One of the joys of running just a bar is not having to muck about with food. Offering food requires more storage, more resources, more chances of spoilage, a kitchen, additional licensing and inspections, etc., etc., etc. One of the sorrows of running just a bar is that people want food that you cannot supply to go along with their drink.
So Floggin’ Brews does not have a kitchen. We serve snacky things in bowls, but that’s not real food. Alcohol can provide social lubrication, but it doesn’t power social interaction very well. So when I got the business card the other day, I thought maybe I’d caught a break.
Ret and Brita came in together for the Wednesday night crowd — we host a munch on most Wednesdays, and it can get a little busy. Ret saw me looking at the card. “What’s that?”
I showed it to her:
She looked at it and said, “That sounds good. We could use something besides that crunchy stuff we put in the bowls.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking about giving this guy a call.”
Brit leaned over and looked at the card. “Oh, yeah! I’ve seen the truck around. Dani said their fried plantains were great!”
Boss came over at the point and gave one of the card’s corners a quick facewipe.
“Well, that cinches it then. Watch the bar while I call them.”
That Saturday we were busier than a whipster at Frolicon. Every table was full, there was a demo in the Theater, and the loft had two small munches going. It was standing room at the bar, and the tables out on the sidewalk were busy despite the cool-ish (50) weather. Brita was trying to keep up with what the bar needed, and I doubled the bounty (to $2) for every glass brought back and table wiped down. Boss was going cross-eyed trying to watch everything at once.
I quickly ducked into the basement to swap out for a fresh keg of Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout (don’t ask where I get it), and when I came back up the place was suddenly half-empty.
“What the hell happened?” I asked Ret, who was catching her breath. She pointed out the window.
At the curb there was the biggest, kinda shabby, jewel-tone-purple food truck I’d ever seen, and half the bar was gathered around it. “Well, looks like Nick showed up. Let’s see what people bring back in.”
Before long people started coming back into the bar, and the smells they brought in with them were wonderful. I saw someone nibbling at a Pacari Tutu Iku 70% dark chocolate bar. I smelled freshly baked bread and good butter, and someone had (sure enough!) a paper container with fried plantains. I saw more good food (and more kinds of it) walk through my door in 10 minutes than I’d seen since I opened the place. Wow. Nick’s got a helluva setup out there.
I wanted to go out and say hello, but we were still pretty busy, and there was a crowd around the truck. So we worked to get everyone fresh drinks as they came back in. The demo let out a few minutes later, and all of that crowd walked right out to the truck to get in line.
After 30 minutes or so, the food line thinned, so I sent Ret out there to get something for herself and Brit and give me a report. She came back — Ret had pancakes and pecans with (real) maple syrup, and she got Brit got a paper tray with nut clusters in chocolate (macadamias with salted caramel, as it turned out). Ret had a shocked look on her face.
“You . . . will have to go out and see for yourself.”
“Gimme a minute, and I’ll go.”
Which turned out to be unnecessary. I had reached into the soft drink cooler to pull out a Diet Clearwine for Joel (who is diabetic), and when I looked up, there was a full white beard, thick shock of white hair, cheeks that glowed red, and the kindest smile you’ll ever see looking at me from over the bar.
I couldn’t find my voice for a moment. I finally whispered, “Nick?”
He laughed quietly — one of those laughs that rumbles around in the subsonic range. “Yep, it’s . . . Nick,” he responded as he gave me a wink and a brush of his fingertip along his nose.
I couldn’t think of anything to say for a moment, and a fly could have flown into and back out of my mouth in that time. Finally — “Uh, hey, have a seat. Say, Joel?” I handed him his Clearwine, “could we steal your barchair for a minute?” Joel smiled and went to talk to someone.
Nick settled down in the seat, and then handed me something. “I think you might like these.”
I glanced down at what he handed me — a plastic bowl with sliced peaches and a fork in it. I could smell that they weren’t just peaches.
He smiled and urged me, “Try ’em.”
I picked up a slice and could smell the cloves and spices as I put in my mouth. Ahjeez. “These taste just like my great-Nan’s pickled peaches!”
“Well, they aren’t quite the same, but they’re close. Like ’em?”
I didn’t have words to answer that question, but I think my face was pretty eloquent. Nick smiled a little wider and laughed, “There’s no charge as long as I can snag another Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie Dupont saison from you.”
I pulled a tulip glass of it while I chewed and remembered, and teared up a little. I ate another slice and closed my eyes. I could smell the bay leaves she hung in her kitchen to dry, and the scent of semla she would bake for holiday.
I opened my eyes, and I choked up. “Nick, this is one more I owe you. I haven’t forgotten my Christmas present.”
“Nonsense. You bring a lot of cheer and good times to a lot of people. You’ve earned it. Now eat up.” I ate.
Now it was my turn. “Sa . . . I mean, Nick, do you like stouts?”
“I’ve been known to drink one or three. What do you offer?”
I pulled a bottle and two glasses out. “This is Õllenaut Wahtula, from my home country. I would be honored to drink my last bottle of it with you.”
Nick smiled and accepted his glass. We toasted each other silently, and the Wahtula never went down easier than that moment. And in the silence, I could hear and feel how much people were enjoying what they’d gotten from Nick’s truck. Everyone seemed content and happy, and it looked like there might be a second wave of customers forming.
“I best get back to it,” Nick said as he stood. “Looks like I’m gonna be busy this afternoon.”
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “How do you manage to carry so many different kinds of food that people really, really want? You’ve got a lot of satisfied customers here.”
Nick gave me that famous eye twinkle of his, another wink, and a nose brush, and quietly responded, “How do YOU do it?”
“Ah. Point taken. I’ll leave you to it.”
And guess what? Since Nick started coming around (two weeks now) and word got around about his truck, my drink business has almost doubled. Guess he’s making sure Floggin’ Brews stays in business.