By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — After years at some of the more prominent restaurants in the area, chef Michael Attardo is now cooking out of a kitchen of a different sort:
One with wheels.
Attardo, who with his wife, Melanie Kushner-Attardo, owns The Great Foodini food truck, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. After receiving his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees from the CIA, he worked at resorts in Vermont about 10 years before he moved back to Western New York. Here, he worked at the Seneca Niagara Casino and served as head chef at the Red Coach Inn for five years, during which time he was honored by members of the gastronomic society the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs for a meal he designed and executed at the restaurant.
With his newest venture, the facilities may be smaller ... but the payoff is freedom.
Attardo said he started the food truck, “to be out on my own, to do different things, seeing different people every day. Creating new menus every day. Our menu changes every week; it’s not the same menu all the time.”
The Ransomville resident, who is from Lewiston originally, started out serving meals out of the truck at festivals, including the Lewiston Peach Festival and the Niagara Falls Blues Festival, last summer. This year, he wanted to begin serving late Fridays and Saturday on Lewiston’s Center Street, but was turned down by the Lewiston Village Board (which cited opposition to food trucks by local business owners) in early February.
“All the food trucks right now are in Buffalo,” Attardo said. “Nobody’s really venturing out this way. Being a local resident, I wanted to start in Lewiston ... We were turned down.”
So, Attardo turned his sights to other locations in the region — advertising (jokingly, via Twitter) “Food so good, it’s banned from Lewiston.”
At the moment, The Great Foodini is serving every Wednesday afternoon at the Wurlitzer Building in North Tonawanda and has also visited LocalEdge on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda (as well as other LocalEdge locations) and sites in Niagara Falls, Cheektowaga and Williamsville. Attardo said he’ll also do private parties with the truck, and might attend Food Truck Tuesdays at Larkin Square in Buffalo when the event resumes.
“We’re trying to get our niche and get our foot in the door with industrial parks and businesses,” he said. “Being from Ransomville and Lewiston, it’s quite the haul with the truck. We’re trying to stay local and create some local business and work it out like that.”
During a recent Wednesday at the Wurlitzer Building in North Tonawanda, the Great Foodini’s menu included chicken and biscuits, pasta fagioli, mac and cheese, buffalo chicken (or tofu) wraps, meatball heroes and greek salads. Other specialties that sometimes make an appearance at the truck include stone-baked pizzas, barbecue shredded pulled pork, bang bang shrimp, beef chili, po’ boy sandwiches and other items.
“I think that he’s got a different spin because he has this background ...,” Kushner-Attardo said. “I think people are going to be quite surprised at what he’s serving.
“He’s always feeding people too much,” she joked. “When he makes food at home, I’m freezing soup for six years.”
One unique feature of the menu is that there are always vegetarian items or options, thanks in part to Kushner-Attardo, who is mostly vegan.
“When we kicked around this idea, we said, ‘We have to have something there that’s vegetarian,’ ” she said. “He’s always been very accommodating.”
Attardo said that he always keeps organic tofu in the truck and can substitute it for chicken in any of the wraps or salads.
“If they want the Buffalo wing wrap, we’ll toss the tofu in flour and fry it up crispy, and toss it in Buffalo wing sauce and make the wrap out of it,” he said. “We always have a salad on the menu. Some things aren’t on the menu everyday, but I always keep tofu on the truck to offer a vegetarian item. We had a good response with it today.”
While the Great Foodini is gradually expanding its range, the Attardos still hope to focus on the Niagara Region, and plan to return to the Niagara Falls Blues Festival and other events this year.
“We want to stick to Niagara County as much as possible because there’s really not a lot of people doing this,” Kushner-Attardo said. “Hopefully in the future we’ll branch out, and people will be able to see us. There’s a great market here that’s untapped, and there’s a lot of people here.”
For more information on The Great Foodini food truck, visit greatfoodinifoodtruck.com or follow @Gr8Foodini on Twitter.