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Dim and Den Sum: Cleveland's meal on wheels phenomenon

Rachel Hunt

Issue date: 10/29/10 Section: Focus
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The octopus emblazoned on one side of the Dim and Den Sum truck has recently become a locally iconic image.
The octopus emblazoned on one side of the Dim and Den Sum truck has recently become a locally iconic image.
[Click to enlarge]
Dim and Den Sum chefs Mark Osgood and Mike Schoen prepare some unique gourmet food truck dishes.
Dim and Den Sum chefs Mark Osgood and Mike Schoen prepare some unique gourmet food truck dishes.
[Click to enlarge]
Nestled between the Peter B. Lewis Building and the Case Law School, parked in the Cleveland Institute of Art's parking lot, a behemoth awaits. From a distance it looks like a giant red octopus wearing a hat, but do not fear, it's just a graphic on the side of a gnarly food truck. Dim and Den Sum is no ordinary beast; they are a food monster and it's not their mission to eat you...but to feed you.

Dim and Den Sum is a gourmet food truck that set up shop in Cleveland last spring. Serving up classic foods with an Asian twist, their menu changes daily and features scrumptious items such as Grilled Cheese Sammies and their killer dumplings stuffed full of sweet fruit and veggies. Recently they have added milk braised pork with goat cheese polenta and local Amish kale to their menu, along with chicken confit with roasted butternut squash, basmati rice, brown butter, and sweet corn. Small finger-sized food on-the-go served up hot and fresh from their food truck window was inspired by the Asian experience of Dim sum. Dim sum is a Cantonese saying for a Chinese food item served as an individual portion on a small plate; the term literally means "drink tea." Their food may be small, but the taste is huge. Individual servings from the truck will cost consumers anywhere from $2-$9.

Chris Hodgson, the man behind the madness (because when a Dim Sum craving comes on, it hits hard), started up the food truck based on his own love for eating from them. After working as a chef at Cleveland hotspot Lopez Bar and Grill, he moved on to Phoenix, AZ. to open Christopher's and Crush. He then relocated to New York City, where he worked for one of the most famed restaurants in the United States, The Spotted Pig. While working there he frequented a taco truck that was open around 3:30 a.m., when he and friends got off work. Taking this guilty pleasure on as a new challenge in his culinary career, he decided to move back to Cleveland and do it for himself, in a place where food trucks are not nearly as popular. Who knew if Hodgson anticipated that it would catch on so quickly?

You can find Dim and Den Sum at their CIA campout every Tuesday afternoon from 11 a.m. until they run out of food. But in order to catch them, like any good food hunter knows, one must chase them around the city. Some of their favorite stops include the Flying Monkey in Tremont and the Cleveland Clinic campus in Beachwood. The truck covers locations on the East and West sides, and they have been known to park in Akron as well. But Dim and Den Sum is an elusive creature, sometimes stopping at three locations a day. Hodgson is extremely good at using Facebook and the Dim and Den Sum website to let customers more easily track the vehicle and give menu and location updates for the next day.

If you've never heard of a gourmet food truck before, you're not alone. The average food truck brings to mind funnel cakes, hotdogs, and a mirage of carnival foods. While some gourmet food trucks choose to elaborate on these time-tested truck favorites, Dim and Den Sum is branching out. In fact, they've impressed national foodies and established a strong reputation in Cleveland - enough to catch the attention of the new Food Network show The Great Food Truck Race. Winner of last season's competition was L.A.'s Grill 'Em All, who serves up gourmet burgers to hungry patrons. When asked if they have a chance of being on the new season, Hodgson said "We can't confirm, but have a very good chance. We're a creative team, and we have bright minds making great food. We just hope for the best."

It's not all fun and games in the food truck business, however. "My truck is always breaking, and it is difficult to know where to go all the time," said Hodgson. But just because they work in a small space doesn't mean their menu is limited. "If we want to serve something, we are going to figure out how to do it with the equipment we have. It's tight inside the truck but we can prepare food fast 'cause everything is so close."

Since opening, Hodgson's opinion of the food business has changed, but only in one aspect - "We're exhausted!" he laughs. "It's a lot harder than people think. You have the physical exhaustion from running around all day on your feet, cooking on the streets, and having to constantly re-prep, in addition to the mental exhaustion of knowing where to go and pleasing people."

Dim and Den Sum have definitely earned their street cred. Visit their Facebook page so that you can jump on the truck (not literally) and judge the "deliciosity" for yourself!
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