In the words of Monty Python … and now for something completely different. Since my guest blog post about Cafe of Love last year, I was curious about the food truck from their sister cafe, Ladle of Love. In 2011, it was one of four trucks (and the only one not from NYC) to win a contract to occupy the old Tavern on the Green space in Central Park. A few weeks ago, I approached Leslie Lampert, owner of both Cafe of Love and Ladle of Love, about spending the day on her food truck. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was back home in Mt. Kisco (NYC’s loss is completely our gain!). So, here’s what it was like behind the kitchen door and into the front seat of a food truck driving around Mt. Kisco with some delicious Ladle of Love offerings.
Restaurant: Ladle of Love and their Food Truck
Description ~ the Food Truck: The blackboard at sister restaurant Cafe of Love reads like a who’s who of local farms and highlights the seasonal ingredients being utilized daily in all of the “Love” establishments.
So, it’s no wonder that when Ladle of Love’s food truck hit the streets, it was important for it to be environmentally friendly. Mission accomplished: the truck is powered by electricity and boasts an almost zero carbon footprint.
The truck, manufactured by Global Electric Motorcars (GEM), is able to go 12 miles between charges, and its power is stored in nine giant industrial-sized batteries (a pumped up big brother to our common 9V transistor battery). A dashboard display shows the percent of power left similar to a laptop battery meter.
The motor is whisper quiet, even with the pedal to the metal to achieve its top speed of 30 mph.
Description ~ the restaurant: Opened in 2003, Ladle of Love is a small storefront squeezed into an out-of-the-way corridor off South Moger Avenue offering an ever-changing selection of homemade soups, stews, salads and sandwiches.
Customers usually stop by for take out or call for delivery of lunch or dinner orders (Love on the Run), but there are a few tables inside and outside to enjoy a quick, healthy home cooked meal. Although the interior is tiny, the bistro-like touches of a cobble stone floor, a border of white wainscoting, gold-hued walls, and wrought iron accents create a comfy and welcoming atmosphere.
The daily menu is conveniently posted on the side bulletin board, and there are always quick take-away items stocked at the counter (along with a clear view into the compact kitchen).
Cuisine: The truck sells gourmet fare straight from the Ladle of Love kitchen. Farm to table ingredients are in abundance in their soups, stews, salads, and sandwiches. The food truck offers a varied selection of Ladle’s more extensive daily menu. Not sure of what soup to order? Just ask for a taste.
Owner: Leslie Lampert has a lot of love to go around and her enthusiasm and vision has made both Ladle of Love (her first endeavor) and Cafe of Love so successful. Her prior career as a Senior Editor of Ladies’ Home Journal was just a stepping stone to becoming a passionate restaurateur. Leslie is a bundle of energy and never misses an opportunity to stop by tables at Cafe of Love to chat with diners. She is community minded and supports various local charities with a portion of Ladle’s proceeds.
Restaurant Manager: Jennifer Mendez is the backbone of Ladle of Love. She’s been there for only a year, yet I could tell that she has found her niche. She has always been in the restaurant business in one capacity or another, but her role at Ladle brings all her experience to the table (farm to table that is). As I chatted with her in her small office, I couldn’t help but notice one of my favorite inspirational quotes from the Little Prince posted on her computer.
Jenni is extremely efficient (making my A-type heart skip a beat) as she created the food truck’s daily prep list for the kitchen, took a few catering orders, and worked on the menu for the day to be posted on-line and in the restaurant. She tells me that it’s all about having strong lines communication with the staff, but it doesn’t hurt that this is a fantastic team of professionals who are all extremely dedicated to making sure that Ladle runs smoothly. She loves all aspects of her position, but she really enjoys interacting with her customers. She seemed to know everyone who called or came through the door! She can’t say enough about Leslie’s dedication to her staff and restaurants. What goes around comes around, because in the short time I spent with Jenni I could tell how much she really cares about Ladle of Love.
Food Truck Manager: Richie Ruksenas can be found behind the wheel and at the window of the Ladle of Love food truck cheerfully serving up lunch to local businesses all around Mt. Kisco and the surrounding areas.
He first came to Ladle as a customer, and when the opportunity presented itself to oversee the new food truck, he didn’t think twice about joining the team. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! As we toddled (that’s our creative speed description and we’re sticking to it) around Mt. Kisco, I got to know the guy behind this unique foodmobile. It may not be apparent at first glance, but Richie is definitely a member of the foodie club. Describing some of his personal culinary adventures like making a goose and turnip stew or whipping up a lobster risotto with baby artichokes had me salivating. He’s having a blast going from place to place with the food truck. Seriously, no one should have that much fun at work. Customers are so happy to see him, and he can’t wait to help make their selection easier by describing the daily choices or enticing them with a taste of soup.
Staff: Jackson Lopez and Alfonso (Fonzi) Vasquez were hard at work in the kitchen. Aside from Jenni taking care of the front counter, there are also two other afternoon staff.
Signature dish: If you want to know what love tastes like, just ask for a sample of one of Ladle’s soups. Clearly, they are the shining stars of the menu with multiple daily choices like Chicken and Dumpling, Curry Zucchini Bisque, Harvest Celebration, Tuscan Tomato, and Chicken Marsala. The Harvest Celebration soup, a sunny and sweet combination of butternut squash, sweet potato, apples and carrots, shines just a little brighter since their customers have made it a bestseller. A close runner-up is the Chicken and Dumpling, which is best described as a deconstructed chicken pot pie. Torn pieces of moist chicken are partnered with feather light dumplings in a flavorful broth.
Size of kitchen: The Ladle of Love kitchen is quite narrow but seemed pretty spacious compared to the snug 6 ft x 8 ft inner sanctum of the food truck.
Out the back door of Ladle’s kitchen leads into subterranean service corridors which could make the directionally challenged (that be me) feel like they are in ant hill tunnels. Through the maze and down a set of stairs are office central, dry storage and the refrigerated walk-in for the restaurant.
Turning up the heat ~ the kitchen: In the Ladle of Love kitchen, three cooks expertly handle making everything for the daily truck run, the regular lunch and dinner menu, and all the catering orders. So, it’s not surprising to find some rather large stock pots for all that soup or the twin Alfa soup warmers conveniently keeping soups at ready-to-serve temperature.
There were two American Range six-burner stove/ovens placed side by side for the main fire power.
Turning up the heat ~ the Food Truck: On the food truck, propane gas powers a two burner stovetop and the steam table which keeps four soup containers hot.
There are two self-serve refrigerators on the outside of the truck and one small fridge inside, all powered by a gas generator.
Most complicated dish on the menu: Making soup is an activity that should not be taken lightly. Anyone can pop open a can and heat up the contents, but a good soup, made from scratch with fresh ingredients, takes hours for the flavors to combine and develop. It’s what makes soup homey and comforting; a complicated art that Ladle of Love has mastered with finesse. I couldn’t believe how just a hint of curry in the Curry Zucchini Bisque brings a somewhat boring veggie to new heights. Most surprising was that a simple Tuscan Tomato soup could taste so intensely of the ripest, summer-kissed tomatoes. And who thinks to make a soup out of Chicken Marsala and make it work so brilliantly?
What’s on the prep list: The first order of business for the morning was for Fonzi to make the sandwiches and salads on the prep list for the food truck.
The California Turkey and Veggie are half sandwiches which are the perfect partner to a cup of soup. They are made with hearty artesian bread direct from the Good Bread Bakery in Port Chester. The choice of the day for the mini ciabatta sandwiches was Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil (hence, the TMB on the list) and Tarragon Chicken Salad.
On the road: It was nearing lunchtime and Richie and I were packed up and ready to roll in the Ladle of Love food truck. We cruised around town to designated businesses on the Tuesday route which included Wine Enthusiast, Photofile, and Elephant’s Trunk. Right now the food truck heads to the same locations all around Kisco Avenue, Bedford Road, and Main Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, it goes to the other side of Mt. Kisco. The routes are still in flux, and keep in mind the truck only has enough power to for a 12 mile round trip.
The corporate park at 45 Kensico Drive was our first stop, and it took only a minute or two to set things up. Richie will either call or email the businesses to let them know he’s outside (FYI, if you are nearby and would like to be on the route, just give Ladle of Love a shout).
Once everyone was taken care of, we packed everything back up and moved on to the next location. The customers along the route definitely appreciated having fresh made food coming right to their doorstep. In fact, a gentleman had stopped by to order a mini sandwich and soup. Then, about five minutes later, he returned for another sandwich because he liked it so much!
A whole lotta love: At 45 Kensico Drive, one customer loves that the truck comes by on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “It’s a double treat for the week,” she excitedly told me. At Wine Enthusiast, a woman who was in meetings all morning was so thankful to get the email that the food truck was in the parking lot. It was her “savior” since she wouldn’t have had time to drive anywhere for lunch. A devoted fan of Leslie’s for over 10 years also stopped by for lunch with his grandson, and he couldn’t say enough wonderful things about her. Susan Ward at Elephant’s Trunk recently commented on Ladle’s Facebook Page, “We love it when you stop at Elephant’s Trunk on Tuesdays and Thursdays for lunch!”. She had requested to be added to the route through Facebook, and when we arrived in her parking lot, she was out in a flash to get some lunch.
My random insights: Even though I didn’t even have to touch my knives for my day in this kitchen, I didn’t mind one bit. I loved the whole concept of bringing what Leslie describes as “honest food” directly to customers, chatting with them about their day, and the instant gratification of watching them enjoy their lunch.
Life on a food truck is not without its surprises, but I didn’t expect my day to end on a “kerplunk” note. Just as Richie and I pulled into Ladle of Love’s parking lot, we heard a grinding sound that made us cringe. All of a sudden there was a POP from the front of the truck, and we stopped moving. After a quick inspection, I could see that the doohickey ball joint was no longer attached to the wheel thingy. Hey, I’m a cook not a mechanic.
For anyone else, this mishap could have finished the day on a sour note, but Richie and I actually laughed about the irony of it all and how lucky we were that it happened at the end of the route or that we weren’t standing in the pouring rain. S**t happens, and I was happy to roll up my sleeves to help give a push or two to get the truck into a parking space. I’m delighted to tell you that it’s all fixed up and back toddling around Mt. Kisco; and on Saturdays in July, you can even check it out for a picnic lunch at the Katonah Museum of Art Sculpture Garden.
Food trucks are just coming on the scene here in our area, and I have to thank Ladle of Love for giving me the rare opportunity to be on the foodie cutting edge. My day on the truck was an experience I will remember fondly for a long time to come. There’s one last thing I would like to share with you about Leslie Lampert and her “Love” team. Shhhhhh, hidden right in plain sight on Ladle’s wall is their most coveted secret to success ~~
Details: Ladle of Love, 11B South Moger Avenue, Mount Kisco. 914.242.9661 Ladle of Love is open Monday thru Friday, 10 am to 7 pm and Saturdays, 10 am to 6 pm. The Ladle of Love food truck travels around Mt. Kisco Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays in July, the food truck is at the Katonah Museum of Art Sculpture Garden. To see if they are going to be in your area or to request a stop, just give them a call.
Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. She looks forward to sharing her experiences as she goes behind the kitchen door in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens. When not on foodie assignments, she can be found working in the open kitchen at Thyme Restaurant in Yorktown.