By LINDSAY GRAHAM
Executive Chef Brett Bowen, 27, could not be happier with the success of his restaurant on wheels. In a little more than a year, the Happy Belly food truck has become a noted member of Atlanta’s food truck market.
Bowen has been in the industry for more than 13 years with experience ranging from bus boy to bartender and ending with becoming the executive chef of the food truck, voted 2012’s best at the Atlanta Street Festival.
Bowen found Happy Belly while searching craigslist for a new culinary opportunity. After finally landing an interview with the owner of Happy Belly, Terry Hall, they found that their visions for the menu were spot on. They met eye to eye on the type of cuisine, preparation, and the way they wanted the food truck to be viewed by the public; a healthy, local, all-natural alternative to truck food.
Inspiration for Happy Belly’s unique dishes comes from “a mix of everything I encounter,” said Bowen. He finds inspiration in books, trial and error, and dining at restaurants that feature the greatest chefs in Atlanta.
“Some of my best dishes have come from mistakes or honest to God luck. I might be preparing a certain dish and leave out something, or add too much of a spice, or make something too thick. Those mistakes have led to creations I never would have thought about in a million years, whether it be flavor combinations that make you wonder what they are doing on the same plate, or throwing together a stunning dish on the fly based on what is in the cooler,” said Bowen.
Happy Belly uses a local vendor called Verner Farms, located near Athens, to serve fresh produce and meats from grass-fed animals. One of its most popular dishes is its signature burger. The burger uses a mixture of grass-fed brisket and short rib to form a custom patty that is unlike any other. The burger is served on a Holman & Finch bun with Vidalia onion relish and an ancho chili aoli.
Bowen also said some of the newer popular items are inspired by the Paleo diet, a new trend that has been attracting many health enthusiasts.
“It consists of a grilled free-range chicken breast, sautéed zucchini noodles, and a basil pesto. We also feature a Kale Waldorf salad. Yes, raw kale. The consistency of kale is one that some people might veer away from because of its traditional use being cooked down over a long period of time. I was pleasantly surprised when we experimented with it. [We use] Local kale, blue cheese, Applewood smoked bacon, dried cranberries, sliced D’anjou pears, and our house-smoked kippered salmon, which basically means we cure the salmon with a salt and sugar blend, and then smoke it,” said Bowen.
The food truck industry in Atlanta is growing at a fast rate. The fad caught on when consumers realized that the cuisine that comes out of a truck had changed extensively; people started flocking to get a taste of the new flavors.
Food truck enthusiast and Southern Polytechnic student, Ryan Sullivan, frequents trucks and has become infatuated with the grub on wheels. He spoke very highly of many trucks but had an obvious soft spot for Happy Belly.
“I think it’s rad that I can get healthy, delicious-tasting food out of a truck. Not only is the food awesome, but also the staff is always really cool to talk to. I follow Happy Belly to find their location and I also follow Chef Brett and get excited about his new menu items. Happy Belly is definitely an awesome truck and an awesome meal,” said Sullivan.
It seems to have taken awhile for food trucks to become a trend and have people raving about their style and fare. Bowen said the rules and regulations are very strict, but Atlanta is coming around and allowing the food truck community to grow by large numbers.
Bowen said that those who are skeptical about eating food off a truck have nothing at all to worry about.
“This is not 1973 when roach coaches and hot dog stands were considered ’food trucks.’ It is 2013 and the health department is VERY strict on grading the trucks,” he said. “Essentially, we all have a full kitchen on wheels, and I assure you our standards and practices are extremely high. The health department actually grades us harder than normal restaurants, so if people might have been skeptical before, don’t be!”
To find a multitude of food truck vendors, check out the Atlanta Food Truck Park located off Howell Mill Road. Here, trucks can park on a daily basis throughout the week. The cool part about the food truck park is that you can find a bunch of different trucks and food in one place without having to chase them down all around Atlanta to try their dishes.
Bowen said that, with a couple of renovations, he believes the food truck park will be even bigger than it was last year.
To keep up with Happy Belly and find out where it is serving its food, check out the website www.happybellytruck.com. Also, if you are a social media buff, it has a twitter account @happybellytruck and you can follow Bowen’s specials and newest food ideas on Instagram @chefbrett4885.