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Ofelia’s Mexican food Cart
➸ This pop of color, stationed weekdays at Water and Mason, doesn’t travel far. It’s run by the Milwaukee Waterfront Deli people just up the block on Water Street, kitty-corner from City Hall. Deli owner Jere Pandl was inspired by a vibrant food cart he and his wife saw on a trip years ago to Santa Fe, N.M. Here, Ofelia’s has become a Downtown summer staple, staking its ground Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., weather permitting. The menu is Mexican basic – tacos and tortas, tamales and burritos, and daily specials like beef barbacoa. $2-$7.
The Hard Wood Cafe
➸ Debbie and Craig Mengeling’s hand-built, wooden gypsy wagon draws attention with its unconventionality. Debbie smiles out through the order window and answers questions about this apparent vision from Romania. But the “street faire” menu doesn’t have the flavor of Eastern Europe. The focus is decidedly swine-ish. Examples: pork nachos, the porky burger and the deluxe pulled pork sandwich. The Mengelings pull their wagon to lunchtime events like Take Out Tuesdays in Schlitz Park and Food Truck Thursdays at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Their new gig is at the 1865 Farmhouse, on the corner of Morgan and Forest Home avenues. There, they plan to serve three evenings a week, 4-8 p.m. $5-$6.
➸ Teaching English as a second language keeps Heatherlee Muehlius busy nine months of the year. Once school is out for the summer, Muehlius moves full throttle into food truckery. Her cheerful pastel-hued Hattie’s truck doesn’t just dole out sliders – jerk chicken with mango slaw, barbecued pork, Italian beef, meatball and the new Philly cheesesteak. The business is also a vehicle for Muehlius’ sweets-making. Her specialties are cheesecake lollipops and cupcakes, red velvet to chocolate peanut butter. Look for the truck beginning the third week of June on the familiar food truck lunch rotation: Take Out Tuesdays at Schlitz Park, Thursdays at Milwaukee County Courthouse and Fridays at Red Arrow Park. Sliders $3.50 each or two for $6; desserts $2. hattiestruck.com.
➸ Matt Bettine studied painting. His business partner, Alex Palm, has worked in local restaurants. While researching sandwiches in Chicago, they found their muse – the Vietnamese banh mi. Now in their second year of Bun business, the two have staked ground in the Third Ward – the corner of Broadway and Buffalo on Mondays and Fridays. They also plant their sandwich cart in front of the U.S. Bank Center and on the UW-Milwaukee campus. Not being confined inside a truck has its upside. “We get to hang out, serve food we like, talk to people,” Bettine says. The sandwich choices are simple – caramelized pork belly or chicken or soy “meat” in lemongrass and sweet chile peanut sauce, with optional toppings like cilantro, carrot-daikon hash and jalapenos. $5-$6.
➸ This mobile pizzeria was a novelty in 2009, the year owners Scott Baitinger and Steve Mai first took to the streets, a late-night beacon for Water Street imbibers. Using Twitter and Facebook to announce the truck’s whereabouts, they made street food feel like a cause célèbre. In November 2012, the truck even made The Daily Meal’s list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America. Today, Street-za follows a consistent schedule, counting as regular gigs Take Out Tuesdays, Food Truck Thursdays and the Westown Farmers Market in Zeidler Union Square on Wednesdays. The truck serves six kinds of pizza – cheese, sausage, pepperoni, veggie, the multitopping Slice of Milwaukee and a wild-card flavor of the day, ranging from crab legs to the Jones Island (topped with Ma Baensch herring). $4 per slice. streetza.com.
The Gouda Girls
➸ Confusion with the name of another local business (Chubbys Cheesesteaks) forced the ladies of this cheese sandwich rig to change their name from The Chubby Cheese Truck to The Gouda Girls, which does have a certain ring to it. In winter, Katherine and Tina Tonn focus on their corporate accounts; in summer, they burn rubber, hitting the weekly mobile food events at Schlitz Park and the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Gouda’s website is broader than the name suggests. Beyond American cheese on Wonder bread, they do a grilled mac and cheese, Wisconsin cheesesteak on a hoagie roll, turkey burger and, yes, Campbell’s tomato soup. $2.50-$7.25. chubbycheese.com.
➸ A fundraising project on Kickstarter helped get the new Simmer Truck into its bubbling state. Owners Steve Perlstein and Jennifer Block center their menu around soups (which is understandable, given the name) as well as salads and panini. The opening menu featured curried lentil with sweet potato soup, Caesar and chopped salads, and Muffaletta panini ($4-$10). Plus homemade potato chips and chocolate chip cookies. The couple plans for mucho visibility this summer. Saved on their GPS: Food Truck Fridays at Downtown’s Red Arrow Park and the East Side Green Market (Saturdays, from June 15) at Beans & Barley. simmermilwaukee.com.
Cold Spoons Gelato
➸ Brett Swider, co-owner of the Vliet Street shop also called Cold Spoons, built the little cart himself. It holds only six flavors, one-quarter of the varieties offered on a given day in the Washington Heights store. In the past, Swider has set up shop in Cathedral Square, and pushed the cart up and down Broadway in the Third Ward. “All I need is an organ grinder and a monkey,” Swider jokes. His summer 2013 appearances are event-based, including Brady Street Festival in July and Fish Fry & A Flick (Friday nights in late summer). coldspoonsgelato.com.
➸ That would be American “gyros.” In December 2012, the Euros boys went beyond the steel cart with a gray and white umbrella to opening a full-fledged restaurant (3133 N. Oakland Ave.). But they’re still keeping the cart active at sidewalk spots like the Water and Wisconsin intersection on weekdays. The chameleon-like pita is dressed in a multitude of ways – gyros made with lamb, steak or Athenian chicken; specialty pita sandwiches like Thai chicken; and Turkish doners (kebab sandwiches), topped with onions, slaw and a creamy sauce like tzatziki. $3-$6. american-euros.com.
➸ For four years, sandwich-slinging brothers Vijay and Manoj Swearingen have been tooling around the city in their battery-powered electric truck, which functions as a mobile kitchen complete with gas grill and refrigeration units. Their shtick is doing nine kinds of sandwich options using a Lebanese flatbread as the base. Among them: steak bacon ranch, Caesar chicken, falafel and BLT, $5.50-$6. The brothers are regulars on the Marquette University grounds and at spots like Catalano Square in the Third Ward. As of press time, the duo was still pondering a deal that would launch a commercial space and put the truck to bed. Until then, soak up those mobile meals, and get the locational 411 at pitabrothers.com.
➸ Nachos are not a one-trick pony, and Nichole Gonzalez makes that clear with her Fivestar Nacho truck. Gonzalez christened her truck this year and has been perfecting her nacho fillings. Take the shredded pork. It’s available over tortilla chips or plantains with house beans, queso, tomatillo salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and cream. If you’re not into pork, she offers ground beef, spicy chicken and grilled vegetables as filling options as well. Daily specials? Could be lamb or duck. Gonzalez plans to hit the weekly trucking events like Fridays at Red Arrow Park. Nachos $5; nacho dinner $6.75 (includes rice).
➸ The Vietnamese banh mi took a little more time to make a cilantro-laced foothold in Milwaukee than major banh-loving cities like New York. That’s OK, though. It’s making up for lost time. The sandwich – a flavor factory on a baguette – has a “cult following” at Jeppas, says owner Jeff Steckel. His braised pork shoulder banh mi (topped with oven-roasted tomato, red onion and Sriracha mayo) is part of the reason the cart made our 2012 Best of Milwaukee feature at the end of its first season in business. The core menu is simple, sweet and all sandwiches – Korean barbecued beef, jerk chicken, and grilled portobello mushroom with feta and roasted garlic ($7 each). Steckel’s hookup for beef, chicken and pork is Milwaukee’s Braise RSA. Track his whereabouts at jeppajoes.com.
|This article appears in the City Guide 2013 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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