Spring has officially arrived: we enter into the season of rebirth, where winter’s cruel stranglehold is slowly weakened until it is but a distant memory. Pants are discarded, replaced by shorts and skirts (or in my case, nothing at all). The birds fly back from wherever the hell they were all winter and people remember what happiness is for the first time in months. More than any of the above, though, spring means the season of food trucks. And New Yorkers love their food trucks.
They go by many names: mobile kitchen, catering truck, roach coach, and mobile canteen, but whatever you call them, the novelty alone is addictive: a portable cookery that parks alongside the road, slanging a specialty dish for a low, low price. Especially in New York, the food truck scene is a glorious hodgepodge of creativity and absurdity. Elaborate paint jobs, strange themes, and niche markets (seriously, a Kosher vegan truck that makes a Thanksgiving Sandoo?) the sheer diversity is mind-boggling. Once you’ve found one that vibes with your palette, you can’t help but stalk them through Facebook and Twitter, praying that Lebanese truck will be somewhere within walking distance of your office because, let’s face it, Midtown is a culinary wasteland.
They are popular to the point of pilgrimage. Around the various food truck epicenters in Manhattan, droves of suited up men and women escape from their phosphorescent lit skyscraper cages and congregate in plazas, waiting in lines thirty deep for a pile of jerk chicken or a bowl of the greasiest Taiwanese food your pores have ever experienced. Something about their mobility screams out to these office-dwellers, something about the fare tastes like freedom.
Sometimes, they even become more than a food truck. Patacon Pisao Venezuelan Sandwiches (one of my earlier entries in the Sandwich Project) began in the mobile food business, transcended novelty with their wild popularity, and landed a permanent location in Queens, followed by several more dispersed throughout the city.
Food trucks, however, are not a new novelty. A little digging yielded a lengthy history of these portable food vendors, beginning long before the ice cream man phenomenon (a.k.a. the ding-dong cart). Sources point to an archaic version of the food truck that existed in post Civil War America during the Westward Movement. At the time, Texas was a land ripe for cattle, and as such, cattlemen were in high demand. But with no direct railroad paths, these men needed sustenance, and a method of sustenance transportation. Thus, the “chuckwagon” was born, at the hands of cattle herder Charles Goodnight. He took an old army wagon and converted it into the United States’ first food truck, a vehicle stocked with non-perishable food, salted meats, pots, pans, utensils, and a stovetop for the hungry cattlemen out in no man’s land. Now, nearly one hundred and fifty years later, we use the same basic design to satiate hungry urban dwellers, who could probably just as easily go to a restaurant on the corner of their block. But where would be the fun in that?
Week 12: DiSO’S Italian Sandwich Society
Food trucks peddling sandwiches, and by extension, tacos (which are still debatably in the sandwich realm), are among the most prolific types of food trucks. This is a logical state of affairs, to make food that doesn’t require utensils and can be mass produced with a simple presentation. But not all food trucks are created equal. I have consumed a slew of mediocre sandwiches from these institutions, outcast grinders that violate all rules of what it is to be a proper sub: soggy bread, dried out meats, flavorless bread, and the greatest sin: the “I-think-I-could-make-it-better-than-these-bastards” revelation.
I have not yet sampled a sandwich from every sandwich bearing food truck in New York (although someday, I would like to) and as such, cannot claim omnipotence in my selection. However, among those I have had, one stands out above all the rest. This is a food truck with a profound and elaborate history, beginning before most of you reading this were born.
DiSO’S is a gourmet Italian food truck that has arguably been around since 1927, when they delivered sandwiches out of the back of their car. While it is impressive to have such longevity, that doesn’t always translate to quality. Especially with Italian sandwiches, it’s a tough game to stand out in. Anyone can produce a solid Italian hero, but an awe-inspiring one? That is an act of magnificence. So how does DiSO’S do it?
They source most of their ingredients from Di Palo Selects, a Little Italy storefront that either imports everything straight from Italy or uses authentic ingredients to produce a matching flavor. Starting with the bread, you have four choices: Rustica Italian, Ciabatta, Focaccia bread, or Rustica whole wheat. Provided only a dish of balsamic and one of olive oil, you would easily be satisfied with any of these four.
But no man lives by bread alone and, as such, the imported meats and cheeses are mind-bogglingly fresh and rich. Real smoked mozzarella, the kind you dream about on cold winter nights huddled in your tiny Brooklyn apartment, fresh prosciutto that makes you question how something so thin could possess such almighty flavor, and parmigiano reggiano, subtle and bold at the same time, achieving a perfect harmony throughout the hero.
Normally, I don’t rave about vegetables, but on my Sonny Red, the bright red sun dried tomatoes and vivid green arugula produced a powerful equilibrium, the kind that only the primest of veggies can. Of course, it’s all topped off with house balsamic, because it’s an Italian sandwich, and that’s what you do with Italian sandwiches.
How good can this sub be? I last had one in October, and it has yet to leave my mind. No other food truck sandwich has compared since. Try one. DiSO’S will not disappoint. Track them down on Facebook, Twitter, or run after their truck like a hungry dog. But make sure to make time for at least one.