Munch Monday | Santa Rosa

First Munch Monday in Santa Rosa draws hundreds, and is leading to a shift in how we think about food

Dim sum / Photo John Burgess, PD
Dim sum / Photo John Burgess, PD

When the line for Dim Sum Charlie’s snaked to 45 people, there was no question that Santa Rosa’s first food truck Monday was officially a success.

The first of eight scheduled Munch Mondays taking place downtown between January 10 and February 28, 2011, organizers watched as eager eaters arrived, cash in hand, to snap up dim sum, tacos, agedashi, carne asada French fries, grass-fed burgers, whoopee pies and hot dogs.  No tables or chairs. — just paper (or in one case bamboo) plates, the adept balancing of forks, napkins and soda cans, and the great outdoors as the backdrop.

Over the hum of whirring generators and gently chattering teeth, groups two or three merged into growing queues, rubbing hands together and peering over shoulders to see chalk-written menus in this impromptu public dining room between the post office and public library. The general discourse: Wow, this is awesome. What are you ordering?

Hundreds in line | Photo John Burgess, PD
Hundreds in line | Photo John Burgess, PD

Officially sanctioned by the city, it’s something of an experiment in dining. Throughout the country, but most notably in cities like San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles and New York, a new breed mobile eateries are popping up by the hundreds. Unlike old school “roach coaches” as they were often referred to, these converted kitchens are licensed, bonded and health department certified, sometimes featuring highly trained chefs and gourmet foods from cupcakes to dim sum.

In Wine Country, the scene is still emerging, but in downtown Santa Rosa, vendors have been planning a group round-up of diverse offerings since last fall. In this week’s inaugural lineup: Street-eatz Mobile Kitchen, La Texanita Truck (from La Texanita Restaurant), Chicago Style Hot Dogs, Fork Catering and Napa’s Dim Sum Charlie’s. Conspicuously missing was Karma Bistro. The truck was hit by another driver on Saturday while returning home from another food truck event in Napa.

Interest at Monday’s event pleasantly surprise the vendors, who had hoped for a welcome reception, but ended up selling out of popular dishes within an hour or less as lines continued to grow. Procrastinators were met with an ever-dwindling selection, and snapping up the last whoopee pie (which I did) was cause for near riot. Many eaters took a smorgasbord approach, gathering something from several of the vendors and sharing bites with friends.

What’s heartening is that, for the most part, brick and mortar restaurants in nearby downtown Santa Rosa seem to be on board. The mobile vendors have worked with downtown organizers and restaurants to help allay fears of unfair competition. And although not everyone is thrilled to see the trucks, the city is presenting the seeming dichotomy with an advertising campaign called “Sit Down” and “Stand Up” — recommending a trip to the trucks for folks in a hurry and more traditional sit-down eateries for executive luncheons and meetings.

The only fly in the ointment: Several diners noticed parking enforcement officers ticketing cars around the parking lot targeting cars parked in the lot and on side streets in the area. Not a great foot forward for a city clamoring for more downtown engagement.

But there’s more to come as Santa Rosans embrace stand-up al fresco dining and the food truck culture — even in the dead of winter. And frankly, my fork is ready and waiting.