BY AARON STELLA Welcome my fellow hungry Americans to another 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: the Center City theater and financial district. As I was zooming down 12th street on my way from Temple University to Center City, I fantasized about the fine cuisine Center City trucks must provide for the yuppie and corporate crowd. But when I visited all the major points of lunchtime congregation I found nothing but warm-water hotdog stands and cheese steak joints. Sigh.
Location: On 9th street between Market and Chestnut streets.
Cuisine: Typical lunch truck fare
Billy Hadden, owner of the cart on 9th street, says “all the major news stations” have interviewed him about his truck. He’s a local, still living in Fishtown. The guy says he used to go to the George Chandler elementary school located at Wildey St. and Montgomery Ave., which was converted to an apartment complex sometime in the past 10 to 15 years, and where I take residence. So we had a lot to talk about. He’s had the truck in operation for 12 years now, and has known some of his customers since they were tots. Now, in their early twenties, he still receives their patronage. The menu is standard lunch truck fare: Cheese steaks, burgers, hot dogs and Wiener schnitzel. Hot chocolate, milk, soda, juice and water. Prices are not listed on the menu on the side of the truck, strangely enough. I figured I should sample cheese steaks or bacon, egg and cheese rolls. You know in Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David expels his infamous “eh,” shruggin his shoulders with disinterestedness? That’s how I felt about Hadden’s cheese steak. All told, a pretty paltry sandwhich, it was more baked roll than anything, and I had to use the little boy’s room about 15 minutes after I finished eating. Of course, that could just be my mild case of lactose intolerance, of which I’m in extreme denial, but that doesn’t happen with all cheese infused food I eat. I paid $3.75 for it, that’s a little under the running rate for cheese steaks. Service wasn’t the snappiest and I doubt I’ll be going back for the cheese steaks, but Hadden is very sociable and his rapport with his patrons no doubt inspires loyalty.
Location: On Locust St. between Broad and 15th streets
Cuisine: Deja vu. Need I say more.
Harr, which was the only name he gave of himself, is quiet and reserved, speaking to his customer with what little English he knows. He has his reasons for remaining anonymous and that’s just fine. By the way, the menu’s the same as Hadden’s. Service was speedy, with me at least, for Harr’s haste seems to come in bouts, only when he deemed it necessary. This time, I tried the bacon, egg and cheese. Not bad, not bad at all. It had plenty of thick strips of bacon — the best kind of bacon, you know, the hefty kind — and it was cooked not to a crisp but had a bit of give. My only criticism was that it was a tad dry, as is the case with most grease carts. Other than that, I was full and thoroughly satisfied with my purchase.
Location: On 16th St. between Walnut and Locust streets
Cuisine: Yeah yeah, you know.
I settled to review this truck frankly because know one else would talk with me, and he at least let me snap a photo of his truck. The man running the truck seemed jovial as he interacted with his customers. Service was lightning fast; he pumped out orders as if he had a five-man assembly line behind him. I had the cheese steak. The proportion of meat to roll heavily favored the meat, which was a refreshing change. It was larger, by far, in length and girth (sorry, couldn’t help it) than Hadden’s, and only cost 25 cents more. If I’m in Center City hankering for a cheese steak, I’ll definitely go back.
[Photos by AARON STELLA]