Even jaded eaters will sit up and take notice when they see the new Blair Street BBQ cart.
Each fall, new food cart owners who want to vend in the city's coveted Mall/Concourse spaces participate in the final day of Madison's food cart review, lining up on Martin Luther King Boulevard to present samples of their menus to the review committee. Their rankings determine the order in which they'll pick spots to vend next spring.
Scores are based not only on the quality of the food; 40% goes to "apparatus." Blair Street BBQ, with a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 605 E. Washington Ave., has hit the scene with a bright pink trailer capped with a Mount Rushmore-scaled pig head. Well, perhaps not quite that large.
Blair Street BBQ is not the only familiar business among the new carts. In fact, there's more old than new coming up for 2015.
Johnson Public House, 908 E. Johnson St., is planning a mobile espresso/coffee stand for Library Mall. JPH co-owner Kyle Johnson wonders why pairing espresso with students hasn't occurred to anyone before this.
Cart-goers may recognize the new Pagoda Smoothies as the former Tea Garden cart, which will still serve bubble tea, plus a roster of smoothies.
Bulgogi Korean Taco is starting a second cart; now both will be called Bulgogi Burritos. The new one is the former Wei's Food to Go -- one of Madison's longest-running carts. It began as Viet Foods to Go and for years was located in front of the Tenney Building. Owner Sean Lee felt that times had changed and the cart needed a concept overhaul. Beef, chicken and tofu with Korean marinades are wrapped in tacos, burritos or served as salads, with cilantro and kimchi garnishes continuing the international relations.
Popular wrap/salad/soup outpost Good Food is also opening a second cart, with different menu items, though the concept is the same as the original.
Cafe Social will vend Colombian coffee, with beans from the Colombian farm of owner Omar Lopez's family, roasted there as well. The cart in this case is a zippy little former mail truck with a service window at the side. Lopez has been selling at various area farmers' markets, but this is his first try at a Mall/Concourse slot.
Two new Mexican carts will debut. Cali-Fresh, from husband-and-wife team Leticia and Daniel Hernandez, will offer "authentic Mexican with a California twist." They're focusing on keeping the ingredients as fresh as possible and are hoping to offer seafood tacos. Marimar on Wheels will also be making tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tortas and a "wet"-style burrito. Say Cheese is a new fried curd vendor.
And Imperial Pops sells organic popscicles in flavors like raspberry and basil or strawberry cream. Owner Michelle Peria made her own cedar-encased freezer chest trailer that can be pulled by bicycle. Peria calls popscicles "a great palette" to bring out interesting flavors, and she likes contributing to Madison's vibrant street life with her operation. Her outlook could hold true for all the 2015 wannabees: "Let's face it, it's not a certainty that this will fly. But it's reasonable to try."