Mobile food vending (in the form of food trailers, trucks or carts) is a cut throat industry and entrepreneurs fight to stay afloat.
House-brined olives (wow), fried brussel sprouts with capers – 5
Beyond food quality, food trailers must have strong branding, be social media savvy, have a prime location, be mobile, be able to serve a crowd in lightning speed… wait, a trailer’s challenges don’t sound all that different from a restaurant’s on the surface.
Crab pancake, soft scrambled egg, morels – 13
Food trailers and restaurants do, however, face separate sets of challenges. Poor weather alone can impact a food trailer’s sales and their kitchens are tight and limited. On the flip side, they have lower staffing costs and a quicker customer turn-over rate. Restaurants have alcohol licenses to boost their revenue but that may or may not cover their higher overhead costs. The contrast goes on.
Scallops, white asparagus, shellfish butter – 13
The question for me remains: Do food trailer owners and restaurant owners ever envy each other? Do the mobile aspire to get grounded one day? Or are they content with selling food without the pressure of maintaining a storefront?
Grilled rabbit terrine, bacon-liver mousse, sweet onion – 11
Case in point: Barley Swine in Austin, Texas. As their name suggests, they use pork and beer to win diners’ hearts. They began as Odd Duck, a farm-to-trailer operation that prepares fresh and seasonal meals for the masses. Their popularity led them to try their hand at opening a brick and mortar restaurant down the street.
Leg of lamb, artichokes, nicoise olives, pine nuts – 14
Stainless cutlery, craft beers at the table, and a clean washroom feel like luxuries all of a sudden. Barley Swine’s menu is more complex, the flavours are more refined, and the lines are even longer than Odd Duck’s. They do not take reservations and guests can expect to wait from 20 minutes to an hour for a table – but for good reason.
Grilled pork belly, refried beans, octopus salad – 13
The team stays true to their farm-to-trailer roots and continues to serve sustainable and innovative food without pretension. Subtly is not their strong suit, as every dish is distinctively flavorful, boosted with generous injections of butter. Fun preparations come to play to create contrasting textures, from a silky crepe stuffed with crab meat to a deepfried pork trotter patty topped with a slippery hot spring-style egg.
Crispy stuffed pig trotter, soft boiled egg, mushrooms, mustard – 11
This is one successful case of a trailer that grew into a full-blown restaurant with the support of their loyal patrons. Diners pay, on average, $4 more for each small plate but the intricate preparation makes it worth it. (Full entrees cost a bit more). Arrive early and be prepared to wait with a wine or beer in hand.
Almond financier, strawberry gelee, creme fraiche-pink peppercorn ice cream – 7
If you get an opportunity to visit Austin, trailer-hop to your heart’s content first. Then end your trip with a bang and dine at Barley Swine.
Visit their website or click the spoon:
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