If you’ve liked my page on Facebook, Mulligan Stew, you may have seen my two sentence attempt at going out in blistering 90 degree weather for a hot tray of Macaroni and cheese this past Tuesday. It wasn’t going to happen. (Also, if you haven’t liked the page already, what’s stopping you, Charlie?)

Yesterday, I was at work all day, inside a blissful air-conditioned store, while the weather outside was as hot as the day before. Today, however, was a different story. I knew the weather would break, and break it did. Currently, the temperature outside is 53 degrees. I figured it would be cooler than 90, but had no idea it would be so brisk. I went downstairs in my shorts and t-shirt for a walk, went out the front door, and turned right back around to put pants and a jacket on, and exchanged my sandals for shoes.

Last week was Tamalli Space Charros, the week before was the Meatyballs mobile, and today, I was finally going to try out the Southern Mac Truck.

The Southern Mac Truck, an idea of The Southern restaurant’s executive chef Cary Taylor, is typically found roaming the streets of downtown Chicago between the hours of 11:30AM-1:30PM, Monday through Friday, with a rotating cast of Macaroni and Cheese creations, ranging from a standard, “Good Old Fashioned American Mac and Cheese” to a more exotic Roasted Artichoke, Asparagus, and Smoked Gouda Mac. The prices for these, in hearty portions, usually set the customer back about 9 dollars.

When I go to restaurants and see vegetarian or simple items on the menu for prices higher than the average consumer is willing to pay, I usually scoff at them, and then proceed not to buy them. However, in this city alone, I’ve had excellent macaroni and cheese, forgoing the question of “How can you pay that much for an order?” based on prior recommendations of people who’ve tried it. The one that instantly comes to mind is Kuma’s Corner‘s Make Your Own Mac and Cheese. 2 Toppings, $12. You eat it, you understand how something so simple could be worth so much, and then in my case, you go home with a head filled of fancy trying to figure out how to duplicate their recipe.

With the Southern Mac, and with the other Food Trucks I’ve visited so far, there’s the added silliness of excitement attached to the walk from your present location to wherever the truck may be. It’s primitive, in that you have to scour an urban landscape for your food, armed only with a wallet and an appetite, but it’s also exciting in the way that little kids get when they find a treasure map or go on a scavenger hunt- The anticipation of treasure at the end of your adventure may far outweigh the deliciousness of your actual meal.

Today, the Twitter account read that the truck would be set up at the Wrigley Building/Tribune Tower at 12:30. I checked my phone. 11:37. Plenty of time to make it.

After the change of clothes, I set off at about 12:15 for a ten minute walk over to their stop, still vague, with my iPhone in hand. I stopped at the store and bought a lemon, getting change from the self-service checkout. (I wasn’t about to pay a $5 surcharge at the Chase Banks in between home and the stop for an order of Macaroni. That’s just absurd.) As I walked out, I checked my Twitter feed.

thesouthernmac Southern Mac Truck
Lower Hubbard and rush! Get there!

On my way. Walked under the Lower Michigan Overpass, made a left, and there, as unassuming as the previous trucks had been, was the Southern Mac Truck.

Once again, I’d looked at the menu before leaving the house to see what I wanted to get, and the Pulled Chicken, Buffalo Sauce and Blue Cheese Mac sounded like it was the one for me. I had my money, I had the hunger, and I was there.

The transaction went smooth enough. Two dudes, a truck, and a hotbox full of pans of mac and cheese each the size of an old VHS tape. $9. Paid, done. The only unfortunate thing about the transaction was that where they chose to park, there was no place nearby to sit.

It didn’t really matter. I took a quick walk home, and now, here I sit, eating my Pulled Chicken, Buffalo Sauce and Blue Cheese Mac while I type out my blog. How is it? It’s pretty good. It’s a nice idea, and the cheese sauce itself is alright. I’m a bit underwhelmed by the amount of pulled chicken and the flavor behind it, and everything seems fine. It’s well put together, and executed with typical restaurant precision. There’s your basic Mac and cheese on the bottom, mixed with a little chicken, and then it’s sprinkled with blue cheese and hot sauce. Pretty simple. Pretty standard. Even though my mom reads this blog, the dish itself is nothing to write home about. Sorry, Mom. HOWEVER, as I’ve said before, sometimes, it’s more about the journey to get your food than the food itself.

The Southern Mac Truck may have a great idea on their hands, as business seems to be doing pretty good.I don’t really know what to gauge this on, other than their 6,400 followers on Twitter, all of whom I’m sure eat at the truck on a daily basis, their messages letting their customers who may be en route that they’re sold out, and their strategic parking spots in front of places like the Groupon building, where they know they’ll draw a crowd full of Twitter-savvy twentysomethings.

Personally, I think the business, while sustaining, is not an everyday stop for me. I’ve had the great idea for something similar to this (Imagine a Food Cart that only sold cheap peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $1.50 each. Who can turn that down?), but perhaps the model of doing only one thing but doing it well loses a little lustre if it’s something like Macaroni and Cheese. I can imagine eating Mac and Cheese every day for lunch until I actually do it every day for a week.

Would I go back? Sure. I think, unlike the poorly executed Pulled Pork balls off the Meatyballs truck, it’s a good dish. It has flavor, value, a creative new take on a classic dish, and shows potential for creativity with other new offerings that they’re most likely willing to try. After I make my way through all the trucks and carts that I want to sample, and I come back around to re-evaluate what made me try out the good trucks in the first place, I’m excited to see the evolution of the Southern Mac’s recipes and new offerings.

Advertisements