Monday, May 23, 2011

Ann Arbor Food Scene: Mark's Carts

        So I was absolutely elated when my boss at the Hands On Museum, who is also a foodie, told me that Ann Arbor would be getting food carts in the near future.  I have been begging for food carts since I got back from New York and wondered why a great food city like Ann Arbor did not have food carts.  It really does make sense to have food carts since there are thousands of office jobs downtown near main st. and only a few places to get really good and quick food.  The owner of the Home and Garden center on Ashley st., Mark Hodesh, started signing contracts with the individual food carts starting in January and finally opened May 9th. The food cart court is set off behind the Home and Garden center in a newly paved lot which provides a great gathering area.  My anticipation grew everyday and I wanted to make sure I was there opening day, not only to see how the community reacted but also because I could not wait any longer.
         Opening day there were 5 food carts open: Debajo del Sol, The Lunch Room, EAT, Humble Hog, and Darcy's Cart.  Each of these carts have their own niche and menu.  Debajo del Sol's main pull as their Paella, which I have not seen on the menu anywhere in Ann Arbor.  The paella was not the most amazing paella I have had, and honestly the best thing about paella is watching it be made.  Debajo del Sol's paella is dished out into styrofoam bowls and topped with what I think was just a boiled chicken leg.  The rice itself was cooked perfectly but it too lacked a lot of flavor and was studded with the occasional shrimp and no other seafood.  On their menu that day were chorizo corn dogs, garlic chicken, and a stuffed piquillo pepper salad. The paella was good but its still not even close to the paella in Spain and without the show of the 4 foot wide paella pan and the cooking.  This paella is not close to matching Spanish street food.
          The Lunch Room is the vegan option in the food court.   They get their name from their unique serving dishes, the classic compartmentalized schoolhouse lunch trays, but during opening day I only saw them using paper plates and take away containers.  The Lunch Room was actually a fairly successful business before opening their cart in the food court.  Previously they traveled between local businesses serving their food stuffs. On their menu are barbecue tofu sandwiches, spring rolls, and then they also have a variety of sides including an olive tapenade and a Thai slaw.  The spring rolls were well done although after biting into it the wrapping unfolded making it harder to eat.  With the spring roll their is a spicy peanut dipping sauce.  The sauce was really good, and I even saw a few people eating it with their fingers or licking the container.  I will admit I was guilty of that as well.  The only downside was the sauce only had a slight burn and I think it could have been a little more spicy but it was still really good.
           Eat Ann Arbor is located besides Debajo del Sol and its menu is composed only of sliders.  There is a rotating menu of different sliders sold for $4/slider or $10 for a sampler of all three.  The three I had were the Korean BBQ, pork confit, and the Sloppy Yousef (their version of a sloppy joe made with lamb and a slightly spicy Moroccan sauce.)  All the sliders were flavorful and actually my only complaint is that the sandwiches were so small as I could of had a large sandwich of any of those.  But the three was more than enough to fill me up for lunch.
           Humble Hog has exactly what you would think: lots and lots of pig.  The only thing I had heard about this cart was the fact that they would be having head cheese hoagies.  I had never had head cheese but I have heard horror stories from my parents who ate it as kids.  They told me about how you'd stick the whole pig's had into a boiling pot and boil it to death then scrap of the floating bits.  The resulting jelly is mixed with bits of the head meat (not the brain, eyes, or other offals) and then sliced.  So head cheese is not really a cheese but more like an  aspice or a gelatin.  The description sounds quite off but I told myself I had to try it since I had never had it before and it was surprisingly good. It had a definite taste of pork, the texture was a little odd but it was diced so the bits were more crispy than gooey.  I can imagine if the head cheese was in a thick slice the texture might be off-putting.   Also on their menu was a daily braise, which was pork cheeks on the first day, and changes everyday.
          The last cart that was open on the opening day was Darcy's cart.  The main claim of Darcy's cart is the fact that they use all local ingredients.  Everything from the pork for their carnitas tacos to the chorizo for their "perro caliente", a chorizo sausage topped with saurkraut and a savory crema, is sourced from Michigan farms and small sellers.
           Opening day was wildly successful, the people at Humble Hog told me that it was way more successful than they had planned.  In fact many of the carts were running out of the dishes around 2 or 3. In the next month San Street, Asian street food, and People's Perogie Collective, classic as well as unique fillings.  Mark has also said he is looking for a Jamaican, Indian, and wood grilled pizza cart in the near future.  Also I hope they add more seating as there is very little in the court itself.  Mark's Carts will be open from March to November during the year.

Mark's Carts on Urbanspoon 

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