May 16th, 2011

Haute Wheels Houston: The Good, the Bad and the Tasty

Let me first say, the food that I was able to try on Saturday afternoon was delicious. If it was not for that fact, I probably wouldn’t even waste my time on 800 words about Haute Wheels Houston. In my opinion, it turned out to be a haute mess.

If you showed up to the HCC Southwest West Loop Campus hungry, there’s a distinct possibility that you share my opinion about the food truck festival on Saturday and Sunday. This was not an event for the weak-stomached. Luckily I have a history of starving myself (not anorexia, but Crohn’s Disease if you must know), so I was ready to stand in line for thirty minutes to order and then another forty-five to receive my food. That fact saved my groans (both stomach and vocal) from being added to the throngs of would-be patrons to the culinary arts.

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Originally, the plan was to set upon Haute Wheels and have a taste test on anything and everything we could find. With an army of four that included Stephan, we first took a lap of the grounds to check out the lines (read: long lines) snaking their way to each of the food trucks from Oh My, Gogi to The Rolling Hunger. This is your double-edged sword: Good for the truck, bad for the stomach.

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Our group decided that we would split up. There seemed to be no reason for us to stick together. We broke from our huddle to have each one of us stand in a line that we thought worth the wait. It quickly turned into couples standing in line together, one at Bullbutter Bros. Barbecue and the other at Hit n’ Run. The pho truck ran out of pho and The Rolling Hunger stopped taking orders by the time I made up my mind. This was within two hours of the festival opening its doors. We had arrived by 1:30PM and already some trucks had nothing left to show for it.

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To make matters worse, the price of $16 seemed entirely over the top to get in. I understand the logic. Festivals cost money. Set up costs money. Venues cost money. In the end, this was a festival revolving around food. This makes less and less sense the more I think about it. For the price of admission I earned the right to stand in line and didn’t even get the opportunity to experience any of the amenities or music of the afternoon. During a music or cultural festival, for instance, many people get to experience the same thing at the same time. Food trucks are able to process one order in and one order out. That’s an impossible game of chicken to play when you’re throwing something the size of mom’s kitchen into an RV and expecting to churn out the goods to rabid, starving fans. We all had some good moms, I’m sure, but give her an order for 50 grilled cheese sandwiches and even she would get a little verklempt. Timmy’s goin’ hungry tonight.

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This brings me back to the food. My girlfriend and I ended up waiting in line at the Hit n’ Run food truck. I ordered fish tacos and the Drunken Squealer Egg Roll while my girlfriend opted for the Killer Burger. As we waited for the food, we took turns standing guard of our potential order and making beer and water runs. By the time our order rolled out, some of the festival booths had already run out of water. As my name was called and I collected the three cardboard boats it was served in, we skipped to a table to jump in. Spurred by hunger, it’s hard to give an accurate recount of what we ate. In retrospect, and with the help of the internet, these ingredients speak for themselves:

Killer Burger – 1/3lb All American Beef, thick slice Apple Wood smoked bacon, cream cheese, “coked up” onions, thinly sliced fresh jalapeños, tomato with chipotle mayo on a jalapeño cheese bun. OMG!

Drunken Squealer Egg Rolls – Shiner Bock Braised Pulled Pork married with cheese, our “coked up” onions, fire roasted cilantro-lime corn with our Habañero Peach Barbeque Sauce all wrapped up and fried Egg Roll style.

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The egg rolls were mana to my mouth. While I was stuffing my face with them, it was nearly impossible to discern one aspect of the dish to the next, but all I knew was that I wanted them handy every time I hit the bars in the future. It got me to thinking what other food products I would want to stuff in an egg roll shell and deep-fry. My answer: Pretty much anything. The jalapeño cheese bun of the Killer Burger was easily a selling point of the sandwich, but the “coked up” onions and cream cheese toppings put it over the top.

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Now, I’m not really sure what the organizers of Haute Wheels can do to improve the experience for next year. A greater number of food trucks, seems to be an obvious answer. A lesser number of tickets, also seems to be a good one. Regulation of supply and demand has been around as long as the Boston Tea Party (wait, that’s not right). In my opinion, it’s not a bad thing that Houston got caught up in this festival and that we had to experience some of these growing pains so early on for a young festival. Maybe Haute Wheels Houston will be able to work it out and come back stronger in 2012. Maybe the food trucks will realize that their payday wasn’t worth all the bitching and moaning and bad facebook/twitter PR and avoid a second go at it. I don’t know. I forgot my crystal ball at home, but when I get there I’ll be gazing into it to find out the next place and time Hit n’ Run is setting up and try my best to be there.

— Paul

Comments

Dean — Monday, May 16, 2011 5:24 pm

I agree on all points. After 30 minutes in my first line, I tweeted that Haute Wheels would have to be thought out again for next year. Judging from the grumbling and griefing of those waiting in line, I think most of us came with the same plan and empty stomachs in hopes of sampling each truck – which totally backfired. Add in the fact that there was very little shade and very little seating and that just exacerbated everything. And with no other source of food, you had no choice but to stand in the sun for an hour just to fork over $6 for a plate of whatever hadn’t already sold out. Fun idea, poor planning. Thanks to everyone who worked their butt off trying though.

Amanda — Monday, May 16, 2011 8:30 pm

I agree with everything as well. The only addition I would suggest too is I think it would have been great if all the trucks made “samples”. I mean like for $2 or $3 you can get a half or smaller size serving of their stuff so you can actually get a taste of a variety of things. I think (on top of all the other things) that would have been a better way to handle it.

Tonia — Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:10 am

I think picking a different venue would be helpful as well. If the trucks could line up around the perimeter of a park, that would be ideal. I feel like the wait and sun wouldn’t have been so terrible if we were stretched out on a blanket in the park with frisbees, soccer, a good read and the like. Also, I didn’t see any kid-friendly activities. I felt bad for the parents who promised their kiddos a fun festival because the poor kids were lined up on a hot curb with nothing to do.

A. Houston Foodtruck — Friday, May 20, 2011 9:34 am

Agree that the festival had a lot of kinks to work out. My biggest issue was the lack of planned activities to redirect peoples attn. The stage was almost an afterthought waaaaay off to the back of the venue and only Sunday did they think to add the cool waterballs that kids could play in. Where was the adult version of that, i ask you!?? Sheesh!

But we’re talking about a first time event here. Take in account COH regulations (which are a mess at the moment and make it hard for food trucks to do much), the limited space on each truck, the limited refrigerated space to store food (legally), and the fact that once the gates opened it was like a swarm of locusts reigned down upon the truckers. You’re gunna have issues and upset ppl. Some of these trucks are 2-3 person operations who only this year have opened their doors. Giving out free samples to 2,000 people would cost each truck an absurd amount of money. Money that a lot of these trucks just dont have. Now, if the festival charged that ridiculous entry fee and that included a ticket or 2 for a food truck (that the food truck could then redeem from the festival for actual money) that would help a bit. I’m sure there are several other ways that the patrons of the fest could have gotten more moneys worth for their buck. Point is, the money DID go to charity(ies).

Go to a truck fest in Portland, L.A. or Seattle. Youll find similar issues or worse. In other cities, people are packed like sardines and have been known to wait upwards of 2 hours for their food.

Needless to say, the organizers, truckers and the patrons learned a lot from this event. Hopefully, the patrons will reconsider another fest, if event planners and truckers learn from their mistakes this go around.

A. Houston Foodtruck — Friday, May 20, 2011 9:36 am

PS: It was a balmy 85 degrees that day outside. How hot do you think it was inside the food trucks? Somewhere round 130. Toasty!

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