A Hamburger Today
Street Food Profiles: Boo-Kies Burgers and More in Burlington, Vermont
What's on the menu? Burgers ("the best in Burlington" many people in line will tell you), hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches (with ham, sausage, or bacon), gravy fries, cheese fries, Philly cheesesteaks, and the Boo-Kie Bowl (a plate of fries topped with a burger patty, drenched with gravy).
How long have you been street fooding? Seven years. I just came back out a couple weeks ago. My season starts on April 1st and runs through New Year's Eve. I take off the cold months.
What about when it's rainy? Today there was a 50% chance of rain, so I decided to take my chances. But you can see that none of the other Church Street food vendors came out today. The dumpling lady of Hong's Chinese Dumplings was here last week—she's also really popular.
What are your hours? I open at 8 a.m. and start making breakfast sandwiches. My little fridge has room for 30 eggs, so once I'm out, I stop making those. I'm usually here until 5 p.m., but on a nice day, I run out of food earlier.
How do you get those perfectly shaped egg pucks to look just like the Egg McMuffin eggs? Egg rings!
What were you doing before this? Driving a Pepsi truck for many years and working in restaurant kitchens. Then one day I had a couple beers at Ken's Pizza just over there and came up with this idea.
Where did the name Boo-Kie come from? My son's nickname. He's 13 now. We also call him the "Boo Man."
So what inspired the Boo-Kie Bowl? About five years ago during the Atkins time, everyone was doing those bowls. KFC had that chicken bowl. So I decided I had to do some kind of bowl too. Since I don't have lettuce or tomato on the truck—there's no room—it's just fries, burger patty, and gravy.
Is that an ice cream scooper you're using for the ground beef for the patties? Yup. It's a #8 scooper so they all come out to be exactly a quarter-pound patty of beef. It's 80/20. The meats—including the hot dogs, bacon, and gravy—all come from MacAuley Wholesale Meats, which is based in Barre, Vermont. The bread comes from Coffee Cup, a local bakery. I like to help the little guy.
John Bond, the butcher at City Market stopped by to order two cheeseburgers. "They're the best damn burgers in Burlington! And I know my meat."
So what makes them the best? None of those pre-formed frozen patties for me. And it's all about the 30-year old seasoned grill. Before me there was another vendor here and I took his cart, so the meat cooks in all those years of flavor. One guy ordered my pepper steak I use on the Philly cheesesteaks, brought it home and cooked it, then complained it didn't taste the same. It's all about the grill!
So how many do you have going on the grill now? Three burgers and a cheesesteak. The burgers get about three to five minutes on there. It's set to 375°F. It's a quick cook but they get a nice, crispy skin.
Has anyone from Philly ever tried your cheesesteak? This woman came and ordered one with Cheez Whiz, but I've started serving mine with aged cheddar or American Swiss upon request. If it comes from an aerosol can, it's not food.
Do people ever order cheese on the fries? Oh, yes. I do cheese fries and gravy fries. Or both, which is my take on poutine. How do you pronounce that? Poo-tin? When all of the Canadians come down—we're only a bout a 45-minute drive from the border—they order it.
What about the hot dogs? They're all beef and from Hatfield Quality Meats. You'll have to come back on July 21st for National Hot Dog Day—my hot dogs are only a buck. I actually started doing this last year. I ran a radio ad about it, but the deejay called and said, "Are you sure you want to run this? Vermont has a separate celebration of Hot Dog Day, just for the state." But one of the Burlington Free Press writers, who was actually just here this morning to grab food, wrote to the National Hot Dog Council and heard back.
[He pulls out a copy of the email forwarded from her!]
See. They said it is on July 21st, so I'll be celebrating that again this year.
Are you on Twitter? Now that I don't do. I'm lucky if I check my computer once a week. But I do take phone orders. During exam time the UVM students will call in a big order, then one of them will drive by and pick it all up. [Ed. not: You can call in orders ahead of time to 802-355-5130.] Somebody just tried texting me an order recently—I'm not playing that game.
[A lady came by with a pizza box.]
Is that your lunch? Yep, every Friday I have a trade with American Flatbread: a burger for pizza. She thinks she's getting the better end of the stick, but I get a whole pizza! She always surprises me on the toppings.
Why do you think street food has taken off the way it has? Everyone wants to work for themselves. And they think they're gonna make it rich in this street food business. They say, look at all the money that dude's making! People jump into this but it's not the case. For the hours I put in, about 80 to 90 a week, I make less than minimum wage.
Is it hard to get a permit here on Church Street? Yes. I'm on Burlington's Vending Committee and there's only one spot left right now for a new vendor, but five want it. Whoever's the most prepared at Monday's meeting will get it. Otherwise the decision will just go on forever.
How many vendors are usually set up on a nice, sunny day? Ten. There were actually more when I started. We just put a limit on it because we didn't want the vendors to start taking over the street. We don't want what happened in Montreal where the restaurant association shut them down.
More Street Food Profiles
Hong's Chinese Dumplings in Burlington, Vermont
HubBub Coffee Company in Philadelphia
The Frying Scotsman in Portland, Oregon
LIBA Falafel in the Bay Area
The Green Gringo in Boulder, Colorado
The Grilled Cheese Truck in Los Angeles