GastroPark, located at 637 New Park Avenue, is now open seven days a week, with some new resident food trucks and a recently-launched partnership with Alvarium.
By Ronni Newton
It’s been a long journey, met with many obstacles – big ones, like the need to have the town enact an ordinance and also a pandemic that no one could have possibly foreseen – but GastroPark is not only surviving but is thriving and succeeding beyond owner Tate Norden’s expectations, with the West Hartford food truck park that he first envisioned in 2016 now open seven days a week for the public to “gather and graze” as the tagline says.
Roughly two-and-a-half years after opening in October 2020, West Hartford’s “experiential dining concept” now has several new resident food trucks, an ice cream stand, a bakery, and a new coffee vendor linked to a partnership with a local brewery, a permanent bar and kitchen, and plenty of seating outdoors (covered and uncovered) and indoors.
On May 1, GastroPark expanded their hours to be open seven days per week for lunch and dinner. Coffee – which is now available from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, plans to expand to Monday and Tuesday as well sometime in June, Norden said.
Alvarium took over the GastroPark coffee shop operation in April, replacing Perkatory – which moved to their own space just down the road.
“We are really excited about the collaboration,” said Kayla Brown, who came to West Hartford from Alvarium Roasting Company’s New Britain headquarters as lead barista and manager.
The coffee specials are like cocktails, she said, showing off some of their state-of-the art machinery.
Norden is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Alvarium on the beer side, too, where several of the beers are offered on draft as well as in cans.
There’s an existing synergy with Small State Provisions, GastroPark’s resident bakery, as well, said Norden. Small State has already been a provider of baked goods to Alvarium’s mothership location in New Britain, and will continue to meet the sweet and savory appetites with artisan baked goods from Wednesday through Sunday.
In mid April, Hindsight BBQ became a resident food truck at GastroPark, and from Wednesday through Friday visitors can find a variety of delicious and innovative smoked items.
“We’re really excited,” Hindsight BBQ owner Jeff Schmidt said.
Hindsight has a brick and mortar restaurant in Waterbury that they opened in 2020, mid pandemic, and multiple other food trucks – one of which will stay parked at GastroPark for most of the week, alongside their smoker.
“We’re ‘new school barbecue,'” Schmidt said, with a “new American twist” of different flavorings from a variety cuisines to spice up the classics.
“Hindsight is 2020,” Schmidt said, blending the traditions of the past but adding something new and unique.
Virtually everything starts off on the wood-fired smoker – a menu that includes brown butter burnt ends, wings, a brisket Philly empanada, and smokey cauliflower florets. There are also more classic meats (brisket, pork, turkey), burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, pork belly tacos, and sides like cornbread, mac and cheese, and sidewinder fries.
“Everything is made by hand,” Schmidt said, including the sauces. And with the smoker on site at GastroPark, “You’re going to smell it before you see it,” he said.
Hindsight BBQ is joining another resident food truck, Lobster Tales, which has already committed to a presence at GastroPark five days a week. Lobster Tales opens at noon on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and they also offer breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. on the weekends.
The other two food truck spots are filled by a rotating group that often includes Fuego Picante, East-West Grille on Wheels, and Feelin’ Saucy Pasta. CraftBird, which had been resident at GastroPark, will continue to be in the rotation. A quick check of social media (@thegastropark on either Facebook or Instagram) will feature the most-up-to-date schedule of food trucks as well as highlights of other happenings.
Those other happenings include trivia nights, a monthly night market featuring local small businesses like artists and bakeries (an upcoming Night Market is scheduled for May 26, from 5-8 p.m.), and live music. There have been dog adoption events – and others are in the works – as well as other charitable events.
On June 24 there will be a big summer celebration, Norden said, featuring a judged glizzy (hot dog) competition inspired by The Vulgar Chef.
Small State Provisions features their special “grandma-style” pizza on the first Thursday of the month.
Also, there is now ice cream. Hartford’s famed Capital Ice Cream cart will be onsite through at least the end of September – under the covered awning if it’s inclement weather – on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2 to 7 p.m.
“We have the most popular flavors from our shop,” said Capital Ice Cream owner Chantelle Boissiere-Kelly. “All of the deluxe flavors and a few toppings, too.”
GastroPark’s permanent awning was installed this spring, and along with lighting has attached heaters which will allow for the phase-out of the propane heating towers. There’s also a large fire pit that provides added warmth to the outdoor area – and like many of the elements at GastroPark was created from a salvaged item, in this case a large cement pipe that was on the former auto repair shop property and dug up during the construction.
“It was great seeing everyone gather around the fire pit for St. Patrick’s Day,” Norden said.
“There’s a great happy hour menu,” Norden said, weekdays from 3-6 p.m. and weekends from 4 p.m. until close, with select beers for $5, select wines for $6, and select cocktails for $7.
Frozen beverages have returned for the season as well.
“We’re further beautifying our property,” said Norden. They’ve added raised beds, and are growing mint, rosemary, and lavender that are used in the kitchen.
“It’s nice to be able to create the full circle,” said Norden. The on-premises kitchen serves a menu to augment the food truck offerings, and features a selection of smash burgers, hot dogs, and grilled cheese bites that can be ordered at the bar. The kitchen is open daily at noon, and at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays with brunch items like egg sandwiches and avocado toast as well as the regular menu.
“Our goal is to try to expand,” Norden said, while continuing to offer consistent food throughout the day, with something for everyone.
It’s a place where families can come for a quick bite and not worry about their kids making a mess of the floor – the outdoor “floor” is gravel, plus there are swings – where people can hang out with their human and furry friends (friendly and well-behaved dogs are not just welcomed on the patio but social media posting about their presence with the hashtag #dogsofgastropark is encouraged). It’s a spot where you can have a meeting over coffee in the morning, or grab a beer or cocktail with friends as a preview to other plans, or stick around to eat a full meal where there is something to please any palate.
“Gather. Graze.” Just like the tagline says.
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