Meals on Wheels
FM’s Lingbo Li discovers that the Yard is now home to some unexpectedly decent cuisine
Food is every bit as prone to trends as fashion. Just as thigh-high boots are having a moment on the fall catwalks, food trucks are enjoying an extended welcome on the dining scene.By spring, food truck frenzy reached its media tipping point. In late April, the Boston Globe ran a piece on Clover, an eco-friendly MIT food truck. In June, the Wall Street Journal investigated the nitty gritty of the ambulatory food biz. Then came July, when the LA Times devoted nearly 1000 words to the topic, highlighting Korean BBQ sensation Kogi, which shills short rib tacos to mass acclaim. Why all the fuss?Let me explain it this way: it’s like the difference between spotting a rare Iberian lynx in the wild versus watching it in a zoo cage. Hunting down that Korean short rib taco from something as sketchy as a food truck is just a whole lot sexier than ordering it in a restaurant. Sometimes, the truck locations will only be communicated via Twitter, adding another layer of mystery. I’m obviously not referring to lukewarm dogs and Mr. Frosty soft serve—this isn’t your grandmother’s food truck. The eco-friendly Clover Food Lab on Carleton Street near MIT showcases higher aspirations. Think: handcut fries married with rosemary and salt, a bomb chickpea fritter, and vegan banana nut muffins. Lunch is imbued with so much more coolness if you have to hunt it down and trap it like the hardened food warrior you are.Plus, there’s that thing called the Recession that makes budget eats appealing. Isn’t it nice to know that you’re not actually paying for a restaurant’s gold bathroom fixtures?Ever on the cutting edge, our beloved chickwich-schiller HUDS (I write that fondly) installed three food carts, two in Harvard Yard and one by Dudley. They each have their own theme. The Science Center one is “Organic Deli,” which means that the sandwich fillings have gratuitous adjectives like “sun-dried” and “dry cured.” Walk across the Yard, and you’ll hit the Mediterranean stand by Boylston Hall, where you can get a falafel fix. The last stop by Dudley is standard American fare—burgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches. They join the ranks of two non-HUDS food trucks which can’t use prime real estate: a pizza and pasta purveyor on Divinity Ave and a little-known Chinese food truck on Oxford St outside of Maxwell Dworkin.In the name of research, I gave two of the HUDS carts a try.Organic Deli was my first stop. My lunch partner and I used the colorful new chairs in the Yard. When I opened the paper wrapping and bit into my chicken salad sandwich ($7.50), I can only describe it as one of the most unfortunate bread failures I’ve experienced this year. The success of a sandwich relies, in large part, on the carbs that lovingly cushion the top and bottom. And this stuff was terrible. What did this innocent loaf do in a previous life to justify this? Even my friend, a red-blooded male, complained, and he was eating a version with bacon! And I thought that bacon could make anything delicious.By the time I came within an inch of the crusts, the bread was so dry it had begun to disintegrate. The chicken salad was solidly in the gourmet-inspired mediocrity class—large chunks of white meat interspersed with dried cranberry and celery—but nothing was able to overshadow the whole wheat terror of the bread. You could, like, refill a kitty litter box with this stuff. I deeply regretted not buying a drink.I fared much better with the Mediterranean cart parked in front of Boylston. I perhaps wisely avoided the falafel ($4.95), which is tricky to get right, and went with a beef kebab wrap ($6.25) on Syrian bread. Like the spice lover I am, I ordered it doused with tahini—a sesame paste—and hot sauce. It was best eaten in giant, gaping mouthfuls and washed down with some Diet Coke. The fresh crunch of the tomato and cukes contrasted nicely with the juicy chunks of well-seasoned beef.My major bone to pick is that this stuff is not freshly made. But there was definitely potential in my beef kebab wrap. Sure, they could have cut the beef into smaller pieces. They could have at least heated it up to capitalize on how friggin’ delicious a hot, greasy kebab is. But it was good enough. And good enough, by HUDS standards, amounts to not damn bad.This isn’t an invitation to rejoice that the food truck trend has hit Harvard Yard. But it’s not a bad option.Just stay away from the whole wheat bread.