Next week, the 2017 edition of The Charlottesville 29 will be announced, answering: if there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29? While the list is limited to brick-and-mortar restaurants with a Charlottesville address, much of our area’s great food these days comes from sources with no address at all. Although it took a while to take hold, the food truck scene is certainly upon us, with all kinds of great options visiting breweries, vineyards, cideries, and elsewhere around town.
Tomorrow, February 1, we will announce The Charlottesville 29’s 2017 Best Food Truck. To be eligible, a food truck must have been in operation since January 1, 2016, and must regularly serve the Charlottesville area.
In this week’s C-VILLE Weekly is an article about the many virtues of a dinner party with Phillip Gerringer’s outstanding food truck South Fork. As a companion piece, below is an in-depth look at the man behind the food truck recently named Best of C-VILLE:
Q. How did you get into cooking?
A. My mom and Grandparents were great cooks. I took it for granted growing up because we would have a full, well-rounded home cooked meal every night of the week. I could count on my fingers how many times we went out to eat in a year.
It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house as a teenager and started working in restaurants that I realized what went into those meals and I started to appreciate it.
I wasn’t working in restaurants at a young age because I loved the art of cooking. I just loved the atmosphere and loved a lot of the people I would meet. But that appreciation of those home cooked meals made me take pride in the food I was preparing. No matter how generic the restaurant was where I was working, I tried to make the food I prepared taste and look as good as possible.
Q. Can you provide your cooking bio/resume?
A. Took a job in high school at a pizza restaurant where a bunch of my friends worked. It had nothing to do with me wanting to cook. It was all about cranking music, skateboarding out back, and late night pizza party raids. It closed shortly after…..
Then it was some dives and chains that filled the “gotta have a job” part of life.
It was K-38 Baja Grill in Wilmington, NC that first sparked a real interest in cooking. The food was a pretty simple Tex-Mex cuisine but with some creative twists. It was the first “cool” place I had work and I spent a lot of the next 3 years in that kitchen or at the bar.
Back to dives and chains during the transient existential crisis of the early/mid twenties era.
When I moved to C’ville in January 2007, I was getting back in school to get out of the food industry. I got a job at Mono Loco and was quickly reminded of how much fun a kitchen can be. I give a ton of credit to Michael Lewis for reigniting my interest in cooking and the industry. He let me experiment with things and put my name along side of things I came up with. That kind of encouragement is really important and left a lasting mark.
Q. What prompted you to decide to start a food truck?
A. Once I finished at UVA, I started looking for 9-5 jobs. It was the most depressing thing ever. There was nothing I really wanted to do and the more I looked, the more I realized I wanted to stay in the food industry. Some of my wife’s friends had told her I should start a food truck. I considered it but I didn’t follow or know much about food trucks (I still don’t, my social media skills will prove it….). But owning my own business was always something I had wanted to do and I figured I’d go for it.
Q. Where did the name South Fork come from?
A. The name was one of the hardest parts of starting a business for me. A lot of really bad ideas were thrown around… One day we were brainstorming and my wife saw the word pitchfork and said “what about South Fork.” It wasn’t something I would have ever come up with and it took me a little while to warm up to it. But the more things progress, the more that felt like the right name. And at some point you just have to go with something! In the end I became really psyched about it and it obviously fueled the logo design which I was really happy with as well.
Q. How did you choose the type of cuisine to focus on?
A. A southern influenced cuisine was the only type of food I ever considered. It allowed me to pay respect to all of those family meals I took for granted as a kid. But I didn’t wanted to do just traditional southern food. I liked putting my own stamp on things and putting a little twists into the menu items but still keeping them accessible.
Q. How has it been, running a food truck? Anything surprised you about it?
A. It’s been really rewarding. You put yourself out there and hope that people like this thing you’ve worked really hard on. So to have as positive of a response that we have had over the past 2 years has been awesome. I’m so grateful to everyone that has supported us.
It’s also more work than you could ever imagine. If you see me at 6pm at an event, most likely I’ve been working since the early morning and I a still have a normal 8 hour work shift left. It’s a small business so I do the bookkeeping, prep, truck maintenance, wash dishes, etc, etc. etc. I run a skeleton crew so anyone else you see on the truck has been working their ass off too. Kudos to all of my employees. Apologies to all unanswered voicemails….
Q. What are your personal favorite South Fork dishes? What dish is ordered most by the public?
A. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I guess it’s the grilled pimento cheese sandwich. But really you should ask for the burger with everything that goes into the grilled cheese. It’s not a regular menu item but we can make it anytime.
I’ve been really happy about how all of the items on the menu sell. I guess the most ordered item would have top be the Fried Chicken but it’s a close race. It’s hard to take anything off because we know we are going to have a bunch of people that come just for that item.
Q. How often do you do private parties?
A. Private parties have been getting more and more frequent. Charlottesville is a relatively small town so it’s hard to have a viable food truck scene. It’s too “hit or miss” to just pull up and serve lunch somewhere. We like to do as much street food vending as possible but private parties have really become a significant chunk of our business. They can be a lot of fun too. We get to work with the host and come up with different menu items we don’t always have and it’s almost always a laid back environment.
On Fridays, we feature five foods finds selected by local chefs and personalities. Today’s picks come from Michael Lewis, chef-owner of Mono Loco. On Sunday, February 22, Mono Loco is doing yet another of its hugely popular pop-up brunches, from 12-4. There’s great stuff on those pop-up brunch menus, so mark your calendars. Lewis’ picks:
1) Double Espresso at Greenwood Gourmet Grocery. “This is how I start most mornings: a double espresso with David and Nina the owners, and joining in on the colorful conversations. It’s a gourmand’s Mom & Pop! In the afternoons, try an amazing chicken sope with fresh pineapple pico, hope Claude Thibaut is doing a wine tasting, and say hello to Rufus the dog.”
2) Smoked Jalapeno Meatloaf Sandwich from South Fork food truck. “Phil used to work with us at Mono, so its awesome to watch his continued success. I never imagined I could derive so much joy from a meatloaf sandwich, but his is savory and rich with a hint of spice, and he won’t judge you if you order two!”
3) Carne Asada at MAS Tapas. “My happy place. Tomas and crew are my go to spot for the Charlottesville uninitiated. It’s crowded, brash, loud and unapologetic, and I love that. Plus, the carne asada is always spot on.”
4) Crabcake at Three Notch’d Grill. “Out in Crozet, Haden and Cathy just run a solid, chill place. Sit at the bar, have a Titos’s martini and my favorite crabcake in town. They’re filled with crab, not filler, and the jicama slaw and lemon beurre-blanc just balance the dish beautifully.”
5) Spicy Tuna Tartar at Zocalo. “Some people complain that it’s the same menu, so what!! It’s consistently good food, year in and year out, which is incredibly difficult to do. And, the tuna tartar is the best app in town.”