Food trucks and craft beer: the perfect pairing

2014-03-06T00:00:00Z 2014-05-15T14:13:51Z Food trucks and craft beer: the perfect pairingBy Gerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

For a few afternoon hours last Sunday, perfection was a mesquite waffle and a tall glass of cold beer at Tap & Bottle on North Sixth Avenue.

The food truck Foodie Fleet, under new management, had chosen the tasting room for its relaunch party, setting up against the curb in front of the taproom’s large picture windows.

As craft beer fans filed in for the afternoon, a long line of hungry customers, eager to try the truck’s hyper-locally sourced cuisine, snaked along the sidewalk outside.

They waited patiently under blue skies to order their farm-fresh sandwiches, fried goat cheese and mozzarella balls, and waffles slathered in a salted caramel date syrup.

Others took advantage of the Fleet’s “text-to-table” option, allowing patrons to request their veggie sliders and sweet potato chips from their barstools.

“That’s if you want to keep your seat warm and your beer cold,” said Kylie Rogers, who took over Foodie Fleet with her husband, Adam Dick, in December.

Tap & Bottle customers noshed on their meals at the bar and at tables while drinking, socializing and listening to live music sets from Hey, Bucko! and Naim Amor.

It was a mutually beneficial scenario that has become commonplace in Tucson as craft beer and food truck options continue to grow.

While many of the city’s older breweries, including Thunder Canyon, Nimbus and Barrio, provide their own food to customers, several of Tucson’s young upstarts have joined forces with mobile eateries to satisfy their culinary needs.

You can find food trucks set up outside of popular breweries such as Dragoon, Borderlands and Ten Fifty-Five during regular taproom hours.

Cuisine ranges from the Latin Caribbean flavors of DC Jumbie to the gourmet grilled cheese creations of Cheesy Rider.

Dragoon co-founder Eric Greene said they try to have trucks in their parking lot on West Grant Road every Thursday-Saturday.

Greene calls it the perfect situation.

“If we don’t have a food truck here, people come in, have a beer and then it is time to go have dinner,” he said. “If there is food available, they stay longer.”

Food truck owners get the benefit of a captive audience, especially at a brewery like Dragoon, which sits on its own in an isolated industrial park.

Dianne and Craig Brewer, owners of the Zany Beaver food truck, are regular sellers at Dragoon.

Their specialty is poutine, a Canadian snack food of french fries, gravy and cheese curds.

“It is so satisfying to walk into the Dragoon taproom and see poutine on every table,” Dianne said. “It is one of our favorite places to serve.”

Longtime Tucson bars, such as the Wooden Nickel Tavern on South Country Club Road and Driftwood Lounge on South Craycroft Road, also have tapped into Tucson’s trucks to serve their customers.

Erik Hulten, owner of Danny’s Baboquivari Lounge, has been bringing in trucks for the last four years.

Hulten took over the bar eight years ago. He said the business used to include a restaurant but it was long gone by the time he got there.

Food trucks weren’t the explosive force in Tucson four years ago that they are today, but Hulten was a fan early on.

He had family in the Pacific Northwest where trucks were already a huge deal.

“It seemed like a nice thing to have,” he said. “Different trucks with different types of food.”

Hulten said Danny’s has had varying levels of success with trucks, especially as their popularity has grown.

He’s seen his share of “flakes,” truck owners who are willing to cut and run when something better comes along, but feels he has finally managed to build a strong rotation of regulars.

“We love it, but it is always a struggle,” he said. “We are a small neighborhood bar. It is tough for us to compete sometimes.”

Greene said Dragoon has had similar issues, particularly on Wednesday nights when business is slower.

“Our taproom is really small,” he said. “It needs to be full in order for it to make sense for a food truck to come out. It seems like they are often looking for something a little bigger on Wednesday nights.”

Still, the benefits outweigh the downsides.

When Rebecca and Scott Safford opened Tap & Bottle last summer, they didn’t realize food trucks would work out so perfectly.

The couple had seen how popular the trucks were at Dragoon and Borderlands Brewing downtown.

They celebrated their grand opening with a formal food truck roundup organized through regular roundup coordinator David Aguirre.

Rebecca Safford said the taproom now has food trucks Thursdays-Saturdays, and every other Sunday.

“We try to rotate the trucks pretty regularly,” she said. “It is fun to have Indian food one night, Mexican-Korean food the next night and crepes the night after that. The more diverse we can keep it, the more people will come back.”

The Saffords also bring in trucks for special occasions.

Last Thursday, Jozarelli’s, a food truck specializing in Italian street food, provided dishes that could be paired with the wine selections of the evening.

Tuesday saw Chef’s Kitchen, known for its bayou bistro cuisine, dishing out food for Mardi Gras.

As business grows, Safford would like to expand the food truck rotation to seven days a week.

“It is a happy partnership,” she said.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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