Liz Courtney is not convinced that you need to graduate from culinary school to make a great burger. She and her husband Zeph, who together launched Snap Truck NYC just last month, have both worked in commercial kitchens, as well as in marketing, and a rock band (Diehard, in which Zeph drums and Liz plays guitar and sings). But their greatest hit might just be the burgers from Snap – made with fresh, organic, grass-fed beef patties, perfectly charred and seasoned, and minimally embellished with a crisp leaf of bibb lettuce, a slab of juicy red tomato, a slice of red onion, Rick’s Picks pickles and ketchup. With a food truck population increasingly dominated by culinary extravagance and experimentation (“Sorry, which Korean taco truck are you referring to?”), Snap Truck brings back the refreshing taste of a few great ingredients, done right – over charcoal. And their sustainable ethos extends beyond the kitchen – the truck itself is fueled by their own repurposed fryer oil.
The decision to launch the truck was driven by a desire to serve local meats and ingredients of the highest quality at a reasonable price. “We’re trying to keep the cost of the menu as low as possible, given the ingredients, and the low overhead of operating out of a truck helps make that possible,” explains Zeph. Their ground beef is sourced from farms located within 150 miles of New York City, and Liz and Zeph go to great lengths to ensure it’s all verified organic, humanely raised, and free of hormones and antibiotics. Snap’s hot dogs are custom-made by Brooklyn Bangers, the sausage-making operation of Michelin-starred chef Saul Bolton, with 100% organic beef brisket. And the tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies? Straight from the Greenmarket. Liz and Zeph make their mayo, ketchup and relish in-house. This all means “slimmer profits and extra legwork,” says Zeph, but “it also means we get to be closer to the product. We have a one-to-one relationship with the people butchering our beef and pickling our pickles, which is satisfying.”
Liz, a native of Chicago, has fondly adapted her hometown’s marquee dish, the Chicago Dog, to fit the Snap Truck menu – “I just missed them so much after moving here ten years ago. I’ve been plotting a way to bring more Chicago Dogs to NYC ever since.” Liz’s version is served with the classic accoutrements – fresh tomato, chopped onion, sweet relish, pickled ‘sport’ peppers, mustard, and celery salt, with a spear of Rick’s Pick’s People Pickle nestled alongside the dog. They swap the traditional Vienna Beef sausage out for a Brooklyn Bangers frank. “We wanted a sausage that tasted as close as possible to the classic,” says Liz. Snap Truck also offers an inventive veggie variation on the Chicago Dog – the “Chicavocado Dog” – which replaces the Bangers’ brisket dog with a spear of panko-crusted, deep-fried avocado. “We’re not the first people to deep-fry avocado,” Zeph says, “but our recipe is one we’ve developed over time. The real challenge was figuring out how to make hundreds of them a day and have every one be bright green and fresh on the inside and light, crispy and golden brown on the outside. It’s a labor of love.”
Zeph and Liz, who live in Red Hook, began brainstorming for a future food business years ago – “Even before we got hitched,” says Liz. There were challenges aplenty. They got creative to pull together funding, raising $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and spent more time than they’d care to reflect upon acquiring the myriad of permits required to sell food to the public from a truck. “Getting the truck was the easiest part,” says Liz.
Due to the labrynthine limitations on exactly where and when one can actually park a food truck, and the extraordinary number of food trucks already prowling the city’s streets, Zeph and Liz decided not to pursue the permit that would allow them to operate citywide. For now anyway. Instead, Snap Truck will be making special appearances, announced on their website, throughout the season – last weekend, Snap Truck was serving their burgers and dogs on Governor’s Island and at the Food Truck Rally at Grand Army Plaza. “We believe the best solution is to set up a network of off-street vending locations such as parking lots, city parks, vacant lots and special events, and to do so in coordination with property owners and other food trucks. That way you end up with something that’s consistent, legal, and beneficial for everyone,” says Liz. Expect many more opportunities to sample the Snap in the coming months.