The rumble of engines, the whiffs of smoke and spice, the kids with hula hoops, the guys in baseball caps and gals in maxi dresses, the cups of Flying Bison beer, the long lines at Lloyd Taco Truck … it can mean just one thing:
Food Truck Tuesdays at Larkinville.
Maybe you have never been to Larkinville. There is no shame in that. Just a few years ago, neither had anyone. That part of Buffalo, between Seneca and Exchange streets a mile from downtown, was an industrial no man’s land.
Now, it is full of life. And from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, from now through October, it is also full of calories.
About 30 food trucks show up, not only from Buffalo but from Rochester and beyond. As News Food Editor Andrew Z. Galarneau points out, it gives Buffalo eaters an unparalleled weekly chance to dine on foods from a wealth of varieties and cultures, all in the same place at the same time.
For a newcomer – for anyone – the prospect is intimidating. You can’t help but wonder: Where do you begin?
The first part is easy. Free parking is everywhere – in huge lots along Seneca and Exchange streets, and in a big parking ramp.
Admission to Larkinville is free, and its borders are porous, but if you plan to have any beer or wine, you have to stop at the gate for a wristband. From there, well, you might want to belly up to the Filling Station for a drink.
Cup in hand, amble around and see what calls to you. Maybe do some shopping. Kiosks vary from week to week. But we loved perusing the wares of the Scoop Shop, a legendary secondhand store. Nearby, C Designs offers beautiful Buffalo postcards, in retro colors.
Now for the trucks.
They are everywhere, looking like big, colorful beasts. Most of them are in a big circle, but a few are off this way or that. They change position every week, so no eater gets too set in his ways.
Some trucks, like Flaming Fish, are new. But others are famous: Betty Crockski, where they make their own sausage. Philly Flattop, with its Philadelphia cheese steak. And Macarollin, home of Lobster Mac ’n Cheese. It’s $13, but it’s a tub big enough for two.
If you’re powerful hungry right away, find Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs. Frank’s will feed you fast. They have a dizzying range of exotic dogs, each around $5 and a hearty meal in itself. They get their meat from an Ithaca place called the Piggery.
Zachary Jenney, a millennial and a food truck connoisseur, is a fan. His expertise was verified when the attendant greeted him by name: “Hey, Zach.”
“I’ve tried them all,” he said, surveying the menu. Pressed to recommend one, he chose the Violet Beauregard. Wise he was. I thought it was bacon they put on the dog, because it was so sweet and smoky. But Jenney corrected us.
“It only tastes like it,” he said. Sure enough. Blueberry bbq sauce, cheddar cheese, onion crunch – no bacon.
Frank’s has one of the shortest lines – because a hot dog, even a fancy hot dog, can be put together fast. Lines, any regular will tell you, are a Tuesday trouble. Many trucks’ delicacies are custom-made on the spot, which takes time. And customers ask a lot of questions.
Trucks with routinely long lines include Pizza Amore (each pizza is wood-fired). And Cheese Chick. (A friend who loves its bacon-and-cheddar grilled cheese sandwich said the line was so long that at first she couldn’t see the truck.)
And then there’s Lloyd Taco Truck.
So long and legendary are the lines for Lloyd’s that they impress even a man whose job is contemplating eternity. That would be Friar William “Jud” Weiksnar, who hails from neighboring St. Peter’s Friary.
“I’m a stats man, and I’ve counted 28 food trucks, and 52 people in line at Lloyd’s,” Weiksnar said.
In his robe and sandals, he is a recognizable figure in the Lloyd’s line. “I always get something vegetarian,” he said. “I love their bean burrito. It’s huge.”
But the friar also loves Frank’s, where he enjoys – need you ask? – the guacamole-adorned Holy Moly.
Jenney also recommended Aroncini from Black Market, which has gourmet food from a few exotic cultures. Itwas a fried rice ball, Sicilian, and we loved its crunch.
The Meatball Truck Co. also went Italian. A Larkinville first-timer, Angelo Magliulo, got a meatball sub there.
“It was excellent,” reported Magliulo, of North Tonawanda. “Hot, as in temperature, which is important to me. It’s got soft, sweet ricotta cheese. Now I’m going to go look for some fries.”
Funny thing, our group wound up doing that, too.
We didn’t mean to. We piously aimed for healthy Mediterranean food. Amy’s Truck, perhaps. Someone recalled seeing a halal truck with pita-wrapped delicacies. Surely that was worth a try.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the halal truck. We got caught in a kind of Bermuda Triangle formed by long and intertwined lines for Le Petit Poutine, which had come all the way from Rochester just to bust our poor diet, and the Knight Slider, which, among its sliders, offered Truffle Fries. Poutine on one side, Truffle Fries on the other. How could we go wrong?
Standing in line, we agreed with two newly minted UB grads, Leah Braymiller and Hillary Tilton, who had trekked in from the Elmwood Village.
“You really can’t make a bad choice,” Braymiller said.
Amen, sister! The Truffle Fries, with a wonderful crunch, will haunt our dreams. The gravy-laden, thyme-heavy poutine – well, we have not quite acquired that taste. But we will.
On to our next stop. The Whole Hog truck – where had we seen it?
Whole Hog has its particular grass-roots vibe. On the back of the truck, it sports a cute chalk outline of a pig.
Remorseful from our recent pig-out, we piously went for vegetarian options.
A pinto bean chili tasted more like refried beans. But for $4, this could be dinner. The blueberry/loganberry iced tea was sweet and refreshing. Where there’s Buffalo, there’s loganberry! And we loved a quinoa salad, pink with beets. This must have been one of the healthy options. Every truck is required to have one.)
Up on the boardwalk
The boardwalk at Larkinville has an upper tier, we went there to enjoy our food, balancing our dishes on the wooden railings. Larkinville was spread out below us, as colorful as a carnival.
We were lucky to find seats. Smart eaters bring their own chairs or blankets. Larkinville is probably the only place in Buffalo where people pray for cold, because lines are shorter and there are more seats.
Plus, no one seems to mind. One chilly Tuesday, Larkinville organizer Leslie Zemsky wore pajama pants under her skirt. (Zemsky, by all accounts, is always on site, doing something fun. Another time, she was dispensing beer.)
That same cold Tuesday, Seamus Gallivan, who books the bands, brought red gloves to the musicians of the Joey Giambra Big Band. They were shivering as they played. But they didn’t care.
“I loved every moment of it,” Giambra said later. “It was like playing at all the ethnic weddings I so enjoyed in the ’40s and ’50s all over Buffalo. Those were the faces I saw last Tuesday night.”
Gallivan likes the music to have a family feel. Even the gritty blues guitarist Jony James, entertaining with his band, lightened up. Instead of the rougher blues he plays at the Tudor Lounge, Jony played folk blues and Dylan tunes. His drummer, the aptly named Kent “Boom Boom” Leech, also courteously cut back.
It seemed incredible, but a short distance away, surrounded by food trucks, you could hardly hear the musicians.
Rob Kukla is a sous chef at the Filling Station but was working the booth for Flying Bison, dispensing beer and wine.
“Everyone is like, ‘The band is great,’ ” he said. “And I’m always saying, ‘Yeah, awesome.’ But I can’t hear the music.”
What? The conversations drowning him out was a reminder: Buffalo is not just one big room. We are one big table.
My one regret is I didn’t leave room for dessert.