Back in 2011, Seattle passed legislation to encourage growth of the city's nascent street-food scene. It appears to have been successful. According to the public health department, there are currently 289 active permits for full-service mobile food units in King County. Food-truck cuisine has grown well beyond its roots of tacos and burritos to a world of options: Hawaiian poke, Caribbean fusion, sweet and savory pies, Indian curries, Thai noodles, gourmet burgers, vegan sandwiches, modern Jewish food, Southern grits, Filipino lumpia, Louisiana Cajun, and hickory-smoked barbecue. There's even a completely gluten-free food cart.
As the city's mobile food scene has expanded, so has its beer culture—particularly craft breweries. Stoup Brewing, Reuben's Brews, Populuxe Brewing, Peddler Brewing Company, Bad Jimmy's Brewing Co., Rooftop Brewing Company, Standard Brewing, Seapine Brewing Company, Lowercase Brewing, Hilliard's Beer, Spinnaker Bay Brewing, and Flying Lion Brewing are among the many that have opened in the last three years. And these craft breweries are going beyond the Pacific Northwest's near psychotic dedication to hop-heavy IPAs, brewing an array of styles—from light and crisp to deep, dark, and large—while also experimenting with things such as aging beer in sherry, bourbon, and tequila barrels.
Instead of relying on bars, microbreweries are opening up their own taprooms or getting their brews into places like Chuck's Hop Shop, which has two successful locations in Greenwood (656 NW 85th St, 297-6212, chucks85th.com) and the Central District (2001 E Union St, 538-0743, cd.chucks85th.com). It's at these taprooms—or, more specifically, in their parking lots—that a symbiotic relationship has developed between beer businesses and food trucks. To appease restaurateurs who worried that food trucks would eat into brick-and-mortar business, Seattle's street-food legislation placed restrictions on trucks parking on public streets: They must be at least 50 feet away from any existing food business. But craft breweries and Chuck's Hop Shop allow food trucks to park in their private lots, where no such restrictions apply. And, conveniently, most taprooms are located in sparsely populated industrial areas, where they aren't in direct competition with restaurants, bypassing tension and boosting sales.
"I literally don't know where my business would be without these locations," says Jonny Silverberg, chef and owner of Napkin Friends (napkinfriends.com), a former FedEx truck that's been serving latke press sandwiches for more than a year. Silverberg has been parking at Ballard's Stoup Brewing (1108 NW 52nd Street, 457-5524, stoupbrewing.com) and Chuck's Hop Shops for almost as long as the truck has been around.
"It's a great relationship that works for both sides," Silverberg continues. "They don't have to serve food. People order our food, stay longer, and drink more beer."
Parking at a taproom on a Saturday afternoon, as opposed to on the street late at night, has other perks: "At these places, people aren't out to get hammered—just have a few beers and a good time. You talk with them and serve them food. This is exactly why I wanted to start my own business."
Silverberg's passion is reinterpreting and honoring the traditional Jewish foods his grandmother used to make. Napkin Friends' O.G sandwich ($10)—house-made pastrami, Mama Lil's peppers, Gruyère cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and horseradish cream sauce stuffed between two latkes and melted together on a panini press—is a terrific play on classic Jewish flavors. It's also just fun to eat this delicious, messy affair while washing down a pint or two.
While chefs are obsessive about their culinary visions, brewers and beer shops are interested in one thing. As Zach White, assistant manager and food-truck wrangler at Chuck's Hop Shop in Greenwood, puts it: "We're not really passionate about food; it's more there for sustenance to soak up the beer." While Chuck's does offer chips and salsa and one sausage sandwich, that's the extent of the menu. "We're more than happy to make someone a brat, but they would rather eat better food," he says.
According to White, the idea of having food trucks at Chuck's was the solution to the question "How do we keep people here and give them something good to eat without doing all the work ourselves?" That goal is echoed by Adam Robbings, cofounder and head brewer at Ballard's Reuben's Brews (1406 NW 53rd St, 784-2859, reubensbrews.com). "We don't have a kitchen. We want to focus on the beer," he says. "Customers often asked for food options. Food trucks seem like a natural solution."
At Reuben's Brews, customers can use a walkie-talkie that sits at the register to order food from the truck parked outside. According to Robbings, "It was cold one day, and people said they'd order food if they didn't have to go outside." The next day, an employee named Thor (obviously a genius) brought the walkie-talkies in, and an ordering system was born.
By all accounts, the relationship between taprooms and food trucks is mutually beneficial. But customers reap the biggest benefit of all: good food and beer and, more importantly, a sense of discovery. I'll admit that initially I resented the fact that while visiting a taproom, I was stuck with only one food option. It was as though the truck, serving something I wasn't particularly interested in, was holding my stomach hostage. But real hunger makes you get over yourself pretty quickly, and I was once again reminded of the value of remaining open to new things.
While at Populuxe Brewing (826B NW 49th St, 706-3400, populuxebrewing.com), I tried some yam chips with a side of spicy sambal mayo from the Kiss My Grits truck (kmgtruck.com) parked outside. Although the chips were not that well-executed (the thinly shaved chips absorbed most of the oil rather than being crisped up), the flavors were unexpected and memorable. I also ordered their special of the day: five buttermilk-soaked oysters, dredged in cornmeal and then perfectly fried. They were fantastic (and a steal at $5). And last week, while sipping a high-alcohol porter on a dangerously empty stomach at Chuck's, I realized I needed to eat something. While I was dubious of Nosh's (noshthetruck.com) fancy menu, featuring fried rabbit and roasted marrow bones (I believe street food can be excellent, but I'm not sure it should take itself quite that seriously), I was blown away by their fish sandwich ($10): beer-battered cod, moist inside its crackly shell, with caramelized onions, sweet roasted tomatoes, and bright, tangy tartar sauce on a Macrina potato roll. It might be the best food-truck item I've ever eaten.
A year ago, my sister-in-law stopped in for beer at Chuck's in Greenwood and, hungry, stepped up to Now Make Me a Sandwich (nowmakemeasandwich.com) expecting to order (duh) a sandwich. But she was overjoyed to find her childhood obsession, Danish Viking Stew—a hearty pork and veggie soup laced with curry and paprika—on the menu. She now makes a point to visit the truck, which is parked at one of Chuck's Hop Shops on Monday evenings, any time she can.
Sometimes the discoveries you stumble upon aren't novel, instead providing familiarity in a world where everything—even restaurants—are transient.