The Purple Carrot

It’s hard to miss The Purple Carrot. Michigan’s first “farm to fork” food stand is more than just a colorful lunch truck. It’s an ideal. It’s a lifestyle. It’s really, really good.

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Nina Santucci. Photo courtesy of Nathan Smathers.

Nina Santucci is immediately personable and tells an amazing tale: Girl leaves Michigan. Girl falls for the restaurant life. Girl falls for chef. Girl and chef move to Austin, Texas. Girl falls for food trucks. Girl falls for Austin. Girl and chef return to Michigan via Washington DC. Girl and chef buy food truck.¬†Granted, this is the Cliff Notes version to the extreme, but I’d never be able to do Nina’s story justice in a small article.

For instance I’d never be able to capture how she lights up when she talks about her first restaurant job, or how obviously she loved the food scene in Austin and how determined she is to bring some of those flavors, the ideals, that close-knit community to the Lansing area. Even the awe and admiration she has for her partner, Tony Maiale, and his ability as a chef is palpable. I could go on, but you should definitely stop by the truck for a taste of the story.

“We’re really going for a symbiotic relationship with our farms and our community. We’ve been working really hard – even our oils come from Michigan!” exclaims Santucci. This was a bit of a shock to me. I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with all of the local possibilities, and this fact made me appreciate the food, and all of Nina and Tony’s hard work that much more.

And the food! “Making the food this way – in a truck, with these ingredients, with a couple of other people in that small space becomes a challenge” Santucci said. “But we want to lead by example. Better ingredients means better food and by sourcing ingredients as local as possible we’re guaranteeing better ingredients!”

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Photo courtesy of Nathan Smathers.

The best piece of fried chicken I’ve ever had came from The Purple Carrot. The drumstick was prepared confit and then fried. “Prepared in the two best ways!” Santucci beamed. The skin was crisp and the meat was so tender I could have separated it from the bone with a flick of the wrist. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

The only vegetarian tempeh taco I’ve ever had came from The Purple Carrot. Surprisingly savory and filling, it was a bit of a revelation for me (as a self-proclaimed carnivore and devotee of all foods Mexican). Another revelation: these two delicious items, the fried chicken and tempen taco, were part of the same lunch.

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Photo courtesy of Nathan Smathers

The Purple Carrot menu changes weekly, and Nina was quick to admit that they don’t update the site as much as they should. Their facebook¬†page is the place to go for the most up-to-date info. And although the menu is sometimes limited by the changing of the seasons, it never hurts to ask about a past item. Santucci mentioned caramel and sea salt cake pops, and a radish bisque that both sounded delectable, adding “Ask about your menu favorites! We’ll bring them back!” After enjoying the food itself and the people that made it, I’ll be back as well.

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