BY AARON STELLA Welcome everyone! This is the first edition of Truck Stop, where each week we’ll visit street vendors in different parts of Philadelphia to assist the common wayfarer in their travels and grub scavenging. Hey, don’t give me that look — if you ain’t too proud to get your news off the Internet, then you probably ain’t too proud to eat sushi off a truck. This week: Temple University, we are inside you.
THE CREPE TRUCK
Location: Norris St., between 12th and 13th
Cuisine: Phalanxes of sweet, savory and French-Mex crepes
Ari Lolosidis, 21, Alex Gyftopoulos, 22, and Billy Cacharatos, 34, form the trio of Greeks who run this truck. Cacharatos opened the truck after shuffling through three or four jobs he “wasn’t too crazy about.” While in Greece, the locals taught him the art of crepe making. When Gyftopolous met Cacharatos four years back at a barbeque at his father-in-law’s, he was looking for work, and eventually found employment with Cacharatos. Lolosidis said he used to “hang around the truck” in his freshman year, and gradually more as a sophomore, until it got to the point where Cacharatos “had to put [him] on the payroll.” The trio has plans to expand and open crepe cafes throughout the city.
Sweet crepes ($3.25) Savory crepes ($4.25)
French-mex (tortilla instead of crepe, $4.25)
By European standards, which are most likely Cacharatos’, they’re a fair size. So I usually get two: one sweet and one savory. This is partly because they’re that good, and partly because one usually doesn’t fill me up. As for the flavor, each crepe speaks for itself. The savory: every season of meat available, cooked with a medley of veggies and drizzled in a dressing of your choice; the sweet contains fruit — bananas, berries of all kinds, peaches, mangos, etc. — rolled in viscous nutella, peanut butter, or various homemade fruit creams, then sprinkled with powdered sugar. The crepes are restaurant-quality despite coming from a takeaway truck. Service is quick and all the guys are down-to-earth and friendly. By the way, Cacharatos is an avid chess player and has a board set up on the provided patio furniture for public use when the weather allows. So if you’ve a competitive spirit, see if you can’t best him.
GREEN TRUCK (a.k.a “Sexy Green Truck”)
Location: Between 12th and 13th streets on Montgomery Ave.
Cuisine: Locally grown organic comfort foods
The concept of a totally organic foods truck was a joint project created by SRB (Students for Responsible Business) and Rudi Gurra. Gurra had your standard eggs, sausage and cheesesteak truck at the same location before he agreed to “go green.” He says providing food that’s not only “healthy for the body, but for [the] mind” makes him feel he plays a vital role in education. And the students flock there. Both Gurra and Bujar Cela, business partner and family friend, hail from Albania. They keep relatively reserved, but if you effort some conversation, they’ll perk up and get chatty. Gurra supports a wife and four kids here in the States.
Various omelets wrapped in pita ($2.50 – $4; .50 to add chicken)
Sides ($1- $2)
Mint iced-tea ($1, or .50 with your own cup) FREE REFILLS!
The sweet potato omelet is mixed with their famous sweet potato fries and could have easily been served at Honey’s Sit n’ Eat and cost eight bucks, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. Sweet and savory, not too moist or dry (the egg is a fickle mistress, and in rare form when prepared by street vendors, so props to them), and the portions were perfect. Around halfway finished, the wrap began to tear and soon became a messy ordeal. Still, for three bucks — I added the chicken — it’s worth the potential mess. I doubled up and got their sweet potato fries ($1) also. Overall, a little under cooked and pretty darn soggy, as if the excess grease from Gurra’s eggs-and-bacon days found its way into the fries. Not terrible, but they’re better off in the omelet. Mint iced tea is as good as it sounds, and even better on a hot summer’s day. You could probably get away with bringing the cup you got from them the last time you got the tea, and they’d probably give you a free refill with no questions asked. But you didn’t hear that from me.
ERNIE’S BREAKFAST TRUCK
Location: 13th St., between Montgomery Ave. and Cecil B. Moore
Cuisine: Egg rolls, sandwiches and cheesesteaks galore.
Faculty, custodians, and gym students getting their greasy protein fix all frequent Ernie’s Truck. Ernie and his wife Taso opened shop when they first arrived from the Ukraine, and Ernie says most of the profits are used to finance his daughter’s education at Temple University. Ernie’s pretty jocund, except when he overhears a customer griping about the American government. Then, recalling memories of government oppression in Ukraine, he can be grouchy and sometimes caustic, muttering random obscenities under his breath as he paces back and forth in his truck. But Taso’s always a dear.
Standard grease-cart fare priced about the same it is everywhere else.
Any egg, cheese and meat roll ($2.50)
Cheese steaks ($5.00-6.50)
Sandwich prices vary. I had their scrapple, egg and cheese in tribute to a fabulous Philadelphia original. It came on the whole foot-long roll and with enough scrapple to satiate even the most inordinate appetites. Although it was moist, I think the grease was more responsible for that than Ernie’s deftness in cooking the egg. You have to consider the source, but at least you’re getting your money’s worth: It’s a big roll. Ernie said he makes a mean chicken cheesesteak. I got mine with mushrooms to ensure it would be moist (keep in mind, ketchup can add moisture so it’s best sometimes to ask that your roll/cheese steak/burger come well-dressed). Well, neither the mushrooms nor the extra helping of ketchup could save this bone-dry specimen. Sorry Ernie. I’ve yet to have a good chickencheese steak from a street vendor. Ernie’s been doing this for years so service is prompt and consistent.
Next time, we be truckin’ in University City. Send any suggestions of places you’d like to see covered to email@example.com. Until next time, keep on grubbing, and remember, it’s not out of the ordinary to tip. Trust me, they’ll really appreciate it.