ArtsRiot Truck Stop
It’s a mid-summer Friday evening in Burlington, Vermont. The sun is setting and the temperature is just about perfect for an outdoor party. Down a nondescript alley off of Pine Street, a party is indeed getting started at the ArtsRiot’s South End Truck Stop. The aromas in the air combine sweet smoke with curried things, fried things and pickled things. A circle of roughly 15 vendors have gathered in what could be described as the most urban-feeling place in all of the State of Vermont. It is the back lot to an array of old buildings that have been resurrected into studios and galleries in the heart of Burlington’s art scene. Graphic arts, printing, jewelry, furniture and even glass blowing can be found during the day, but in summertime, on Friday nights, the lot is turned over to the food scene. The DJ has just started up the music and the crowd is ready to savor and revel.
South End Truck Stop was started in 2012. The event is organized by ArtsRiot, a group of people who wanted to create a space where art, food and culture could thrive. Their motto is to “destroy apathy,” by which they mean to confront issues of the world through better communication. Director Felix Wai explains that the Truck Stop event started when their new space was under construction. He and the other collaborators knew many food truck vendors and decided since their space wasn’t completed yet, they should throw a big party in the lot behind the building and invite all the vendors. It soon evolved into a regular Friday night event that has been growing in size ever since.
The selection of vendors shifts every week, but one is likely to find the Taco Truck All Stars, the Burger Barn, Dolce VT, the Hawker Stall and Southern Smoke, among others. Some, like the Lobster Roll, already have a brick-and-mortar restaurant but come to the Truck Stop to expand their customer base. Others, like Corey Bolton of Headless Barbecue, have just started their own food business and see Truck Stop as a good way to generate some attention. Barbecue is well represented, and Bolton’s “Vermont style” was among the best. He uses a mix of smoke and dry-rubbed spices with maple syrup for sweetness and character. It is messy deliciousness and worth every last napkin necessary to manage the meal.
International cuisine is also prevalent with the smell of curry everywhere. The Hawker Stall specializes in Southeast Asian cuisine with curries and roti on offer. The chef is self-taught, having spent time in China and Malaysia before returning to Vermont to seduce his customers with curries that are otherwise hard to find in New England.
And then there are stalls with cuisine that defy categorization such as Dolce VT. It doesn’t really matter what category their truffle fries with sriracha mayo falls into, they are simply a really good idea, very well executed.
There is plenty to satisfy a sweet tooth as well. One of our favorites was Queen City Pops run by Sarah Carson, who makes her pops with organic local cream (don’t miss the Frozen Chocolate Truffle Pop: creamy, rich decadent). Carson started her business in May of 2014 and sells at the Burlington Farmers’ Market, Healthy Living and City Market. Truck Stop, she claims, is her best venue. She is also an example of how the exposure at the venue can lead to bigger things; last year Queen City Pops was awarded honorable mention in the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards. The attention also led the website Goldbely.com to invite her to sell her pops through their site.
Arguably the most fun part of Truck Stop is the crowd. On the night of my first visit I saw a group of bearded hipsters next to an archetypal preppy complete with Nantucket red pants and a pale yellow sweater slung over his shoulders. Families arrived with children, some of whom seem overwhelmed by the crowd and others who were solely focused on the dessert options. Local celebrity Tom Messner filmed his weather report live in the middle of the fray but barely received any attention because the people-watching of non-celebrities was even better. There were hippies, hipsters, preppies, yuppies, the elderly, babies and a few goth, which is to say the crowd is a good reflection of Burlington itself.
One bit of advice, which may seem contradictory for a trip to a food mecca, is to not arrive famished. Lines can be long and everything is made fresh to order as it would be in a restaurant, so even when you make it to the front of the line, you still may have to wait for your order to be prepared. The smells are tantalizing and may send you in desperation to the shortest line just to satisfy your hunger. Come prepared to give yourself a little time to survey the offerings and then stand in line for something that truly calls to you. Given the party atmosphere, everyone is very friendly and the line itself becomes opportunity to hang with Burlington’s hippest.
For more information, go to ArtsRiot.com.