For the final visit in the food truck series, poet Zach Mohr and I checked out Taylor Made Wings and got the full story behind an improbable, and very tasty business.
Occupation: Poet, waiter, medicine man
You can find him: Reading poems in bars, serving you ceviche, third guy from the left in a sea shanty choir.
I’ve put a pretty heavy focus on food trucks since I started this series. I’d decided to change thing up a little bit before my last trip over to Courtyard Brewery. This time with no plans to order any food.
Consider this post a product of serendipity.
I brought Zach Mohr, one of my oldest friends in the city, along with me. Zach and I met at the poetry slam during the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival a few years ago (both of us would prefer to not remember, exactly, how many years ago). I was hosting the show. Zach performed. We talked after. We’ve been friends ever since.
Zach’s among the more deeply spiritual men I’ve met in my life, though he’s never subscribed to any organized belief system. In fact, disorganized belief seems to be his M.O. Nevertheless, he’s one of those people you run across in life who seems born to guide others on a spiritual path. Some become priests or rabbis or imams. Some become counselors or therapists. Some, like Zach, just seem to attract those who’ve gotten lost, who sense that he has an instinct for where to point them. It’s a gift, though I suspect it’s also a burden at times. The man bears it well, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t use a beer now and again.
Which brought us to Courtyard Brewery.
I’ve written several posts about this place, and the food trucks in it, so I assumed that this was just going to be two friends grabbing a beer, largely because I thought I’d already sampled every food truck that pulled up on the property. My mistake. Taylor Made Wings had just taken over the regular Thursday spot at Courtyard, and Zach and I, curious fellows that we are, made our way to the window.
Milan, the young woman who took my order, asked where I wanted fried wings or smoked wings.
“Smoked wings? I don’t think I’ve had smoked wings before.”
“I”ll do half and half,” she said. I thanked her and added an order of hush puppies, grabbed a beer from inside, and took a seat at an outdoor table.
Now here’s the thing about wings: they are the standard bar food in America. Maybe the number one standard. It’s the one dish you can order almost anywhere and be sure of getting something pretty decent. Generally speaking, they’re dependably good, never spectacular, and readily available. And maybe that’s why I was curious about this truck. I mean, is it really possible to improve upon something as ubiquitous as wings? I mean, enough to justify an entire business around it?
Yes. Oh my Lord, yes. Yes it is.
Taylor Made Wings. Fried on the left. Smoked on the right. hush puppies down the center.
First off, the fried wings are as good as I’ve had just about anywhere. Delicious, well seasoned, just the right amount of crispiness.
But the smoked wings. These are special. So special, in fact, that I was royally pissed off.
I’ve never had smoked wings before, and now that I have, I feel cheated. Why did no one tell me such things were possible? Delicious, buttery wings that fall off the bone at the first touch of your teeth! This is something I should have known about, something that should have been celebrated in literature and music. A testament to the ingenuity of man. But even my mother, who was a chef, never made them for me. Nor did she even tell me about them. Did she secretly hate me? Was I not her real son?
I considered, for a moment, strangling the chef for making me ask these sorts of questions. But after finding out he was a veteran and a former police detective, I decided to say thank you instead.
I’m not making this up about the chef (and owner), whose name is Ashon Ruffins. A native of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, he moved to Houston after the storm and started working his way up the corporate ladder with Walgreens. It was a fairly secure way to live. It just wasn’t what he wanted to do. So now he has a food truck named after his daughter.
He asked himself, “How can I tell her to pursue her dreams if I’m not pursuing my own?”
He went back to school and earned an MBA, then hired a group in Texas to build out his food truck. While his future office was under construction, he began scoping out the food truck scene in New Orleans. Seeing an opportunity for a wing-based operation, he began perfecting his sauces and seasonings. The result is a rapidly growing catering business, an in-demand food truck, and a happy chef.
Zach and I talked to Ashon for a long time. He told us about the various flavors, including his Taylor Made Wings, which he worked on for the better part of a year to get just right. He offered us a couple of free samples, and hung around the window to gauge our reactions.
“This is amazing,” I said.
“Must be gratifying work,” I said to him.
He nodded. “You just got to have a quality product and care about what you’re serving.”
I looked at Zach. He’s toyed with the idea of a food truck himself a for a couple of years now, and plans on taking a series of cooking classes during a two month trip in Southeast Asia. Who knows? A few years from now we might be telling Ashon that not only was he creating new customers that afternoon, but influencing the start of a new business as well.
Ashon and his niece Milan, about to feed you. They add the love for free.