Champaign-Urbana may be a little late to the food truck game, but the quality and diversity of food trucks in the area continues to develop. The most recent food truck to hit the streets is operated by the Hendrick House, a privately owned residence hall on the U of I campus known for good food. Focused on serving local, responsibly harvested foods, the Hendrick House food truck serves up fresh, interesting, and easy to eat meals.
The Hendrick House food truck has only been up and running since late May, and with most of the U of I students (labor) gone for the summer, truck sightings have been limited. This summer the truck has attended invitational events (most recently the Clark Park neighborhood bash in Champaign), and has been a staple at Urbana’s Market at the Square each Saturday morning. The menu is more or less consistent, with a few specials scattered in. Regular menu items include chicken tenders, grilled cheese, yogurt with berries and granola, waffles with whipped cream and berries, and burritos. The main draw is the chicken and waffles, an entrée touted in the initial announcement in The News-Gazette’s “It’s Your Business” column in May. Last Saturday I managed to get myself to the market in time to have chicken and waffles for breakfast.
After I did some produce shopping, I stopped by the truck to get some breakfast. There wasn’t much of a line (people were too busy waiting on doughnuts), and I was immediately greeted by a friendly young woman standing outside of the truck at a table with napkins, sauces, and a handy-dandy iPad. The efficiency of ordering in this manner cannot be understated. Although admittedly part of the fun of ordering food from a food truck is standing below the people in the truck and yelling up to them, I much enjoyed the ease of speaking in a normal voice to a person who could actually hear me. And the iPad allows you to pay with a credit card — bonus. I ordered the chicken and waffles ($7) and the ribeye breakfast burrito ($6) to go. The food was cooked to order, so it took a few minutes. While I was waiting a few more people wandered up to the truck and ordered some food. I overheard one woman rave on and on about the delicious whipped cream and yogurt parfait. She was excited enough to (politely) yell up and into the truck and tell the chef about how delicious it was. I believe she said “thank you for the whipped cream,” which sort of blew my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever thanked anyone for whipped cream, but I sure as hell want to.
My food was wrapped up in tin foil and I was able to get the sauces on the side, which not only made for easy transport, but also less soggy food. When I got home, I was pleased to find the food hot. I quickly unwrapped everything and got to business.
The chicken and waffles contained fried, small, fork-stabbable waffle pieces, two battered and fried chicken tenders, and a nice amount of kale and apple salad. In a container on the side was some maple honey syrup. The waffle and chicken components were easy to grab and dip into the syrup — they were very poppable. The kale and apple salad, on the other hand, required a fork. The waffle bits were crunchy and sweet, and the waffle indentations were perfect for collecting syrup. The chicken tenders were perfectly crispy (even after transport from market to home!), and the chicken was quite moist. The crunchy breading stuck to the chicken, and was well seasoned without being overly salty. The kale was lightly cooked and cut perfectly into ribbons, making the bitter green much more palatable. The apples were julienned, matching the size and width of the kale. Some diced red onion was also included in the salad, and the bright and slightly sweet flavors cut through the vegetable-ness of the kale, and nodded to the sweetness of the apple. This was one of the best kale salads I’ve had—it was on point in both texture and flavor.
The chicken and waffles were sweet, savory, and bitter, and crunchy, soft, and crispy: a well balanced dish. As a whole it seemed to be missing some salt, but the lack of saltiness allowed for each ingredient to maintain its flavor: the chicken tasted like chicken, the kale like kale. Hendrick House’s use of locally grown produce no doubt contributes to this, and it was delightfully refreshing to eat things that taste the way they should.
I ordered the ribeye breakfast burrito for my husband: ribeye steak, eggs, fried Yukon gold potatoes, roasted poblano peppers, grilled onions, and Monterey jack cheese all wrapped up in a flour tortilla. This beast of a burrito was cut in half, which made for easy eating. Although the inside was a visual of beautiful brown food, the flavors were brighter, and distinctly Tex-Mex. The steak had notes of cumin and chili, and paired with the grilled onions and roasted peppers, it was almost like a fajita. The eggs were fluffy, and the potatoes slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The poblanos, tended to overpower the other flavors in the burrito, though. Like the chicken and waffles, the components of the burrito were generally under salted.
My husband and I were both sufficiently full. The food tasted good, and although I say that the food was under salted, I don’t mean it in a negative way. Perhaps I should say appropriately salted, and well seasoned, because the food was just that. (I suppose, then, that I should consider what it means to be surprised when I expect the predominant flavor in all restaurant food to be salt.) There was a clear attention to detail in the execution of the dishes (even the burrito), and in the well considered flavor combinations. There was a definite pride in the work, which makes eating it that much more enjoyable.
The U of I resumes classes at the end of the month, which means there will be plenty of students available to commandeer the food truck on a more regular schedule. I’m eager to check out the other things on the menu (hello there, jalapeno-candied bacon and thank-you-for-the-whipped-cream waffles with whipped cream and berries). Prices are reasonable and in line with other local food trucks and restaurants serving locally grown produce. For the next few weeks, it’ll be early Saturdays at the market for me.
Follow the Hendrick House food truck on Twitter and Facebook for updates on locations, serving times, and other goings-on. You can also read up on Hendrick House’s farming efforts. In the meantime, catch the truck at Urbana’s Market at the Square, every Saturday through November 1st from 7 a.m. to noon.