Your parents always warned you not to take candy from anyone in a van, but ordering fondue from a friendly couple in a lime-green, converted VW van is not only safe, it's highly recommended.
Taylor and Krystianne Vaughn have figured out a way to make gooey melted cheese and velvety melted chocolate mobile with DipStik, Denver's new -- and only -- fondue food truck.
One recent afternoon, the Vaughns were setting up for business around 4 p.m. outside Great Divide Brewing Company. They already had a group of customers waiting on the sidewalk, and a few looky-loos scoping out the menu on the side of the van. "We have an agreement with these guys," Taylor said. "They give us a few beers and we feed their staff."
DipStik officially opened for business on June 23 -- but the couple had the van before they decided what to do with it.
"We were living in Oahu at the time and had always wanted one," said Krystianne. "We originally wanted to live out of it...."
She trailed off as Taylor added, "Probably not the best idea in the world, but a food truck -- better plan."
They used Kickstarter to raise $13,700 to soup up the van and embark upon the great work of bringing fondue to the masses. "We lost track of how much more we put into it," said Krystianne. "We probably spent about $17,000 altogether."
The truck is not self-contained: The couple prepares everything in a commissary kitchen, then serves it from the truck, in compliance with Denver rules. "We can't even cut a piece of broccoli in it," laughed Krystianne.
The van is definitely not as spacious as a traditional food truck, but the two manage to serve the food -- and not trample each other -- with the extra room they get when they pop the top of the van. "See!" said Taylor. "We have a topless restaurant!"
They started out using actual fondue pots to serve the cheese and chocolate, but soon realized that the small pots were not conducive to the portions they needed, so they switched to several large crockpots, cleverly lined with plastic cooking bags to avoid that end-of-the-night cheese-crust chiseling.
Even though it's clear that fondue is the focus of this vehicle, some people don't get the message.
"Hot dogs," said Taylor. "People are always asking for hot dogs."
Perhaps a "fon-dog" will find its way onto the modest menu, but for now the the lineup is simple and very appealing. There are fondue nachos with black beans, onion, red peppers, minced jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, cilantro, tortilla chips and their signature jalapeno-Jack fiesta fondue -- and for a buck more you can get fondue "machos" with shredded chicken and guacamole. Their Mac-Lovin' macaroni and cheese is made with sharp white Cheddar and Gruyere fondue over fat elbow macaroni and sprinkled with panko crumbs and Italian seasoning.
They also offer a bread bowl filled with red-pepper hummus, pita chips and snack-sized veggies. And, of course, there are cheese and chocolate fondues.
The current cheese fondue is Parmesan pesto: a soft, seeded bread bowl filled with steaming hot cheese swirled with fragrant, green pesto, with sides of cheesy garlic bread chunks, fresh cut carrots, celery, broccoli florets and strips of red pepper, and tiny wooden skewers for dipping. I loved every single bite -- the fondue was rich and thick, and the best part was ripping up the bread bowl and shoving it into my mouth like a manner-less hedonist.
They also make a fine dessert fondue with warm, melted Ghirardelli dark chocolate served in a bowl made from sponge cake with dippy-sides of fresh raspberries, marshmallows, brownies, Rice Krispies treats and pretzels. With a menu like that, DipStik is definitely on a roll.
"We are definitely gaining popularity," Taylor mused. "And the van attracts a lot of attention."
DipStik will be at the Denver Beer Co on Wednesday around 4 p.m. -- and it will join in the Justice League of Street Food end-of-summer party that will roll out on Sunday, September 2.
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