The Green Grunion food truck is the brainchild of Paul Mannion, a Bethel native whose three year foray in San Diego served as inspiration for Danbury's San Diego-style burrito business on wheels. A restaurant industry veteran (you may remember his friendly face from behind the bar at Bethel’s La Zingara), Paul launched the business nearly a year ago in Danbury inspired by the burritos he came to know and love during his time in San Diego.
I finally tracked down the Green Grunion after many positive reader recommendations, and a fuzzy memory of Paul telling me his grandiose plans from behind the Zingara bar last year. But first, a quick burrito primer for the uninitiated East Coast-dwellers (read: you, me, and everyone we know, Connecticut).
Look up burrito in the dictionary and you'll likely conjure an image of the tightly-packed Mission style behemoths found in San Francisco's Mission District and interpreted loosely at a Chipotle near you. These large flour tortillas are filled assembly line-style with rice, beans, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, among a bevy of other condiments, and held precariously together with foil (always, foil). They're solidly packed, roughly the size of a newborn child, and could be easily repurposed into a dozen MRE's.
At the other end of the burrito spectrum, and celebrated by the Green Grunion, lay the San Diego-style (also knows as “California”) burritos. These component-based and slender-yet-still-hefty burritos stand in stark contrast to the gluttonous Mission-style. They are known for their french fry sleight of hand, replacing rice with french friesin a brilliant stoner-surf-dude move, as well as for their griddled flour tortillas and more thoughtful components, such as carne asada and fresh fish.
During my first visit, I tucked into a veggie, entranced by the fresh vegetables inside the truck and watched as my sidekick devoured a carnitas. Once served, we stood a few feet from the truck, a burrito-foisting mirror image, eyeing each other defensively. With our feet firmly planted, one hand holding steady to the burrito, the other juggling the Green Grunions house-made spicy green salsa, we knocked down our respective burritos barely blinking.
The veggie burrito was neatly folded, lightly griddled and filled amply with grilled-to-perfection cripsy vegetables, including bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and accompanied with pico de gallo, and finished with a light crema. Slender yet well-appointed, it will stand as a veggie burrito benchmark and my newest lunch craving. I'd love to tell you about the carnitas burrito, however, my burrito partner-in-crime usually well-versed in the laws of food writer, and therefore accepting that everything-that-is-yours-is-really-mine-and-everything-that-is-mine-is-mine, finished before I could get a bite. Dumbfounded, shocked, then saddened, I eventually took this as a sign of San Diego carnitas greatness and vowed to try it on my next visit.
With a solid experience in my stomach, and a tour of the truck, my favorite Grunion takeaway that I'm most eager to share is from the owner Paul, whose own words really embody the Green Grunion experience.
10 Questions with Green Grunion's Paul Mannion
Where did the name come for the Green Grunion?
A Grunion is a local fish from northern Baja California to northern LA county (mainly SD county) that swims up on the beach (lunar cycle) to lay their eggs. They are silver backed, so lots and lots of people (after drinking usually ;)) late night/very early (2:00 am ish) morning go to watch the thousand upon thousands of "grunion run"... now this also happens to be my late father's nickname from college, with NO connection at all beside the fact that his/my last name is Mannion and it (sort of, I guess?) sounds like "Grunion" so his friends in college nicked named him that way and it stuck. To me, most of all, it is symbolic for the truck. San Diego (cuisine) and my father (love and legacy) connected in Danbury, CT for a Food Truck name in both their honor (without "Burritos" or something annoying named after me). Who would've thought?
When did the truck officially open for business?
The truck opened on July 1, 2013 (closed during winter), and we've been rollin' n slingin' ever since!
Who is responsible for the gnarly truck design?
The design idea is a collaborative effort between myself and my friend and artist/designer Peter Le Floch. I trusted him, and knew he would deliver and I couldn't be happier! The fact that him and his buddy Jim Tomaselli did all of it in two long/hard days with just spray cans and tips is pretty amazing to me!
How do people find the truck? How important is social media to your biz?
Social Media is EVERYTHING to us! As much as I'm not the biggest fan personally (nor are some of my customers). WE am VERY gracious of its presence and reach to the majority of people out there. We'll even tell those people who aren't on FB/Twitter to just google "The Green Grunion" and they can instantly see what I've posted and where I'm gonna be. For now, at least, it has meant the world.
Where can we find you most days? Any upcoming special events?
We're in Danbury almost exclusively, besides events. Our next public event is the OEC Brewery opening in Oxford, CT on June 7th.
In your words, what makes a San Diego burrito?
To us, a San Diego burrito must have a slightly grilled/textured tortilla so you have an immediate amazing texture mouth feel and then your next sensation is nothing but components... not just a rice and bean layer and THEN the good stuff. Also, the proper use of french fries for the CALI (an SD original that you gotta taste to judge ;))...
What's YOUR favorite burrito?
It is by this smallest of margins depending on what I feel like, but my favorite burrito is probably the "Carnitas"! It is simply quality slow cooked, lightly seasoned and marinated pork that rests until burrito time. Then when ordered we scoop some on the flat grill, let it crisp up just a bit and the little fatty, tasty pieces of beauty get a nice coating of cheese before entering the awaiting textured tortilla. A little hit of creme (sweet/sour cream mixture) and fresh pico de gallo and the rest is history as it gets devoured so quickly.
Will you have weekly specials?
Oh baby, we will! We just had a "Surf and Turf" burrito special that consisted of wild caught mini (U-300) shrimp/marinated carne asada/cilantro pesto/cheese/chipotle creme/and pico (all fresh meats and additions made in truck)... people really enjoyed that one and there is much more to come! Its all about everyone enjoying and looking forward to what's new... Including tequitos (rolled tacos), fresh fish taco day (exclusively for said day) as well as incorporating CHEF days for the future.
What are you excited about adding to the menu?
We'll see... Im a really big fan of a small FRESH menu. So, anything that is added will only be there when the freshness/quality is available... we shouldn't just "settle" for our customers and vice versa. If we're selling it we want everyone to know that it is of the highest quality that we can offer at that time.
Anything else you want to share, that people should know about the truck?
I just want everyone to know that we really care about this community (greater Danbury area/northern Fairfield county) and think that something fresh and innovative is a step in the right direction for us all. We deserve, want, and strive for more options and it's time for something NEW and DIFFERENT to step up, so that others can see the light as well. Its not about US, its about what we (and others) can do to deliver something strongly needed to a community that deserves it! Together... this can be a beautiful thing :)