Michel Wahaltere's head is hanging out the window of his paddy wagon parked in an abandoned lot on East Colfax, between York and Josephine, when he suddenly looks up, thrusts open the doors, grabs my hand and drags me around back. "See this?" he asks, panting and pointing to the narrow galley between the wheels. "This -- this -- is bigger than the first kitchen at the first Campo de Fiori in Aspen."
And this is a big deal to Wahaltere, who used to cook in the kitchen of Campo, both in Aspen and Denver. He's done time in just about every other kitchen in the city, too, but this is his first food truck.
It's called Chicago Louie's -- named for one the partners involved with Wahaltere's new enterprise that's backed by the Kallas brothers and cousins (they who own Steakhouse 10, Greeks Gone Wild and the Athenian) -- and from the confines of that kitchen, Wahaltere and his cohorts are turning out tater tots topped with cheddar fondue and bacon, sliders, sausages in nearly every manifestation you can imagine, corn dog puppies, chili, French fries, sweet potato fries and southern potato fries, and, to wash everything down, fifteen different varieties of sodas and waters, including Boylan and San Pellegrino.
But -- back to the actual kitchen, which makes Wahaltere erupt into impulsive jigs. Literally. "Look!" he demands. "Look at all of that: I've got steam tables and a fryer; a four-foot griddle and four burners; a salamander and full-length beverage refrigerator. I've got everything I could want from a wagon" -- including, it should be mentioned, customers. The first wave hit on New Year's Eve, at 11:50 p.m., just in time for Wahaltere to beat the ball drop -- something that he was hell-bent on achieving. "I knew I had to be in business by the end of 2010 -- that I had to make a sale in 2010 -- and on our first night, we were down by the club area on Broadway, and we had a hundred customers, maybe more." The next night, New Year's Day, the paddy wagon was parked parallel to Beta Nightclub, where Wahaltere fed another triple-digit crowd.
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"Things have been going great so far," says Wahaltere, who slings "sausages from all over the wold." And the world is about to include local sausages from Il Mondo Vecchio, Mark DeNittis's world-dominating salumeria. "I've got Polish sausages, hot links, Italian sausages, Vienna sausages, beer brats and Cajun sausages, but Mark is going to start making chorizo for me, a Greek sausage with fennel, orange and red wine that we're testing right now and some other specialty sausages, like rabbit and merguez," reveals Wahaltere.
Meanwhile, Wahaltere is prowling around town, noon and night, in his paddy wagon, turning customers on to some seriously good grub. You can follow the wagon's whereabouts on Facebook, Twitter and on the website.