Sunday, October 4, 2015

Three Philly guys join 'The Great Food Truck Race'

They call themselves Philly's Finest Sambonis, and all they wanted was a decent Italian roll.

Three Philly guys join 'The Great Food Truck Race'

"The Great Food Truck Race" features Erik Thompson, Joe Toner and Chris Turchi.
"The Great Food Truck Race" features Erik Thompson, Joe Toner and Chris Turchi. FOOD NETWORK

The fourth season of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race - in which teams of restaurant rookies drive around the country for the chance to win a truck of their own - will feature three guys from Northeast Philly, a first for the Tyler Florence-hosted series. Premiere will be 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18.

Of course, Philly’s Finest Sambonis' signature item had to be the Philly cheesesteak. "That was laid out for us," said Joe Toner, whose partners on the road were childhood buddies Erik Thompson and Chris Turchi, all of whom attended Archbishop Ryan. (They'll be on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday, Aug. 15.)

"You think we were going to make foie gras sandwiches?"

Which doesn't sound too earthshaking. Unless you're hunting for Italian rolls in Rapid City, S.D., and the store clerk points you to bags of hot dog rolls. Or to the meat counter to ask for steak for "steak sandwiches."

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"Other teams could walk into Costco and get what they needed," Toner said. Somewhere east of L.A., they accidentally discovered a substitute for Cheez Whiz that they contend has a better consistency than the real thing.

This whole thing wasn't supposed to happen. Thompson, a union electrician injured in a car accident and unable to work, replied to an ad for the show on Craigslist. He didn't bother to tell Toner, a sleep technician at Nazareth Hospital, and Turchi, a union carpenter. Producers asked for an audition tape. By then, they were enthusiastic about hitting the road for 4,181 miles.

All the guys have worked in sandwich shops or Italian restaurants - Thompson and Turchi at Al's Corner Deli and Toner at Aldo's - so they know their way around a grill. Besides, as Thompson said, "if you know how to eat, you know how to cook."


What they didn't expect was the fish-out-of-water experience. "Being from Northeast Philadelphia," said Toner, "you think the whole world is your neighborhood. You don't realize that people from other parts of the country are very different."

"I didn't think we'd miss home so much," Thompson said.

The series started shooting in May in L.A. with the destination of Annapolis, Md., with stops in a bunch of cities including San Francisco; Portland; Pocatello, Idaho; Rapid City, S.D.; Minneapolis, and Chicago.
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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here.

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