In pursuit of the elusive food truck

by Brian Clarey


‘ When food trucks, those mobile kitchens serving up inexpensive and quirky fare to diners on the go, entered the national culinary scene about four years ago, I knew it would eventually make its way to the Triad — the keyword being “eventually.” Remember, this is a culture that didn’t have a roller derby team until years after they had been established elsewhere, and where until fairly recently, when you mentioned tapas most people thought you said “topless.”

But slowly and surely — very slowly — we’re catching on. I’ve seen a taco truck in High Point and have gotten reports of one in Winston-Salem. A dumpling truck from Raleigh made it to town for the Mosaic Festival and delivered what my wife claims to be the most memorable meal of her year. I’ve heard tell of a cadre of food trucks prowling the east part of town, which bears further investigation on my part. Taquería al Azteca has one that parks across the street from the Blind Tiger on Spring Garden Street on busy nights.

And recently, a food truck has been parking near the YES! Weekly offices in Adams Farm.

The Hickory Shack is more of a trailer than a truck, hitched to a Ford F350 with a generator roaring at the back, near two large propane tanks. The fare couldn’t be more simple: hot dogs and burgers, fish and chips, cheesesteaks and choppedchicken barbecue. The appropriate licensure hangs in a window, stipulating, among other things, that the business must report to the North Carolina Pushcart Vendors Commissary and the Randolph County Board of Health every day of operation — along with a sheet indicating permission from the Walgreen’s to use their lot.

I’m feeling plucky, so I try the chicken barbecue and a sausage dog topped with chili and slaw.

First the dog: It was as fine a piece of smoked sausage as you can get anywhere, nicely grilled and with a snappy casing, split down the middle to accommodate the toppings. The chili tasted homemade; the slaw did not. But together on a soft bun, it was well worth the couple of dollars it cost, though for a single buck I may have been just as happy with a beef frank.

The chicken barbecue came piled on a soft bun, bereft of slaw — unusual in these parts, though I’m certain if I asked for it I could have gotten it. The chicken was as good as it gets: tender and moist, in big shreds, and there was enough of it that I probably could have made two sandwiches out of it. The sauce on it was a bit sweet and smoky for my tastes, and the inexplicable inclusion of a couple slices of sweet pickle in the sandwich took me aback. Who does that? But again, had I known the pickle was part of the package, I surely could have opted out.

All in all, though, I felt that I got my three bucks’ worth. An observation: This was the messiest meal I’ve had in a long while; it’s probably good this place doesn’t have a dining room because all the tables would be covered in chili and barbecue sauce after every use.

Another one: I’m not sure how business is at the Hickory Shack, but I do know that there is a huge unfilled niche in our community in regards to food trucks and the type of innovative and cheap cuisine they generally serve. I eagerly await the day when we have a food truck in every parking lot, serving the kind of adventurous cuisine that never gets play in restaurants.

But for now, there will always be the Hickory Shack.