and sooner or later you end up hanging out with vegans…

Welcome to Part 1 of a new series on mobile food service!  As someone who formerly cooked in restaurant kitchens, cooks most of my meals at home, but works by day in an office building with no food service, I eat a lot of meals from mobile catering, food trucks, roach coaches, and various hot-dog cart looking operations.  Over the years I have been lucky enough to eat some great street food made by dedicated and talented cooks, as opposed to being poisoned by indifferent schmoes with no regard for my well being.

One of the more recent bright spots in the Hartford, Connecticut food truck scene has been GMonkey, a vegan catering truck run by Mark Schadle and Ami Beach Schadle.  You might know of Mark as chef and co-owner of It’s Only Natural in Middletown, CT. GMonkey also have a web presence at their blog, Farm2Street.  This is a new venture for Team Schadle and they are hitting the ground running.  I see lines and happy faces at their truck every time I stop by.

A few things about my diet can make street food, or any dining-out experience, a little nerve wracking.  One, I’m dairy free due to a lactose tolerance issue, so someone forgetfully slipping sour cream or butter into my food is a bit of a disaster.  Hooray for vegans who don’t use any dairy!  Most places have no problem with accommodating a dietary request, but at a truck like GMonkey I don’t even have to ask.  The other is that while I do eat meat, I eat a lot of vegetarian and vegan meals just out of routine.  I also eat a lot of whole grains and legumes, so I am on familiar ground with most of the GMonkey menu offerings.  I am also learning a few things about dairy substitutes that I am looking to steal and incorporate into my own cooking (or not-cooking as the case my be)

I was recently interviewed as I grabbed a raw food smoothie from GMonkey.  They were parked in front of the State Capitol building for a health awareness day event, instead of being parked in their usual Wednesday spot about 100 feet from the entrance to 79 Elm Street.  Yes, I used the miracle of Tweeter to find out that their scheduled location had moved, and the miracle of Facebookie to see the daily menu.  Ain’t the social interwebs amazin’?

gmonkey truck at ct state capitol

gmonkey at work

So, with that preamble laid out, here is my independent and unauthorized review of the GMonkey experience:

First, the food quality is off the charts.  Mark is at the controls and bringing his A-game to this endeavor.  The ingredients are top shelf.  The flavors are fresh and clean.  The variety is way above average.  The vibe at the truck is extremely positive.  I’ve tried a small sampling of their dishes, but between their one or two appearances in Hartford each week, and my schedule and my unpredictable daily food preferences, it has taken a while to sample their offerings.  My favorites are the black bean and brown rice (with greens and more) “downward dog burrito”, and the peanut butter and cacao raw food smoothie.  The burrito is a good sized meal, with fresh flavors and a slight chile kick.  Nothing groundbreaking, but very good.  The shake is fantastic, with a good texture and strong but not overwhelming flavors of vanilla, banana, chocolate, and peanut.  Their spicy noodles are a very strong item as well.  I wouldn’t call them traditional, but I would call them delicious.  I really do feel good after a meal from GMonkey.

I intend to work my way through more of the menu as the summer goes on.  The Schadles are doing a job worthy of patronage, if not obsession.  Ami really does bring a huge amount of energy to both taking orders and being (apparently) the social networking voice of the GMonkey team.  OK, I admit that it can sound a little cultish sometimes, and I am not sure I want to be considered a GMonk, but that is my problem.  Another facet of the GMonkey operation is that of cost.  GMonks better not be looking for a lot of change from a Gtwenty.  Not confusing price with value is hard, and the quality end of this operation screams “value”, but when a burrito and a shake run $16, and I can get three vegetarian falafels and a drink for $16 over at Alladin, or eat $16 worth of nowhere-near-vegetarian tamales at El Serape on Broad Street, etc… well, you gotta really want to “feed the monkey” as The Dude would say.  Once a week or so I can splurge, but a cheap eats experience is not what GMonkey is selling.  What they do is occupy the high end, and the specialty end, of the mobile catering spectrum.  I applaud them for it, and vote with my wallet as often as I can.

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