Street Food at Cornell: Two Trucks. Two Legacies. One Delicious Debate.
With all members of the freshman class living on North Campus, Louie’s Lunch sees many young faces lined up expectantly awaiting a sandwich, milkshake or cup of coffee.
Concurrently, since the upperclass students who decide to live on campus are primarily in dorms on West Campus, the Hot Truck sees more business from older Cornellians. In recent years numerous other food trucks — from That’s How I Roll to Dos Amigos to Franny’s Food Truck — have come onto the scene. However, no food trucks come close to the legacy and history of Louie’s Lunch or the Hot Truck. As a result, a long-standing food truck rivalry — one that is almost exclusively limited to students as opposed to the two businesses’ respective proprietors — is tinged with complicated class loyalties, in addition to food preferences.
But this rivalry is a strange one. As if it weren’t odd enough to have drunken students waiting in the chilly Ithaca pre-dawn for a bite of a meatball sub, many students hold fast to their favorite truck with an almost admirable, albeit strange, persistence. This loyalty even found its way into an a cappella song a few years back — a song that many of us have heard time and again. The Cayuga’s Waiters bit goes like so: “Louie’s Lunch kinda sucks / Wait in line at Hot Truck” over a blend of vocals singing the harmony to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Though it’s obvious who the Waiters prefer, the reference is telling. It seems Cornellians hold fast to their favorites, even when it comes to whose chicken parm they like better.
After some polling, it became clear a few years ago that sophomores and freshmen preferred Louie’s Lunch to the Hot Truck. Conversely, juniors and seniors were more likely to reply that Hot Truck was their preferred late-night source of what some call “drunk food.”
So, with our bellies full of parmesan cheese and our notebooks filled with items from the menu, we are proud to bring you a rundown of each of these Cornell legacies.
HISTORY: Though many people seem to believe that the Hot Truck is older, Louie’s Lunch has, in fact, been serving the Cornell community since 1918. Of course, at that time the establishment didn’t have anything even remotely close to the menu it has today and was not actually a truck. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that Louie’s moved into a truck. Louie’s still bears the name of its first proprietor, who took a cart around the North Campus area selling sandwiches to hungry members of the Greek community. Since that time, the truck has become a mainstay of the intersection at Thurston Avenue and Wait Avenue. In the past, the truck used to visit various locations, but for the sake of convenience, it has remained in its current position for longer than just about anyone can remember. Indeed, that stretch of curb looks awfully naked during the winter break and over the summer when Louie’s isn’t in service.
THE EATS: Unlike the Hot Truck, Louie’s offers a lot more than subs — complete with milkshakes, coffee, breakfast sandwiches, condoms and cigars, Louie’s business depends on a lot more than its sandwiches. Louie’s also offers a variety of sandwiches, including standard parms, and it can also whip up a grilled cheese and some french fries, if that’s your pleasure.
- Philly Cheese Steak
- Chicken Parmesan
- Cajun Fries
- Mozzarella Sticks
- BBQ Beef
- Chef Salad
THE SUN’S PICK:
Egg and cheese breakfast sandwich with hash browns
HISTORY: Bob Petrillose was the man behind the innovation known now as the Hot Truck (which still bears his name). Petrillose operated the truck, at that time called Johnny’s Pizza Truck, from 1960 until 2000 when he sold it to the owner of the Shortstop Deli located downtown on Seneca Street. The original name came from Petrillose’s father, Johnny Petrillose, who opened Johnny’s Big Red Grill. In fact, the truck was initially an extension of that restaurant, but over the years became a more specialized entity of its own. The original menu was much more conventional than the one that graces the side of the truck today. Instead of “PMP,” the menu read “Hamburger” and “Hotdog.” Since its sale in 2000, the truck has undergone few changes. Petrillose has since died, but the Hot Truck continues to serve up the same classic dishes. Although a City of Ithaca regulation passed in early 2014 would have cost the Hot Truck guaranteed access to its traditional location, a subsequent revision allowed “heritage” food trucks like Louie’s Lunch and the Hot Truck to retain their long-standing spots.
THE EATS: One of the most interesting things about the Hot Truck is the menu. It is also one of the things that makes grubbing at the Hot Truck such an experience. Instead of ordering a meatball sub or a chicken parmesan sub, people walk up to the window and say “MBC” or “Gimme a CSC.” Though Petrillose himself was responsible for a good many items on the menu, students also play a big role in determining what’s available at the Hot Truck.
- PMP (poor man’s pizza — bread, sauce & cheese)
- Ho-Ho (a PMP with hot ham, swiss & mushrooms)
- INDY (link sausage, mushrooms, onion, sauce & cheese)
- WTF (any random sandwich; it’s a gamble with this one)
- HSC (hot sausage & cheese)
THE SUN’S PICK:
CSC Garden&Grease Hot&Heavy (chicken breast, sauce, cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise, crushed red peppers and garlic)