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Hot Food Trucks On Back Burner In Chicago

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Hot Food Truck

A cook prepares food on board a hot food truck. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Hot food trucks, where food is prepared in the vehicle and sold on the street, are becoming an increasingly popular option around the nation. But an ordinance to allow them on the streets of Chicago has been placed on the back burner until after the mayoral election.

Meantime, Evanston has moved forward with legalization of the trucks, so CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole took a look at how they work.

Matt Maroni owns a truck that serves some rather unusual fare for lunch trucks, including wild boar, chicken thighs with mushrooms and lamb cheesesteaks.

The high-end fare from Chicago-based Gaztro-Wagon is pre-packaged off-site, kept warm in ovens and sold from trucks in Chicago.

Maroni said the idea is to bring the restaurant’s unique fare to the masses.

Legally, what he and others want to do but can’t is prepare the food on site – in other words, in the trucks.

In other cities, like Evanston, it is a blossoming gourmet trend, but pushback from brick-and-mortar restaurants and the upcoming turnover at City Hall have stalled approval of lunch trucks that prepare food in the vehicle.

“Now that it’s a gourmet thing versus, you know, the common ‘roach coach’ that people are used to, some people are up in arms about it,” Maroni said.

But since October in Evanston, they can already hit the road.

Vince DiBattista, co-owner of Hummingbird Kitchen, said, “we’re able to pull up at a remote location to be able to serve food the quality that we would at our restaurant.”

The truck has 12 burners, a convection oven and a deep fryer.

The owners of Hummingbird Kitchen — who already own two Evanston restaurants — saw their $250,000 kitchen on wheels approved by the Evanston City Council in just six months.

Co-owner Stephen Schwartz said “They didn’t want to stop a creative process and instead they wanted to embrace it.”

Evanston Alderman Ann Rainey said, “We saw it as an economic engine for the community.”

Evanston decided it wouldn’t allow the trucks to operate within 100 feet of an existing restaurant and limited food truck licences to those who already operate a restaurant in the city.

Evanston Alderman Melissa Wynne said, “We wanted to make sure we didn’t cannibalize our own restaurant community we have here.”

Maroni said he hopes Chicago’s City Council will take similar steps as soon as a new mayor and new aldermen are sworn in at City Hall in May.

For now, the effort remains in committee and will not likely be revisited until after the upcoming elections.

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