Agave Grill Canteen: A Major Upgrade From Cart

#tbt: Agave's flashy food truck

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Nov. 21, 2013. We are resurrecting it as a part of our summerlong food truck series. Prices may have changed.

Agave Grill has upgraded its wheels.

The modern Mexican restaurant, which marks 10 years on Hartford's Allyn Street this year [2013], has a new mobile venture as part of its operations. Enter Agave Canteen, a flashy full-service food truck serving many of the eatery's best-selling items at several spots around the city.

Agave Canteen supplements the restaurant's popular Taqueria taco cart, which for five seasons has served tacos and burritos in such high-traffic areas as Bushnell Park, the Billings Forge Farmers' Market and the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market. But the cart, protected only by an umbrella, was limited in inclement weather. Its steam-table format also only allowed for sales of tacos and burritos, said Agave managing partner Al Ferranti.

"We had people coming up and asking if we had salads, guacamole, chips and salsa," he said. "We weren't set up for that."

Three years ago, [2010] Ferranti began researching the possibility of a full-blown food truck, paying attention to how the trend was unfolding across the United States. In the past year, he and Agave got serious about starting the process, he said, visiting regions of the country where food trucks are becoming a large part of the culture.

"L.A., Chicago, Boston, places that are surprising like Portland, Oregon; San Antonio," Ferranti said. "We got to see what cities were doing [with] food truck festivals, their own [truck] section in a parking lot. Hartford has the potential to become that, but we're not there yet."

Agave Canteen, an eye-catching black vehicle with pink, green and white text inviting customers to "rock the guac," has been parking at Bushnell Park and Billings Forge for weekday lunches since it launched in October. In addition to tacos and burritos, the new truck offers grilled quesadillas, salads with avocado and truck-made mortar-and-pestle guacamole that's a best-seller at the restaurant.

Tacos ($6 for two) with customers' choice of pulled chicken, shredded pork, carne asada or grilled veggies, start on a blue corn tortilla with cilantro lime slaw, pico de gallo and Mexican buttery cheddar. They're available with a choice of sauce: avocado, chipotle or sour cream. Burritos ($7) with the same filling options, are available on flour or wheat tortillas or piled into a bowl. Quesadillas, with peppers and onions, are $7. Guacamole is $5 with chips and salsa. Sides like Mexi-rice, black beans, chips and salsa or beef empanadas are $2 and $3.

Other truck treats (both $3) include sweet plantains and "churro tots" -- bite-sized mini pastries rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Specials appear often, like a pumpkin chorizo soup, corn and poblano chowder with langosta and tacos with fish or pork belly. The truck has also featured tortas and Cuban sandwiches.

Beverage options follow the same theme, with Mexican Coke and Jarritos sodas; organic, fair-trade Mexican coffee and truck-made agua frescas.

Agave Canteen is equipped with a griddle, steam tables, a fryolator and a refrigerator, with space for three to four employees inside. The truck has Wi-Fi, a sound system (pumping party-ready dance music during a recent lunch service) and video screens. There's even a frozen margarita machine, available for private events.

A point-of-sale system on board allows the truck to accept credit cards. "With food trucks, [service] has to be fast," Ferranti said. "It seems like lunch breaks are cut down ... people are eating while they're working, they need something quick. That's the objective, to get these guys."

Having a food truck attached to a restaurant has been beneficial, Ferranti said, noting that the mobility of the Canteen helps to spread awareness of Agave Grill. It keeps "our brand out there, to get people to come to Agave and downtown Hartford. This truck exemplifies what we do."

The launch of the truck was also easier, he said, having already been through the process with the city with the cart several years ago.

The unique design of the truck took longer to build than Agave anticipated, Ferranti said, but it was imperative to him that the restaurant use local businesses to get it up and running. Vendors in Manchester, Waterbury and Hartford helped build and market the Canteen.

"In hindsight, I wish we could have launched in June," Ferranti said. "But I think had we launched at any other time, we would have been completely overwhelmed and maybe set it off on the wrong footing. Perhaps it works out better that we did it when we did it."

The truck will park for lunches "as far as [we] can go, weather-wise," Ferranti said. Groups are already starting to book the Canteen for 2014 events. 'The idea is that for those folks who don't come to Hartford, we can come to them."

Ferranti says the finished Canteen is "exactly" what he envisioned. "I didn't invent Mexican cuisine nor did I invent the food truck, but doing our little twist on it all is kind of how to sum it all up."

>>Agave Canteen parks at several locations throughout the week. Follow the truck on Twitter at @AgaveCanteen to find its next stop. Information: 860-987-3287 and

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

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