave. I think this quote from the miho gastrotruck.com web site says it all when they hear this complaint from local businesses:
“It’s not fair for you to be here when you don’t pay rent.”
”I think this is a common, and somewhat valid, perspective of many local business owners in the areas that we have been visiting. They feel that we have an unfair advantage as direct or indirect competitors.
First of all, I’d like to point out that catering trucks have been around for decades, and only recently since trucks have started to serve high quality food have businesses started digging through the out-dated municipal code to find ways to shut us down.
Anyway, how do I put this…we do pay rent. More rent than we’d like and more rent than we ever expected getting into this. To legally operate a “mobile food preparation unit,” aka hot food truck, it is required to be parked in an official truck commissary where all the trucks in San Diego must go to discard their waste; purchase propane, electricity, and water; and store their vehicle. We also pay the city for licenses and permits to operate our MFPU.
Finally, in order to legally cook and prepare food outside of the MFPU, we pay rent at a fully permitted commercial kitchen. After researching this kind of operation for the good part of 9 months and actually launching it in the last month or so, we personally believe that certain parts of the municipal code are ill-conceived and generally serve no actual benefit to the community. But that argument is definitely a losing battle. The law is the law.
Are you still with me? Now to the part that really concerns us as local San Diegans – born & raised as a matter of fact. The only reason that law enforcement and city officials are spending their time hunting down MIHO is because local businesses are filing complaints.
It’s one thing if we really are breaking the law, but it’s another thing if you’re just trying to shut someone down because they’re competing with your business. One of the main motivations behind MIHO is to put San Diego on the map.
Our first attempt is obviously with MIHO Gastrotruck. All we want to do is make high quality, world-class street food for our friends and neighbors. As San Diegans, we support ANY individuals or businesses that are offering quality, creativity, and integrity. That’s what we wanted to bring to our city, and we prayed that our city would embrace us for doing so. We’re going to stick to our goals, and we’re going to get this all figured out.”
John and Angie have experienced what the MIHO truck is talking about. They were a bit surprised at the unwelcome gestures they received from some of the local businesses, and yet were embraced by others. They really expected a warmer greeting from the little town that espouses, ‘live and let live’. Only time will tell how they fare here. I for one, hope they are around for a long time. Because when you think about it, there really is no fresh seafood in our city by the sea! Most of what you find here is frozen. Ironic? Maybe that is what the competition is really scared about, eh?