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Hummingbird Kitchen

Could Evanston be the promised land for this area's mobile eats?


While interested journalists and wanna-be food-truck operators have been following the push for amended mobile-food-vendor regulations in Chicago, a gleaming kitchen on wheels was being constructed in New Jersey. At 28 feet long with a 12-burner stove, a fleet of fryers and enough fridge space to hold a few sides of beef, Hummingbird Kitchen wasn’t built to sit around and wait for rules to change—it was built for Evanston.

“We were looking to do something new, and food trucks are it,” says Steve Schwartz, who owns the truck, along with Heather Behm, his partner at Evanston’s Union Pizzeria, and Vince DiBattista, the chef at Union and also at Schwartz’s restaurant Campagnola. Before the crew drove its finished product back from the East Coast last month, they spent plenty of time taking the temperature of Evanston’s powers-that-be to see how the truck would be received. Turns out, there aren’t any laws in Evanston expressly prohibiting food trucks, but there aren’t any allowing them either, making it difficult for the health department to know how to treat Hummingbird.

“It seems that there is a lot of support for this project within the city, but since there is nothing on the books that pertains to a truck like ours, it’s technically not legal,” says Behm. But she and her team are working to change that.

With support from various aldermen, as well as health department division manager Carl Caneva and even the mayor herself, it seems likely that Hummingbird will soon hit the streets. A proposed ordinance was discussed in committee July 7, notes 4th Ward Ald. Don Wilson. It’s currently up “for action” in that committee, which will either move it along to the full council or request more information. The committee meets again in early August, and there’s a city council meeting August 9, “so hopefully the committee will move for inclusion in that August 9 agenda,” Wilson says. The measure could then be approved at the full meeting.

The author of the proposal, corporation counsel W. Grant Farrar, defined a mobile food vendor as “a commercially manufactured, motorized mobile food unit in which ready-to-eat food is cooked, wrapped, packaged, processed or portioned for service, sale or distribution.” The word “cooked” would mark the key difference between Evanston’s food trucks and those currently allowed in the city of Chicago, which can sell only pre-cooked and pre-packaged foods.

DiBattista needs to be able to fire up his grill for the burgers he’s making from local farmer Adrian Plapp’s organic beef, his gas-powered stove top to braise short ribs for ciabatta sandwiches and his deep fryers to crisp up Italian-style fries. Plus there are smoothies, honey gelato sandwiched between lavender shortbread…a whole lineup of things intended for the lakefront crowd Hummingbird hopes to have a go at before summer folds. “It’s looking really, really positive right now,” says Behm. “The city attorney is representative of those who are on board, telling us ‘I’m excited, I’m a foodie, I’m following what’s going on all over the country, bring it on. Let’s rewrite or reword or do whatever we need to do to make this happen.’”

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