It’s a difficult time to be a food truck in Rockland, Maine. And I should know. Arcane city ordinances regarding mobile food vendors prohibit food trucks from occupying anything in the “Downtown Zone,” which stretches from Broadway (to the East), to the Western waterfront, and then back North to Rankin Street. These regulations prevent mobile concession units from operating downtown, even if private arrangements have been made with private property owners, limiting available spaces for concessionaires to just two out-of-the-way parks: Buoy Park, and Snow Marine Park.
The rules and ordinances for food trucks (anecdotally, enacted to prevent some maniac way back when from slapping a restaurant built from a shipping container smack into the middle of Main Street) are relaxed in Rockland’s neighbors to the South and North, or Thomaston and Rockport, respectively. Because of this comparative ease for mobile vendors to set up shop, an interesting phenomenon has emerged in a mostly vacant, post-apocalyptic slab of cracked pavement, located on the food truck-friendlier side of the Rockland/Thomaston town line; that is where The Zack Shack, an unassuming royal blue trailer set on blocks, consistently has lines of people patiently waiting for food, and local press and accolades up the wazzoo.
Now in its fourth season of operation, The Zack Shack presents an array of fried seafood, hand-cut chicken fingers, and cut-daily onion rings, alongside a build-it-yourself buffet of fresh hamburger ingredients, all served on an almost impossibly squishy potato bun at a price point that makes it an extremely competitive choice for budget-conscious diners, who may otherwise be drawn to inferior burgers at one of Rockland’s many drive-through joints.
When it comes to scenery, the location may be less-than-ideal (except for all of that sweet sweet Route 1 Wal-Mart action), but there are a couple of ways to do food in Midcoast Maine. You’re either fully capitalizing on your scenic location, and often making the food a secondary attraction because your business is made mostly of one-off visits from visiting tourists who don’t much care that their lobster meat is frozen, as long as they’re looking at a lighthouse while they eat it. Or you’re catering to locals, offering inexpensive, quality product at high volumes from a concrete slab, that consistently gets good press and good feedback from the people who live there. It’s firmly in that second category, then, that The Zack Shack plants its flag.
At The Zack Shack, the cheeseburger is king. And oh, these burgers. Fresh ground beef (no tasteless, gritty frozen beef pucks here), formed, charred, and stacked in singles, doubles, or triples, with your choice of toppings, all delivered for around five bucks. After a few rounds of trying to build ridiculously over-the-top bacon-laden burger creations that would please even the most jaded Instagram followers, I’ve learned the simple truth that at The Zack Shack, less can definitely be more. For my regular order, I’ve settled on a cheeseburger, maybe sometimes two, with some sautéed onions, a little relish, a little ketchup. You have to eat it fast, before the bun melts and disintegrates into the meat and cheese, forming a mass of beef, rendered fat, and sugar that burrows into your brain and triggers an instant craving with every followup trip down Route 1.
The burgers aren’t the end of the story, however. I’ve recently also become obsessed with The Zack Shack’s version of the classic Maine-style fried haddock sandwich, dressed exactly the way you want it, with a meaty slab of flaky white haddock, fried to perfection until golden and crisp. I get mine with shredded lettuce, a slice of white American cheese (because I am trash), and a veritable LADLE of homemade tartar sauce, which drips and runs in rivulets down my forearms with each perfectly crunchy, satisfying bite. In a town already populated with plenty of excellent, bargain-basement fried haddock sandwiches, the $8 version from The Zack Shack still manages to be a standout in terms of size, quality, and fresh flavor. It’s become my go-to “wake up in the morning craving a grubby fish sandwich” solution, which you may be surprised to believe is an actual medical condition you can be diagnosed with when you live in Midcoast Maine for most of your life.
I know how hard the food truck business here in the Midcoast can be. It’s an incredibly small, competitive market, with just a few players in the mobile food business. And as another customer inevitably points out with a wink and a nudge, nearly every time I visit The Zack Shack, you’d have to refer to them as a competitor for my own food truck.
None of that matters. When you see a family like Zack’s all pitching in, working hard together to make their small business a success, taking enormous pride in delivering an infinitely customizable product at a price point comparable to a trip through the drive through, you have to get on board. In this business, you have to celebrate anyone that’s taking the time to do it well. And The Zack Shack is doing it exactly right.
The Zack Shack; 212 New County Road, Thomaston, Maine 04861; (207) 542-6837; Facebook