WILMINGTON — Wednesday night at Flytrap Brewery, Keith Gissubel was prepping ingredients for a new mushroom street taco he had concocted earlier in the week at home. Only this time, he was serving it from the window of Wilmington’s newest vegan food truck, The Hardcore Hippie.
“It was something I cooked for myself for dinner and it turned out to be amazing,” said Gissubel, who has followed a vegan lifestyle since 2001.
He sauteed oyster mushrooms with garlic and shallots, drizzled cashew “cheese” on top of a flour tortilla, threw in a spring of thyme and finished with a little rosemary-garlic olive oil. The tacos were sold out within an hour and a half.
Soon thereafter, so was The Hardcore Hippie’s entire menu.
Gissubel also was serving a sweet potato taco, again topped with cashew cheese, walnut pieces, arugula, and a lot of chopped scallions to give it an oniony flavor.
He had a BLT, served with coconut bacon, arugula, tomato and cashew cheese on a French roll. The bacon-like substance is made from shaved pieces of coconut that have been marinated in coconut aminos soy-free sauce and liquid smoke, and baked until dried and crispy.
“It has the sweetness of the coconut at the end,” Gissubel described. “But at first you get the crunch, the smoke and the umami from the aminos.”
He also offered a quinoa salad and nachos topped with a Thai slaw — basically Asian vegetables dripping with a Thai peanut sauce that Gissubel called “liquid gold.”
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the food, aside from its bold flavors, is the menu prices stayed around $10. Aside from making every item fresh and flavorful, Gissubel wanted to deliver on it being reasonably priced.
“It’s a bad name that vegan food gets or plant-based life gets: that you have to spend all of your money to eat healthily,” Gissubel said. “It’s just not true. You don’t have to sacrifice texture, flavor, or your life savings.”
Gissubel had been working for NachoFalt owner Alex Tomé over the last few months, who allowed the teacher-turned-chef to begin introducing vegan items on the nacho truck sporadically. “We were just trying it out, seeing what would stick and what didn’t,” Gissubel said.
Some days, they would sell out of food. Other days, they would waste product. “There just wasn’t consistency,” Gissubel said. Now, he’s trying to run NachoFalt at least once a week as The Hardcore Hippie.
“Just trying to convert a nacho truck into a vegan truck takes a ton of preparation,” he said.
Gissubel has to disinfect the truck’s surfaces and cooking areas thoroughly in between meat and plant-based use. Meat containers don’t share space with veggies, nor do knives or cutting boards.
“I wrap them all in Saran Wrap first just to make sure there’s no contact with anything that may be there,” Gissubel said. “It’s a bit of a process, but, you know, it’s so worth it.”
The Hardcore Hippie has done a few soft openings over the last month,but it made its official debut at Hi-Wire Brewing as part of a vegan vendor fair. Gissubel said he sold out of every item of food — almost $1,000 worth — enough for 80-100 people.
The response has been a boost he was hoping to see — especially in an unsure Covid-19 climate that has put a strain on the restaurant industry. But Gissubel said the vegan clientele is yearning to be tapped into.
“In Wilmington, we have a very healthy vegan core group,” Gissubel said, “but the options are not as vast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we have Sealevel and Panacea — the greatest place on earth — and we have a fine dining restaurant now, The Green House, but we don’t have a vegan food truck.”
Veganism is growing rapidly stateside, as more plant-based products gain visibility in grocery aisles, on restaurant menus, even at fast-food establishments. Yet, Gissubel is sticking to only wholesome vegetables and grains — “no Impossible or Beyond products,” he said, are served at The Hardcore Hippie.
Gissubel became a self-taught chef out of necessity more than anything, he reflected. When he decided to go vegan 20 years ago — mass and corporate farming were the incentives, but living healthfully has become the focus — he had to learn to cook because hardly any restaurant offered more than vegetable sides and salads.
“I had to learn how to eat trial-by-fire,” he said. “I taught myself how to cook everything over the years — veggie burgers, hummuses, sauces, soups — just every recipe I possibly could make up until I got a better idea of, you know, how things taste.”
Gissubel said leaning into herbs and spices to bring out flavors of vegetables is the real trick to creating the most tasty dishes. And the joy of watching people devour it is most enriching.
“It’s such a beautiful life right now,” he said. “Being able to cook what I want to cook and serve the people I want to serve — you know, it gets me out of bed everyday.”
The Hardcore Hippie’s schedule in the coming month:
Sept. 25: Private Event
Oct. 10: Hi Wire Brewing
Oct. 16: Veg Out Festival
Oct. 23: Hi Wire Brewing
Oct. 30: Hi Wire Brewing
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