4/30/2013 04:59:00 PM

Inside The Salsa Truck’s Culinary Incubator, The Garage

The food truck scene in Chicago is fairly bleak – we are not the first to say that and most certainly will not be the last. But one man, by the name of Dan Salls, hopes to change that with a communal cooking and event space known as The Garage. Salls, who lunched The Salsa Truck several months ago, was the first in Chicago to earn a mobile food preparer license for his saucy truck. Those who follow the few trucks roaming the streets of Chicago may have noticed an absence of little red truck. That is because Salls was focusing his full energy on The Garage, opening next week pending final inspections.

The Garage serves three purposes. First, it is a commissary for trucks, including The Salsa truck and others that Salls refers to as tenants. Five trucks will use The Garage as a base camp to park, cook food and load the trucks. To prevent inter-garage competition and a smooth workflow in the single kitchen and storage room, Salls is bringing a variety of trucks with different needs. The Fat Shallot will bake fresh ficcocia overnight, a breakfast truck arrives early in the morning and the Husky Hog BBQ truck utilizes a single smoker while Yum Dum prepares Asian-style dumplings. At least, that his how Salls hopes it will work – aside from Kitchen Chicago and recently closed Logan Square Kitchen, it is the only communal cooking space of its kind and the first to focus on the needs of food trucks.

At 10 AM purpose number two kicks in. The Garage opens its doors to the public for lunch service until 2 PM. Each day it will serve an expanded Salsa Truck menu of tacos, quesadilla and tortas as well a feature dishes from one of the food truck tenants. Salls, who has no formal culinary training, learned how to cook through cookbooks and by watching Rick Bayless’ “Mexico - One Plate at a Time.” His food is authentic Mexican, but the menu at The Garage will not be limited to a single cuisine. In addition to the lunch menu, Salls will welcome one truck per day to park in front of the space. The Garage, which seats six at a stainless steel counter, doubles as a retail store for salsas, other food truck’s products and records. At 2 PM, the counter closes but the space remains open for pop-up dinners, salsa classes and other events.

On the horizon, Salls is eyeing a rooftop garden, expanding the number of tenants to twelve including some with local restaurants and hosting food truck festivals. Salls also works with other Chicago food trucks to navigate the stringent regulations (read: roadblocks) enforced by the city. “We made all the mistakes so they don’t have to,” Salls said. But most importantly, he wants the space to benefit the food truck community as a whole and help Chicago compete with other cities' food truck scenes.

116 N. Aberdeen St.

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