Thursday, December 29, 2011

How Lucky Old Souls Became “McDonalds for the Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill set”

No food truck has drummed up more hype lately than Lucky Old Souls, the locavore burger-joint-on-wheels from jazz promoter Matt Feldman. We sat down with Feldman to discuss the music-food connection, his methods for local sourcing, and the wacky menu specials that have made his truck stand out from the crowd.

You’ve been performing and promoting jazz under the “Lucky Old Souls” moniker for years, and you chose to attach that name to this endeavor too. How exactly does a jazz show translate to a burger truck?

I have two main passions in life: music and food, and my interests in both of them focus on avoiding things that are mass produced, in favor of things that are genuine and heartfelt. To me, they really go together; I support local musicians, and I support local farmers. It might seem like an odd pairing, but it’s truly how I live.

I’ve had long-term plans to open a jazz club, and for various reasons, that hasn’t happened yet. I saw the truck as a way to spread the word about shows I promote and about jazz in Philly in general. If and when the club does open, the truck will be a mobile ambassador for it. As for the burgers, it bothered me that there was no place in Philly to get a relatively inexpensive, take-out burger made with good beef—that is, local, grass-fed beef. I have a family, and that’s the way we eat, and the only way to get anything like that would be to go to a bar.

Once you figured out that a burger truck was the right thing to pursue, how did you know what first steps to take? Like, where does one even buy a food truck?

I didn’t go about it in a particularly methodical or premeditated way. I had this idea in the spring, and my wife and I discussed it, and we decided that it was a good idea but—for personal reasons, mostly—not the right time to do it. Fast forward to the end of July, and I saw that the Renaissance Sausage truck was for sale. [Don’t worry, it's still around on new rolling stock – ed.] I was familiar with it, just as a customer, and it seemed like the price was very reasonable. I did some quick research to verify that my initial reaction was right, and it turned out it was a good price. That same day I saw it was for sale, I called the owner, went and saw it, and put a deposit on it. A few days later, we closed on it, and by the beginning of August, the truck was mine.

Around then, my wife and I started working on recipes. Most of them were based on ingredients we used at home. The beef, for example, comes from Rineer Family Farm, and we’ve been using their beef at home for at least two years—they sell at a couple of local farmers markets. I did try some other local farms’ beef to do my due diligence, but we still ended up going with Rineer. Same thing for the rolls, which are from Wild Flour Bakery—we’d been using those at home for a while.

Your specials—which can be really out there—seem to be the biggest thing setting LOS apart. What’s the process for creating them?

It’s not all that systematic. Something comes to me, I try it out, I taste it, and then I have some people taste it. If we think it’s pretty good, we go with it. Generally it starts with me looking at what’s available from the farms and thinking, “What sounds like fun to play with? What can I do with this?”

What are some of the most popular combinations you’ve offered so far?

We’ve been running a special that’s been really popular with collard greens, because they’re so available this time of year. I cook the greens with bacon (which I cure and smoke myself), and thought one day, “That might be good on a burger.” I tried it once, and it was.

Another thing that’s been really popular that, I’ll be honest, took me by surprise, is the smoked poblano mayonnaise. One of my purveyors had poblanos that were pretty cheap, and I honestly didn’t even know what I was going to do with them. I threw a few into the smoker that I use for my bacon, then I pureed them into homemade mayo, and I liked it so much I ended up not even adding anything else.

Other things are just happenstance. With the maple-black pepper shake, for instance, I had bought a whole big case of syrup for my bacon cure, because it was at a good price. I was talking with one of my employees, and he said, “Let’s do a milkshake with it.” At first, that sounded too sweet, but then I immediately thought of black pepper. To me, those are two things that just naturally go together—they’re both in my bacon cure, for one.

The ginger spice milkshake we’re doing now took a while to get right. It was never gingery enough, so I ended up making fresh ginger tea, then straining the ginger out and putting the tea in the shake.

What’s next?

Our next special starts Thursday. It’s going to have sliced apple, homemade mustard, Swiss cheese, bacon, and caramelized onions. I’ve known for a while that I wanted to do something with apple, and last week my wife was eating apple, sausage, mustard, and cheese as a snack, and I thought, “Oh, maybe we should try that on a burger.” We tried one right then and there, and it was great.

Most of these sound at least somewhat reasonable, but how’d you come to pair blueberry jam with habañero cheddar?

That’s a combination you can get on our breakfast sandwich and breakfast burger, and for me, sweet, savory, and spicy are the flavors of breakfast. Every time I go out for brunch, I always have the dilemma: do I get sweet, or do I get savory? In fact, my ideal brunch is when I’m with someone else and we can share one of each. I love getting pancakes, eggs, and potatoes, then putting hot sauce on the potatoes and syrup on the pancakes—to me they just counter each other very well.

You’ve tried locations all over the city. How do they vary in terms of customer preferences?

Depending on location, people are more or less likely to “get” something like the breakfast burger. When I was at the Punk Rock Flea Market, people really got it, and told me, “man, this works together.”

Love Park during the week is mostly office workers, on the lunch rush. Clark Park on a Sunday is more relaxed. We go up to Chestnut Hill on Saturdays to do a farmers market, and there we get a lot of families. We’ll have fathers come and get six burgers to bring home to the family, and that’s something we don’t see anywhere else. We’re like McDonalds for the Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill set, who appreciate grass-fed beef and want their children to be eating that kind of meat.

We also tried a Wednesday stop last week at 33rd and Arch, and there’s a good chance we’ll be adding that as regular Wednesday stop sometime early in the New Year.

What else is on the horizon for LOS—both as a truck and as a jazz organization?

Well, I have to keep reminding myself that we started at the end of the nice weather, so as well as we’re doing now, spring and summer are going to be even better. Plus once spring hits, there are a lot of different possibilities for ingredients.

As far as other LOS stuff, we’re still doing a concert series, and we’ll see what happens with the club. Certainly I can’t be on the truck every day forever, but as far as when and how that change will be made, I don’t know yet.

--Alex Marcus


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