In its inaugural season it would be hard to call the Phoenix Festival of the Arts anything more than a dismal failure – a mere 40 artists plus some bands and organizations it was under-representative of the Valley’s diverse art scene to say the least and yet at the same time it provided me the opportunity to do something I generally avoid; visit a selection of the city’s food trucks – a collection of approximately ten which were present when the festival opened at 10am representing everything from lobster to pizza to hot dogs, barbeque, and pie. Having already made two breakfast stops prior and with plans for Andreoli’s Christmas Festival at 2:00pm I knew I’d need to save room and as such I perused the options carefully before settling on a trio…plus one en route back to the car.
Starting with the most unique, a food truck concept I certainly never saw in the Midwest and would have never expected in the desert, my first stop of the afternoon was at The Maine Lobster Lady (http://www.mainelobsterlady.com/,) a truck described as “A Maine island girl, along with her very own lobster fishin’ partner, serving the real deal Maine Lobster from the coast of Maine to the desert southwest!” and the menu, service, and accent all hold true to that definition in every way.
Priced substantially higher than the average food truck given the quality of the ingredients my selections from The Maine Lobster Lady would be two – the first her signature Maine Lobster Roll with hot buttered lobster chunks served simply on a grilled roll. Simple, fresh, and loaded with lobster this was about as simple as it gets and although small considering the $17 price tag it would be hard to quibble this quality of crustacean nearly 3,000 miles from its point of origin as it was every bit as good as that in Boston or elsewhere (where, incidentally, Neptune charges a whopping $22 for their roll.)
Moving next to a more innovative, though less impressive choice, a $9 cone of Maine Shrimp Puffs arrived as a half dozen hush-puppy sized balls of medium sized Maine shrimp tinged with butter and herbs deep fried to golden and served alongside a zippy garlic aioli. Tender but a bit too oily for my own personal tastes and with the shrimp far less snappy than the aforementioned lobster the aioli was a welcomed boost – a shot of flavor compensating for an otherwise disappointing dish; next time I think I’d go with the Whole Belly Clams or the lobster mac n’ cheese.
Good, particularly given the fact that it arrived from a truck in the middle of Phoenix, but pricey at $26 for perhaps a dozen bites of food I see The Maine Lobster Lady as a well conceptualized idea to fill a void, but not someplace I’d seek out unless I really had a craving.
Moving next to things much more familiar to four wheeled dining, the classic hot dog cart took on a whole new look thanks to Brad and Kat at Short Leash Hot Dogs. Generally not a fan of the American standard beef on a bun with condiments but far more interested in artisanal sausages and the like it was the all-natural Bratwurst from Schreiner’s Fine Sausages that first turned my head, but it was the condiments that sold me hook, line and sinker.
With each variation of dog named after a pooch of their own, or one of a friend, as I was told by one of the workers while I waited the cart serves up approximately half a dozen signatures plus daily specials, and a build your own option all atop pillowy flatbread (think pita, but with a more open and airy crumb) and although many sounded good none sounded on par with the “Bear” – a dish called ‘stupid good’ by a trusted palate and on first seeing, then tasting the concoction a very fair assessment.
Described on the menu as “Peanut Butter, Cracker Jacks, smoked Gouda, Bacon and BBQ Sauce” and in my case tinged with a bit of spice from the all-pork Brat this $6 concoction literally hits every part of the palate like a sweet, salty, crunchy, fatty, creamy, and spicy sledgehammer. Whimsical and fun but decidedly not an everyday indulgence it’s the sort of dish that could assuredly fail under many circumstances and fall under the absurdities or Man vs. Food category, but instead it just works beautifully – a dish that would not be out of place at any number of haute hotdog purveyors in other major cities and more than enough reason to give Short Leash another taste at a later date.
With proteins accounted for and rounds made of the art show my next stop was dessert and although there were other choices available the only logical choice in my mind was Mamma Toledo’s, a spot I’d been meaning to visit since I arrived in Phoenix not only because the name matched my home town but because the eclectic assortment of pies available in three sizes all sounded great – particularly after reading owner/operator Tonya Saidi’s roundabout way of arriving at a job she truly seems to love.
A small truck – largely a delivery mechanism for pies made at home – the selection of pies at Mamma Toledo’s on Saturday morning consisted of six pies, two pie bites, plus a cup o’ cake and while every single one sounded good it was the Chocolate Coffee Pie and Carrot Cup o’ Cake that immediately caught my attention – an $8 tab that weighed in at a substantial half a pound but far more in terms of quality and flavor.
Beginning first with the cup o’ cake, I have no idea what carrot to flour ratio Tonya used to make this beautiful item, but with the cake itself dense, bright orange, and sweet while remaining vegetal the self-described “Pie baking specialist” proved to possess a deft hand with non-pies as well – the cream cheese frosting adding a slight tang without overwhelming and the subtleties of the cake; pretty much everything one could ask from carrot cake and entirely without the nuts or raisins so many others rely on to liven up the mix.
Moving next to the pie – let it first be said that if you’ve not experienced Mamma Toledo’s crusts then you should search for her truck right now and order whatever sounds best because no matter what sort of pie you fancy her crusts are superlative– flaky like a croissant, loaded with butter, and crisp enough to support the filling without being ‘hard.’ Moving next to the filling, while I can only speak to the single pie I tasted I’ll simply say that this was great – a thick pudding of cocoa and espresso with a light cream topping that helped to mellow the bitter notes without overwhelming them at all – the only thing missing was a cup of coffee to wash it down…or maybe some ice cream; either way I can’t wait to go back for more.
Wrapping up the morning as I wandered back to the car by way of Roosevelt, one last bite of the morning would arrive unexpectedly as I browsed some of the local galleries – a $1 donation landing me an Almond Concha from well-regarded La Purisima bakery. Light and airy on the interior with eggy notes and a bit of butter beneath a crackling sugar topping I cannot really say I detected much almond in this pastry but generally being underwhelmed by Mexican baked goods aside from Empanadas I have to say this one gave me hope – definitely a place to consider the next time I head down Indian School Road.