Burgers for Bonzo
Hungry Monkey food truck takes its beef to the streets
By Kimberly StolzPublished June 1, 2012
A sad guy who looks a little like Kevin James sits at the bar of the Rusty Bucket in Bexley.
“I hate hamburgers right now,” sighed Neil Hertenstein, looking forlornly into his drink. What makes this so heartbreaking is that Hertenstein is on the cusp of releasing his own burger baby, the Hungry Monkey food truck, onto the meat streets of Columbus.
Call it the hangover from a ground beef bender, but burger burnout happens when you decide to open a hamburger food truck and have to whittle 34 recipes down to eight.
“We had to weed out which would be on the menu and which ones were more suited for specials,” he explained. “We deleted 10 right out of the gate and then it was a lot of tasting and discussion about what would be on the menu and what would be a special.”
One special sure to get tongues wagging is the “John Travolta” – two quarter-pound patties topped with muenster cheese, caramelized onions, a fried egg, bacon, siracha aioli, and bibb lettuce. Oh, and it’s all sandwiched between a grilled Reich’s glazed donut.
“It’s a burger that people can’t eat everyday, so it’s gonna be a weekly special,” he said. Non-carnivores can get crazy too, with the “Kind of a Big Deal,” a grilled cheese sandwich layered with Swiss, muenster, and American cheese, with a coup de grace of mac and cheese slathered on.
Another special will be the Monkey’s offering to combat Thurman Cafe's The Thurmanator. Featured only twice a month, this mammoth mound of meat will consist of two full-pound burger patties and enough toppings from both the cheese and the produce aisle to fill multiple bellies.
The goal, said Hertenstein, is to come up with a different spin on America’s staple. Inspired by friend and mentor Eric Till of Commonwealth Sandwich Bar, the Hungry Monkey’s mastermind has also reached out to the food truck community for advice and feedback. Everyone from The Cheesy Truck to Ray Ray’s to Junior’s Tacos have supported Hertenstein in his burger quest, a testament to the supportiveness of the mobile munchies culture.
Hertenstein’s enthusiasm for joining this bunch of unmoored meal misfits is palpable.
“I can’t wait to see people’s reactions,” he enthused. “We are going to have stuff that no one else in Columbus has.”
Working with his partner Adam Frontuto, the two have revamped an old Nickel’s Bakery delivery truck.
“He can build anything,” marveled Hertenstein. “I can hand him tools. I’m the unofficial chef, he’s the handy one.”
He stresses that he’s not a chef; he’s a cook. “I’ve always cooked like crazy,” he said. “And I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant.”
The Ohio University grad was inspired by his grandparents who, after retiring, opened their own corner shop in Chillicothe and enjoyed making connections with customers. Adding up his love for food with his joy in interacting with the community, Hertenstein is going all in with Hungry Monkey. If this town’s craving for burgers is any indication, he’ll have no reason to be sad when the rubber hits the road.