The sandwiches at Lunch Box 23 are deceptively diminutive, but you'd be surprised how much flavor chef Maurice Watson packs between two halves of a miniature sesame-seed bun.
Gourmet sliders are the stars at this bright-red truck in its third year of business, which parks regularly in New Haven's Broadway shopping district. Watson, whose culinary resume includes chef experience at Caseus and Barcelona, cooks up the inventive little bites on a sizzling flattop grill as his sister, Melanie Gibson, runs the "front of the truck" operations.
Watson and Gibson, who grew up in the Elm City, came up with Lunch Box as a name that would be easy to remember, borrowing the "23" from their grandmother's house number.
"I wanted to make sure we had a lot of versatility," Watson said. "We needed something kind of gimmicky; I can do anything, put anything between two slices of bread."
Bestsellers include a maple-bacon cheeseburger with cheddar and barbecue sauce and a salmon burger with a patty made from wild salmon, topped with tangy, creamy "samba sauce." Past specials have included buffalo chicken with bleu cheese; steak and cheese; shrimp po'boys; and a "Frenchy" burger with French-fried onions and zesty sauce, and reviewers have gushed about the specialty roasted duck slider, which appears on occasion. The sauces are all truck-made, and Watson says he tries to use local produce.
Sliders are $3 apiece, or $10 for three, with chips and a drink. "They're small, so you can get two, five, 10 different ones," Watson said.
For a little variety, Lunch Box 23 frequently offers non-slider menu items like empanadas, tacos and fried shrimp baskets. "I know sliders can get a little redundant, so we definitely try to do some different specials," Watson said. "They're received well."
The truck is most frequently spotted outside New Haven's Apple store on weekdays, where it has earned a lot of regulars, Gibson said. Lunch Box 23 is also available for catering, and it's been booked for several special events and food truck festivals over the next few months.
"We're pretty busy … all through the fall," Watson said. "There are a lot of festivals. Most of them are pretty good — some you definitely want to be at."
As a career chef, likes the mobile nature of the truck: "We can be in different places. It changes every day. I can change the menu every day; the clientele changes, it's pretty diverse."
His sister agreed: "I've seen more places in Connecticut doing this truck than I would have probably seen [otherwise]."
>>Lunch Box 23 parks in front of the Apple Store in New Haven's Broadway shopping district on weekdays and is available for private catering. Information: 203-823-7512; facebook.com.
Look for a profile of a new food truck each week through summer in Thursday's CTNow section, and follow the series, with photos and video, at courant.com/foodtrucks.