Food trucks ready to roll into The Rock

Union Leader Correspondent
June 26. 2012 8:59PM
Jamie Ruel of Salem cleans her mobile food trailer while preparing for this weekend's festivities. As the banner indicates, Ruel has won awards for her apple crisp, the dish that inspired her and her husband, Chris, to get into the food truck business. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
SALEM -- For Jamie Ruel, it all started with apple crisp.

'I was not an apple crisp person,' recalled Ruel. She considered the traditional New England dessert a lesser version of apple pie, and not really worth the time.

But Ruel was forced to reconsider that position one night after her mother-in-law served apple crisp at a family dinner.

'When I tasted her recipe I couldn't believe it,' said Ruel who went from apple crisp critic to advocate in a matter of bites. Rule's conversion was so complete that she and her husband, Chris, started kicking around ideas about how to introduce the Ruel apple crisp recipe to the world.

But the couple didn't have a lot of time. He had a real estate business, she had a career in education and they both became very busy with a new daughter, Bailey. Apple crisp was sidelined for a few years, but it came roaring back after the Ruels had a conversation with a new friend who ran a fairground trailer business. The Ruels realized they could feature the dessert as part of a moveable feast served from a food truck they decided to call Miss Bailey's All American Comfort Foods.

The Ruels now make the rounds at festivals, fairs and other big events and serve up high-end mac and cheese, home-made pot pies, molten-lava cake and their award-winning apple crisp.

'It's fun, but it's our blood, sweat and tears,' said Ruel. 'But it lets us do something we are both passionate about.'

Miss Bailey's is part of the new wave of food trucks that have been rolling through the Northeast cooking everything from South Asian stir fry to authentic Texas barbecue. On Saturday, the Ruels will join a fleet of about 25 food trucks that will pull into Rockingham Park for the Food Truck Festival of New Hampshire.

'It's gourmet food on wheels,' said Anne-Marie Aigner, who organized the festival to showcase the food truck phenomenon. Aigner said the new generation of food trucks popped up first on the West Coast and migrated east. And while such trucks are familiar sights in major cities, they're not often spotted in the suburbs, and they rarely travel in packs.

Aigner said bringing the trucks all together as a festival event gives people a taste of a new dining-out trend. It also lets people sample different menus that offer a wide range of foods such as artisan grilled cheeses, Jamaican jerk chicken, fresh falafel ,lobster bisque, wood-oven baked pizzas, savory and sweet crepes, vegetarian pockets, salads and rice bowls and all types of specialty ice creams and sweets.

Aigner figures the food truck trend has caught on because it offers customers a dining experience that's easy and affordable.

Ruel said the fact that food trucks have been featured on the Food Network has also been a help.

'It's a novelty,' said Ruel. 'And it's different from the food you find on canteen trucks. We serve really honest to goodness quality food.'

As for the cooks, Aigner said people have embraced the food-truck craze for different reasons. For well-known and well-established restaurants, a food truck is often about mobile marketing.

But for others who long to get into the restaurant business but don't have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to open a brick-and-mortar storefront, or the nerves of steel needed to jump into an industry with a 90 percent failure rate, a food truck can be an alternative entry point.

Or in some cases, a re-entry point.

Danbury residents Alex and Bob Graf had eight years invested in their inn and German bistro when the tough economy forced them out of business. But the Grafs got back up again and launched Schnitzels & Giggles, a food truck that specializes in sauerkraut, spätzle, wiener schnitzel sandwiches, German potato salad and homemade bratwurst that comes either on a roll or on a stick.

'The biggest different between a food truck and a regular restaurant is with a structure: If you have a location that isn't working, you're stuck,' said Alex Graf.

The Grafs decided to make the most of their new mobility, and since last winter, they've been driving Schnitzels & Giggles along a route of fairs and festivals down South. And while being on the road cooking and serving special dishes like Hungarian goulash, potato and cheese pierogies, deep-fried stuffed pretzels and apple streusel has its challenges, being food gypsies also has its moments.

'We went to Myrtle Beach and took a couple of extra days to enjoy the ocean,' said Graf, adding that she and her husband and daughter also stepped out to explore the restaurant scene in Savannah.

But Schnitzels & Giggles will be back in New Hampshire on Saturday to join the rest of the trucks at Rockingham Park.

The New Hampshire Food Truck Festival opens at 11 a.m. and runs through 4 p.m., rain or shine. Food will be sold with tickets that work the same way as tickets for carnival rides. Each ticket is $1, and they are sold in books of 10.Aigner suggests wearing a little sunscreen and comfortable shoes because there may be lines at the trucks.

'I'm actually appalled by lines, but that's the nature of the Food Truck Festival,' said Aigner. 'For people who like to eat, the wait will be well worth it.'

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Barbara Taormina may be reached at

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