Monday, March 21, 2011

Zany's Farewell Food Truck Tour

Zany dropped the bombshell in my office a few weeks ago.

"I'm breaking up the band. I'm moving to Chicago to help Mad Me-Shell fight the city ordinance against food trucks," she cracks.

"You're kidding me, right?"

Only partially. The Chicago food vendor politics bit is just a cruel joke, but she is leaving the Big Apple for a pretty important job in Chicago.

"But, what about lunch?" I moan. "I can't go back to brown bagging."

Needless to say, I am devastated. My bubble is burst. Zany is the heart and soul of this noshing operation. She came from a small town that considered fried Oreos and pickled eggs ethnic food. She embraced the New York street food scene with gusto and 52nd Street was her all-you-can-eat buffet. How will we shoulder on? Imagine Holmes without Watson, Butch without Sundance, Batman without Robin, Mary without Rhoda? (Oddly enough that last analogy is perhaps the most appropriate.)

But, I digress. Marie Antoinette and I agree we must send Zany off in a big way and what would be better than a farewell food truck tour? It's a big idea and has the makings of a world class reality TV show - a single over-the-top day of food truck dining, finished off with some elegant finger food and some celebratory beverages.

There's no time to set up a suitable guest list (imagine Martha Stewart or Donald Trump on the truck food circuit?) so we juggle our schedules, cancel appointments and hit the streets together for a final food truck bender.

Breakfast: The truck theme is already evident. I’ve narrowly missed being mowed down by two garbage trucks on the way to our rendezvous. It is 8 AM, and we convene for breakfast at the Sweetery NYC truck parked at the corner of 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue.
I trot up the stairs from the E train. Sweetery has not yet opened its window. Zany is already in place on the corner of 52nd. She has a natty rainbow-colored scarf wrapped around her neck and is shivering, yet I think I see steam coming out of her ears. "Marie Antoinette is late," she grumbles.
We spot Marie Antoinette on the opposite corner. She crosses over and gives Zany the stink eye. "I feel like crap,” M-A says. “If I didn't love you so much, I'd still be home in bed."
I think this is starting off well. Maybe these gals need a little coffee in their veins – and definitely pastry.
We are first on line and take our time ordering. The woman behind us is a little cheesed-off, but timing is everything. We order a selection of sweet and savory – a spinach croissant, a cranberry buscuit, a bacon scone, and a chocolate brioche. We take the haul over to the atrium in the Citicorp Center so we can sit down.

The coffee is absolutely scrumptious. We divvy up the goods. M-A seems to be feeling a little better.
“Biscuits should be one of the major food groups, along with chocolate,” she says.
Zany peers into the hole at the top of the brioche. “It’s like a volcano of chocolate just waiting to erupt,” she says in awe.

The brioche tastes like an exquisite chocolate éclair. “I feel like I can accomplish anything today,” declares Zany.
“You resigned. You don’t have anything to do!” I retort.
We take a power walk back to the office and notice an odd number of people with ashes smeared on their foreheads. It seems we’ve made an unfortunate choice for our day of excess, but there’s no way we can put the genie back in the bottle now. I breeze into the office just before my first meeting is about to start.
“See you in three-and-a-half hours,” says Zany.

Lunch: Marie Antoinette ditches us at lunch for a long-standing engagement with a friend at a tony seafood restaurant. Zany is miffed. “I am leaving, you know. What’s authentic about a piece of halibut?” she demands.

We take our place in line at Taim Mobile, the ultra-hot vegetarian truck that serves falafel and smoothies. We like the snappy graphic depiction of chick peas that covers the truck. The line is moving slowly, and Zany thinks it’s because the preparation of smoothies is labor intensive.
“They need two trucks,” she says. We decide to skip the smoothies. We don’t want to fill ourselves up.
We have time to soak up the surroundings and we realize that we’re standing right next to the famous joint, Le Bernardin.
“Maybe we should have taken you to Le Bernardin for lunch,” I say. “The line might be shorter.”
“I prefer falafel,” says Zany and for a while she waxes nostalgic about great falafel sandwiches she has eaten. We order the falafel and the hummus sandwiches, as well as a heaping bag of fries with saffron aioli.

We drench the piping-hot fries in the velvety saffron aioli, which is a bright canary yellow.
"I could bathe in this," says Zany.

The falafel is a crisp and savory revelation. The hummus sandwich is garnished with cool, fresh cucumber salad.

I think I hear Zany squealing with delight.
As we’re eating, we decide to ping Mad Me-Shell. She’s the one who first defected to Chicago, and she’s an avowed carnivore. She is sure to have an opinion on our lunch menu. She responds in less than 60 seconds. The exchange goes something like this:
TW: We’re halfway through Zany’s farewell tour - we’re eating vegetarian truck food right now. Are you disappointed in us?

Mad Me-Shell: WHAT?! I’m not even disappointed as much as I am disgusted!!! What is happening over there!? That settles it – Zany, we WILL be eating the burger with bacon, pulled pork and fried onions on it. I feel like I need to eat a pound of bacon or something just to set the scales straight!
At this point, I’m starting to feel a little full. "You get a new job, and I gain ten pounds," I point out.
Zany whisks the paper wrappers into the brown bag in one clean sweep. "See you in about four hours," she chirps.
Dinner: Marie Antoinette rejoins us for dinner. She is still feeling poorly and says she is not going to consume any adult beverages. Admirable, but her resolve quickly topples like a house of cards.

For our final stop, we go crazy. We take the party indoors, we sit down like adults, and there’s even a wine list. At Ayza Wine & Chocolate Bar on West 31st Street we order flights of red wine, a cheese platter, a White Truffle Pizza, Crispy Baby Shrimp Dumplings and a house favorite, Angry Chicken Lollipops.

I note that the last time I had three meals in a row with the same person I was probably five and the person was my mother.
As we eat, Zany reflects on her life as a street food connoisseur. She says our encounter with the La Cense Beef Burger truck was a spiritual moment. “That was the first time I ate without condiments,” she explains. “The truck guy said the burger was so good, it didn’t need any. I took a bite, the fountain in Columbus Circle where we were eating suddenly went on, and I knew it was a sign.”
She has fond memories of Chowder Fest, our first adventure on the rebound from Mad Me-Shell. “They’d read your posts, they thought we were famous, and they gave us prime seating,” she recalls. “We made new friends and ate endless seafood for three hours until we closed the place down.”
But her favorite adventure has to be the encounter with Mr. Pink and the Double Dog. “Now that was a culinary masterpiece,” she recalls, getting misty-eyed. “Pepper relish, Parmesan shavings and two dogs in one bun.” It was the dog days of summer, and she and Mad Me-Shell were flushed with nitrates and had to be restrained from hurling insults at a mild-mannered guy who was eating a salad by a fountain on Sixth Avenue.
She says she might come back to New York some day. “If the city approves the “open container law” I’ll move back and open a wine and cheese truck.”
The grand finale to our evening is a dark chocolate fondue. Zany spikes a marshmallow with her fork and dunks it into a luxurious pool of molten chocolate.
“I would rather die happy than die thin,” she says, almost as if it were a benediction.
At last - after 12 hours of nearly continuous dining - we are stuffed to the gills and must say our goodbyes. We are going to miss Zany. You've got to love a woman who celebrates Hawaiian Shirt Day religiously and gives you first dibs - ahead of two hundred guests - on her wedding cake.
It's been a fitting send off for a great food adventurer. Her farewell note is signed, "Yours in Condiments." My only regret is that we didn't have time to get the food trucks of Manhattan to parade up 6th Avenue and honk in Zany's honor.
The lunch hour is just not the same anymore. Nowadays when I walk up 52nd Street - hungry for a little street food excitement - I sometimes imagine I still see Zany queued up at one of the food trucks, craning her neck to see if the line will move faster. But, it's probably just the heady aroma of fried food messing with my brain …
©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Julia said...

Aawww, good-bye Miss Zany. We'll miss you! :( Glad to know that at least you had a proper send-off.

Deana Sidney said...

Great homage to your friend and to the thriving truck culture of food.... so many choices. Just saw that la cense truck at union square a few weeks ago but it was 10 am and I wasn't quite ready for a shot o meat... you are tempting me to give it a whirl when next I spy the truck... early or not... no condiment needed is really something (although I think great grass-fed speaks for itself). Hopefully the new kids on the block will flesh out your dining crew soon... it's a great tradition!

tasteofbeirut said...

You are so funny! I loved the line about "the last time you had three meals with a person you were five and it was with your mother!"
I am sorry that you are missing Zany; this is truly tragic. I hope that you get another muse real soon.
Oh, I am excited about missing that cookbook!

~~louise~~ said...

I'm sorry your lunch hour has changed so dramatically, T.W. Don't be too disappointed though, just tell yourself brown bagging is not an option and keep on trucking! It will be difficult at first, I'm sure, but tasty memories will feed your willingness to approach your very own food truck encounters with gusto!

Good Luck, Zany. We will miss you...

Zany said...

I would just like to point out the opportunity for two key features on this blog - guest blogging about the midwestern food adventures of Mad Me-Shell and Zany; and the NYC vs. Chicago truck food smackdown.

Thanks for a great send-off!

Rosemary Flannery at FromClutter2Clarity said...

Sorry to hear that you are losing your partners in food adventures, but I trust you will find a suitable replacement, perhaps for weekend exploits!

Mad Me-Shell said...

It pleases me to see Zany sent off in such high style, but I'm still baffled about the vegetarian option for lunch! Why, oh why?!

Fear not T.W., I will make it a priority to introduce Zany to the wonders of the Chicago culinary world! I've learned two things since living in Chicago -- Chicagoans love beer and meat. and lots of it! No doubt we'll have some good tales to tell in no time!

Marie Antoinette said...

Zany will be seriously missed! Who else will serve as my sparring partner during these lunch hours?

Zany, we will take you up on your challenge of NYC vs. Chicago. I am glad you are in the very capable hands of Mad Me-Shell. Looking forward to hearing about your Chicago adventures! (and of course to visiting and taking part in them as well :) ).

Susan from Food Blogga said...

1. I just finished giggling about you being Mary and her being Rhoda.
2. You have a La Cense beef truck? I'm seriously considering moving back East.
3. You've gotta hook me up with Mad Me-Shell next time I'm in Chicago. Tell her to meet at The Purple Pig.
4. You are all truly lucky to have such fabulous co-workers.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

How could she leave? I mean really. Why would she want to go to Chicago and leave all the wonderful food and friends in NY. I was not prepared for this and am still somewhat in shock. This is a like a food soap opera that ended too soon.

Seriously, we'll miss you Zany. Please, please come back to visit soon. And bring Mad Me-Shell with you.

Barbara said...

Good Lord. She moved to Chicago? Brave girl and it MUST have been a fabulous job! You're going to miss her! WE'RE going to miss her.

I love your food truck experiences. So New York and such a delight.

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a wonderful way to say goodbye to a friend. Tom, you know you would love Chicago. I hate to see the old gang breaking up. If that can't be, hire carefully and find another sidekick. I've really enjoyed this series of food adventures and will miss them. Have a great evening. Blessings...Mary

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Thanks, everyone for your kind words of sympathy and support. I'm not sure if there's anything that will help me get over this loss. Well, a cheeseburger and fries might be a good start ...

alfred p said...

What do you suppose made the chickens so mad before they were turned into lollipops?

veron said...

Oh, that's so sad that Zany is moving away. I so love reading about your food truck adventures. I wish we had more of them here in Richmond. I'm with mad-me-shell - why a vegetarian option for lunch?

Velva said...

What a wonderful send-off for Zany. It can be tough to replace a foodie friend, co-worker. I don't know her but, after reading your post, I am going to miss her too (smile)..

Food trucks rock!!! Damn, if only this po dunk place I live in would get with the program, and let the food trucks roll here.