June 15, 2024

Alaska Food Trucks – The New York Times

Last summer, on an overcast day in July, the coastal town of Sitka, once the capital of Russian Alaska and a popular stop on Inside Passage tours in Southeast Alaska, was packed with passengers arriving from three cruise ships . To accommodate the crowds, the city had closed the main street to cars. In their place, food trucks, carts and stands had sprung up, creating a festive atmosphere with strolling diners slurping seafood chowder and reeling off tacos.

“In the summer, street food seems like the way to go in a place like this,” said Gretchen Stelzenmuller, who cooked professionally in San Francisco before moving back home to Sitka during the pandemic and opening her mobile food business, Enoki restaurant, which serves Japanese-inspired comfort food. “It’s healthy and uniquely celebrates Alaskan ingredients, but you can also roll in and grab a bite and still make your trip.”

In the wake of the pandemic, as tourism returns to full strength in Alaska, food trucks and other vendors have proliferated in ports from Ketchikan to Seward.

“With a food truck, you can get into the restaurant business without the full costs of a brick-and-mortar business,” said Jon Bittner, the company’s state director. Alaska Small Business Development Center. “That’s quite attractive in smaller communities that serve cruise ships.”

For passengers who only have a few hours in port and a lot to see – including ferry riders taking the Alaska Marine Highway — food trucks offer local flare at reasonable prices and in less time than full-service restaurants.

“Food trucks are a natural extension of what draws people to Alaska when they’re out and about,” said Aaron Saunders, senior editor at Cruise critic.

Expect to pay a little more than in the Lower 48, due to the high cost of living. Last summer, I bought a chicken and rice dish for $16 from a stand in Seward, a few dollars more and a free can of Pepsi less than the equivalent truck fare in New York City.

For the 2023 cruise season, which generally runs from April to October, Alaska cruise authorities are expecting 1.65 million cruise passengers, up from the record 1.3 million in 2019. Most of them will sail the Inside Passage, a route of about 500 miles in Southeast Alaska. three islands protecting it from the storm of the Pacific Ocean.

Although visitors can ship their way through Anchorage – which has its own success food truck scene — the following popular cruise stops create a trail of locally grown coastal cuisine.

Often the first call in Alaska for a cruise from the Inside Passage to the north, Ketchikan — a traditional Tlingit fishing camp that today thrives on tourism, commercial fishing and forestry — that the arrival of cruise ships is booming. Passengers boarding for day trips in the Tongass National Forest or to see the totem poles at Saxman Native Village You will find several food stalls among the vendor booths on the cruise dock – including D’s Fish and Chip Shack — although stronger food truck offerings can be found within walking distance.

“If you want to see someone make out with a chicken sandwich, come by our truck sometime,” wrote Thane Peterson, owner of the food truck Chicke Chicke Bang Bang, which specializes in chicken sandwiches ($12), in an email. He described the dinners with “closed eyes, crying, mumbling ‘Oh my god.'”

The truck, launched last year, can often be found parked near the cruise docks, and passengers, Mr. Peterson said, account for two-thirds of annual sales.

A few blocks from the cruise beds, Amber Adams aims to open the town’s first food cart, Dock Street Yardin August with room for three vendors.

After moving to Ketchikan from New Orleans four years ago, Ms. Adams found herself cooking Creole dishes with Alaskan ingredients as a reminder of home and a necessity in a small town with few food options. Currently the only tenant on the lot is her business, the Food Truck, which serves shrimp and grits ($15) and rib-eye banh mi po’ boys ($18).

“Starting a restaurant is scary,” Ms. Adams said as she prepared her truck. “But it’s a different beast here because of the huge influx of people over the last six months which basically increases the town’s population.”

In the high season, passengers can match landings Sitkapopulation of about 8,500. Again this year, the city is restricting the main thoroughfare, Lincoln Street, to foot traffic on days when the cruise ship capacity in the port exceeds 5,000, inviting mobile businesses to set up.

“I think it’s a great way to showcase the talent of this town,” said Mr. Stelzenmuller, who last year launched Enoki Eatery as a pop-up on Lincoln Street serving variations of Hawaiian-style musubi, a rice wedge topped with Spam or fish and tied with a seaweed wrap. “Street food should be a reason to come here.”

This year, she bought a food truck and parked it downtown. The vehicle allowed her to expand the menu, which would include steamed buns stuffed with pork or salmon and cream cheese ($9) and smoked salmon musubi ($8.50).

Just off Lincoln Street, behind Ernie’s Old Time Saloon, Barbara Palacios serves poke, chowder and ceviche from her cart, the Fresh Fish.

“We have a boom in food trucks here in Sitka,” said Ms. Palacios, who plans to upgrade her vehicle later this year to a full-size food truck and continue to offer poke (tuna or salmon, $18). halibut ceviche ($14) and seafood chowder ($9 per cup, $14 per bowl).

“It’s a labor of passion and love,” said Mr. Palacios, who often works 12 hours a day in season.

A few blocks east, past Russian Orthodox St. Michael’s CathedralAshley McNamee runs Ashmo onserving locally caught fish in smoked salmon macaroni and cheese ($9), black cod on coconut rice ($10) and lingcod sandwiches ($12).

Like many food truck operators here, Ms. McNamee, whose resume includes 14 years cooking at a fishing lodge in Alaska, chose the food truck over “the restaurant grind.” Still, she said, “With the influx of people from cruise ships, there’s little I can do to keep up.”

From the center of town, it is a little over a mile to Harbor Mountain Brewing Co.where Cambria Goodwin and Luke Bruckert set up their brick and mortar Campfire Kitchen, wood oven pizza specialist. This year, they added a mobile kitchen to the location to prepare fried chicken sandwiches ($15) and fried cheese curds ($9) to keep up with the business rush.

In a separate effort, Ms. Goodwin recently opened Sitka Salmon Wagonserving salmon bisque ($10 a cup, $16 a bowl) from a trailer parked downtown “to feed the big people,” she said.

Weather can be a challenge when it comes to outdoor dining in the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska. After one year in a row flower dogs hot dog cart, Shawn Blumenshine is adding a food truck and will operate in several locations, serving Frank Famous Nathan ($7) and creative versions ($11), including Madra Banh Mi with carrots, cabbage, jalapeños , vinaigrette and sweet chili sauce. So far, there are mostly local patrons. “I have a hardcore banh mi fan,” Mr. Blumenshine said.

The state capital, Juneau, is no stranger to food carts and trucks. Among the followers in town are Bernadette’sa Filipino barbecue cart started in 1996 that draws lines of visiting cruise ship crew members, many of them Filipino, and Game Pucker Wilsonwhich opened nine years ago, and double-fisted burgers like the Huskey Dawson topped with bacon, onion rings and cheese ($16).

Visitors looking for Alaskan seafood on the way will find that it is a few blocks from the cruise pier at Deckhand Dave’s, a fish taco purveyor that anchors the food truck yard. The truck and yard are run by Dave McCasland, a self-taught chef who worked for two years as a cook on a commercial fishing boat to pay off his college loans before launching his truck in 2016 with items like black rockfish tacos ($13.50 for three ).

In 2019, he developed the food truck lot with space for the original business, a spinoff oyster and champagne bar and other mobile tenants, today including the Alaska Crepe Escape Game and cotton candy maker.

“People travel to get a taste of the place, and when they come to Alaska they want to eat seafood and eat local food,” said Midgi Moore, who runs Juneau Food Toursdirecting visitors to places like Deckhand Dave’s.

Five miles from the center of town, towards the Mendenhall Glacierthe Alaska Brewing Company tasting room hosts food trucks, incl Red Oven, serving wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza ($13 to $17 for a 10-inch pie). Before moving to Juneau, the truck’s owners, Alexander and Kym Kotlarov, lived in Rome where they developed a passion for pizza that led to the mobile business named for their red tile oven.

If visitors discover Forno Rosso, it’s usually independent travelers or craft beer fans, according to Ms. Kotlarov, who uses specialty flour, San Marzano tomatoes from California and locally grown Genovese basil.

“I feel like we’re swimming upstream with our agenda of taking care of quality and staying true to the Italian thing,” Ms. Kotlarov said, noting that she continues to offer Italian potato pizza as something special from time to time.

A port on the Kenya Peninsula, about 130 miles south of Anchorage, Seward tend to find cruise ships at the beginning or end of their voyages. On the road system, it also attracts travelers by land.

“They board and board in Seward,” said Kameron Weathers, owner of the company Wild Spoon food truck and catering company. “We will not stop.”

Still, the ship’s crew and road trippers patronize its stand for reindeer or buffalo dog soup with beetroot kimchi and ginger aioli ($10), and venison specialties.

In the summer of 2020, despite the fall in tourism during the pandemic, Faith Alderman and Fiona Crosby launched their breakfast and lunch business, the Hole Hole, to capture early morning traffic at Seward Harbor with breakfast burritos ($12) and English muffin sandwiches ($8). Open at 4:30 am, the business attracts captains, deckhands and visitors taking boat trips to the nearby Kenai Fjords National Park.

Travelers seward wanted to Alaska SeaLife Centeraquarium and marine research center on Resurrection Bay, not to be missed the little pigsa busy Mexican food truck that anchors a nearby lot that he has shared Early bird coffee truck and ax throwing business. It specializes in birria or beef brisket ($17), among other fare.

Peter Cavaretta, who spent more than a decade in the southern Baja Peninsula, opened the truck last April after visiting his sister in Seward and “lines out the door for half-price food to see tall,” he said. “I wanted to make excellent food at moderate prices.”

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