It's a tall order to capture the spirit and flavor of New Orleans-style street food unless you happen to be standing on a street in New Orleans. The profile of traditional plates is informed by the city itself, influenced by French, Creole and African culture. Unless you're eating red beans and rice while listening to jazz in the park, it doesn't matter how spicy your andouille sausage is: It'll never have the kick it needs. Jaison Boyd has come up with a new food truck concept called Nawlins City Express (nawlinscityexpress.com) that will be able to chase the party in true form.
After working in corporate restaurants, both up front and behind the kitchen doors, for more than 15 years, Boyd wanted to go into business for himself. "A few years ago I had the opportunity to move to Memphis to open a New Orleans-style restaurant concept called Crescent City Beignets," he explains. "That's where I really fell in love." Boyd moved to Shaker with his family four years ago and he believed that his food filled a niche that Cleveland's food truck scene was missing.
Between grits and gumbo, authentic NOLA cooking has Boyd hooked. "What sets Cajun cooking apart, I believe, is the passion and the love that goes into these amazing cuisines," he adds. "The flavors, seasoning, and spice really make it stand out."
Until the food truck launches, Boyd is working from behind a makeshift counter inside Lucy's Sweet Surrender Bakery (20314 Chagrin Blvd., 216-978-0246, lucyssweetsurrender.com), where for the time being he dishes up lunch three days a week. Boyd originally debuted his startup at the Fabulous Food Show this past November.
"With Po' Boys being a major part of our menu, I was in search of a fresh French roll source," he explains. "I came into Lucy's one day looking for that source and got to talking with the owner, Michael Feigenbaum, and the rest was history."
This entrepreneur's vision for the truck centers on his beignets, which customers will be able to watch being made from a special eye-level window while they wait for their orders. "There's a lot more technique that goes into making a beignet than a traditional doughnut," he explains. "It's rolled out a specific way, they have a different consistency and taste, and they're made fresh to be eaten typically with cafe au lait, a New Orleans style coffee." Powdered or cinnamon brown sugar is added on top with the option of a chocolate coffee, salted caramel, or berry drizzle.
The food truck is set to launch in the coming weeks with a plan in place to continue and expand lunch service inside the bakeshop. On the menu you'll find the aforementioned sweets in addition to a selection of gumbos made with chicken and andouille sausage, shrimp Creole, shrimp and grits, Cajun chicken wings, and a plethora of Po' Boys made with shrimp, fried fish, chicken and sausage, each with a signature housemade remoulade.
Will there be a spot in the garage for the new truck on the block? Time will tell how Nawlins City Express stands up to the competition, but Boyd is looking to have a lot of fun in the meantime, aiming his rig at music and food festivals in the region.
"What I love about New Orleans is not only the food, but the fun and hospitality of the French Quarter. I wanted to bring a touch of that same spirit to the people of Cleveland."