Last fall, Chef Brian Holbach converted an old FedEx truck to a state-of-the-art, full working kitchen on wheels. “I got it at an auction, cut a check for it, and designed the kitchen myself,” Holbach recalls. Leaving behind a secure job as an executive chef with a high-end caterer in Manhattan, he was definitely taking a chance — but it was nothing compared to the risk involved if he were to run out of his slow-smoked short ribs.
“The one time I didn’t have them last October, people were actually getting angry! They wouldn’t take no for an answer,” says the owner of Rockland Roots, a farm-to-table food truck that has already established a word-of-mouth reputation for signature dishes.
Even though this Orangeburg resident’s original plan was to offer a completely spontaneous menu based on what’s fresh at the local farmers market, he’s had to adapt and permanently offer the short ribs. Customers also demand sweet potato home fries; herb-infused lemonade (made with a triple dip of lemongrass, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme); and carrot cake muffins, in which you can actually see and taste the vegetable.
The name of the business is a reference to Holbach’s Rockland-born wife, Alanna. Holbach himself grew up in Georgia, but the couple met in St. Thomas, where they were both working for the same restaurant. While there, the chef developed the habit of stopping at farmstands in the morning to supply the daily changing menu. After the couple moved back to the U.S., Holbach would visit Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket to fine-tune the fare at a Soho wine bar.
“That improvisational style of thinking on your feet when you’re shopping a market was the inspiration for this business,” he says now. This summer, his truck will be stationed at area farmers markets six days a week.
“I show up to a market with the food prepared. Then, during the market and at the end of the day, I walk around and buy stuff for the next day,” he says. “Sometimes I even buy stuff just to be able to finish an order. That’s really cool: People can see stuff going into the truck and right into their dish.” This clever system ensures a continually fresh supply of produce while also eliminating the need to stockpile goods. “There is only so much room on the truck,” Holbach admits.
For this summer and beyond, Holbach has big plans, especially for vegetarian dishes that might just eclipse his ribs. Expect to see risotto made with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms: “If you’re going to have one solid vegetarian item on your menu, it has to be an all-star.”