EVERY CITY SQUARE IN AMERICA SEEMS TO BE LINED WITH FOOD TRUCKS THESE DAYS, tempting the urban dweller’s palate with a diverse array of tantalizing offerings from spicy drunken noodles, Indian dosas, and down-home Texas barbeque, to vegan cupcakes, organic smoothies, and Belgian chocolate fudgesicles. Whether a result of the shaky economic times, or the national obsession with culinary innovation, this is the age of lunch on wheels.
Right on schedule, Nantucket’s first food truck, Blue Bellies, rolled out on to its designated spot at Nobadeer Beach this June and opened for the summer, peddling the best in New England lunch food with a twist. The brainchild of seasonal resident Alison Kirby, the island’s most mobile eatery will be doling out delicacies to beachgoers seven days a week, weather permitting. “People are really into food trucks these days,” said Alison as she shuffled me through the truck’s compact kitchenette. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, I jumped behind it, slapped a kitchen in it, and started cooking up my inter- pretation of the perfect summer meal!”
Alison devised the menu with some input from her boyfriend, Chef Tom Berry of the Great Harbor Yacht Club. She settled on the clam shack concept early on, but some experimentation and informal “tastings” over the winter helped to finalize the menu. Top billing goes to the Whole Belly Ipswich Clam Roll served with a zesty kimchee sauce, followed by a Nantucket lobster roll paired with either Japanese mayo and chives or the traditional clarified butter and sea salt. Of course, Alison offers standard beach chow: hot dogs, “truck-made” potato chips, crinkle-cut fries and chicken fingers, along with sodas and an ice-cream truck all time classic—the Chipwich. Prices will range from $2.00 to $18.00.
Getting a food truck up and running on the island is no easy task, as Alison quickly discovered. Right at the starting line, Nantucket’s strict zoning laws dashed her original plan for a hot dog cart in town—a seemingly easier feat. With town not an option, she set her sights on the beach, and, when casual inquiries among friends led her to a 1984 parcel truck for sale, she knew she was on the right track. Even the truck’s color, marine blue, was serendipitous, lending itself perfectly to her business name, Blue Bellies.
Outfitting the truck to pass the vigorous health department inspections required installing a commercial grade linoleum floor and the same lineup of appliances found in any restaurant kitchen, albeit on a much smaller scale. “A food truck is held to the same standards as any commercial kitchen,” said Chef Berry, “which makes it tricky because you have to have so much in such a tiny space!” Food preparation regulations made it necessary for Alison to rent a commercial kitchen, where she mixes batches of lobster salad and preps the clams every morning before loading her truck. The deep-frying is done to order—on wheels—as is the grilling of the buns.
At this point, Alison is the sole employee of the Blue Bellies enterprise, serving as order-taker, short-order cook, server, cashier and dishwasher. If business is as good as she hopes, she may hire someone to help with the lunch rush, although the tight quarters may prohibit having two cooks in the kitchen. She is also open-minded about changing or adding to the menu. “If there is a demand for something and I can do it out of a truck, I am open to trying it,” she said. Same goes for catering private events and functions, for which she has created a special menu of mini-rolls. Ultimately, if it can be cooked in a truck, Alison is onboard. As for advertising, Alison considered driving the truck up Main Street every day after shutting down at Nobadeer, but maneuvering a parcel truck up the cobblestones with a vat full of oil proved an unwise idea. Instead, Blue Bellies will rely on word of mouth and the savory smells of fried clams and lobster rolls wafting from the truck to draw hoards off the beach, lining them up for summers to come!