A tall thin woman, wearing a white chef’s hat emblazoned with her nickname, beckons from a big white truck parked on York Street between Chapel and Elm.
She’s offering free samples of her delectable “Blazin’ Burgers with all the fixin’s.” She says she just read in a local magazine how some restaurant or other has won a prize for Best Hamburger. She begs to differ. She’d like the burger judges to sample hers. She’s confident she’s got the best burgers in town.
And they’re not really hamburgers at all. No meat in them whatsoever.
Gwen Robinson—better known to hungry vegans as Ms. G—is making inroads into the New Haven lunchtime scene with her big white handpainted truck. Robinson started Ms. G’s Tastys (“Where Good Food Equals Better Health”) just weeks ago in September, digressing from a long career as a school teacher in New Haven and Bridgeport. She’s still registered as a teacher—for “middle school everything!”—and gets called in as a substitute in Hamden from time to time. But her new calling is a different sort of teaching. As her website has it, Ms. G’s Tastys is “Where Education About Your Health is the Key to Your Wealth.”
“For years, I cooked for people because they asked me to,” she says. “It made sense to start my own cooking business. I bought a truck from somebody and I painted it myself.” It was already equipped with a grill and a freezer, as well as a deep-fryer she doesn’t need to use.
Robinson has been a vegetarian since the age of 19. Now in her 50s, she’s spreading the gospel of meat-free eating. Until she cracks the permit-required lunchwagon hotspots near Yale-New Haven hospital or the Yale Whale, she’s found a ready market for her fare along York Street, where she parks for two hours a day in a regular metered city parking space. “I have regulars already,” Ms. G gushes, “and I’ve only been out a couple of weeks.” Some of those stalwarts come from the Yale School of Drama, where acting students are often known for their healthy, low-fat eating habits. The truck’s also had success at College and Wall streets, near Woolsey Hall. Some undergraduate fans arranged for the truck to serve a block party on campus last week. She also does catering, with a more extensive list of foods ranging from pasta dishes to casseroles to fruit baskets.
A lot of the demand is due to the meatlessness of her endeavor. “Vegetarian and vegan is all I do,” Robinson says. She’s the sole staff of Ms. G’s Tastys, and uses her own recipes.
She’s particularly proud of her vegan burgers, made with an oatmeal base. They’re pre-cooked at a separate location, then grilled on the truck so they’re crispy. Special burgers, distinguished by their toppings, have been named in honor of Ms. G’s family and friends. There’s also a Smiley Burger for kids.
Besides burgers, Ms. G offers such delicacies as her “Flavorful Flying Disks,” pizza-like meals consisting of homemade whole-grain tortillas with tomato sauce, a vegan white sauce, roasted broccoli, peppers, red onions and sunflower seeds. The white cheese has a soft, creamy taste that blends neatly with the crunchy roasted veggie and the chewy crust.
The menu can change daily, but desserts have included various cobblers (apple, peach, sweet potato or carob), carrot cake and “Phenomenal Peanut Butter Cookies.” And, though Robinson’s never drunk coffee in her life, she’s created her own non-caffeinated grain drink from ground roasted soy beans.
From her effervescent personality and inviting manner to her one-of-a-kind recipes, Ms. G’s vegan-friendly vehicle is driving a new flavor into the downtown lunch scene. Pull over for the Blazin’ Burgers.
Ms. G’s Tastys
Parked near York and Chapel, New Haven (map)
11am-1pm Mon-Fri (approximate)
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.