August 23, 2012

Do you like this?

I stood there transfixed. We were having a pleasant conversation, but I became so completely distracted that our voices faded into the background and I found myself listening to the slight roar of the blowtorch over the voices of the other hungry diners. I had been watching thick slices of bacon subtly dance on the flattop griddle as they cooked to crispy perfection, but when he delicately placed a perfectly poached egg on top of that sensual mound of sliced pork belly I could no longer give our conversation full attention. The discussion waned, and he became occupied with layering thin slices of locally produced Coppinger cheese across the top of that quivering egg and following its contours with the flame of the blowtorch, the cheese melting until it clung to the egg like a like a well-tailored cocktail dress. He was deeply focused on creation, but I was singularly focused on consumption.

This scene didn’t play out in one of Chattanooga’s linen-tablecloth, fine-dining restaurants. No, I was watching this piece of food porn unfold before my eyes through the window of one of the city’s finest food trucks, Famous Nater’s World Famous.

You might remember the quilted chrome sides and glass doors of “roach coaches” that would roam the city, stalking lunch-seekers with what was essentially a mobile vending machine full of egg salad sandwiches emitting a questionable odor and shart-inducing “beef” burritos. But today’s food trucks are about as far from the old barf buggies as you can get and have become essentially small restaurants on wheels.

Chattanooga is currently home to six food trucks, with at least two more hitting the streets over the next couple of months. Several days a week you can find a flock of these trucks gathered together like a wandering gang of culinary gypsies serving up Korean tacos, gourmet Argentinean sandwiches, artisan burgers and fresh doughnuts.

When a group of us hit Fresh on Fridays at Miller Plaza or Street Food Thursdays at Warehouse Row, we inevitably spread out among the trucks according to preference. Some grab Korean tacos and banchan at Taco Sherpa, others go for Argentinean milanesa and empanadas from Taste of Argentina, but I seem to always end up at Famous Naters World Famous for one of Chef Nathan Flint’s delicious creations.

Flint is no pseudo-chef riding a food-truck trend to pay for his tapered jeans and pimp his line of cheap cookware on the shopping channel (I’m looking at you Tyler Florence). He is a Culinary Institue of America-trained chef with a long résumé from working in the kitchens of both the Atlanta and Boston Ritz Carlton Hotels to cooking alongside James Beard award-winning chefs in restaurants like Bacchanalia and Radius.

Most of his menu items are in sandwich form, which makes it easy for you to walk away with fine-dining quality food in an easy-to-manage, brown-paper package. Catch him early, and you can grab a breakfast of confit pork belly. At lunch you might find braised pork with plumb wine chili vinaigrette on the menu. For Iron Chef fans, Flint has recently been using an immersion circulator (yes, in a food truck) to make the most perfect slow-poached eggs for, among other things, the Pork Benedict sandwich—a slow-poached egg, pulled pork, bacon, Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce. Suck on that, Jeff Mauro.

Let’s be clear: Famous Nater’s has no fryer, microwave, no prepackaged shortcuts. Flint makes virtually everything from scratch using the freshest, locally grown and sourced foods in the area. Personally, I couldn’t be happier that street food is becoming an accepted part of the Chattanooga food scene. I would love to see more carts, stands and food-hawkers hit the streets as long as the community continues to embrace them—and they should.

Mike McJunkin cooks better than you and chases food trucks for sport. Visit his Facebook page (Sushi and Biscuits) for updates and recipes.


August 23, 2012

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