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GOLDEN STANDARD: Heirloom-worthy recipes come cooked with love on Red Cross Street

Fried chicken is the pièce de résistance at Truck’s, whether served bone-in, as wings or boneless on a sandwich. Photo by Tom Dorgan

 

One of my girlfriend’s recently posted on Instagram a picture of golden-fried chicken, colorful coleslaw, bright yellow cornbread, and red beans and rice. Naturally, I commented: “WHERE IS THAT!?”

Truck’s Chicken ’n Fish.

A quick internet search took me to 6th and Red Cross—right up the block from Detour Deli and across the street from the bodega. I told my husband we absolutely had to go.

Flash forward to a massive temperature drop and a few crummy Wilmington nights in a row, and we were both ready for a big plate of fried chicken. So we collected two of our best friends and off we went to Truck’s.

It was cold and drizzly, and since the fine citizens of Wilmington are allergic to leaving their homes when it rains, we had the spot all to ourselves. We were greeted by the restaurant’s friendly owner, Tennille. She was happy to let us scoot a couple tables together and gave us a few minutes to peruse the menu.

The decor of Truck’s is modest, but welcoming. A sign bearing the slogan “We’re Glad You’re Here” hangs behind the large lunch counter. While I typically find such signs off-putting or insincere, I believed it at Truck’s. Tennille made us feel warm and welcome. I was glad she was there, too.

There’s a big tribute to Truck on the back wall of the restaurant: a stoic photo of the late gentleman surrounded by photos of his family. Truck was Tennille’s uncle—her mother’s brother—and he passed away earlier in the year. The restaurant operates in his honor.

Truck’s is set up similarly to the classic “meat and three” diner. Folks can have chicken or fish—only a couple different ways—and a smattering of sides. There are also options to feed a family, or an army, and it’s all unbelievably affordable. The value becomes even clearer after one bite.

 

 

There was a seven-drumette snack special with a side and a drink for $9, so two of our crew went in that direction. There were plenty of sauces to choose from, plus a new pineapple BBQ sauce that Tennille told us about, so of course we ordered it, along with the sweet and tangy one. My husband got a dark meat sandwich, and I landed on the three-wing combo with Texas toast. We were indecisive about sides (in-de-side-sive?) so we ended up with two orders of cornbread, onion rings, French fries, red beans and rice, and fried okra—plus mac and cheese for the table. There’s no booze at Truck’s—just traditional Southern tea, lemonade and North Carolina’s native Sun Drop and Pepsi products. Despite the fact our group is filled with adamant beer drinkers, we were grateful for its absence. It would have taken away from the main event: fried chicken.

Every single piece of chicken on the table was flawless: breaded generously, but not to excess, and fried to a crisp, crunchy golden brown. At one point my husband, with a mouthful of the Southern fried goodness, mumbled, “Oh, God, this breading.” He couldn’t have been more right. The only thing slowing me down was it arrived at our table piping hot, so I would have burned myself.

 

 

I turned to the fried okra. I was surprised when I heard myself order it because I’m just not a fried okra person, usually. I’ve had a cold all week, so maybe my subconscious was trying to get me to eat a vegetable. If that was the case, I’m thrilled! It was amazing—not too chewy or, worse, slimy. Tennille hooked us up with some extra ranch and blue cheese dressings for our friends’ drumettes, so I decided to dip the delicious little okra nuggets in them. And that’s how I won dinner. (Pro tip: add a little hot sauce to your ranch for the perfect okra sauce.)

My generous friends shared their drumettes with me while my husband clutched his precious sandwich, a la Gollum from “Lord of the Rings.” A court couldn’t have subpoenaed that sandwich from him. The drumettes were sauced liberally and both sauces were delightful. They had perfect amounts of tang, sweet and spice, and the pineapple was a nice touch. The cornbread was pillowy with a tight crumb and a delicate sweetness. The French fries were crinkle-cut and perfectly crispy. The onion-ring batter was puffy and sweet. The mac and cheese was baked, which isn’t my jam, but my goodness Truck’s’ baked mac is delightful. It wasn’t too greasy, and there were nice chewy bits of baked cheese throughout.

When we raise a statue for this fabulous restaurant, it shall be of Chef Kendall Johnson and his red beans and rice. Wilmington, the next time a loved one is under the weather or sad or celebrating or, you know, just awake, bring them red beans and rice from Truck’s. My absolute highest compliments to the chef.

I’ve never been to the bayou of our gorgeous country, but that night I felt transported. I don’t know what Chef did to the dish—normally, I would ask—but it was such a treasure, I don’t need to know. I don’t want to know. It’s the kind of recipe you hold near and dear, and pass down to family members during quiet moments in small kitchens. That dish is the kind of love letter passed from great-great-great grandma on down the line.

We didn’t make it to the whiting or catfish portion of the menu, but that just means we have new things to look forward to next time. If anyone needs me in the meantime, I’ll be eating red beans and rice—by the Truck’s load.

DETAILS:
Truck’s Chicken ‘n Fish
604 Red Cross St., (910) 769-2364
Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
truckscnf.com

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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