Chick Cow food truck brings farm-fresh dishes to the streets

Chick Cow food truck at Fifth and Market streets.
Chick Cow food truck at Fifth and Market streets.

Food trucks brighten up the dreariest days of cubicle life. These mobile eateries are pretty easy to find in downtown Louisville — just look for the huddled masses. The trucks are often parked along Main, Market and Fifth streets to attract the cubicle crowd from the surrounding offices. My brethren and I welcome the options with open wallets.

Recently, I came upon a food truck called Chick Cow on my way to grab some lunch. I had my sights set on taking a little drive to get an Ollie’s Trolley burger, but this new-ish food truck caught my eye and stomach.

Since I was meeting someone for lunch, I bought the Kentucky Klucker, aka a chicken wrap, and the Uncle Henry’s Heehaw Burger, aka a cheeseburger, so me and my lunch companion could get halfsies of each. It was a wise decision, if I do say so myself. The chicken was grilled, juicy and tender, so it kind of felt like I was eating a healthy meal. I can’t say that about the angus burger that comes on a buttered bun — it tasted too good to be good for me, too. The burger and the wrap were $7.53 apiece, and they each came with an order of steak-cut fries.

A sandwich and fries from Chick Cow food truck. (Photo courtesy of Chick Cow's Facebook page)
The Raging Bull and fries from Chick Cow food truck. (Photo courtesy of Chick Cow’s Facebook page)

 

Chick Cow owner Amanda King was nice enough to talk to me about her unexpected inspiration for the truck, the business’s farm-to-table food and what’s next for one of the newest additions to the Louisville food truck scene.

Tell me about how the food truck started.

I have been in clothing manufacturing for years and owned two retail stores here in Louisville. Last summer, I told my husband that I was ready for a change. I ended up selling my clothing line in August. (I had) no idea what change was coming until I had a dream that I owned a food truck and was selling everything for a $1 in low-income areas. The next morning, my husband was at work and he had no clue what was going on at home. I broke apart our grill in the backyard, loaded in my car, went to Taylor Boulevard and called up a friend to start grilling. We set up shop on the side of the road. Later that evening, after discussing the day’s shenanigans with my husband, he agreed we could embark on the journey of owning a food truck. Mind you, neither one of us are chefs.

Food trucks have exploded in Louisville, and competition for customers is fierce. Why did you decide to go into the food truck business?

Besides the dream, I love competition, no matter what field it may be in. I studied the industry for about four to five months before hitting the road, and I noticed a major flaw in our local industry. Most food trucks on the street are just another bite to eat for lunch, like going through a McDonald’s drive-thru line. They were lacking an experience for their customers. It takes more than good food to keep customers coming back.

Tell me about a typical day. How long does it take to load, cook, prep, etc.?

This is the most important part of our success, and I strive to tell every one of our guests about this. Everything on our menu is not only local, but farm fresh. My family has been farming for years in Nelson County. We have a butcher that cuts all of our meats and cheese on a daily basis. Our bread is sourced from a Louisville local baker, and the produce comes from a local farm. Come summer months, the produce will come from our own farm, which we are really excited about. We have a team of three culinary chefs who are masterminds in the kitchen. One only works on the truck. It takes about two hours before lunchtime to prep the fresh veggies and get the meats juicy and ready to go. Everything on the menu is served with King Rd Taters, which are fresh-cut fries we cut on the spot from the largest potatoes you have ever seen. Lunch normally starts around 11 and ends at 1:30. Then it takes another two to three hours to clean the truck and stock for the next day.

What makes Chick Cow’s food stand out?

Besides having the freshest food, it’s the experience. I have a goal to know your name by your second visit to Chick Cow. I try to pay attention to all of the details the guest wants. If I don’t have something the first time you ask, I can promise you it will be there the second time you come. We placed outdoor heaters for the really cold days while you wait for your made-to-order meal, and the first guest of the day starting at 11 a.m. gets a free lunch.

What is your favorite dish on the menu?

Our team did such an over-the-top job with everything on the menu. I eat lunch from Chick Cow every day, and I’m not tired of it one bit. My top favorite would be the Big Bird — a 7-ounce juicy chicken breast with parmesan bread crumbs on a toasted buttered bun with provolone cheese. My next favorite would be Uncle Henry’s Heehaw Burger. (It’s) 100% angus beef, and I’m not sure what those guys have done to it, but I could eat one every night for dinner.

What’s in store for Chick Cow in 2015?

We are working hard on that perfect veggie lunch and gluten-free meal!

Tardy to the ramen noodle party

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Chicken ramen with bok choy.

Brace yourself for a surprising confession.

I ate ramen noodles for the first time two weeks ago.

It seems criminal that it took me nearly three decades to eat this budget-friendly dish. The only time I was close to ramen as a child was when my mom only fixed ramen for my dad, who slurped up the noodles with baked chicken legs. It seemed like a “grown-up food,” so I stuck with my spaghetti. Then I went to college, where the halls of my all-girls dorm were thick with the smell of spice, salt and chicken, the hallmarks of a bowl of ramen. The smell was so pervasive that it dissuaded me from ever bringing those noodles into my life, budget be damned.

As with most of my food awakenings, Rob is the one who opened my eyes to the possibilities behind the red and yellow square packages. He grew up eating ramen noodles because “they were cheap, they were good and they were easy to make.” A couple of weeks ago, he came in with a Kroger bag full of ramen packages. I’m pretty sure his eyes twinkled.

It was time to give these noodles a whirl. He expertly boiled water and dropped the brick of wavy noodles into the pot. After pouring away most of the water, he sprinkled a chicken flavor packet into the now-flaccid noodles while simultaneously tossing them with a fork to ensure even flavor distribution. It was like watching Iron Chef. And the secret ingredient is … RAMEN.

I steamed some leftover bok choy to accompany the ramen (you know, to make it healthy) and helped myself to a bowl. My mind was blown. The ramen was so salty and spicy that I’m pretty sure I met my sodium intake for the day. The bok choy added some crunch to this tender noodle dish. My mind raced with all the vegetable additions I could make in the future.

Days after my awakening, a six-pack of chicken-flavored ramen sits patiently in the cabinet. But I won’t let almost 30 years pass before I eat ramen again.

Treat Yo’ Self: Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, Savannah, Ga. (Part 1 of 2)

(Blogger’s note: Click here to read more about Treat Yo’ Self, a new series of posts on Ashlee Eats.)

It took my husband and me 10 months to make it Savannah, Ga., for our honeymoon. And when we arrived, we ate our way through this great Southern city — and a nearby beach town, too.

Savannah and neighboring Tybee Island should be on all food lovers’ list of travel destinations. The food is some of the finest that the South has to offer, and the dishes represent the best parts of living in this region: simple, homegrown and full of love.

We visited nearly a dozen restaurants, dessert shops, sandwich stands and any other place that struck our fancy during our four-day stay (including a certain restaurant owned by a famous, flamboyant Southern gal and her two sons). Two places stand out as worthy of spending a few extra bucks: Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room in Savannah and The Crab Shack in Tybee Island (I’ll focus on Mrs. Wilkes’ in this post, then follow up with a separate post about The Crab Shack).

Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, 107 W. Jones St., Savannah

Three of the travel and food books I bought for this trip declared that you can’t leave Savannah without a meal at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. Sema Wilkes, the restaurant’s namesake, began running the dining room of the boarding house that was originally at this site during World War II, according to her cookbook, Mrs. Wilkes’ Famous Recipes. Mrs. Wilkes’ food eventually became more sought-after than a room for rent, and the restaurant has operated for more than 50 years. Mrs. Wilkes died in 2005.

The line outside Mrs. Wilkes’.

This cozy dining room is nestled in the historic district of downtown Savannah, an area full of beautiful architecture and breathtaking oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. It’s easy to miss until about 10:15 a.m. — that’s when a line starts to form down the sidewalk in anticipation of the 11 a.m. opening of the restaurant.

Rob and I were two of the first dozen people through the doors. Once inside, we were seated family style, meaning that we shared a 10-seat table with other hungry strangers.

The bowls of steaming side dishes were already on the table, waiting for our arrival. The menu changes each day, so I didn’t know what to expect. There were lima beans, baked beans, green beans and collard greens. Black-eyed peas and macaroni and cheese. Rutabagas, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. And at each place setting, a tall glass of sweet tea. Soon, waiters came around with platters of fried chicken stacked in precarious pyramids.

The scene inside Mrs. Wilkes’.

After Ryon Thompson, Mrs. Wilkes’ great-grandson who now operates the restaurant, prayed over the food, it was time for Rob and me to get friendly with our neighbors. Eating family-style brings out the best in folks — lots of “pleases” and “thank yous” as the bowls were passed, smiles as everyone took their first bite, and a shared appreciation for old-fashioned Southern fare.

My plate at Mrs. Wilkes’.

There’s nothing jazzy about Mrs. Wilkes’ food. No exotic flavors, culinary fusions or experimental cooking techniques. Our meals were something you could find in a church basement or a mother’s kitchen. The food was cooked with a heap of love — and a ham hock or two.

All this food, plus a dessert, is an even $18 a person. I left with a full belly and a case of the warm fuzzies from all the Southern hospitality at my table. That was 18 bucks well spent.

Treat yo’self and others at Ghyslain on Market’s first anniversary celebration

Chicken curry naan and a side of fruit from Ghyslain on Market.


I love being frugal, but occasionally, you have to treat yo’self and others. 

Ghyslain on Market is a good place to do so.

This French bistro on East Market Street in NuLu has delicious sandwiches, pastries and other sweets that are perfect for a midday pick-me-up.

And next month, Ghyslain on Market will celebrate a year in Louisville by sponsoring a supply drive for Mayor Greg Fischer’s Give a Day, a city-wide service initiative that helps kick off the Kentucky Derby Festival.

On Sunday, April 15, 2012, patrons can receive a free Vanilla Crème Brûlée with the purchase of entrée when they bring in a donation for St. Joseph Children’s Home. Did you read that, people? FREE FANCY DESSERT. Sandwiches and entrees start at $10, and it’s worth every buck.

Here are some of the items that St. Joseph Children’s Home needs:

  • Nightlights
  • Beach towels
  • Wrapping paper and gift bags
  • Adult-size socks
  • Individually-sized snacks

For more info, visit the websites of Ghyslain, St. Joseph Children’s Home, or Give a Day.

The $10 Challenge: The Cafe

(Blogger’s note: Congratulations to Rob E., who correctly guessed this week’s Challenge location.)

Broccoli cheddar soup from The Café.

My introduction to The Café began like a bad Abbott and Costello routine

Rob: We should go to The Café one day.

Me: Which café?

Rob: No, The Café.

Me: OK … But which café?

This went on for another five minutes before I figured out that The Café is a proper noun. More specifically, The Café is a cozy breakfast and lunch spot off Broadway and Barrett in Louisville.

I’m in this area a lot, but seem to miss the prime dining hours (7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Apparently, I’ve been missing a lot of goodness.

Rob and I arrived as the servers were still wrapping utensils in paper napkins and stacking menus. The dining area was as welcoming as the slightly harried but helpful staff. The restaurant feels like stepping into your cooky aunt’s living full of eclectic art, fresh flowers and rainbow table umbrellas. The atmosphere provides a great escape from the hassles of the workday, if you can manage to get away from the office for a bit.

The lunch menu, though not as quirky as the decor, is enough to keep your interest. This menu is built on a foundation of mid-priced, basic soups, salads and sandwiches that you would expect to find at a neighborhood deli – and I mean that as a huge compliment. Some classics include the chef salad ($8.45), a roast beef sandwich (called the Early American, $7.95) and a pimento cheese sandwich (called the Victorian, $7.25). But The Café throws in some interesting combos, such as The Renaissance with salami, ham, Swiss cheese and homemade olive relish ($7.95) and the BLT with guacamole (the Art Deco, $7.95).

The best values at The Café are in the combinations section of the menu. These options, which start at $8.25, are available for folks dining in and people taking box lunches to go. The combinations come with some mix of a whole or half sandwich, side dishes and a cookie. A combo seemed more appealing than just getting a sandwich, which only comes with one side.

While I studied the menu, I munched on slices of French bread that had been taunting me since I sat down. The bread was baby-bottom soft and irresistible with a smear of butter. I would’ve taken a picture, but those crabs disappeared down my pie hole too quickly.

After I wiped the many crumbs off my mouth, I settle on combination #3, a half sandwich with soup, one side item and a cookie. I went with the Country Chicken Salad sandwich, broccoli-cheddar soup (the soup of the day) and a fruit cup.

The number 3.

The soup, which preceded the rest of the lunch combo, was some of the creamiest broccoli-cheddar soup I’ve ever eaten. Chunks of broccoli were swimming throughout the soup. It made me wish that I had some of that aforementioned French bread to dip into the soup. But alas, it was gone.

The heat of the soup was immediately cooled by the crisp chicken salad sandwich. Bits of apple, grapes and pecans were scattered throughout this mayo-based concoction. The salad sat atop a slice of a gala apple and some lettuce. From the wheat bread to the smallest bit of pecan, this sandwich was one of the best I had ever had. The fruit sweetened the salad while the pecans added just enough saltiness to balance the flavors. And the folks in the kitchen were generous with the chicken salad – a fork was necessary to eat the entire thing.

I didn’t think the meal could get any better. Then I ate the cookie.

See those humps? Those are chocolate chips. YUM.

Holy cannoli, that was a moist, chocolate-y treat.

The Café is worth many return visits. Though the prices teeter toward the higher end of a $10 Challenge budget, the food easily justifies spending more than 10 bucks.

The Stats:

The Café, 712 Brent Street, Louisville, Ky.

  • Lunch combination #3 – Half of a Country Chicken Salad sandwich, broccoli-cheddar soup, a fruit cup and a cookie: $8.45
  • Total (with tax and tip): $10.30
Mission: Failed (but completely worth it)


The $10 Challenge: FireFresh BBQ

The chicken tender special from FireFresh BBQ. There are chicken tenders under there, I promise.

I try to be a leader.

But when it comes to food, I am just a sheep following something shiny.

My latest $10 Challenge at FireFresh BBQ is a prime example of this follower-not-leader phenomenon that only strikes when I’m hungry.

I recently went to FireFresh’s downtown Louisville franchise, which is located on a Challenge-friendly block that includes Dish on Market and Chop Shop Salads.

FireFresh’s menu offers a lot of ‘cue. Specifically, a lot of meat. There’s pulled pork, pulled chicken, marinated pork, brisket, rib tips and ribs. Not into ‘cue? Then there’s fish and chicken tenders. You can get your meat on a salad (pulled pork or pulled chicken salad, $6.49; chicken tender salad, $6.99). You can get it on a sandwich, which comes in three sizes – rookie, regular and Big Bruce (starting at $3.49). And there’s enough sampler platters, combos and dinners to satisfy your hunger no matter what time of the day and level of hunger you might have. On top of all this meat, there’s 11 different side dishes that range from green beans to mac and cheese to cinnamon apples. The selection makes it easy for everyone to find something to love.

Conventional wisdom told me to order something, well, barbecued. If there’s a specific food or drink mentioned in the name of a restaurant, it’s wise to order just that (see Hillbilly Tea).

Instead, I did exactly as the customer in front of me — I ordered the chicken tender plate, the special of the day that included tenders, two sides, Texas toast and a drink for $6.99. This dish is one of the few things on FireFresh’s menu that isn’t barbecued, which seems like a bad decision to make at a barbecue joint.

Fortunately, my choice to follow a leader led to a delicious, filling lunch.

When I got back to the office to eat lunch, I opened my container and was greeted with a bounty of skinny fries that hid most of the chicken tenders. I’m usually opposed to such thin fries that demand to be eaten in bunches, but these were spicy and hot, so I quickly forgave their waif-like figures. When I first bit into one of the fries, my eyes widened and I said to no one in particular, “Hel-looo.” They were that good, y’all.

The country coleslaw that was my second side was very creamy as the cashier said it would be. The slaw had a tasty, sweet flavor to it, but the sauce that covered the cabbage was too thick for my taste. Next time, I might try the sweet vinegar coleslaw, which the cashier said is a lot lighter.

The Texas toast had a thick layer of butter in its center that overpowered the bread. This much butter would probably earn the Paula Deen seal of approval, but I could do without it.

Eventually, I got to the chicken tenders buried beneath the fries. The dinner only came with three tenders, but each were thick-cut breast meat that were battered and fried. The tenders were juicy and covered with just a thin coat of batter, a huge improvement from the tenders I’ve had from fast-food restaurants that taste more like flour than chicken. They were just spicy enough to be interesting, but basic enough to please a lot of folks.

My meal came with two to-go containers of the barbecue sauce of my choice, the Sweet and Tangy, in which I dipped the chicken and fries. I can imagine buying a bottle of that stuff and putting it on everything I own.

I was glad that I followed the woman in front of me in ordering the special. I got a lot of food for little money, and for the most part, it was pretty darn good. Others seemed to prefer following, as well – the guy behind me in line ordered the special, too.

Notes about FireFresh BBQ

  • The restaurant offers specials throughout the week. Follow them on Twitter to see the daily specials.
  • FireFresh sells bottles of their various barbecue sauces in the restaurant.
  • If you go to the downtown location, avoid the crowds by visiting closer to 1 p.m. when the lunch crowd begins to thin.

The Stats

FireFresh BBQ, 211 S. 5th Street, Louisville, Ky. (two other locations at 8610 Dixie Highway, Louisville, Ky. and 81 Jeanie Drive, Shelbyville, Ky.)

  • Chicken tender plate with soft drink, seasoned fries, coleslaw and Texas toast: $6.99
  • Total (with tax): $7.41

Mission: Accomplished


You have two hours to get free Chick-fil-A french fries March 4

The Chick-fil-A waffle fry. Photo courtesy jronaldlee via Flickr.

Hungry? Got nothing to do on Friday afternoon?

Chick-fil-A is offering a free medium order of french fries between 2 and 4 p.m. Friday. The restaurant is promoting the new Heinz Dip and Squeeze packets.

From Business First of Louisville:

The freebie is part of a promotion to get customers to try Heinz’s new ketchup packets, which aren’t traditional packets at all … It holds three times as much as the old-fashioned packets and is designed for dipping or squeezing, leaving it up to the user to decide how to get the all-important ketchup to mingle with their fries.

The Heinz packets are indeed magical. Mama Eats treated me to some Chick-fil-A a couple of weeks ago, and the packs are wide enough for optimal waffle fry dipping. Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

And speaking of Chick-fil-A, check out this insightful article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the company.

The $10 Challenge: Happy Buddha

A “B” letter grade is acceptable in most areas of life – except for restaurant health inspection ratings. In the food arena, many a nose will turn up at the sight of a B in the window.

Here’s what will earn a restaurant a B in Jefferson County, Ky., via the health department’s website:

Restaurant has scored 85-92% on its last inspection or it has scored 93% or above, but with at least one correctible critical violation. Such correctible critical violations might include toxic items not properly labeled or stored or restaurant staff eating or drinking while preparing food.

This grade was plastered on the door of Happy Buddha, a fast-food Chinese restaurant in Shively. Though the follow-up score of 98 percent was circled in red on the same sheet, that omnious B looked me in the eye and dared me to disregard instincts to visit a better-performing restaurant.

But I live in a world of second chances, so I continued inside the restaurant, where I found a clean dining room, friendly staff and really cheap food.

Happy Buddha is close to my childhood home, but I never visited this Chinese food restaurant until recently. I blame the dark exterior and static signage that never appealed to a teenager who wanted something more exciting.

Too bad I wasn’t eating there as a teenager, because I could have saved some major dollars. Only one dish, the seafood delight with shrimp, scallops and lobster ($10.95), is above $8. And the dishes on the high end of Happy Buddha’s scale (hot and spicy orange chicken, $7.65, and the shrimp dishes, $6.75-7.55) include fried rice and hot tea, so you’re getting lots of food for just a few bucks.

The menu doesn’t venture beyond the standard food offerings you would expect from a fast-food Chinese restaurant. Have a taste for fried rice? They have six types ($3.25-6). Lo mein? Lots of it ($6.05-6.95). Egg foo young? You betcha ($4.75-6.50). But it doesn’t get more exotic than that.

I went with the old standby – the broccoli chicken combination with white rice and an egg roll ($4.75).

Broccoli chicken.

My order looked no different than any other broccoli chicken I’ve ever had – a pile of chicken, broccoli florets and carrot slices coated in a brown goo. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, because it’s exactly what I wanted my broccoli chicken to be. And when my order was ready to go in less than 10 minutes, I’m not expecting stellar presentation.

Happy Buddha’s broccoli chicken qualified as a dish that falls under the “You Get What You Pay For” heading. It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t that good. The carrots tasted no different than the broccoli. The chicken was bland. And the egg roll could have been bought from the frozen food section of your friendly neighborhood grocery store.

That said, I got a lot of food. It was hot. It was quick. And it was less than five bucks.

I’m glad that I didn’t let the health rating scare me away because I wouldn’t have discovered a place to get really cheap food that’s close to my parents’ house. But Happy Buddha isn’t a place that will offer cuisine designed to stimulate the taste buds. It’s a restaurant that will fill your belly on the cheap with something other than a cheeseburger and fries. And that’s fine.

The Stats:

Happy Buddha, 3927 Dixie Highway, Louisville, Ky.

  • Broccoli chicken combination plate with egg roll and white rice: $4.75
  • Total (with tax): $5.04

Mission: Accomplished



Bits and pieces: Starbucks’ Trenta, Flavor Flav and other food news from the web, 2.7.11

Put this in your cup and drink it. Photo courtesy of DieselDemon via Flickr.
  • Starbucks recently introduced a 31-ounce Trenta size for iced coffee. Not only is the mega-cup larger than the average human stomach, but you can fit a whole bottle of wine in there. (Eater)

 

  • There’s a big stink going on in Maine – and it’s all about whoopie pies. Some people want to make the whoopie pie the state’s official dessert. Others think it’s a bad idea to such a title to a dish whose main ingredient is lard, especially when obesity is prevalent throughout the state and country, and want the blueberry pie to reign. Oh, the things that divide our nation. (Boston Globe)

 

  • Flavor Flav is opening a fried chicken restaurant in Iowa. Ummm … yeah. (Eater)

 

  • Celebrity chef and author Jeff Henderson of Food Network‘s The Chef Jeff Project has written a “community cookbook” called America I Am: Pass It Down Cookbook that chronicles African-American history through cuisine. Excuse me while I add this book to my wish list. (NPR)

The $10 Challenge: Shah’s Mongolian Grill

(Blogger’s note: I am actively taking recommendations for future $10 Challenge sites. My fiancé, Rob, has been urging me for months to try out the restaurant I featured this week.)

A table of young men began to sing along with the Ke$ha song that blasted through the speakers the other night as I ate a dish full of chicken and veggies at Shah’s Mongolian Grill.

Clearly, this University of Louisville-adjacent restaurant was not the best place for a young woman who has wiped her hands of the college crowd.

It’s hard to discuss Shah’s Mongolian Grill without a thorough description of the restaurant’s atmosphere, which  overtakes the great food offered there. First, a little bit about a Mongolian grill. These restaurants give patrons the opportunity to select meats, veggies and sauces of their choice that an employee collects in a bowl and dumps on a huge, flat grill. Here’s a peek at the selection:

Though the grill is right behind the register in plain sight, it was the sweet smell of flavored tobacco that grabbed my attention when I arrived at Shah’s.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Shah’s Mongolian Grill”