The final rankings for the Madison Mall/Concourse food vendors are out for the 2010 season. The top ten includes some perennial high scorers, plus a few surprises.
The always highly regarded Ingrid's Lunchbox takes the number one spot, up from sixth place in 2009. Ingrid's has racked up seven years of seniority points (the max any cart can have) and received no deductions for any rule violations, both of which helped boost it to the top.
Johnson Brothers Coffee took second place, a spot where it often resides, although it is up one from last year's third-place finish. It vends its locally roasted coffees on Saturdays at the Dane County Farmers' Market near the corner of Carroll and State. It is followed by The Fruit Stand, another longtime Library Mall vendor and perennial strong finisher.
The list contains a number of new carts, whose chef/operators cooked for the reviewing committee but will not begin fully plying their trade until next season. These include some familiar names -- Dandelion Vegetarian Foods, for instance, which was sited on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in 2008 and 2009 but took 2010 season off; and Monty's Blue Plate Diner, which will field a cart for the first time in 2011. Dandelion, by the way, scored an impressive ninth place; Monty's came in at 11, with Kakilima in between them at tenth.
This year's scorers must have been a tough crowd. Ingrid's evaluation score was 88.43 -- last year's first-place finisher, Kakilima, scored a 91 from the food evaluation. This year's highest evaluation score, also a 91, went to a new entrant, Good Food, but it placed eighth overall due to lack of seniority.
All Mall/Concourse food carts go through the food cart review process every year, says Warren Hansen, the city's street vending coordinator. The overall score received creates the order in which carts are assigned the sites they want. Newcomers who want to have a cart the following year also have to be reviewed. "That's not to get a better spot, [it's] just to get a spot at all -- you don't get one without going through the food cart review," Hansen clarifies in an email.
After successfully completing the review, newcomers could start vending as early as November 1, if there's a space for them, Hansen notes. However, many new carts wait until the weather warms up in spring.
This year, the city formed a new area, the Southeast Campus Vending Area, where no review is required to start vending, notes Hansen. It is bounded by North Broom Street, West Washington Avenue, a line just north of Regent Street, North Randall Avenue and University Avenue; there are eight designated vending spots. A map of this vending area is available here (PDF).
Some of the current Southeast Campus vendors, like Caracas Empanadas at Spring and North Park, may move to the Mall/Concourse now after completing the review, says Hansen.
Braulio Maximiliano, chef at The Dandelion, confirms in a phone interview that he and wife Tara took last year off as they had a baby. In prior years, the Dandelion has appeared part time; next year, Maximiliano says, he'd love to do it full time and be more consistent. Although the cart is vegan and vegetarian, Maximiliano says that most of his customers are not, though they have found much to love in the sweet potato wrap and a roasted poblano pepper dish. Maximiliano had changed his menu completely from 2008 to 2009; for 2011, he hopes to combine items from both menus, and hopes to add breakfast items, more vegetables, and salads. "We like people to try new things," he says.
Joey Connaughty, general manager of Monty's Blue Plate, is enthused about being able to bring "a mini version of the diner" to the Library Mall, for students who may find the Atwood Avenue location "a trek."
The food will be a reflection of Monty's current menu, with any changes just made to enhance transportability: "The Mediterranean platter is now a wrap, for instance, and for the meatloaf sandwich, the sauce will be on the side," says Connaughty. Malts, shakes, doughnuts and coffee will also be served. Connaughty also wants the items served at the cart to underline Monty's commitment to local food. In addition to serving Just Coffee, all the milk and ice cream come from Sassy Cow, and Farmers' Market vendors will also be highlighted.
Another local aspect of the Monty's cart will be that it was built by a neighbor of Connaughty's in Rio, Wisconsin.
Other new carts besides Monty's to look for next year include Blowin' Smoke BBQ, Yon Yonson, Surco Peruvian Grill, Teriyaki Samurai, Thai-riffic, Almonds Plus, and the Bayou New Orleans Style. Mama Aurora's Cucina, Mad Dogs Express, and La Bamba are all current Southeast vendors who participated in the cart review and may be making a move. The high-scoring Good Food is also a Southeast vendor, with an assigned spot at W. Johnson Street between Mills and Brooks Streets.