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November 20, 2013

Food trucks: Have kosher, will travel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/food/article/food_trucks_have_kosher_will_travel

The Kosher Palate food truck  Photo by Jared Sichel

The Kosher Palate food truck Photo by Jared Sichel

Finding space to move inside the tiny kitchen of The Kosher Palate food truck is tough, but that hasn’t stopped owner Michele Grant from using it to cook up plenty of creative meals for her menu.

“Who doesn’t like tater tots?” asked Grant recently, as she showed off one of her favorite dishes, Shakki Tots — tater tots with shakshuka and quail egg, which came with added zest when dipped in sumac.

As students from the University of Southern California (USC) stopped for lunch between classes on what was a rare rainy day, Grant gave samples to newbies who hadn’t yet tried her modern kosher cuisine.

“We love giving out noshes. It’s our thing,” Grant said as she handed out portions of her Portuguese kale stew. “We can’t be a Jewish truck without being able to give out noshes.” 

On this October day, just three miles northeast of The Kosher Palate’s parking spot at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street on USC’s campus, sat what may be the only other full-time kosher food truck in Los Angeles, The Holy Grill, which opened up about three months ago.

Owned and operated by Adiel Nahmias, a 28-year-old native of Afula, Israel, and his partner, Dvir Botach, The Holy Grill’s truck — well, cart, really — was parked in the Fashion District on 15th Street between Los Angeles and Main streets, where it could cater to the Israeli and Persian Jews working downtown. Nahmias learned his trade as a chef in Israel and as a manager at Bibi’s Bakery and Café here in Los Angeles.

The most popular item among Nahmias’ patrons is the shawarma, but that’s not all that’s on his more traditional menu.

“The new schnitzel is doing — baruch Hashem — very good,” Nahmias said as he ran from the back of the cart, where he slices meat and vegetables, to the register at the front to take orders. Adjacent to the grill, Nahmias has set up seating and tables under a tent for patrons who want to take a bit of an extended lunch break.

The Holy Grill’s biggest costs are parking — for the location downtown and the nearby indoor overnight spot. Add in labor, food and the cost of kosher certification, and it’s no wonder that so few full-time kosher food-mobiles exist in Los Angeles. (Several have popped up in the past, only to fold later.)

At The Holy Grill, Nahmias’ day begins every morning around 7 a.m., when he drives to the Western Kosher market on Pico Boulevard to pick up fresh cuts of meat before opening for business at 9 a.m. When he and his four employees aren’t dealing with hungry customers, who usually come for an early afternoon lunch, they’re busy cleaning and preparing food. 

Although The Holy Grill (facebook.com/holygrillonwheels) closes every weekday at 5 p.m. (early for Shabbat), Nahmias said that on recent nights he has sometimes been out much later, scouting other possible locations that include Pico-Robertson and USC, and looking into purchasing additional carts. 

As for Grant — a former partner in the popular Grilled Cheese Truck — she’s brought her Kosher Palate truck (facebook.com/thekosherpalate) all over the city, debuting at the Celebrate Israel Festival in April in Rancho Park, and operating as far out as Tujunga, Chatsworth and West Covina. 

Sitting by a table about 30 feet from the truck, she excitedly described another unique menu item, the Mamalawach, which is malawach (a fried Yemini bread), with pepper steak, skhug (a Middle Eastern hot sauce), hummus with black-eyed peas, jachnun (a Yemenite Jewish pastry) and shaved tomato — all sautéed with honey and lemon pepper.

“If somebody tries our food, they are buying our food,” she said confidently.

The Kosher Palate started parking at USC in early October, setting up shop there every Tuesday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Wednesday (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  According to Grant, the USC Office of Religious Life has been instrumental in bringing The Kosher Palate to campus, encouraging its presence and even helping to pay for a parking spot in an effort to provide kosher alternatives.

 “It’s really exciting to have more kosher options by campus,” said senior Avital Shoomer, as she walked away with the Jacob’s Ladder, Grant’s spinoff of the hamburger — topped with tater tots, a fried onion ring and a quail egg. 

“It’s such a nice change from the classic burger,” she added. “I eat kosher meat only, so I’m usually a vegetarian when I eat at the campus center — so it’s really nice to have some meat options.”

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