Last week fellow Daily Press food writer and jet-setting dynamo Merv Hecht wrote a very enticing article about a giant food court in the heart of London. As magical as it may seem to jaunt off to jolly old England to lose yourself in the splendors of such an amazing food court, most of us do not have the wherewithal to do just that.
Locally the more practical alternative lies within the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place mall. But for the pop-up food court experience that personifies a taste of L.A., look no further than the Tuesday night food trucks behind the Victorian on Main Street.
Living and eating in a post Kogi truck era means the standard food truck has evolved from a convenient burger and burrito lunch option for construction workers, to gourmet offerings for the masses. This contemporary convoy cooks up everything from Indian, to sushi, to every kind of fusion one can imagine. One noteworthy truck, Cousin‚Äôs Fresh Maine Lobster, not only shells out some fantastic lobster, but has a compelling story as well.
Less than a month ago an episode of ABC‚Äôs hit show “Shark Tank” featured cousins Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac. The gist of the program is entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of investors and after their concept is put through the ringer a decision is ultimately made whether or not to invest in the potential project.
Barbara Corcoran, one of the shows “sharks,” liked the cousins, their business model, and of course their product, and decided to invest in their dream. Currently Cousin‚Äôs Lobster has one truck in operation and with the help of reality TV, a second one is one the way.
The components of their early success primarily lands in having a good product at a competitive price. Shipping is a killer though. Cousin‚Äôs was able to align themselves with people to source fresh Maine lobster, cook, seal, and ship the crustaceans cross country and ready for consumption here on the West Coast. When you compare Cousin‚Äôs lobster roll ($12.50) to a local mainstay like BP Oysterette ($22), the contrast in price is profound.
There still is no comparison to sitting down for a nice meal at some of the city‚Äôs premier seafood spots like Blue Plate or Santa Monica Seafood. Plus there are challenges to convince people to pay $12-$18 for something coming off a food truck. But the cousins routinely find themselves selling out of their lobster nightly.
The lobster roll, the truck‚Äôs signature dish, is as good in quality as any premier place in town. They have just cut out all the other overhead that restaurants have to pay. Their lobster roll differs from the rest in a couple of ways. The actual filling is all lobster splashed with a little lemon, butter, and sprinkled with a little old bay like seasoning on top. A popular way to prepare the lobster roll filling is to meld the ingredients together like chicken salad. When done wrong the mixing becomes too mayonnaisey. Instead, they spread a light amount of mayonnaise on the bun. The bun is the second key component. Many places around town use brioche or a plain white hot dog bun as the vessel for the lobster. Cousin‚Äôs use something called the split-top-style bun. It‚Äôs kind of like a cross between a hot dog bun and toast. Either which way apparently it‚Äôs how they do it in Maine. The bottom line is the lobster roll is top of the line for a fraction of the price one may be accustomed to. Aside from the famous roll, Cousin‚Äôs also has lobster tails, lobster tacos and New England clam chowder. For any lobster enthusiast, I recommend tracking the whereabouts of Cousin‚Äôs Lobster Truck on Twitter, because food truck or not it‚Äôs very good seafood at equally good of a price.
From a brick and mortar restaurant in Pasadena, to an online lobster delivery service, to two food trucks, these two owe their success to that big bug that feeds on the bottom of the sea. Some things translate coast to coast, and lobster is certainly one of them.
The debate is open whether food trucks hurt or help local businesses. After all they do seem to just roll into town and draw customers away from the brick and mortars. On the other hand, when they are grouped together, as they are every Tuesday evening on Main Street, they do generate a crowd, and foot traffic equals good bushiness for the store fronts. Santa Monica has done an admirable job to keep the trucks in a contained environment, giving the local restaurants a fighting chance. It seems balanced for now, and hopefully it works out for everyone, because for eating enthusiasts, the more food the merrier.
Here‚Äôs their Twitter and website: @CMLobster; www.cousinsmainelobster.com.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, “Tour de Feast.” To reach him visit his website at tourdefeast.net or follow him on Twitter @TourDeFeastSM.