Great beer and great food should go together.
That’s how a delicious Pennsport partnership got started between the 2nd Street Brew House, located on Second and Morris streets, and the Guerrilla Ultima BBQ food truck, helmed by chef Robert Legget, who has been in the food industry for more than 20 years.
Legget and his wife Mercedes started out as bar regulars and eventually teamed up with 2nd Street Brew House co-owners Jim Clark and Tiffany Ainsley to provide dinner and brunch for the bar.
“It was almost winter and I liked the relationship we had, doing special events like Quizzo and Sunday brunch,” Legget said. “So we decided that I would park the truck outside and we’d just go ahead and do it every day. I’m glad I did it because this winter turned out to be brutal.”
“I think the agreement was made over a few beers,“ bartender Hector Mendoza recalled.
Legget serves up a rotating menu of sandwiches at the truck. The Pennsporter, a smoked Berkshire pork sandwich with long hot mojo, sharp whiz and tangy guerrilla slaw, is a favorite at Second and Morris streets, along with the Pork-a-pocalypse, a sandwich stacked with three different types of pork. For Sunday brunch, Legget offers Brisket Hash, a potato hash cooked with smoky brisket and topped with a fried egg.
In addition to his work at 2nd Street Brew House, Legget has also arranged to serve lunch at many of the city’s parks in warmer weather. He has previously set up shop at Eakins Oval and Love Park. One Saturday per month he travels to Yards Brewing Company on Delaware Avenue to serve up sandwiches to hungry patrons attending the free brewery tours. Legget said he can sell upwards of 250 sandwiches on a busy day at Yards.
Despite brisk business in other areas of the city, a food truck in Pennsport wasn’t an easy sell, especially at first.
“It seemed like people were only 50-50 with me in the beginning,” Legget said. “People would pick fights with me and call it roach coach food. They’d call the city and try to get me shut down.”
Legget remained tied to Pennsport, however, because it’s his home. He’s lived on the 1500 block of Moyamensing Ave. for seven years and has watched the neighborhood change.
“There’s more commercial stuff and a lot of new housing going up,” he said. “I know it’s going to turn into a really, really good neighborhood really soon.”
His persistence paid off. Now, he said, some neighbors come to the truck for dinner almost every night.
“They hated me at first,” Legget said. “Now I’ll skip a day and they ask about me. They don’t want to see me go.”
Returning customer Dave Kern remembered a time before Guerrilla Ultima served dinner at 2nd Street Brew House.
“When we first started coming here they didn’t have a kitchen, I think they just had a panini press in the back, “ he said with a laugh. “We’d still eat it. It was fine. But when we came a few weeks ago it was the first time we’d seen the truck here, and it was a big step up.”
“I used to get panini pressed burritos and they got the job done,” satisfied diner Kevin Schuman said. “But it’s much nicer having the barbecue, that’s for sure.”
“I haven’t heard anything negative from customers about the food at all,” bartender Hector Mendoza said of Legget’s barbecue, which has Latin and Asian influences. “It’s like cigarettes, you can’t just quit it. You have to keep going, you know? Trying everything on the menu.”
In the future, Legget hopes to expand his offerings by opening a second truck. He already has a concept for the truck, an Asian-inspired wings-and-woks joint to be called “Wing Kong Express,” inspired by the setting of John Carpenter classic Big Trouble in Little China. Legget’s other dream is to open a brick-and-mortar barbecue restaurant. He has had his eye on several potential locations in the neighborhood but hopes a converted garage will house his next endeavor.
“I want a big lot outside where I could put shitloads of picnic tables,” he said. “I’d also like to have a liquor license. I’m not opposed to making it BYO in the beginning, though.”
Legget’s been in Philadelphia for 11 years and it seems like he’s here to stay. The reason for this industry veteran’s continuing success is best described in his own words.
“I called the truck Guerrilla Ultima, guerrilla spelled like a Cuban rebel,” Legget said. “The reason for the name is that I pick and choose and use whatever I want. I don’t try to box myself into anything that anybody else is doing. It’s far from a Famous Dave’s, that’s for sure.”
– Text, video and images by Nina Lispi and Eddie Durkin