In the few weeks since I filed the first installment of "Food Truck Fever," three new trucks have announced their imminent arrivals: one selling bagel sandwiches, another burgers, a third street food from the south of Mexico. It wouldn't surprise me if three more trucks pipe up before this dispatch reaches your eyeballs.
Even more remarkable than the sheer number of food trucks — more than two dozen to date — might be the new places they're finding to park. A recent day found yours truly driving around a west-county office park, anonymous mirrored-glass building after anonymous mirrored-glass building, following the promise of tacos.
At the service window of Shell's Coastal Cuisine, I order two tacos ($7.50, which includes sides of cilantro rice and black beans) and step aside. The next customer orders the Cuban sandwich. He's in luck: They still have one left. Shell's Coastal started serving at eleven, and now it's only a few minutes after noon, so the sellout suggests that even here, in this office parking lot at I-64's Mason Road exit, the truck has found a receptive audience.
A beach scene adorns the exterior of Shell's Coastal Cuisine. Owner Shelley McMahan offers a small selection of what she calls "Floribbean" fare: tacos filled with grilled meat, seafood or vegetables; the aforementioned Cuban sandwich; another sandwich featuring shrimp sautéed in white wine and butter.
The tacos are served with your choice of steak, chicken, shrimp, fish or zucchini (all grilled). Each is topped with cilantro, Cotija cheese, crema spiked with key-lime juice, and grilled bell peppers and onions. You select corn or flour tortillas and a red (tomato-based) or green (tomatillo-based) salsa.
The toppings are sound, with bright, fresh flavors. The tomatillo salsa is especially good. The meats, though, could use some work. Specifically, they lack seasoning. Shrimp fares best — simply seasoned but seasoned all the same, the shrimp's natural sweetness edged with pepper. There's a hint of cumin to the chicken, but only a hint. The steak (flank) could use a stronger marinade (if it has one at all), which would boost flavor and tenderness. The fish, sway (like tilapia, without the muddy note), has a strange texture, more mealy than moist, and absolutely no flavor.
The Cuban sandwich ($7.50), named the "90 Minutes to Cuban" in a nod to Cuba's proximity to the U.S. mainland, is the classic arrangement: roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread. The pickles and the bright yellow mustard are the dominant flavors, snappy complements to the pork. The sandwich comes with crisp, thin and perfectly salted sweet-potato chips.
My favorite dish might have been the side of black beans with a drizzle of crema that accompanies the tacos. After the tartness of the crema fades, there's a late-arriving but lingering heat — a welcome moment of authentic surprise.
Falafelwich Wagon debuted in June, the first of three trucks from business partners Gary Tripp and Colin Shive. It was followed this fall by Big Balls, a meatball truck; coming next year is Kreamwich, which will offer ice-cream sandwiches. Falafelwich isn't a food truck in the usual sense, but an old-fashioned lunch wagon (or roach coach, to use the vernacular). The food is prepared at a commissary kitchen, then served from the back of a modified pick-up truck.
Falafelwich offers four sandwiches, each served stuffed in bread that looks like pita but has slightly more body. Of these, the best by far is the gyro ($7). The strips of meat are tender and flavorful; though they're all beef rather than the traditional log of beef and lamb, the seasonings are calibrated so you'd never guess the lamb was missing. The sandwich is simply the beef and rice; lettuce, tomato, Kalamata olives and tzatziki sauce are supplied in separate containers to add as you like.
The "Curried Chicken Wich" ($7) features chunks of boneless chicken breast seasoned with curry and simmered in coconut milk with garlic and ginger. This sandwich gets a pilaf made with jasmine rice and featuring golden raisins, toasted almond slivers, red onion and bits of green apple. It all sounds delicious, and mostly it is, but the curry seasoning isn't strong enough to counterbalance the sweetness of the raisins and apple.
Falafelwich's flagship creation ($6) doesn't fare well at all. For one thing, the filling consists of crumbly falafel and couscous — a pairing of similar textures that's tiresome to eat. There's red onion, cucumber, tomato with parsley, olive oil and lemon juice, but not enough of those to compensate for the main ingredients' mealy one-two punch.
As a side Falafelwich serves crunchy chips of fried naan ($2) in your choice of three flavors: plain sea salt; garlic and Parmesan; and cinnamon-sugar. I tried the two savory varieties, both of which benefited from a dip in one of Falafelwich's three signature sauces: tahini, roasted-garlic tahini and a blend of sriracha and red pepper.
The gyro with a side of naan chips is a filling, tasty lunch — and at $9 a decent value. Had Tripp and Shive not already committed to Falafelwich as a name, I'd suggest making the gyro the focus of the brand.
Then again, not long after Falafelwich began plying the streets of St. Louis, someone else rolled out a gyro truck.