We’ll remember 2017 as the summer that food trucks rolled out onto the streets of Morgantown. Who’s behind the wheel?
The roving restaurateur lifestyle appeals to a certain kind of person, it turns out: part gypsy, part mechanic, all chef. They’re risk-takers, too—these vantrepreneurs invest anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. But mobility lets them serve what they want, where they want, when they want. Follow the line at any farmers’ market, mall, wedding, or festival, and you just may find yourself under a truck-side awning enjoying some of the city’s most exciting cuisine. Meet a few of our food fad nomads.
PYLES OF PASTA
If you ever want to open a franchise restaurant, run the numbers. That’s what David Pyles and his family did. He was thinking of opening a Noodles & Company fast casual franchise in Morgantown but found that a food truck made more sense for him financially. “Plus, you can close during winter and spend time with your family,” he says. “Opening a restaurant, you can’t do that.” So the idea for a noodle store like many across the U.S. became the very unusual idea for a noodle truck. “There are a lot of Vietnamese trucks that have noodles, but not gourmet pasta—I think like four or five in the nation, that I was able to find. I wanted to give Morgantown something different and see if they would respond, and it’s ended up working out.” He first rolled out in April 2017.
Pyles of Pasta has a huge menu, for a food truck. Appetizers include mozzarella sticks and bavarian pretzel sticks. “Then for pastas we do a Cajun Alfredo, add chicken or shrimp, and a Buffalo Chicken Rotini and Cheese that’s pretty popular,” Pyles says. “We do a Bacon Rotini and Cheese that sells pretty well. I have the Chicken Bruschetta Pasta—that’s lighter, and it’s become really, really popular. And we have the Rotini and Meatballs, and that really sells.” There’s also the Philly-style A1 Steak Sandwich and a BBQ Cheddar Meatball Sub. “And people that know me personally will ask—if it’s not on the menu but I can do it, I’ll do it.”
Pyles got his start washing dishes at Cracker Barrel at 16. He went to culinary school at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, then cooked at the Pete Dye Golf Club, Fairmont Field Club, and Mylan Pharmaceuticals. For him, now, this works out better. “I love working for myself,” he says. “I like meeting a lot of different people. And I like change. We’re having a lot of fun.”
The Pyles of Pasta crew works the corporate lunch crowds: the medical offices at University Town Centre on Mondays, the WVU Medicine Farmers Market on Wednesdays, Teletech at the Mountaineer Mall on Fridays. You’ll find them other places on other days—follow them on social media to track them down.
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HEARD’S BEST BARBEQUE EVER
Best Barbeque Ever built up a huge base of loyal diners in the short time it was open in Sabraton in 2015. So when Charlie Heard closed the restaurant based on rumors a road would be coming through the building he was leasing, hungry fans pestered him. “Our main plan was to open up a packing and distribution center,” says Heard. He used to distribute through Kroger and has a ready market for his product. “But so many people kept asking me, ‘When can you open back up?’ ‘Where can we get your barbecue?’ I saw a food truck for sale so I went ahead and did that.” He first served up his brand of delicious out of the truck he calls Heard’s Best Barbeque Ever in October 2016.
Heard had a high school wrestling record of 101–2 in his native Georgia. After a strong showing in NCAA wrestling at the University of Tennessee, he came to Morgantown in 1986 to train with WVU coach and Olympic wrestler Nate Carr. “I fell in love with West Virginia. I started cooking barbecue at the side of the road, like the roadside vendors we had down South, to raise money to train for the Olympics. I stepped it up a notch with my own personal recipe, the dry rub and barbecue sauce I created by trial and error.” Heard became a two-time Olympic alternate who medaled in the Pan- American Games and World Cup— and now he makes a medal-worthy barbecue.
The truck menu changes from week to week. “We do smothered steaks, and then we have the barbecued chicken, pulled pork, ribs, and brisket,” Heard says. The long list of from-scratch sides includes mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans cooked on the wood-fired grill, and Southern stir-fried cabbage. The hickory-smoked barbecued pulled pork and the brisket sell quickest, he says. Also popular is the Santa Maria Italian: a 6-inch bun with Italian sausage, peppers, and onions, covered with the pulled pork.
Morgantown barbecue lovers can find Heard at the mid-day WVU Medicine Farmers Market on Wednesdays. Or try the Laurel Point soccer fields south of the Morgantown Mall on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. Heard sells plenty without marketing but hopes to start keeping fans posted on Facebook soon.
LET’S TACO BOUT IT
Sometimes a restaurant just isn’t enough.
Burke Manning’s family opened Pita Pit on High Street in 2005. He’d grown up all over but moved to Morgantown to help out. Now he’s co-owner of the restaurant and considers Morgantown home.
Serving food to the downtown crowd suits him—so much that, in March 2016, he bought a food truck on Craigslist so he could do it at night, too. “I spent March until the beginning of July building it, getting the equipment in, installing the sink system,” he says. “I hand painted the whole truck. It was a fun experience.” He joined the High Street late-night scene in July 2016 and, with an upgrade to what he calls “the Ferrari of generators” in September, has kept at it year-round.
“We’ve got soft and hard tacos and a Taco in a Bag,” Manning says—that’s in a bag of corn chips, often called a “walking taco.” “We’ve got three different sizes of nachos, some with just nacho cheese and chips, and the bigger one gets chicken, rice, beans, and, if the customer wants, lettuce, tomato, guacamole.” Diners can load up with sour cream, salsa, hot sauce, Sriracha, and specialties like salsa verde, peach pineapple chipotle salsa, and white corn black bean salsa.
When he has the staff and the time, Manning also sometimes sets up for lunch or dinner at office buildings and student apartment complexes. He especially likes working music events. “Like, in May, Mainstage Morgantown put on the Flogging Molly concert at the amphitheater on the river. That was really cool.” His late-night diners most like the Taco in a Bag, he says—it’s easy to walk around with. But during the day, it’s always the big nacho plate. “Every crowd’s a little bit different.”
Manning’s wife and their three-year-old son love his tacos. He sometimes hears his son playing “taco truck” on the living room floor. “This has been a good experience all around,” he says. “I’m at Pita Pit 60 to 80 hours a week, sometimes more. When I come downtown, there are 100-plus people that know me by name. I enjoy serving a good product, but also the camaraderie with the customer—being a member of my community.”
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HASH BROWNS & NEW GROUNDS
Cody Thrasher started working in restaurants when he was 15. He liked the work and the atmosphere, so he taught himself to cook. “I went to Barnes & Noble, bought the Culinary Institute of America textbook for $75, and read it from cover to cover,” he says.
He also liked the idea of being his own boss so, in 2014, he turned the key on his used, re-customized food truck. He named it for fried potatoes—a dish people everywhere like— and for all the places the truck might take him.
HBNG’s menu of international and eclectic flavors reflects Thrasher’s tastes. The Jalapeno Gnocchi Mac & Cheese topped with grilled pepperoni, a drizzle of Sriracha, and chopped scallions gets customers standing in line. The CBR Taco—with char-grilled chicken, brown sugar–encrusted bacon, and house-made sesame aioli in place of ranch—brings them back again and again. The Blackened Vietnamese Catfish Taco, with purple Asian slaw, sweet chili sauce, and sesame seeds, is one of Thrasher’s top dishes. “That catfish is out of this world.” But even while keeping customers coming back for favorites, the truck’s menu changes daily. “We’re out to be different. We like to say that we’re a big step away from everybody else, not ahead but in a different direction.”
Thrasher gets his produce from local farmers. “We get to know all the farmers,” he says. “The average consumer doesn’t want to buy that ugly tomato, but I’ll take it and make a sauce out of it. It really lets us support local businesses and saves us from spending more money at the larger chains, and the consumer gets a better product. It’s better all around.”
Thrasher started a restaurant in Bridgeport in 2016 called Cody’s. HBNG mostly does private events and festivals these days, but a lucky diner might catch the truck at Short Story Brewing in Rivesville on a Friday night or at the Sunday morning Bridgeport Farmers Market. Even with the restaurant to manage, he still loves his mobile kitchen. “It’s a blast. It’s hotter than hell in that thing, but it’s worth every second.”
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