Ah, food trucks! The sheer brilliance of easy-to-eat gourmet meals being served roadside is not lost on me, so I am excited to share this review of three very different mobile food businesses.
When I set out to write this article, I had no idea it would prompt me to face my lifelong culinary nemesis: the all-American universally adored hot dog. This is the first time I have willingly eaten a hot dog since I was 12 years old. Without experiencing a hot dog from Chez Lenards, a time-honored tradition in Ridgefield, I can’t possibly talk about the business that holds a special place in the heart of so many locals.
On a Saturday afternoon in late March, I visit the cart set up on 144 Main Street in Ridgefield with some trepidation that quickly disappears when meeting the owner and proprietor, Mike Principi. This is a man who loves what he does in the town he loves.
“My Mom used to bring my sister and me here when we were kids. I worked here through high school and college. It was the best job I ever had growing up.”
Lenard Des Lescinskis started the stand in 1978 with the idea of putting a French spin on the flavor and taste of traditional hot dogs, and the business passed hands several times. Fast forward to 2007 when Mike decided to pivot from a corporate career in HR and buy the company.
The cart has a unique lineup of toppings inspired by French cuisine. The overall impression of the cursive written menu, the French flair of the toppings, the French toque adorned by the vendor, and the amazing smells wafting from the cart are 100% gourmet.
He caters a few hundred parties each year, and his catering menu offers burgers and dogs. But how did I like it? At first, my preconceived notions were getting the best of me, though it was encouraging to see that the stand drew a long line of people from all ages – from middle schoolers just finishing dance recital on up.
To fully experience the flavors he can coax from the humble hot dog; you’ll have to try one. I was amazed. My fave is Le hot dog Choucroute Alsascienne et Garniture Suisse, a decadent medley of imported cheese fondue in white wine and sauerkraut with caraway seeds. The caraway seeds and wine elevated the experience of the savory fondue flavor. Le hot dog facon Mexicaine is a spicy delight with chili, chopped onion, and hot pepper flakes. The soft potato bread bun offers the perfect pillowy texture to sop up extra toppings while allowing the quintessential spices of the frank to shine through.
Now that I have visited, I understand why this gourmet cart has been featured on the Martha Stewart show. So, the next time someone offers me “Le Hot Dog” from Mike’s cart, I will definitely say “oui” and “merci.”
The food looks even better
The Valencia mobile food truck features Chef Michael Young’s authentic Venezuelan beach food served up hot and fresh. According to their catering manager Cathy Turey, “We have newer trucks, and they have all been rewrapped. The new design looks so good.”
“Our food truck menu features our famous arepas and empanadas, rice and beans, plantains, and fresh salads,” Turey says.
You will be hard-pressed to find a fresher, tastier meal. Everything they serve offers a delicate balance of perfectly nuanced flavor. I can’t get enough of the black bean and cheese empanadas, and the Carlo arepa rocks my world, featuring fennel, chicken, avocado, and queso. You can find the Valencia truck in various places around Southern Fairfield County, including Liberty Square in Stamford during lunchtime hours, the Merritt 7 buildings in Norwalk, and often on the weekends at
Be sure to sample their sweet plantains and try all the sauces they serve, each tastier than the next. If you happen to have them cater your home or corporate event, order the margaritas and sangrias. Alcohol is only available for private events or in person at their brick-and-mortar restaurant in Norwalk.
If you like dumplings, you are going to love Dumpling Underground. This new business, the brainchild of chef Josh Pekar, is run from a six-by-twelve trailer towed by a truck. Often invited to outdoor areas such as Two Roads in Stratford and other local breweries, Josh shows up and makes his magic happen. “These are dumplings like you have never had before. I like to call it American Bar Food,” Josh says.
His menu features traditional dumplings and some surprising combinations–the perfect two bites bursting with flavor! Have you ever had a cheeseburger dumpling? How about a Philly cheesesteak dumpling or a combo of curry, potato, and peas? Sausage and pepper dumplings are also on the menu and drawing long lines of dumpling-crazed fans. Finally, be sure to try the Jamaican curry dumpling with a special BBQ sauce. To find out where Dumpling Underground will be next, follow them online at www.dumplingunderground.com
Food trucks have gone from the construction site to gourmet and almost anything can be ordered for private events; keep your eyes open for these gems! •