Street Food Institute
This is one of those times when I’ll forgo an intro that paints a picture or tells a story and get straight to the point: Great things are happening at Street Food Institute, the vividly striped food-truck-with-a-purpose that is lately anchored in the gravelly lot across the street from Kaune’s Neighborhood Market.
With the support of chef and program director David Sellers (whose reputation for his work at Santacafé and Amavi precedes him), SFI began with excellent intentions: “raising the bar for street food” and helping aspiring young cooks gain the professional and culinary skills they’ll need to start businesses of their own down the road. SFI worked in tandem with Central New Mexico Community College to establish its curriculum, whereby students learn to develop business plans and menus and acquire hands- on, realworld experience cooking for and on the truck. For most of last winter, SFI spent its time on the campus of CNM. Back in Santa Fe, it has found what seems to be an ideal spot, just a stone’s throw from the Roundhouse, though a good bit of prep happens in the kitchens of Santa Fe Community College.
The food-truck revolution has taken root slowly in Santa Fe compared with other, bigger locales, but that’s OK. One of the benefits of a smaller-city food-truck scene is that lines are rarely long and waits are typically short. The menu at SFI is brief enough to be listed on a chalkboard stand, but the intriguing options, which can vary from day to day, have recently included red curry pork over sticky rice, a burger with sun- dried tomato aioli and chipotle ketchup, and an assortment of sandwiches that are accompanied by SFI’s thick, golden salt-and-vinegar potato chips. While you wait for your food, grab a seat at one of the regulation wood picnic tables and enjoy the shade of one of the cheerfully colorful umbrellas.
One of the foods that jump-started the current food-truck revival was Korean barbecue. Perhaps in homage to that fact, tacos of that sort often head up the menu at SFI — one day built with pork shoulder; another day, beef short ribs. The super-tender beef was doused in a funky-sweet sauce, the house kimchi provided a balancing spicy acidity, fresh sprigs of cilantro offered a leafy-green bite, and shredded fresh cabbage lent some crunch. The resulting combination was addictively delicious.
The chicken sandwich is taking the country by storm right now — from Oakland’s Bakesale Betty to David Chang’s recently opened Chick-Fil-A-inspired Fuku and the Chick’n Shack sandwich at New York’s Shake Shack. Other than its name and a rich rémoulade with a hint of herby Old Bay, there’s not much distinctly Cajun about SFI’s Cajun chicken sandwich. But the buttermilk-brined meat is some of the most tender I’ve tasted, and its nubbly cornmeal batter is a thing near and dear to my heart, just like the kind that swaddles oysters and catfish across the South. Served with lettuce and tomato on a fresh, crusty, but easily noshed baguette, this sandwich could hold its own against any big-coastal-city contenders. The only thing it might be missing is a pickle.
The Provençal veggie sandwich is something like ratatouille on bread, with tender grilled zucchini and eggplant along with roasted red peppers, that sun- dried tomato aioli — lovely and mild — and a bit of tangy goat cheese. The walnut-black-olive sourdough had a peculiar — though not unenjoyable — sweetness and gave an otherwise soft and squishy sandwich a welcome textural crunch.