For chefs, food trucks and trailers offer a lower-cost way to put up a shingle and test out menu concepts. For customers, the fresh batch of mobile kitchens that sprouts every year delivers new, delicious ways to support local culinary entrepreneurs.
The quartet below includes cooks of all ages with stellar résumés serving up everything from classic burgers to an all-veggie menu to a Korean-style take on traditional Chinese bao buns.
Sun’s out; trucks are out. Go forth and eat.
The Shoppe Food Truck, Burlington, @theshoppefoodtruck on Instagram
In Vermont, we all know that the proverbial six degrees of separation is sliced at least in half. Case in point: the connections between Shoppe Food Truck co-owners Adam Fontaine and Matthew Ely, as well as between them and the truck they launched this spring in Burlington.
The two Colchester residents met through Fontaine’s girlfriend, Jazzie Beaudette, who is Ely’s niece. A tattoo artist, she is also a co-owner of the Shoppe and designed its look and logo.
The truck even has a familial connection. Two incarnations ago, it was Dolce VT, the mobile precursor to the Burlington restaurant Poco. Ely is married to Susie Ely, who co-owns Poco with her brother, Stefano Cicirello.
After a few years out of the fold, the food truck has returned to the extended family. Freshly painted bright red and aquamarine, the Shoppe serves a succinct roster of crowd-pleasers with a retro touch during regular Thursday and Saturday hours in front of Foam Brewers and at the Friday night ArtsRiot Truck Stop.
Fontaine and Ely’s menu includes a local beef smash burger ($11; $1 extra for an Impossible burger), supremely crispy fried chicken sandwich ($13), all-day breakfast sandwich ($5) and smoky broccoli Reuben ($13).
To accompany the sammies, the Shoppe offers thick, dark fries (from $5) and poutine ($8) with an umami-rich vegetarian mushroom gravy and Vermont cheese curds.
Fontaine, 36, earned a culinary degree from White Mountains Community College in Berlin, N.H., and most recently worked for eight years as co-chef at bevo catering in Colchester.
During the pandemic, Ely, 45, who also owns a construction business, helped Fontaine build his home kitchen. Fontaine, in turn, assisted Ely with an addition to his house. They also spent a lot of time cooking together on a woodstove, which prompted their collaboration.
“We did a lot of daydreaming about food,” Ely said.
The Shoppe is inspired by diners, lunch counters and old-school soda shops. “We both share a huge love of Americana,” Fontaine said.
The pair is ably assisted by New England Culinary Institute grad Tyler Comeau, whom they call their “social media guru” and “right-hand man.”
The Shoppe’s offerings stand out for their attention to detail and garnish of nostalgia. The breakfast sandwich can be ordered with a smashed patty of housemade sage-and-pepper sausage or a slice of Spam (each $2).
“I grew up with it in my house,” Fontaine said. “I’m drawn to Spam’s role in American food history.”
The burger boasts housemade bread-and-butter pickles, shaved onion, and the truck’s proprietary sauce: “Thousand Island meets traditional burger sauce with a couple secret ingredients,” Fontaine said.
American cheese was a must. “It’s the cheese on a burger for me,” Fontaine said. Ely added, “What kid didn’t grow up with American cheese?”
For the excellent chicken sandwich, thigh meat is brined in spiced buttermilk and double-fried for extra crunch. The broccoli Reuben stacks thick slabs of hickory-smoked broccoli with housemade caraway sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. You won’t miss the meat.
At the ArtsRiot Truck Stop, try the malted vanilla milkshake ($7; $6 without malt) crowned with whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry. (Milkshakes are not offered at the Foam location.) Fontaine is also proud to offer Moxie, a historic New England-born root beer variant, another fixture from his youth.
It took moxie of another kind, Fontaine noted, to quit a steady job and launch a food truck. Over the pandemic, he reflected, “I had a lot of time to sit and think. I [was] ready to do something different.”
Spice It Up
The Red Hot Blue, Morrisville, theredhotblue.com
Tiffany Perkins got the name for her food cart from a bag of chips.
“I looked down at the bag of spicy tortilla chips I was eating, and I just thought, It’s so catchy!” Perkins said. The 20-year-old chef hasn’t made anything with the Red Hot Blue’s namesake snack — Garden of Eatin’s Red Hot Blues — but she’s not ruling it out.
“I’ll have to pay some type of homage to them,” she said with a laugh.
If she does, they’ll likely end up stuffed in a bao bun or stuck to the outside of a hot dog. The Red Hot Blue serves what Perkins calls “tapas-style Korean food”: a mix-and-match menu of steamed buns, snazzy corn dogs, sangchu-geotjeori (sweet-and-sour Korean lettuce salad), and cold, spicy bibim-guksu noodles.
Perkins moved out on her own at 17 and started working to put herself through high school — sometimes at three or four different jobs. “I saw starting my own business as an opportunity to put myself in a comfortable place,” Perkins said.
The idea of a food cart appealed to her due to its low overhead cost. She started building the business in February 2021 and launched at Lost Nation Brewing on June 21 of this year.
Perkins has a unique arrangement with the Morrisville brewery: She runs the Red Hot Blue there two days a week when the brewery’s restaurant is closed. She started working in the kitchen there last winter and loved the job, but she let the Lost Nation team know that she planned to run her food cart this summer.
“They really wanted to retain me as part of their kitchen crew,” Perkins said. “So they said, ‘Well, why don’t you set up right here?’ And it worked out perfectly for everyone.”
The Red Hot Blue will be set up in the Lost Nation parking lot each Monday and Tuesday from noon to 6:30 p.m. throughout the summer. The brewery’s taproom is open those days for drinks, and the large covered biergarten is available for seating.
Perkins’ core menu offers two Korean-style takes on traditional Chinese bao buns — pork belly or jackfruit — in housemade Korean barbecue sauce with radish kimchi and microgreens (two for $10).
Prior to Lost Nation, Perkins had worked at the Roost at Stowe’s Topnotch Resort. Right before the pandemic shutdown, a sous chef was making bao buns by hand for a special — and they stuck with her. Later, she learned a different version while working at Montpelier’s Oakes & Evelyn. “I took the inspiration from multiple restaurants and made them my own,” Perkins said.
The menu also features salty-sweet, elaborately topped Korean corn dogs, which Perkins learned about from her sister. “I looked up a few videos and thought, Oh, my gosh. There’s nothing like this in Vermont,” Perkins said.
The classic K.K.D. ($7) is half mozzarella stick and half hot dog, placed on the same skewer, then battered, rolled in panko, fried, and topped with sugar, ketchup and mustard. The French Kiss ($7) is rolled in French fries instead of panko and topped with cinnamon sugar and ketchup. They’re crunchy, salty and sweet — and lots of fun to eat.
GloryBurger, Richmond, gloryburgervt.wixsite.com/website; only accepts cash, Venmo and PayPal
It was the summer after they finished eighth grade when Adam Weinstein and Shea Smith first bonded over their love of food and cooking. The Richmond teenagers, now 17, held a cook-off. “We each cooked a dish and had a couple friends judge them,” Weinstein said.
And it was the summer of 2021, after 10th grade, when the friends launched GloryBurger at their hometown farmers market.
“Over quarantine, we cooked together a lot,” Weinstein said. “We’d mostly make fast-food items, leveled them up, like fried chicken sandwiches with pickle slaw or Philly cheesesteaks with homemade queso.”
The duo settled on burgers for their market stand. “We’d made burgers more than a few times, and we thought they were pretty good.” And, Weinstein added, “Everybody likes a burger. We thought, We could maybe sell these.”
That first summer, they schlepped all their supplies and equipment in multiple carloads to Richmond’s Volunteers Green on Friday afternoons. “We had a mini-fridge that wouldn’t fit in the car,” Weinstein said, “so we’d put it in a wagon and bring it by foot over the bridge.”
In preparation for their second season, the pair added a third co-owner, 17-year-old Ryan O’Neil, and built themselves a mobile kitchen on a small flatbed trailer. The distinctive, corrugated metal-paneled kitchen on wheels cost about $5,000, funded primarily by the previous summer’s burger income, Weinstein said.
The new trailer has allowed GloryBurger to expand beyond Richmond to several other venues, including the Jericho farmers market, South Burlington’s SoBu Nite Out and private catering gigs.
Weinstein estimated that the biz has sold an average of 150 burgers per market this year, twice what it sold last year. At the July 4 parade in Richmond, the team cranked out a record 300.
Three levels of burger start with the Park ($8), a quarter-pounder with cheese, grilled onions, lettuce and house Glory sauce. The Glory Burger ($11) adds bacon and pickles, and the Glorious Burger ($13) makes it a double patty. Customers can sub a veggie patty for $1 extra or order a Griddler ($6), a sandwich of melted cheddar and grilled onions. Slender, well-browned fries start at $3 for a small cup.
A peek into the trailer on a recent busy market Friday revealed the trio plus one other teen at the order window working smoothly together. The co-owners have all had local restaurant jobs. Weinstein and Smith worked their way up from dishwashing to salads and prep at the now-closed Kitchen Table Bistro.
Asked whether there’s a secret to GloryBurger’s very good, juicy burgers, Weinstein credited local ingredients, such as beef from Smith Family Farm in New Haven and Cabot cheddar, as well as a well-seasoned griddle.
The teens precook the bacon and crisp it on the griddle before serving. The silken grilled onions that grace every burger absorb some of that bacon fat. Glory Sauce benefits from a hit of pickle juice, and the garlic mayo served with Glory Fries owes its rounded flavor to touches of honey and lemon juice.
Picking up an order, Richmond resident Doug Paine said he and his family are big GloryBurger fans. Paine is also executive chef at Hotel Vermont, Juniper Bar & Restaurant, and Bleu Northeast Kitchen in Burlington.
“It’s both my kids’ favorite burger, even better than mine,” Paine said later by text. “It’s great to see the ambition and hard work of those young adults. I would hire any one of them to cook for us.”
‘Fancy Ain’t Exclusive’
Mister Foods Fancy, Burlington, @misterfoodsfancy on Instagram
If Mister Foods Fancy is open, chances are there’s a dispenser of cucumber- and lemon-infused “spa water” set out on the food truck’s counter. The refreshing drink tastes like fluffy robes, luxurious soaks and expensive treatments — but it’s free.
After all, Paul Trombly’s motto for his new food truck is: “Fancy ain’t exclusive.”
Mister Foods Fancy is exclusively vegetarian, though the former Honey Road chef prefers to call the loosely Middle Eastern-inspired menu “vegetable-forward.”
“For me, the food truck season just lines up perfectly with the vegetable season here in Vermont,” Trombly said. “I’m not trying to hide anything, but I’m also not trying to convince people to eat vegetarian food if they don’t want to.”
When Trombly was 14, he got into punk rock and went vegan, staying up late to read cookbooks instead of doing his homework. (He’s not vegan now but still eats mostly vegetarian.) Cooking for Food Not Bombs in Detroit in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he earned the nickname “Mr. Fancy Chef Man” from friends. The food was free, but Trombly always made sure to garnish it.
“I’ve always liked to make people feel special when they eat,” Trombly said.
Now 42, Trombly is bringing that approach to the first food biz of his own. He started Mister Foods Fancy last fall with pop-up events and hit the road with his renovated former ArtsRiot food truck in June.
A month in, things are picking up speed: Trombly and sous chef Given Campbell prep out of a commercial kitchen in Burlington’s Old North End for appearances at Foam Brewers (Wednesday), ArtsRiot Truck Stop (Friday), and other occasional events, such as Summervale at Burlington’s Intervale Center; Trucks, Taps & Tunes at the Essex Experience; and SoBu Nite Out at Veterans Memorial Park in South Burlington.
Mister Foods Fancy’s signature veggie burger ($12) is based on mujadara, a Lebanese dish of lentils and rice. It incorporates 25 ingredients, including black lentils, quinoa, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chickpea miso and harissa, bound with gluten-free flour and potato starch.
“It doesn’t replicate meat in any kind of way, nor do we want it to,” Trombly said.
The substantial, structurally sound burger is topped with a spicy feta-herb sauce (or spicy herb tahini), tomato-sesame jam, housemade pickles and farm-fresh lettuce. The burger itself is vegan, gluten-free and nut-free and can be served on a gluten-free, vegan bun.
Mister Foods Fancy also serves various versions of a falafel burger ($13), including mushrooms, everything spice, barbecue spice, and jerk spice with pineapple amba and red beans.
Outside of the bun realm, crispy potatoes ($9) are proving to be a crowd-pleaser. The secret is La Boîte’s Shabazi N.38 — a spice blend with green chiles, parsley and coriander that’s “almost like a dried green harissa,” Trombly said. The potatoes come smothered in tahini ranch, green goddess dressing or vegan caper mayo, finished with Turkish pickled peppers and fresh dill.
Even the drinks at Mister Foods Fancy are veggie-forward: The truck sells Bristol-based Savouré‘s new line of vegetable seltzers in flavors such as fennel-verbena and celery-yuzu-lemon.
And there’s the free spa water, of course.
“It’s a take on the idea that only fancy people get to drink spa water,” Trombly said. “But really, it’s just a fucking cucumber and lemon and water.” Fancy that.