The area's first food truck park has a terrific summertime vibe. How will that translate to the months when you can't sit outside under umbrellas or on the covered patio? The trucks (actually trailers) are right next to a full-service, full-bar restaurant that its owners say is "street food inspired." The restaurant will still serve excellent tacos and sliders inside, but will folks stand out in the cold for a bowl or a pita? See below.
Opened July 5, Detroit (OK technically Ferndale, but no one has the copyright) Fleat (fleet + eat) quickly started drawing crowds. On a Wednesday in late August, both the parking lots and the bike rack were full. The patio is a dog-friendly space with poop bags provided.
The restaurant offers a nice selection of classic and seasonal cocktails at a decent-for-these-days $9, like rum punch or "Fire and Ice," tequila with Cointreau and a chili rim. I went all girly with a strong and unconventional mule that added cherry purée to the usual ingredients. You could taste each one, the way it ought to be.
In the beer categories, I loved it that the lagers are dubbed "Neutral" — your Buds and Coronas. The more interesting part of the list is 28 bottles from all over, with a focus on Michigan, like a tripel from Dark Horse in Kalamazoo. Drafts rotate frequently, with an "on deck" list so aficionados can be prepared. The house wine comes in a black box at 18 oz. for $12.
It's hard to do justice to four separate menus, but my friends and I did our best. I preferred the restaurant's own food, featuring tacos and sliders, though Aaron Tye, one of five owners and a three-year veteran of the food truck business, says more people are ordering from the trucks.
The house fish taco is simple and limey, with blackened mahi, cilantro and a citrus slaw. A fried avocado taco was badly conceived — avocado is fatty already — and you couldn't taste the veg under the batter, but somehow the abundance of other ingredients, from black beans to radishes, saved it. Corn tortillas are doubled and nicely charred on the edges.
Sliders include pulled pork, chickpeas, and beef. The most ordered, and my favorite, is "whiskey and bacon," with beef, caramelized onions, and a whiskey glaze: lots of richness and a funky sauce.
The restaurant also offers deep-fried sausage and excellent, super-irregular hand-cut fries, mellow (i.e. fatty) rather than crisp. Choose from four sauces.
For dessert there are Faygo floats made with Ferndale favorite Treat Dreams ice cream. Contemplating my Rock n' Rye, I asked plaintively, "why is this red when it's cream soda?" "Because it's Faygo," my companions assured me. It's very frothy and very red and delicious despite the absence of any natural flavors (except the corn in corn syrup).
The three permanent trailers next to the Fleat patio (which showcases a giant chalkboard for kids) are Delectabowl (rice or potato bowls), Pita Post (sandwiches), and Mac Shack (mac and cheese plus fries). All provide hearty combos of stick-to-your-ribs starch and meat or poultry. Other trucks, such as Detroit BBQ Co., Chicken Coupe, El Guapo, and Hero or Villain rotate in; check the website for the latest.
Mac Shack's mini-macs are on the small side at $4.75, but the five-cheese blend provides what it's supposed to: a cheese-mouth-feel extravaganza. Three out of four toppings add protein; they're influenced by Mexico, Buffalo (as in wings), yuppies (wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, shaved Parmesan), and, well, bacon.
Delectabowl belongs to the same owners as Fleat. They offer a base of rice, potato, or cornbread topped with a variety of non-subtle ingredients; it's a lot of food for $8. The least heavy is chicken, roasted corn salad, and Green Goddess dressing, over brown rice; another tops a potato with cheesy potatoes, pulled pork, and barbecue sauce.
The Comfort Bowl includes lots of juicy pork over cornbread that could have been cornier; I found only one cherry in my cherry coleslaw and wanted more (it's a great idea). The Beggar's Bowl is chunks of succulent kielbasa over black beans and rice; the beans were a bit underdone but the sriracha sour cream had just the right degree of heat. It lingers but doesn't startle, keeps you warm but doesn't hurt you.
The pitas at Pita Post are the small, circular kind, well stuffed. Falafel, chicken, and corned beef (a Post Reuben) are the anchors of the pickly sandwiches. The falafel is soft rather than crisp, and the chicken shawarma's marinade was not to my taste (others may differ).
And about the food trucks' winter dilemma: Fleat has an answer. Customers will be able to order from any of the trucks, from the comfort of kiosks inside the warm restaurant.