Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lunch | food cartin' along

As of late, I've been checking out a few food carts over the last couple weeks -- after all, that's what warm weather encourages -- so I thought I'd amalgamate them all here in one post, though I'm sure there will be another installment this summer of some new carts I will have checked out!

I started a new job back in November, so ultimately my go-to lunch spots, formerly in the Midtown/Times Square area, became wiped clean now that I work downtown in the Financial District. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of inexpensive lunch spots to go around (many of which include food carts of all kinds of cuisines and gourmet levels. So much territory to explore and eat my way through, so lots of potential write-ups in the making!

Phil's Steaks is a food cart that parks its wheels in FiDi on Thursdays, usually on Water and John. Notice the graphic logo of the cracked Liberty Bell to pay homage to the cheesesteak's place of origin, Philadelphia.

Phil's Steaks boasts as being New York City's first authentic Philly cheesesteak truck.

The menu offers two sizes (a full hero/hoagie of 10 inches or a half hero/hoagie of 6 inches), the classic options of cheese (white American, provologne, and yes, cheese whiz), "wit'/wit'out" onions (vernacular in play, of course), and various toppings (i.e., peppers, mushrooms, extra cheese, and marinara sauce).

Given how hungry I was that afternoon, I got the full-sized cheesesteak wit' onions, American cheese, and mushrooms. I really like that the "steak" part of the hero is thinly sliced and chopped (brand being Steak-EZE), which made bite easier to eat. Only thing I regret was bringing this back to my desk to eat because it became just a bit soggy. It didn't matter too much because everything else had the qualities of a classically delicious Philly cheesesteak.

On a separate occasion -- i.e., one of my date nights with Marcus over in Union Square -- I went to checkout Coolhaus Sandwiches, an ice cream sandwich truck that was founded in Los Angeles by Freya Estreller, a real estate developer, and Natasha Case, a designer/architect. This is the duo's first project under their brand, Farchitecture (which is derived from fusing "food" and "architecture"), back in late 2008 and early 2009 (read more at LAist). Farchitecture's aim is "to basically explore how design can enhance your eating experience, whether it can be through product development, event planning or real estate development." The roots for both Farchitecture and Coolhaus are academic -- while Ms. Case was at UCLA for grad school, she came up with this concept and studied it for an independent study class. She also came up with the ice cream sandwich and the signature edible wrapper. With all of this, the two women were "exploring the relationships between food, waste and sustainability." Today, they have locations in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Austin, and Miami. Additionally, while Coolhaus doesn't really stop by me (instead, mostly in Tribeca and World Financial Center), it was giving out free ice cream sandwiches out last week as a promotion! Perhaps, this means they might be stopping near me during the week?! Let's hope so!

Coolhaus's name is just up our alley, i.e., given how much Marcus and I love wordplay. The name is essentially a "triple entendre" -- a play on three of the founders' favorite concepts/things: (1) Bauhaus, an influential modernist design movement of the 1920s and 30s; (2) Rem Koolhaus, the famous Dutch architect and theorist who challenged the mantra, "Form follows function"; and (3) a "cool house" or what the founders say when you're eating one of their ice cream sandwiches -- i.e., an ice cream sandwich deconstructed into a cookie roof and a floor slab with ice cream walls. Additionally, the sandwich "size descriptions" go hand-in-hand with this "architecture" theme -- one scoop between two cookies is a one-story sandwich, two is a two-story sandwich, and multiple scoops (which I believe to be four stories -- gasp!) is sandwich skyscraper.

Coolhaus goes even further with some of the classic ice cream sandwich flavor combinations:
  • Frank Behry - a play on architect Frank Gehry for sugar cookie with strawberry ice cream)
  • Mintimalism - a play on minimalism for double chocolate cookie and mint chip ice cream
  • Buckmintster Fuller - a play on architect Buckminster Fuller for chocolate chip cookie and mint chip ice cream
  • Mies Vanilla Rohe - a play on architect Mies van der Rohe for chocolate chip cookie and vanilla ice cream
  • Richard Meyer Lemon Ginger - a play on architect Richard Meier for ginger cookie and lemon ice cream
  • I. M. Peinut Butter - a play on architect I. M. Pei for chocolate chocolate chip cookie and peanut butter ice cream
  • La Courbus-tea-er - a play on architect Le Courbusier for snickerdoodle cookie and earl grey ice cream
  • Oatmeal Cinnamoneo - a play on Rafael Moneo for oatmeal cookie with cinnamon ice cream
  • Ri-Chai Rogers - a play on architect Richard Rogers for a cookie (not sure which kind) with chai ice cream
  • Peter Cookies and Cream - a play on architect Peter Cook for a cookie (not sure which one) and cookies and cream ice cream
  • Tea-do Ando - a play on architect Tadao Ando for a cookie (not sure which kind) with matcha green tea ice cream (I think?)
  • Renzo Apple Pie-Ano - a play on architect Renzo Piano for a cookie (not sure which kind) with baked apple ice cream
I went the simple route -- the Mies Vanilla Rohe with chocolate chip cookies and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, cleverly wrapped with an edible wrapper. Very sustainable and waste-friendly -- all in tune with Farchitecture's mission. But because the weather was quite warm, the ice cream was melting quicker than I could eat it and the messier it got. I kind of wish there was a container from which we could eat these so I wouldn't feel like it was getting wasted as it continued to melt. Nevertheless, it was really good, bringing me back to those childhood days of the Chipwich ice cream sandwich. Just be wary that it's bigger than you might think, so sharing might be the best way to go. Oh, and eat it as quickly as you can -- you'll want to savor every bite before it melts away.

Another food truck that has won over my heart is the Morris (Grilled Cheese) Truck, which parks its shop downtown on Mondays at Water and John Street (same spot as Phil's Steaks on Thursdays). Alice was the one who had heard about it, so when we saw it parked down here in FiDi, we were all over it. It is now my "new Monday lunch" -- though, I've only been there twice so far! :P Please note these shots were taken from multiple visits, whether during what I describe or during an occasion after that.

The menu at Morris Truck. Minus a few favorites that appear on the menu every week, I believe some rotate in and out because I noticed the menu slightly changes each time I'm there.

On one occasion, I indulged and got the Delicate Cheese sandwich -- a grilled cheese sandwich with truffle cheese, truffle butter, and caramelized shallots. What's so awesome about Morris Grilled Cheese is that it totally grills its array of grilled cheese sandwiches to a heavenly toasted, nicely browned crisp, so that when you first bite into it, you got that scrumptious, savory crunch following that first bite. There is no sogginess at all from the cheese or its contents -- the integrity of the sandwich's toastedness is never compromised. This particular sandwich seems the most intense of all the menu items, especially with the overloading of truffles (which I do not mind one bit) via rich cheese and butter, only to be well complemented with soft, caramelized shallots. It's not something I would advise getting every week, but treating yourself once in a while won't hurt! :P

On two separate occasions, Alice and I each tried the Gouda sandwich -- a grilled cheese sandwich with Gouda cheese, bacon, and ramp butter. Another rich sandwich, this is an instant favorite -- the winning combination of Gouda and bacon along with the aptly pungent, garlicky ramp butter sends you to a place where I can only refer to as the cloud nine of grilled cheese. It really is as delicious and delectable as it sounds.

A look inside the sandwich -- look at those thick bacon and ramp bits! Only thing that could make this better is a warm cup of creamy tomato soup (which is also sold at the Morris Truck)!

Findings: It is nice to know there are some quality food carts down by my work place because going to Chipotle (no matter how much I do enjoy burrito bowls for lunch every week) and Hale & Hearty isn't going to cut it all the time. Phil's Steaks gives a pretty good respite from the occasional craving for a Philly cheesesteak right here in the big apple -- the chopped steak meat and really soft hero bread are key!

Aside from making very solid ice cream sandwiches, Coolhaus brings an additional dimension of cheeky esoteric wordplay when it comes to really fusing food and architecture. Where else would you ever be able to think that architect Frank Gehry could ever be used to describe a frozen confection? :P Only at Coolhaus can one really embrace his/her inner architecture geek and enjoy an inside joke just because you're into that kinda stuff.

Last but not least, Morris Truck arguably makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches in town. Sorry, Melt Shop -- my loyalties are quickly shifting in the direction of this awesome food cart. A cart that seemingly somehow just knows what I'm looking for in a grilled cheese sandwich (hot, well-browned bread for starters), and that by adding truffles and ramp butter to them, you've got one committed customer that will be back every week.

Looking forward to exploring more food carts, so watch out for more reviews!

Price point: $9 for a full-sized cheesesteak, $6 for one-story sandwich, $8.50-10 for each grilled cheese sandwich.

--June 7/8/18, 2012

Phil's Steaks
for daily locations, follow Phil's on Twitter

Coolhaus (NYC)
for daily locations, check website and follow Coolhaus (NY) on Twitter

The Morris (Grilled Cheese) Truck
for daily locations, check website and follow Morris Grilled Cheese on Twitter

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