Lucie Monk Carter
Not every Baton Rougean met Nick Hufft in a parking lot. But if you’ll admit to (or remember) reeling out of the LSU-area Bogie’s Bar in the early ‘aughts, that’s where the New Orleans-born Hufft first planted his stake in the city’s food scene. Sparked by a childhood working in his parents’ playground concession stand, Hufft was a natural fit for slinging crowd-pleasing food from a window. And as he went truly mobile, trading up from Moochie’s Mobile Munchies to Curbside Truck, Hufft tended to draw a crowd wherever he parked. This past year, Hufft’s cuisine grew into not one, but two, brick-and-mortar locations—the dream for any food truck owner, as he tells it. We spoke recently about his journey from the late-night food niche to Curbside Restaurant, taking over the beloved Zee Zee Gardens with his gastropub The Overpass Merchant, and the perfect burger texture. Find excerpts below.
On his food truck beginnings:
I walked out of a bar [in Baton Rouge] when I was eighteen or nineteen and saw a niche for late - night food. I grew up in New Orleans. There’s The Dough Bowl, Trolley Stop, F&M Grill, the whole nine yards. But there wasn’t any late - night food here. You had McDonald’s and Taco Bell—but then you feel like crap the next day.
How many drunk kids are in a half-mile radius? How many of them would appreciate a good burger or some good fries? You know, typical drunk food. So that’s where Moochie’s Mobile Munchies was created. My nickname for some strange reason was Mooch, Moochie, Moochie Pants, Pants. All the burgers on the menu, you’ll see—those are all nicknames we had when we were fifteen and sixteen. One of my friends calls me “Brian” because I had a jacket on one day and he thought I looked like Brian Boitano, the figure skater. Obviously when you say “no” to something, your friends add gasoline to the fire. He started calling me Brian, in retaliation I called him Brian, and that’s where the burger name came from. All the names on the menu have stories.
The food truck thing hadn’t really hit yet. Kogi in California wasn’t there. Kogi was the big one—that Korean-Mexican fusion. That set off the whole food truck trend. It went from West to East. I saw a niche, and I knew I couldn’t be the only person who wanted to eat late-night food. I called a guy in Miami who set up concession stands, and I built one without any prior knowledge. The guy probably laughed at the design of what was set up in there. But I bought the trailer, and about six months later I got the trailer and set it up outside of Bogie’s.
On The Overpass Merchant:
Zee Zee’s was a neighborhood Irish bar. We didn’t want to steer too far from that. But we saw a niche in a space that four girlfriends could appreciate and feel comfortable in to grab a drink, and we also saw a niche in a space where we could provide maybe not a hundred taps but we could focus on twelve that are never the same at any point in time. We could provide you with quality ingredients at a price that made sense. That ultimately turns into a gastropub and tapas/snack menu. We ran with it. The menu changes seasonally, but we keep the big boys on there. We wanted it to be a place where you could come in with your kid for the day. You could come in with your wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend at night. Enjoy it as a date, enjoy it as husband and wife, enjoy it with four of your girlfriends, or enjoy it with ten guys.
On his inspiration:
The Frita is a burger with ketchup and potato sticks. It’s from Miami; it’s one of the things they’re known for. So I did a play on that but called it the Freedia, like the bounce artist in New Orleans. I did a potato hay. We put an egg on it. We did a chorizo pork patty and then a chutney.
It’s the strangest thing, but every dish I eat, I look at it as a burger. No matter what dish it is, I think, That dish is absolutely amazing. I gotta make that into a burger. I’ve done a gumbo burger with an andouille patty. A lot of them I look at, and I kind of chuckle and then go back to eating it; but every dish is—this is what it is, and how can I make it into a burger.
Lucie Monk Carter
“I want you to get the classic," said Hufft. "I want you to order it on ice on the tray as tartare or I want you to eat it well done. It would offend me. But I’ll give it to you well done.”
On expanding the menu at Curbside:
Tuna will come on at the beginning of the year. We’ll do tuna every Friday—sushi-grade. We’ll bring in two hundred of them; and when they sell out, they sell out. That keeps the product as fresh as it can be. You’ll see a brunch program come in for the new year as well. You’ll see some cool stuff. French toast buns, waffle buns, biscuit buns. It’ll be all burgers, but we’re going to mess with the buns and beef.
You always have to be reinventing yourself. If you look at the menu here, you’ve got your classic and what people love and have come to love with the truck. But we’re going to, for sure, take a step out and give you calorie-counted turkey, tuna, and lamb, and a really good veggie burger that we’re still working on. It’s not perfect yet, and we want it to be perfect.
Lucie Monk Carter
"I think that’s where you’ll see food trending now. People want to know what’s in their food," said Hufft, citing healthier options at Curbside like the turkey burger (above) and the tuna.
You’ll have options: you can fall asleep at your desk after lunch by getting yourself a double patty Brian burger, or you can come again the very next day and say, “That turkey burger is the best damn turkey in the city.” I think that’s where you’ll see food trending now. People want to know what’s in their food. They want to know: is it local? They want to know where the products come from. And they want to know that they’re not eating something that’s going to kill them. They want to know what’s in their food. I think you’ll slowly see that trend into—I don’t want to say a healthy burger world. But you’ll see a lot of healthy fast-casual places starting to open.
It’s the strangest thing, but every dish I eat, I look at it as a burger. No matter what dish it is, I think, That dish is absolutely amazing. I gotta make that into a burger.
On the beef:
It’s a chuck/brisket/short rib blend. I can’t tell you how many grinds and how many different kinds of burgers I messed with. I think the key to me is the texture of the meat. So the grind is really important to me and the temperature you’re grinding it at. Are you grinding it once? Are you grinding it twice?
The blend at this point hasn’t been any better, ever. When people come in, they ask, “What should I get? You’re the owner. Should I get the KGB or the Brian?” I feel like I’m going back to the original, too, but I always tell them, “I want you to get the classic. I want you to order it on ice on the tray as tartare or I want you to eat it well done. It would offend me. But I’ll give it to you well done.”
I want you to taste the beef. I don’t want you to taste praline, bacon, and eggs. That won’t always be there. That’s all lagniappe. The burger is the bun, the meat, and the potato on the side. The rest is all lagniappe. It’s all great; I love it. But at the end of the day, if you’re a burger connoisseur, if you’re a beef connoisseur, I want you to get a slice of American, some shaved red onion, and the housemade pickles that we do; and I want you to just be in awe of what you’re biting into. It eats like a steak. It’s got that umami and beef flavor that you’d see in a ribeye. It’s a great blend; we knocked it out of the park. But this won’t be the last blend. I’ll continue to reach out there and see what’s new.
4158 Government Street, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806