Chef Mike Isabella is jumping on the food truck bandwagon. Well, kind of. It’s more like he’s hanging by the fingertips to the back bumper of the food-truck bandwagon, hoping to claim some sort of brotherhood with the rolling tin-can cooks who actually work the streets daily for a buck.
Isabella, and his reservation partner, CityEats, will be rolling out his Graffiato truck tomorrow for a day-long tour of the city, like a traveling circus, except reduced to sites within a single jurisdiction. Isabella’s glass-heavy rental vehicle is not really a full-fledged food truck. The two-time “Top Chef” contestant will do no cooking on it; instead, he’ll pass out bites prepared at Graffiato.
So why do this?
In a soon-to-drop release, Isabella offers this canned quoted with the promotional tin ear: “Even with CityEats, it can be hard to get a seat at Graffiato because of the high demand, so today I’m bringing Graffiato to people all over D.C.”
Except this will not exactly be a Graffiato experience in mobile form. There will be no menu of fully executed small plates, only samples of certain dishes, all of which will be passed out gratis. Isabella does plan to test his fans with a “Challenge Your Palate” contest, in which eaters at various stops will be asked to identify the ingredients in Isabella’s dishes.
Those who successfully identify the ingredients will win a copy of the chef’s forthcoming cookbook, “Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian” (set to drop Sept. 25), lunch at Graffiato or other prizes.
Because the Graffiato truck appears to be more about promotion than real plates to eat, I took the opportunity to ask Isabella about food trucks and the difficulties of creating a menu when your primary kitchen is stuffed inside a vehicle that measures 18 1/2 feet long and 8 feet wide.
To Isabella’s considerable credit, the chef exhibits both understanding and empathy for his culinary brethren who toil inside these mobile fire boxes.
“I’ve always wanted to do a food truck, but it’s very hard to do well,” Isabella writes via e-mail. “If you don’t have a restaurant, you’re out at the market buying and prepping food daily. Then you hope for good weather and good sales to move through product and be profitable.
“You need to churn and burn to deliver food quickly because people don’t have a lot of time to wait,” Isabella adds. “The menu needs to be simple and not labor intensive based on what equipment you have available in the truck. I feel having a restaurant to manage the ordering and prep would really help, but food trucks are still challenging.”
The Graffiato truck schedule on Wednesday:
8 a.m: Dupont Circle, Q Street NW, between 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW.
11 a.m.: Union Station, corner of Massachusetts Avenue and F Street NW.
1 p.m.: Franklin Park, corner of 14th and K streets NW.
4:45 p.m: Farragut North, K Street NW, between 17th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW.
6:30 p.m.: National Mall, corner of 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.