Amherst food truck dishes out gourmet food

AMHERST – Danielle Sherman had her heart set on a roast beef sandwich, and she was disappointed it was off the menu at Tim Ganos’ Grazing Gourmet food truck – but she trusted him.

Ganos smiled with sly satisfaction as he built what he calls a King Beef sandwich, confident it would erase the roast beef from her food memory.

He was right.

Not long after Sherman left with a package containing her lunch, she sent him a text message saying the sandwich was “#$%^& great!”

Food trucks have been popular in Boston and other big cities across the country, and The Grazing Gourmet seems to be something of a pioneer in the Souhegan Valley. Unlike hot dog stands or ice cream trucks, Ganos’ business represents the new model of food truck that features a cook making specialty dishes from scratch.

For about a year, he has been parked on Route 101A in Amherst in the parking lot of the J. August Jewelry store, where Cassidy’s Cafe, and before that the J. Beaners Cafe, used to be. Customers can use the patio picnic tables that the jewelry store has no use for. Ganos used to park his truck at the Amherst Garden Center on Route 101.

Ganos doesn’t use the term “gourmet” lightly. To make his balsamic vinaigrette, for example, he said he blends “secret spices with olive oil, vinegar, shallots and garlic.” Mojo sauce has fresh cumin – “The most important part,” he said – and other spices for his mojo-infused Cuban pork sandwich.

The truck’s motto is “Hearty, Healthy & Local,” and most of the ingredients for his sandwiches and salads are organic, although they aren’t posted that way.

No pale, tasteless tomatoes for him. The red and juicy Romas come from a Maine farm, and in the summer, he will visit local farms for vegetables – he especially likes the heirloom yellow tomatoes from Hollis’ Lull Farm.

Beef comes from Lull, the Trombly Farm in Milford, the Rickity Ranch in Hollis and Blood Farm in Groton, Mass. Bread comes from The Good Loaf bakery in Milford.

An outgoing man with a wide smile, Ganos loves to talk with customers, and one of his favorite topics is his food philosophy.

The government, he said, “has changed the definition of organic 300 times. I just believe in responsible farming.”

Ganos said he thinks it’s ridiculous for people in New Hampshire to eat organic vegetables that come from California, and he said eating local produce confers immunities to some allergens.

Ganos, 33, comes from a family that has owned and operated delis and restaurants for a long time. Growing up in Lowell, Mass., and then Brookline, he was never a picky eater.

“I was never afraid to try anything,” he said, including prawns with their heads still on made by a Vietnamese family who lived downstairs in Lowell.

He credits his “very mean” Greek great-grandmother and equally grouchy German grandmother with inspiring his love of food and cooking.

“The only time these women would ever smile was when they were in front of a stove, so I spent as much time as I could in the kitchen,” said Ganos – who noted that the smells and tastes did wonders for the development of his palate.

When he was a child in the 1980s, he’d watch “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rogers” on public television, and then stay tuned for the Martin Yan cooking show, whose catchphrase was, “If Yan can cook, so can you.”

Food trucks may look casual and temporary, but they have to be licensed by the local health department and meet the same food-safety standards as restaurants, covering such things as temperatures of the grill or stove and the inside of the refrigerator or freezer, kinds of cooking utensils, preparation and cleanup sinks.

Ganos graduated from Hollis Brookline High School and then went to Keene State College, where his biology professor inspired his food philosophy.

“She owned a small Vermont farm … and opened my mind to the whole locavore philosophy, and I adapted it to my cooking,” he said.

He communicates with customers on Facebook, where his menu and updates of his plans can be found. Right now, he is working on a dinner menu for Thursday and Friday nights, with maybe three dishes for customers to pick up and bring home.

Along with the King Beef and Cuban pork sandwiches, on a recent menu were a hummus wrap, quesadillas, tacos and a Caprese panini made with mozzarella, basil and a special vinaigrette.

The Grazing Gourmet is located at 25 Route 101A in Amherst and is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, with occasional days off for catering or during bad weather.

For more information, call 732-7057.