Posted By Michael Stern on roadfood.com on 4/11/2012 8:07:00 AM
From the kitchen door of Carol Peck's esteemed Good News Cafe in Woodbury, Connecticut, you can look across Route 6 on Wednesday and Thursday and see Anton Gnoch's fish truck, which comes those two days to sell fresh seafood from Maine and Boston. When Haig Leonard worked in the kitchen of the Good News Cafe, he used to look across the road the other five days of the week and think what a good spot it would be for a taco truck. In December, 2011, he drove into the lot with El Camión (Spanish for truck) and started selling tacos.
Haig said that for the sake of quality control, he has opened slowly, offering only tacos and quesadillas now, but has future plans for burritos, salads, soup, and desserts. The sunny spring day I stopped by, I was happy to find my dessert on the pie shelves across the road at Dottie's Diner.
The tacos are the best I've had since Tucson. For the San Diego classic fish taco, whitefish, marinated in coconut milk and lime and encased with cornmeal, is fried to order, packed hot and crisp into a tortilla along with sweet mango salsa, coarse-cut slaw, and a drizzle of sour cream. The beef taco is ribbons of marinated flank steak, hoisted off the grill and accompanied by tomatillo salsa. Chicken with a margarita marinade comes with pico de gallo. The flavors are big and imposing, but these tacos are elegant – tidy enough (and cheap enough, at $3.25 each) that two or even three make a hearty meal.
At lunch time when people crowd around the order window, expect to wait a short spell for your tacos to be delivered. Some customers, Haig noted, know only Taco Bell and its ilk, where the pre-fab items are delivered instantaneously. Not at this truck, where everything is made fresh. I was happy to have placed my order just before a gent behind me, who was bringing lunch for eleven back to a nearby construction site.
Travelers who don't want to dine in their cars can avail themselves of some very nice wooden benches between the parking lot and Route 6.
Taco Truck in Woodbury Not Seen as Interloper by Area Restaurants, Despite One Official's Concerns
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
By Daniela Forte Litchfield County Times
Christopher Leonard in his taco truck, which sets up shop in a parking lot at Flooring America, near the intersection of Route 6 and 64 in Woodbury. Photos by Laurie Gaboardi.
WOODBURY—Restaurant businesses surrounding Èl Camión Taco and Burrito Truck, which sets up in a parking lot on Main Street South in the Middle Quarter District, seem to have given the presence of a mobile food vendor the thumbs up.
That was the reaction after The Litchfield County Times decided to take the pulse of nearby businesses on the issue after the Zoning Commission’s recent approval of a permit for the Eliot Maine Seafood Truck to do business one day a week in the same parking lot outside Flooring America—and after First Selectman Gerald Stomski had complained that mobile vendors might unfairly take a bite out of local businesses, while avoiding the overhead costs and level of taxes paid by bricks-and-mortar operations.
“I am just trying to make an honest living. It’s amazing the amount of kids, the diversity of the clientele,” said Christopher Leonard, owner of the Èl Camión Taco and Burrito Truck.
Dennis DeBellis, chef at very nearby John’s Café, said that it seems the truck is doing well.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for business,” said Mr. DeBellis. “The more people that come into town, the more business for everybody.”
Mr. Leonard said he officially opened in December, which is one of the reasons for the limited menu he has right now. For the moment, it includes three types of tacos and two quesadillas.
“The unpredictability of winter, when I started, was why I picked three,” said Mr. Leonard, who received approval last fall. “It’s really cool to have your food be accepted.”
Mr. Leonard said the way he makes his tacos results in really clean fresh flavors, and food that is very light. Part of the inspiration came from his experience with his twin daughters who are 4. He recalled never buying standard baby food for them because of preservatives.
“It was just easier for me to buy a sweet potato and a banana and just puree them together and there is your lunch.” Now, he added, he’s “cooking in that same style as far as freshness and lightness, and using the right flavors as opposed to heavy fats to promote flavor.”
“This is a long-awaited necessary must-have in Woodbury and even my picky eight-year-olds love their food,” said resident Jessica Wilson on Tuesday.
Seymour resident Matthew Ashby said he enjoys the fact that the truck accepts credit cards, noting that a lot of the small businesses in the area are cash only.
“I think that is really convenient, very high tech and I’m a tech geek so I approve,” said Mr. Ashby.
Mr. Leonard has been in the restaurant business for almost 25 years, and it’s been a passion for him and his wife, Lija.
Prior to launching the truck venture, he lived in Chicago, Seattle and then New York, before moving to Bethlehem and working as a server at Carole Peck’s Good News Café in Woodbury for three years.
“With the kids we had an apartment in the city and were up here on the weekends. Three years ago we moved up here full-time and I started at Good News,” said Mr. Leonard.
Mr. Leonard said the couple wanted to do a restaurant in the area, but given the financial risks he was looking for some safe middle ground.
“I can move the truck, I can change the food, I can do whatever I want,” he said. “One thing about getting into a brick-and-mortar building is that if I don’t buy the building, which I certainly couldn’t, I invest however many thousands of dollars to renovate it,” said Mr. Leonard. “It’s a huge investment.”
One of his last jobs in New York City was at famous television chef Mario Batali’s restaurant Lupa Osteria Romana, which sparked his interest in cooking because of the simplicity of Roman trattoria style. “The protein is the flavor, not the spices,” said Mr. Leonard. “That is what really sparked it for me.”
Working at Good News Café was also inspiration, because of Carole Peck’s innovative and eclectic menu. Mr. Leonard also credits Chicago restaurant Let Us Entertain You, where all the employees had to learn about every ingredient in every dish.
“Having that sort of base and working in a place like Good News [was great]; the menu is so eclectic, there is Mexican, Southwestern, there is French and its all mashed together into this wonderful menu,” said Mr. Leonard. “[Carole Peck’s Good News Café] is where I got my education in cooking.”
From there, some thoughts combined. He had looked at the Main Street North space of the former Jav’s, a Mexican restaurant—and also thought about the fish truck and realized that the location, near the busy intersection of Route 6 and 64 was an ideal location.
“I heard 45,000 cars drive through here every day,” said Mr. Leonard.
“Mexican really isn’t my strong [suit]; I would say Italian cooking style,” he said, explaining that he would have liked to have done an Italian style truck. In the end, tacos are just an easier vessel than to deal with than pasta.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I would have talked myself out of it, but I didn’t. I said, ‘You know what, I’m doing this,’” said Mr. Leonard. “This all happened less than a year ago.”
With regard to Mr. Stomski’s comments and concerns, Mr. Leonard acknowledged that he does pay rent to be on the premises.
“I understand what people are saying,” he said. “I don’t have the knowledge to argue my side. I didn’t come here to avoid paying something. I didn’t even know that was the case when I was doing this whole thing. I pay all my other taxes, I pay for everything.”
He also noted that he lives in Bethlehem, and that part of his taxes there pay for the cost of public education in Region 14, the school district Woodbury and Bethlehem share.
Bernard Jarrier, co-owner of Carole Peck’s Good News Café and Zee Burger with Ms. Peck, said he doesn’t see an issue. “It’s street food, it’s big, it’s no problem,” said Mr. Jarrier.
Melissa Mazza, owner of Woodbury Deli and Catering with her brother Marco Mazza, said she hasn’t really noticed that it is hurting their business. She did note that she is worried about is that it might lead to more trucks in the area.
Mr. Leonard is open Friday through Tuesday, from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and closed Wednesday and Thursday. For more information on the Él Camión Taco and Burrito Truck, visit the Web site at www.el-camion.com.
‘It’s street food, it’s big, it’s no problem.’
—Bernard Jarrier, Good News Café
Woodbury 'truck' offerings are bueno
BY MICHELE MORCEY | REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Cornmeal-crusted fish tacos with mango salsa and cabbage slaw, right, and carne asada tacos with tomatillos salsa are served fresh from Woodbury’s new food truck. Credit: Michele Morcey / Republican-American
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In one of the biggest dining-out surprises 'round these parts this year, countrified Woodbury has jumped on the food-truck bandwagon, a trend that's been super successful in cities around the nation.
Here, it's El Camión — "the truck" in Spanish — that's offering a less-refined but no less delectable brand of al fresco dining, especially unique when we're knocking on winter's door. So bundle up: They're already standing in line for Haig Leonard's tacos, which you order from a window in the sleek refabbed ice cream truck and then bring back to your car or tote home (if you can make it that far).
Sure, lots of big cities have food trucks offering all manner of grilled cheese, barbecue, waffles and sausages, but save for one other spotted near the Brass Mill mall earlier this year, El Camión is the lone ranger out here. And unlike some of the other mobile operations, this silver truck is parked in one location, so you don't need to chase it all over town.