Steuben's going mobile

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After I chatted yesterday with Josh Wolkon of Steuben's and Vesta, he kindly forwarded me an article from the travel section of the Los Angeles Times about the sudden, fierce boom in food trucks that has gripped the foodie Shangri La of Portland. That city now has about 400 trucks, serving everything from crepes and poutine to pitas, burek and cheeseburgers. They are everywhere: working the streets, parked downtown, gathered into pods in parking lots and clustered around knots of picnic tables.

While Denver has a few taco trucks working the mainlines of Colfax and Federal, spreading love and cheap asada to the masses, that's pretty much where our food truck culture begins and ends. We have carts, sure, and some great ones. There's the Thai Cart, the Gastro Cart, Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs. And the guys from Mezcal will occasionally roll out their taco truck when the mood strikes them. But that's barely a drop in the bucket compared to the scene in cities like Portland, where the food-truck thing has become big business and a huge draw for locals.

Fortunately, that could soon change.

"We've got a truck," Wolkon had told me over the phone yesterday. The truck isn't ready yet, and there are some fairly large complications still to overcome (like insurance, for one, and licensing and permitting from the city, and converting the mobile kitchen to run on the oil from the Steuben's fryers). Still, there is now an official Steuben's food truck parked in some secret location. And Wolkon has the fervent hope (one I now share) that maybe in a few months, that same truck will be rolling down the streets of this fair city bringing lobster rolls to the citizenry.

Once the truck is rolling, Wolkon said, it will be doing green chile cheeseburgers and fries, hot dogs from Continental Sausage Company (which is custom-designing a Steuben's dog just for them), Cuban sandwiches, veggie sandwiches and daily specials (like lobster rolls). The Steuben's crew hopes to find a stable location from which to work for part of the day, then travel the land, updating their fans via Twitter and carrying sandwiches to the people well into the evening.

But first, there's the roadblock of permitting. Because Denver doesn't have many food trucks beyond loncherias, there's not a good set of rules for how they should work. "It's going to be interesting to see how the city handles it," Wolkon told me.

What's more interesting? Steuben's isn't the only restaurant out there that's noticed the sudden upswing in food-truck love. Word is that Frank Bonanno is also looking at doing a Bones food truck, which would offer noodles and dumplings and maybe even steamed buns.

No word yet on who's going to come up with the first pho truck or fried chicken truck or mobile pancake delivery unit, but I've got my fingers crossed.

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