As food truck season ramps up, David Mahr and his su chef Zach Jensen of A Bao Time (find them on Facebook or call 704-310-1262 for locations) seem ready to go. They were hustling and preparing orders with care in the kitchen during the busy kickoff of Matthews Food Truck Fridays at Stumptown Park, where you can find the truck during March. The Asian street food truck, specializing in baos (Think: steamed buns), opened three months ago.
Mahr, who grew up in Long Island, New York, moved to Charlotte a year-and-a-half ago with the dream of opening his own business. After working in restaurants and corporate food settings for most of his life, he went the food truck route rather than brick and mortar. Mahr, 30, highlights his Chinese heritage through baos, but he also pays tribute to American and deep South offerings. Sriracha fried chicken, kimchi braised pork belly and curry vegetable baos are mainstays, but specials pop up weekly. During the winter, he added some ramen options and since March is National Peanut Month, he recently concocted a pad Thai stir-fry. Be on the look out for A Bao Time at breweries like Unknown Brewing Company, Free Range Brewing and Birdsong Brewing Company and at Charlotte's Food Truck Fridays in Plaza Midwood on select days throughout the season.
Creative Loafing: Baos are the signature item of the food truck. How have baos impacted your life?
David Mahr: I grew up eating baos. There are different types of baos and I grew up eating mostly the enclosed baos where the bun is surrounding a protein or vegetable inside, so it's a lot more bread. That's why I went with the pocket type sandwich shaped ones, because the presentation is really nice and people can see what's inside of it. Growing up I had savory and sweet ones. I definitely want to do a dessert bao some time in the summer. I want to share that you can do dessert with baos, too.
You put a lot of Asian twists to American-style dishes. Can you tell me about some of the things you've been doing?
The salmon cakes were Asian-style. I used a mango vinaigrette which is also used in a lot of Filipino and Thai — they use a lot of mangos — dishes. And then the salmon was marinated with ginger, so you definitely have Asian flavors and soy sauce in there. As for the shrimp po' boy, it's a take on the traditional shrimp po' boy, but we call it a shrimp po' bao, which comes with fried tempura shrimp, so there's an Asian American twist to it. We put the traditional shredded lettuce on it and we added pickled shallots that are seeped in rice vinegar to give it more Asian flavor. Also, I make a homemade tomato jam with a little kick to it and a coconut lime sauce. It's a good balance. So, it's different than your po' boy with a spicy rémoulade or some type of rémoulade sauce. We've also done a Carolina bao, which was like a Carolina burger with pulled-pork, shallots and mustard.
What do you like best about manning a food truck?
I like creating food and sharing it with other people and seeing their reaction when they eat it. It's great to get feedback from them, whether it's good or whether it's something I need to work on or improve flavors. It always feels good at the end of the day. When they try the baos for the first time and their reaction is 'Wow, this is awesome' and they come back for a second and third time, it makes me really happy and proud to keep doing what I'm doing. It feels rewarding that people are appreciating what I'm doing with the food.