Opening the county's first cannabis consumption lounge without food would have been an opportunity missed. And so the upscale Pig and Leaf truck is installed at Papa & Barkley Social's patio (4325 Broadway, Eureka), complete with heat lamps and fire pits, on the site of the old Kmart that, I'm told, opened with fanfare by the Eureka High School marching band back in the '80s. The only throwback from that period now is the sign for a smoking section.
The minimalist black Pig and Leaf truck is one of three food operations Pawel Gago, also owner-operator of Pizza Gago, is executive chef for as part of the expanding Humboldt Social empire, along with Jetty at the Humboldt Bay Social Club and the restaurant in the works at the Scotia Lodge.
"I always said I didn't want to open a restaurant and now I'm opening multiple ones," says Gago over the phone. Mobile businesses, he says, always appealed for their flexibility, which paid off during the pandemic, when he was able to put the pizza kitchen "on pause" without worrying about rent or other pricey overhead concerns of brick and mortar restaurants. That and the shifting restrictions on dining make trucks the model of the moment.
If the name has you dreaming about infused bacon, sorry; serving food with cannabis still forbidden by the health department. On the bright side, you'll find a menu going broader and aiming higher than one might, given that some of its patrons will be there for the weed and enjoying its palate-boosting effects.
As with his pizza menu, Gago built Pig and Leaf's menu around "things I like to eat — big, bold flavors," with influences and spice profiles drawn from Middle Eastern, Latin American and Asian cuisines, and including vegan jackfruit options. The pork drumettes, morsels that easily slip their fore shank bones, come with the option of an Indonesian-inspired coconut, pineapple garlic, onion and turmeric glaze. The Eastern Mediterranean lamb pita takes advantage of the charring of a vertical broiler and overnighting in a Turkish marinade of allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and black pepper.
It's a favorite of Head Chef Olivia Resendes. "The flavors are so warm, it's really beautiful." Also near and dear to her are the take on churros, fingers of eggy pâte à choux dough fried and tossed with cinnamon sugar, served with a ganache that's equal parts chocolate and cream. She first made them from leftover dough at the Carter House's Restaurant 301, where she served as executive chef before the pandemic. "It was just one of those things borne out of experimenting and being hungry," she says. It's a bit of a logistical challenge in a truck but worth it. (For traditional Mexican churros, however, she heads to Eureka's El Pueblo Market and Panaderia at 312 Washington St.)
Resendes, who's listened to many a restaurant kitchen staffer daydream about the freedom of a truck, may be a convert to mobile service. She says it's a sprint in comparison to the marathon of serving courses and customers' expectations are focused more on the food and socializing than being served. "You walk up to the window, you're kind of yelling your order because it's loud," she says, laughing. "You're here to relax ... it's a different mindset than going out for a five-course meal and it's just different. It's very good."
Over at Septentrio Winery's tricked-out grounds (650 Sixth St., Arcata), The Nosh's behemoth black truck has made a home between the tented patio and clusters of Adirondack chairs.
"Food and feeding people is just a huge part of my life," says Nosh owner Casandra Kelly, who also runs Casandra Kelly Catering. And they've gone at it from a number of angles, including working at a dozen Humboldt farms (including Flying Blue Dog, Neukam Family Farm and Luna Farms), at Food for People and a stint at Campground. During the pandemic, they ran a couple of pop-ups at the winery and smaller catering gigs that allowed them to stretch a little. "It was just a really fun way to try different menus," they say. "I wouldn't say it was easy but it made me think differently about how I create food ... I've never done dim sum and I did a huge dim sum night — I don't know if it was successful but I did it."
Part of considering how Kelly runs The Nosh's kitchen is being up front about it as a queer-owned and queer-run business. "I just like to put it out there that we do our best not only to create a dining experience but also an inclusive space."
The Nosh's menu recalls some of the foods Kelly was raised on. "I grew up in L.A. in a very Jewish family. My grandparents came from the East Coast and we had bagel Sundays, matzo ball soup and things." Their Los Angeles neighborhood had a lot of Armenian and Persian food as well, influences that come through in the flavors of mint and sumac in their dishes. The lamb sliders, for example, are a half beef mixture common in Armenian cooking and have a saffron aioli and a scallion-mint salsa by chef Joseph Cadorette. The tender meatballs are well spiced against the bright salsa and yield enough juice to make you grateful for the absorbency of the airy, pebble-skinned little rolls on which they're skewered.
In the specials rotation, there's a wagyu flat-iron steak and a prime cut filet, as well as a family-style whole grilled fish with salsa on Thursday nights. A standout among the Bites section of the menu are the bacalao cigarillos, crisp wonton skins rolled around a custardy filling of salted cod, potato, cheese and cream.
Brunch is in the works for the near future, too, and Kelly is looking at more Middle Eastern and Spanish dishes, like shakshuka, as well as a dulce de leche and babka French toast. Kelly hopes to broaden a few palates with a fancier presentation of Middle Eastern food, including tangy amba (Larrupin fans, branch out) and herby schug ketchup, maybe sabich, the Persian roasted eggplant sandwiches they recall eating in Israel. Middle Eastern food, they say with a little sigh, is "yummy, comforting food to eat and really great for the summertime."
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.