Sean Beckwith: Edible arraignment
I saw something during Food & Wine that I have never seen in Aspen before. No, it wasn’t poor people. It was a food truck. More specifically Gerb’s Grub, a bright, shiny yellow truck with purple lettering and a purple chicken on it.
The recently opened food truck was in town from its usual haunts in the midvalley in conjunction with Food & Wine because food trucks aren’t normally allowed to operate in Aspen. (Don’t worry, outraged local restaurants, he gave away his delicious tacos for free so you didn’t lose out on any potential revenue.)
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try any because of work/schedule obligations. While I have yet to sample any of his eats, I’ve heard good things. However, if I want to try it (which I do and will soon) I have to sync up my free time with Gerb’s Grub’s location and business hours — which is semi-difficult because I work weekends and nights.
You know what people like me who work weird hours can do, though? Try out the new fare at the popcorn wagon, roll the heartburn dice at New York Pizza or get a how-the-hell-did-I-spend-$40 dinner at Zanes.
And trust me, I get it, I’m the “restaurants in Aspen suck” guy, but just look at the new spots opening or recently opened. There’s Almresi, Duemani, Tatanka and Betula to go along with staples such as Acquolina, Mi Chola, Matsuhisa, Maru and Ellina. Chances are, if it ends in a hard vowel, it ends with me checking my bank account to know which card I should drop.
Aspen City Council — or at least the previous iteration — was overwhelmingly concerned with affordable choices. Well, here’s another shot at providing sustenance at a price point for people not on vacation to enjoy.
The options are limited but a couple of trends have been sprouting up that could, but probably won’t, rectify the situation: food trucks and pop-ups.
The issue is bistros and chophouses pay steep rent prices and believe it’s unfair that food trucks don’t have to pay those same costs. That’s fair, but I doubt a food truck is going to appeal to customers looking for $68 steaks, tuna tartare and caviar. Food trucks are aimed toward people looking for a bite that’s fast and available at all hours.
There have been articles about the lack of breakfast options in town. So maybe bring in the Biscuit Truck a couple of days a week so the common folk can get a bite that doesn’t take 30 minutes of deliberation at City Market or $30 at Poppycocks.
If City Council is concerned with trucks proceeding in town to “Ride of the Valkyries,” fear not, because they can regulate how many receive permits, which, if you ask anyone who owns a food truck, is a big part of process. If one were to post up at, say, Wednesday night volleyball, the impact on surrounding restaurants, of which there are none, would be minimal.
Also, who doesn’t want to grab some street meat after a show at Belly Up or a night of bar hopping? It’s basic human instinct.
Initially when I heard the phrase “pop-up,” I got excited. My introduction to the concept was an episode of “Parts Unknown” where opportunistic, hungry young chefs would slang food at underutilized locations.
A couple local examples of this include Tanuki To-Go, a now closed late-night Asian-inspired pop-up that operated out of the back of the old Bootsy Bellows location with inconsistent results, and Bamboo Bear, the Vietnamese spot that’s in perpetual limbo due to eventual development of the space.
Kirby’s Ice House just moved into what was Hao House, which was Jimmy’s Bodega before that and hopefully won’t become another Mark Hunt haunted house of high-dollar restaurant rent (See: Kitchen, Aspen or is it Scarlett’s now?).
While it’s not ideal these spaces can’t hold down permanent tenants, it’s afforded opportunities to chefs to figure out if they can or want to open a spot in town. Residents have shown enough love to a place like Bamboo that, hopefully, it will explore a permanent location once they’re forced to vacate.
I’m not entirely sure how rent prices work for pop-ups but I think most people — including City Council members — would agree that occupied building space is preferential to ghost fronts.
Unless the city wants to regulate the cost of rent at restaurants in town, which is a tricky and unrealistic ask, there aren’t many options left for the working class, or people who just don’t want sit-down service.
The ban on food trucks should be lifted, and property managers should be encouraged to utilize pop-ups either as a solution until redevelopment or as opportunities for burgeoning, less-established chefs.
It’s time to throw Aspenites — who have been screaming about expensive meal prices — a bone that’s not filled with $20 of marrow.
Sean Beckwith will try some of Gerb’s Gotcha Macha soon enough. He is a copy editor at The Aspen Times and can be reached at email@example.com.