8.10.2011

Food Truck Q & A: Basil Thyme

Chef Malik Umar heads up the culinary creations of the Basil Thyme food truck.


Food trucks have become a way of lunchtime eating for many in DC, and it's no wonder given the eclectic options out there. Lobster rolls, fresh pasta, cupcakes, popsicles, pies and a slew of other delicacies roll their way around the city every weekday.

To get a better look at what it takes to run a food truck — from parking tickets to popular dishes — as well as some of the great culinary options on wheels, we interviewed some of the city's roving restaurateurs for a food truck  Q & A series.

First up... 

Basil Thyme, owned and operated by Brian Farrell, is one of the most recent additions to the DC food truck ranks. Every morning chef Malik Umar whips up homemade Italian fare that includes fresh made pasta, lasagnas and classic cannoli filling. Farrell says he's proud to offer fresh food at a great price — diners can get a lunchtime feast of pasta, salad, dessert and a drink $10 — and is hopeful food trucks will remain a regular go-to for hungry Washingtonians.  

Q: When did your truck first hit the road?
A: First week of June [this year].

Q: Why did you want to start a food truck?
A: I was in information technology for a long time. One of my favorite experiences as a foodie, was, and is, eating out somewhere where you could really tell the chef and staff gave a lot of attention and love to the food they served. I knew with a lot of hard work (making fresh pasta) we could give other people that feeling.

Q: Why do your menu items work, sold from a food truck?
A: I think people enjoy our food — we work hard and make fresh food from scratch, using quality ingredients [like] fresh herbs. We are also very fast with the service — 60 seconds from order to completion. And I think we give people a great value — soda, entrĂ©e, side salad and dessert for a great price.

Q: What is your most popular item?
A: Probably the “Pasquale” lasagna — hard to find a salami, pepperoni, prosciutto and pancetta lasagna in the city. We render it before cooking so it’s not as greasy or fatty as one might think with those ingredients.

We changed out our ziti and removed it because not enough people raved about it. I want people to rave about every dish.

Q: How do you anticipate the crowds each day?
A: We prepare for about 140 people or so. Depending on the weather and location, we vary the amounts of each dish we carry.

We haven’t done a Truckeroo [a food truck festival held once a month at Navy Yard], and I’m not sure our food, and the lengthy prep, lends itself to huge crowds like that. As is, we prepare from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., so I’m not 100 percent we’d be able to please the crowds at large events. I think we’d be lucky to serve 300-400 on a day like Truckeroo, and I’m not sure we’d want to let people down like that.

Q: Where and how do you prep your food?
A: We use a commissary kitchen in Maryland. All meals are from scratch and made by us, save the cannoli shells, which are purchased (we make the filling). Everything else — from noodles to manicotti — is done by us.

Q: I think a lot of people are curious about the hygiene of food trucks — what kinds of hygienic guidelines do you follow?
A: We have a HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) plan like restaurants to ensure critical points (e.g. receiving/preparing/storing food) and we are inspected by the Department of Health. We have to follow the same guidelines as restaurants in regards to food safety, food temperatures, cooling/heating, storage and sanitation.

Q: As opposed to a stationary restaurant, what’s the best thing about a food truck from the
owner/operator’s perspective?

A: Well, clearly, if a certain location isn’t working out, because the restaurant is on wheels, it’s easier to find clientele who might be more into your food.

Q: Why do you think food trucks have grown in popularity? And what do you think the
future is for food trucks?

A: I think people see offerings from us they don’t get at a typical restaurant. Also, I think we help serve many underserved areas. I was at the State Department and many people mentioned they had a lack of choices there (their words, not mine).

As for the future, I really can’t speculate. I’m hopeful people realize it’s not just a trend, but that we can offer some excellent food at a great price.

Q: Do you think there is any type of food you can’t sell from a truck?
A: Sushi might be difficult. But then again, I could find myself proven wrong next week.

Q: Ever gotten any parking tickets?
A: We always feed the meter. Once I was ticketed, and we hadn’t been parked for more than a minute. ‘You got caught,’ was the officer’s playground-like retort. I was not a happy camper. The way my chef tells it, the meter person literally ran to us. I recognize we have to conform, just like other vehicles and we do. But hey, if Zip car gets spots in the city … .










Katie Bascuas has lived in D.C. for the past year and a half, and when she isn’t working or traveling, she loves exploring new restaurants, farmers markets and bars in the city. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Katie also enjoys writing about food and is excited to be contributing to Metrocurean.












Katie Bascuas has lived in D.C. for the past year and a half, and when she isn’t working or traveling, she loves exploring new restaurants, farmers markets and bars in the city. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Katie also enjoys writing about food and is excited to be contributing to Metrocurean.



3 comments:

otberbur said...

Food trucks have greatly improved lunchtime options for office workers like me in the L'Enfant Plaza area. Brick and mortar options are limited and often no better than mediocre in quality. Basil Thyme's lasagna, by contrast, is excellent. I look forward to it on Mondays!

Amy J said...

I love Tuesdays at the State Department!

Amanda @ Metrocurean said...

I love how folks working downtown can look forward to the regular dates. Thanks for commenting!