Food cart festivals are on their way and we’ve bought the perfect stretchy pants, er, shorts to get us through the summer season. We spoke with a few food carts who are ready for the heat and the happening streets of Madison all summer long.
The name’s Pickle
Pickle Jar: Top of State Street.
Owned and operated by Jennifer StCyr and John Pickle, this cart reminds me of home in woodsy northern Wisconsin with an exterior covered in wood from Pickle's grandparents' barn, which stood for over 100 years in Archie, Missouri. The pig painted on the cart is the creation of Rachel Foster, a Kansas-based artist.
For the rest of May, Pickle Jar will feature its tamales. “We’ve been having fun cresting untraditional fillings like sweet potato, tart cherry, and pork,” Jennifer says. This June, keep your eyes peeled for the ribs. Oh, yes – they’re coming back. Another item to return is Granny Girl’s Potato Salad, Pickle Jar’s take on potato salad once made by Grandma Pickle herself.
For those who’ve never been, Jennifer says there are no wrong answers when choosing between the Apple Pulled Pork or the 'bama Brisket. “The pork is sweet and tangy and our most popular,” she describes. “The brisket is savory and spicy. It's topped with collard greens, tangy pickles and BBQ style aioli. Our personal favorite.”
I know, we’re drooling, too. But we’re not done. The "Big Bird" Smoked Chicken should not be overlooked. This particular dish has smoky flavor topped with Pickle Jar’s tangy Sweet Fyre BBQ sauce and crispy onions.
100 tacos and counting
El Grito Taqueria: Top of West Washington on the Capitol Loop.
Over the winter, Joshua Myles Barraza and some of the team at El Grito Taqueria spent time in the Mexican city Oaxaca where they discovered a lot of moles. “You’ll be seeing those influences throughout the summer,” the co-proprietor says. The cart rotates through over 100 different variations of tacos.
The name El Grito Taqueria was influenced by the Mexican revolution, or the El Grito de Delores which was the start of Mexico rising to their independence. Barraza and his childhood friend Matthew Danky started the cart to provide the highest quality food we could on the streets of Madison. “In our opinion, the taco is the ultimate street food, and we felt it was undervalued in this part of the country,” he says. “A taco is a vehicle for your own creativity, and we use that vehicle to showcase different regions of Mexico.”
If you’ve never been, step up to the window and order three tacos and a agua fresca (trust us, Barraza recommends it.)
“Madison has always been home for both of us,” Barraza says. “With Matt’s travels throughout southeast Asia and southern America and me having deep roots in Southern California, we always were excited to get back to this wonderful city. We knew what the food truck scene was like in places like L.A., Austin and Portland and the level of food they were doing in mobile vending. We wanted to bring that to Madison.”
Cornbread included, y’all
Rodeo Wagon: Capitol Square at West Washington.
Well of course Madison was missing a rodeo-themed food cart. Enter Kay-Tee Olds, owner of The Rodeo Wagon. The cart (manufactured in Kentucky) offers fare inspired by Oklahoma and Texas.
Every item on the menu features a locally-sourced ingredient from partners like 100 Mile Sauces, Mango Man, and VOM FASS. Texas Caviar is popular as a topping on our breakfast burrito and the Texas bacon burger. And it gets so good: Every order, even the locally-roasted Cactus Dirt coffee by True Coffee Roasters, includes a free slice of cornbread.
When lunch rolls around, line dance your way to the window for some Triple Cheesy Mac and the Open Face Beef Sandwich. Olds says these are the top lunch sellers.
Wade Stewart, managing operator, is seen as the artist in the balance of providing fast service of southern comfort foods. “Food carts are becoming iconic on Madison’s Capitol Square,” Olds says. “We feel fortunate to have been rated well enough last year to earn our new home on the Capitol Square.”
This year, The Rodeo Wagon is reducing its carbon footprint by exploring alternative energy to power the cart and by transitioning to more earth-friendly packaging. “A perk for everyone is our focus on sourcing and serving local ingredients whenever possible,” Olds says.
Low carb creations
Good Food: Cart 1: 33 East Main Street, Capitol Square. Cart 2: Library Mall. Café: 4674 Cottage Grove Road.
The name is simple: Good Food. Owner Melanie Nelson sought out to sell healthy food in 2010, so she chose a name for her cart that was to the point. “I wanted to bring healthy food to the streets of Madison,” she says. “No other food cart was focusing on fresh food at the time.”
This summer, Good Food will feature organic strawberries in its Strawberry Love Wrap/Salad, which Nelson calls a seasonal favorite. With six choices per cart and two homemade soups per day, stretch it out all summer long with wraps and salads available in Pad Thai, Caesar Supreme, Citrus-Avocado-Kale, and Roast Beef and Baby Swiss.
If you’ve never jogged up to Good Food’s window, Nelson suggests diving into the Caesar Supreme Salad with Chicken. “I could eat it every day of my life,” she says.
Nelson is a University of Wisconsin-Madison grad and decided she couldn’t leave Madison after graduation. “It's too wonderful here,” she says. “I've lived everywhere from California to Connecticut, Michigan to Texas, and Madison has been my favorite spot so far.”
Good Food went low carb in February, and on April 3, Nelson opened Good Food-Low Carb Café. “We believe it's the best way for humans to eat,” Nelson says. “We are sugar free. We still offer a low carb wheat tortilla option, but other than that we are entirely gluten and grain free.”
Nelson says because of this healthier way of eating, she lost 20 pounds, reversed her pre-diabetes, ran a marathon, and her acne cleared and improved her mood.
Of course, we couldn’t include coverage of Good Food without saying congratulations to Nelson and Kory, Good Food café co-owner and Ironman finisher, who got married earlier this month.
Where to find food carts...
If you're looking to get a taste of Madison's food cart scene, several carts can be found on Capitol Square. Additionally, the Isthmus Food Cart Fest is taking place on Saturday, May 21st. This annual festival takes place at Madison’s iconic Central Park and features all-you-can sample food cart fare and live music. Craft beer is also available for purchase.
This is a ticketed event.
Note: It is best to check a food truck's website or social media account for accurate location.
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