Foodie: Dan Levy, On The DL
With Rutgers playing in the hilariously named PapaJohns.com Bowl today (note to all companies wanting to spend their advertising dollars on Bowl sponsorships, we know we can add ‘.com’ to the end of your business and find you online. Or there’s Google. You sell pizza, I don’t care if you have a blog, or whatever), I have been asked to shed a little light on the greatest food invention on four wheels – The Grease Trucks.
New Jersey is known for mobile foodstuffs. From the Corner Dogs in Atlantic City to Mister Softee trucks jingling down the block on hot summer days, we sure love our transportation provisions in the Garden State. Which is why the Grease Trucks, located on College Ave. in New Brunswick, N.J., are a must visit any time you find yourself in Hub City.
Back in the mid 1990s the Grease Trucks were legendary around the state. Any high-schooler who had a friend at Rutgers would visit on weekends just to brag to your friends that you had a Fat Cat. Seriously, we did this. The stories were as good as the food. The Grease Trucks never closed. Then, we heard they closed just one hour per day (usually between 5 and 6 am) to de-grease, presumably both the grills and the grillers, before the morning rush. With the fraternities just a block away, there was never a shortage of drunken hilarity at the Trucks. Which is why in the late 1990’s Rutgers legislated stricter hours, first forcing the trucks to close at 3am, one hour after the bars close, to eventually 2am. Which is just insane. Feeling the squeeze, some of the more successful Truck owners rented space on Easton Ave. to avoid the limitations put on by Rutgers and stay open as long as they want. By the turn of the century, there was talk about getting rid of the trucks altogether. To this day there are discussions about squeezing the Trucks out of town. But of all my years at Rutgers, nothing was better than stumbling out of a bar at closing and ordering a Fat Cat at 2:00 a.m. from a guy in a truck calling me buddy. And nothing ever will be.
There is one rule at the Grease Trucks. Do. Not. Make. Eye. Contact. If you have your favorite truck, keep your head down until you get there. Don’t acknowledge the other truck owners or they will suck you in. Their powers of persuasion know no bounds. They have photos of all their patrons, mostly the good looking ones wearing little clothing. They always ALWAYS call you buddy. ‘You’re not my buddy. Jimmy is my buddy. I just want a sandwich over from him.’ Jimmy doesn’t know who the hell I am, but he’s convinced me he does. That’s how they getcha. Oh, the awkwardness when you would wait six deep in line at your favorite truck when the truck next door had no customers. And you know what, the food all tasted the same. Fantastic.
So what do they sell at these Grease Trucks anyway? Well, everything for one. But let’s start with the sandwiches. The most famous sandwich of all is the Fat Cat. Two cheeseburgers, lettuce, tomato, onions, ketchup, mustard and fries all inside a long roll and wrapped in delicious tin foil. Yes, I’m certain that 20% of all Grease Truck patrons have eaten the foil at one point in their time at Rutgers. Simple. Brilliant. The Fat Cat. And it started at Fat Revolution.
There’s the Fat Moon. The Fat Koko. The Fat Sam. There’s the Fat Darrell, which is some concoction of mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, fries and marinara sauce. There’s the Fat Bitch, which Rutgers brass made the trucks change. Funny in that when the Lebanese proprietors of most of the trucks pronounce the word, it sounds like “Beach” and thusly was born the Fat Beach. There’s been the Fat Dyke and Fat Filipino (both nixed by Rutgers). Basically, if you can think of something to put inside a long roll – sub roll, hoagie roll, whatever – it can be a Fat Something. And it’s all delicious.
Darrell Butler with his namesake.
More than just Fat
The Grease Trucks offer so much more than these scrumptious yet heavy, hard-to-eat-in-one-sitting-unless-you-are-four-sheets-to-the-wind sandwiches. They have breakfast. Order an egg and cheese while waiting for the bus in the morning and count how many seconds it takes for them to get out the question “salt, pepper, ketchup?” My estimation: negative three seconds. They have gyros. Not “jai-roh.” No. They have ‘yee-roh”. And they are delicious with or without “the hot-a-sauce.” But if you’re in a rush, and just need some gum or crackers or a drink or some Phillies Blunts (rumor had it you could get some different blunts if you went to the right trucks) the Trucks are a one-stop-shop for all quenching or satiating needs.
In all my years working at Rutgers, I always asked why we didn’t get the trucks to park outside the gate and split the profits with them every game. I’m sure the concessionaires wouldn’t want that, but if it’s about serving the fan base, that’s the only way to go. To get from the stadium to the trucks it’s at least one bus and, after a game, at least 25 minutes. Sure the trucks are a stoner’s throw away from all the bars, tons of apartments, houses and dorms, but it’s not where the action is on game day. My suggestion: bring the trucks to football games. Split the money with the school. It might be the only way to save them.
Where to watch the game
If you’re talking about food, yes the trucks are the place to get it. But what about drink? What about a place to watch the game? That’s the thing about Rutgers. It’s huge. There are 35,000 people somewhere around all the campuses. But you find your niche. You find your local spot and make your friends. For me, that place was the Olive Branch. I lived there, some nights literally. I’ve stayed friends with the owners and bartenders. They always know your name there. Hell, I wrote a book about my life there, sitting down during happy hour with my laptop and a pitcher of beer every night until the younger crowd came in around 9pm. Yes, this was before blogs.
Well, with at least five huge flat-panel TVs and people who care as much about Rutgers Football as those on the field, the Olive Branch is your place to go watch a game. Hell, watch today’s game there. And if you’re there, order one of their Famous Dirty Sandwiches. Basically, they are great sandwiches like chicken tenders soaked in buffalo sauce or topped with cheddar, jalapenos and salsa, all put on garlic bread. Or, if you want regular bread, order it Clean. I’ll consider the Clean Sandwich my personal legacy. But if you do go, order a Dirty Levy just to see if they still remember me. (note: the Dirty Levy was the nickname for the original Dirty Sandwich, but with cheese bread instead of Garlic. That’s what started the Clean option. Who needs garlic bread breath all night, right?).
Whether it’s today, this month or sometime soon, get to New Brunswick. And grab yourself a Fat Bitch while you’re there. Go Rutgers.
Tell us about your favorite Grease Truck memories in the comments.