Good Taste: Food trucks on Martha’s Vineyard

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Photo by Susan Safford

The Food Truck Revolution, which has swept the nation from Los Angeles to Boston, has now made its way to Martha’s Vineyard.

ArtCliff

Gina Stanley, owner and chef at the ArtCliff Diner, caught on to the trend last summer when she launched the ArtCliff Truck. After cooking in Washington D.C. for many years, Ms. Stanley bought the diner 11 years ago. The decision to add on the truck for dinner and late-night delights was a “no-brainer,” she says.

With the diner closed (except for patron’s use of the bathroom), the parking lot turns into a gathering place. Picnic tables decorated with flowers and candles are surrounded by festive Christmas lights while an eclectic playlist blasts from the truck. Early on it might be jazz, while late-night diners enjoy whatever the crew is in the mood for. “What do you guys want to hear?” Ms. Stanley shouts from the truck, and someone decides on Eminem. The handwritten menu hangs on the truck and orders are taken at the door.

The garlic parsley fries with basil-mayo are unreasonably delicious. Hot dog lovers have a few choices in accoutrements for their dog, like the Green Monster with salsa verde and slaw, or the Bikini Weenie with avocado, tomato and salsa, both for $6. The lamb burger, for $8, comes with a herb salad with cashew curry and cilantro. In addition to nightly specials, like The Good Farm chicken tacos with chipotle corn slaw, the truck also offers pork tacos, lobster tacos, burgers, and falafel. Or for those with a big sweet tooth, chocolate cupcakes and peanut butter cookies.

When they open at 5 pm, the truck serves families and beachgoers. As the night goes on they see cab loads of people heading home from Oak Bluffs as well as chefs and restaurant workers getting off their shifts.

When Ms. Stanley takes a couple of minutes away to chat with me, a young patron asks her about a job at the truck. It seems that good help is not hard for her to come by. “My staff is fighting over who gets the truck shifts,” she says and laughs. “Some of my servers have been with me for seven or eight years,” Ms. Stanley says. “They all come back to the roost.”

Ms. Stanley is particularly grateful to her truck-chefs, Aaron Zeender and Chris Chaput, “two really talented chefs doing short order, and they’re happy about it.”

It makes for a long day. The crew starts prepping at 10 am and by the time they clean up to go home it’s nearing 4 am, but they seem to be having a good time doing it. “We get excited about creating specials and new items,” Ms. Stanley says.

The truck is licensed for catering and private parties as well but Ms. Stanley hates for it not to be in the lot when people are expecting it. “People are mad when it isn’t here,” she says.

Following in her footsteps, there is a new truck in Tisbury and Ms. Stanley is excited about it. “The more things you offer people, the better,” she says.

The ArtCliff Diner serves breakfast and lunch seven days. You can count on The Truck being in the parking lot Wednesday through Sunday from 5 pm to midnight and on Fridays and Saturdays until 2 am.

Irie Bites

Last Friday, the Vineyard welcomed a mobile food truck and a new cuisine to the Island. Irie Bites is serving traditional Jamaican food, specializing in jerk chicken, at several Island locations.

Melody Cunningham, widow of reggae giant Peter Tosh, has been visiting the Vineyard for seven years, living here full-time for three. The first time she came she thought, “This place could use a nice Jamaican restaurant.” She kept the idea to herself for a while, knowing that she would have to team up with someone who was really familiar with the Island. Then she met photographer Peter Simon, who is a huge fan of the late Mr. Tosh, and a year and a half ago she said to him, “I have an idea.” Turns out, Mr. Simon’s son, Willie, loves jerk chicken, and the beginning stages of Irie Bites were born. “Step by step, inch by inch, row by row,” Peter Simon says of the arduous process.

The menu was designed to offer a “Taste of the islands,” according to their slogan. A one-quarter jerk chicken, the younger Mr. Simon’s personal favorite, is $8. You can also have your jerk in a wrap ($9), on a stick ($6), or on a salad ($8). Sides include rice and peas, plantains, and sweet potato wedges, ranging from $2 to $5. Irie Bites serves patties with chicken, cheese, beef, or veggie for $3. The Festival, which Ms. Cunningham highly recommends, is a fried dumpling sweetened with brown sugar for $4. As they get into a rhythm look for specials like fish soup, steamed fish, and curried goat (if you’re wincing at the thought of eating goat, just know that it is the most widely consumed meat on the planet).

Because of town regulations, getting Irie Bites up and running was no easy task. The Simons and Ms. Cunningham spent the winter getting organized, something Ms. Cunningham is quite adept at, as she used to make a living organizing people’s cluttered homes. Once they secured the truck, the Irie Bites team was ready to go. “Nothing beats a failure but a try,” Ms. Cunningham says.

Mr. Simon gives kudos to Danielle Dominick of the Scottish Bakehouse for allowing Irie Bites and their chef, Shemel Abraham, into her kitchen for all the prep work and to Gina Stanley, the Vineyard’s food truck pioneer, for helping them through the groundwork. Of all the help they received, the elder Simon says, “It was the epitome of the Vineyard’s character, everyone working together.”

Irie Bites first weekend was a success, with a huge, hungry crowd out to support them at Nectar’s on Saturday night. “I’m actually surprised it took off so fast,” said Willie Simon, “but it’s good.”

Ms. Cunningham is emotional about watching her dream come to fruition. “I’m so excited about this venture,” she says. “This is huge and it’s all coming from my heart. Seeing people enjoy the food and the music, I just start tearing up.”

Follow Irie Bites on Twitter and Facebook to see where they are. As of now they plan to be mobile six days a week, probably taking Mondays off. They will be next to the Vineyard Haven movie theater on Main Street from 12 noon to 5 pm, at Veteran’s Park (in the back of the EduComp parking lot) from 6 to 9 pm, and finally on to Nectar’s from 9 pm to at least 12 midnight.