Food trucks have been an American tradition for decades. But a surge in popularity over the past few years has resulted in gourmet mobile eatery options no longer limited to ice cream and hot dogs. Thanks to a few new businesses, the gourmet food truck trend is influencing the Asbury Park boardwalk’s pop-up eateries.
The boardwalk will resemble “a food truck row without any wheels” this summer, according to Pucker owner Kristina Bannon. Boardwalk redeveloper Madison Marquette has developed several small, seasonal pop-up retail locations along the boards, where plenty of eclectic eats will be offered this summer.
On the southern end of the boardwalk, Samuel Chung and Jason Devino [at right] are opening a Korean taco stand, inspired by food truck culture. Their new pop-up, Mogo, will serve a hybrid of Korean barbecue and Mexican food when it opens next month.
The Korean taco “has become really trendy” in New York and California, Chung said. “The whole thing started in Los Angeles. This guy Roy Choi did a taco truck and started a new thing where he melded Korean barbecue into a taco and sold it in Los Angeles.”
The truck was successful in part because of the high numbers of Korean and Mexican people in Los Angeles, Chung said, as well as those two ethnic groups’ history of working together in restaurants.
“You grill the meat and then you put it into the red leaf lettuce and you put some sauce in it, wrap it up, and eat it with rice,” Chung said of preparing Korean barbecue. The originator of Korean tacos “worked in some restaurants and sometimes when they would run out of the red leaf lettuce, they would use tortillas,” Chung said. “It progressed from there.”
Although Korean tacos have proven popular enough to receive attention from Zagat through a Korean taco throwdown in 2009, the fusion cuisine “hasn’t made it down here yet,” Devino said. “We’re pioneering it.”
Chung and Devino’s Korean tacos will feature family recipes honed by Chung’s cousin, Hannah Lee, of New York City. Lee is also handling the marketing and branding for Mogo, whose blue-and-red EAT stickers can be seen all over Asbury.
“We think there’s a really specific demographic that’s going to like this type of food and the Asbury demographic caters to that,” Devino said. “Everything is progressive and open-minded here.”
The owners are targeting not only beach-goers but also the late-night crowd leaving nearby bars — which, said Chung, also spurred the taco truck trend elsewhere in the country.
Farther north on the boardwalk, Kristina Bannon is also melding family recipes with the new trend of gourmet food on the fly. Bannon will continue to offer the summertime staples of lemonade and fresh-cut french fries at Pucker for the fourth year this summer. She will also open Tony’s Sausage, Dogs and Cheesesteak, which will serve family recipes and carry on the name of her family’s business.
A third-generation mobile restaurateur, Bannon comes from the old guard of food truck operators. Her Italian-American family has fed droves of people at festivals and events for more than 60 years.
Bannon’s grandparents helped originate San Gennaro Fest in Little Italy in 1946, and her family has been perfecting their sausage recipes for years. She gets her sausage mix custom-made according to the family recipe, and vows to refund a customer’s money if the sausage sandwich at Tony’s isn’t the best they’ve ever had.
Bannon offers a limited menu at both of her pop-ups, based on her grandfather’s mantra — “Keep it simple, stupid.”
“More is not always better,” she said. “Stick to one or two items you do really well.”
The Asbury Park boardwalk is a good fit for food-truck-like fare because “we do what people want, but it’s a little more sophisticated,” Bannon said. She strives to provide summery boardwalk food made from whole ingredients. Her french fries are made by slicing whole Idaho potatoes; soaking them in water to remove the starch; and twice-frying them. She makes her lemonade out of three ingredients — lemons, sugar and water. She also recently began to offer fruit purées along with the beverage.
Running a seasonal, mobile food venture “has its ups and downs,” Bannon said. “Growing up in the business helps.”
Devino, Chung and Bannon — as well as most of the other food vendors on the boardwalk — live in Asbury Park, according to Carrie Turner, head of retail for Madison Marquette.
Madison Marquette is usually approached by business owners looking to set up shop on the boardwalk, Turner said.
“We make it a priority to be a little unique, a little diverse,” Turner said of the boardwalk business selection process.
The boardwalk is also welcoming back a crêpe shop, which opened in the middle of the season last year. The proprietors of that eatery could not be reached for comment.
All of the pop-up food purveyors plan to be open by the Bamboozle festival in late May, Turner said.