Street-food lovers, rejoice! The Spenard Food Truck Carnival is open for the season, corralling all of your favorite roving restaurants into one place for an afternoon of alfresco dining – Alaska-style. The mid-March opening day may have been chilly (a bit) and slushy (a lot), but in Alaska we call that "picnic weather."
But the seasons change quickly, and soon it will be time to trade in your Xtratufs for flip-flops, your beanies for baseball caps and your mittens for… not mittens (making it way easier to eat your loaded tater tots).
It's a cheerful scene under the iconic windmill. Music plays (often live) and the feisty Alaska Fire Circus performs to an appreciative audience. The crowd is full of kids in strollers, babies in carriers and dogs on leashes. I watched one woman share her lap and her sandwich ("Lady and the Tramp"-style) with a scrappy little terrier. It was the best thing I saw all week.
I approach a food truck festival roughly the way a general approaches a high-stakes mission on foreign soil. You need a multifront strategy and well-trained troops. My strategy includes web stalking the various menus in advance, developing a food base-layer (some people refer to this as "eating an appetizer"), and bringing hungry teenagers who are willing to perform line-holding duties in exchange for queso and cupcakes.
The first rule, of course, is to arrive hungry. The second is to find the shortest available line and get in it. Order something right off the bat to take the edge off before investigating other culinary options. This prevents you from making hungry, panicky decisions. We started with an order of Cowboy Fries ($8.50) from The Smokehouse BBQ & Catering. It was a good choice. A decadent layer of pulled pork, rich cheese sauce and a sweet and smoky BBQ sauce blanketed a bed of piping hot and crispy fries. It was the perfect shareable dish to ready us for the next phase of our mission.
We moved on to Jeepney by Adobo Grill. They have a two-part ordering system wherein you choose a meat specialty (chicken or pork adobo, sisig, or beef tapa) and then a serving style (burrito, nachos, over fries or as a rice bowl). We opted for the pork adobo served nacho-style ($15). We used solid reasoning: we love adobo and we love nachos. Perhaps, however, there is such a thing as too much power. The dish was a combination at odds. The simplicity of the pork adobo was overwhelmed by the spiciness of the jalapenos and pico de gallo as well as the richness of the cheese sauce and guacamole. In the end, we enjoyed this dish by carefully picking out (and chowing down on) the delicious adobo first then tucking into the nachos second. Next time, I'll order them separately.
Side note: these are called "Mt. Pinatubo Nachos," and they are aptly named. It is truly a mountain of food and proved to be the day's biggest conversation starter. Envious eyebrows were raised. Inquiries were made by strangers. We needed a second takeout container because the box it was served in wouldn't close – even after we had had our fill. If you plan to order this, bring a friend. Or three.
Nearby was Mobile Munchies 907, which specializes in a variety of fry bread preparations as well as salmon chowder and Eskimo ice cream. I opted for the fry bread taco ($10) and it was one of my favorite bites of the day. The bread is puffy and pillowy, yet toothsome and pleasantly crisp – like an unsweetened doughnut. The taco filling was brightly spicy and well balanced. The whole little pie is generously topped with lettuce, sour cream and a pleasantly peppery salsa. New rule: Everything should be served on fry bread — scrambled eggs, duck a l'orange, ice cream sundaes – everything. Mobile Munchies is making inroads toward this brave new world by offering fry bread pizzas, including pepperoni and chicken bacon ranch.
In an effort to divide and conquer, I got into line at the Main Event Catering truck while one daughter lined up at Yeti Dogs and another defended our spot at a picnic table. I had planned to order "The Girdwood," a grilled sandwich with house made blueberry bacon jam and melted Brie. Unfortunately, the regular bread had sold out when my turn came, so I had to opt for a bacon jam burger. Fortunately, this is a terrific burger with a well-seasoned and beautifully charred patty, a buttery, toasted bun and a heap of flavorful toppings. It was a real emotional roller coaster. I'll have to go back for that dreamy sounding grilled cheese sandwich but might have trouble resisting another burger. The side of garlic fries disappeared mysteriously while I was checking my phone. It won't happen again.
My 12-year-old daughter was instructed to order the Yeti Dogs special of the day, but when she discovered that it was Cajun alligator ($7), she lost her nerve and went with a bratwurst ($5.50). It was a stunning act of betrayal. I begrudgingly took a bite of the lonely, topping-free sausage (not pictured because who needs a picture of that?) and have to admit that it tasted pretty great. I have always loved Yeti Dogs' creative topping specials (corned beef and hash! Frito pie! Mac and cheese! Mexican corn salsa!), but their sausages are good enough to go naked. I'll be back for that alligator sausage. In fact, I've been having a hard time thinking about anything else.
Our final visit was to Babycakes Cupcakes, Etc., for dessert. Leaving this popular vendor for last was almost a disastrous tactical error: they were nearly sold out. Luckily, we managed to score a red velvet "Winkie" ($3.50) filled with coconut cream and the last two remaining cupcakes ($4.50 each). By this time, even our professionally primed appetites had been bested, so we took our treats home. Our day ended on a sweet note when we tucked into the rich, darkly chocolaty PB Bomb, which had a bold stance on peanut butter flavor. The cookie-dough cupcake was dense and decadent (though, in truth, I got only the tiniest taste – my daughters were quite stingy with it). Lastly, we divided the Winkie — which can best be described as a fancy Twinkie: try eating it with your pinky extended.
Of course, you may not have the time, the troops or the appetite to sample every vendor in one day. But never fear. The Spenard Food Truck Carnival will be serving lunch on wheels until the fall.
But for now, spring is in the air, and it smells like fry bread.
Spenard Food Truck Carnival
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays
Location: 2435 Spenard Road (under the Koot's windmill)