Chinese cuisine

Meet the Asian American Chef Behind Huntsville’s Hottest Food Truck



Prepare to have your perception of hot dogs remixed and elevated. Tubular processed meat is mainly associated with dadbod summer cooking dishes and beer-absorbing ballast during stadium sports and arena concerts. In Albert Toh’s hands, the hot dog is a vessel of culinary creativity and vision. And f — ing delicious.

Toh is the owner and chef of New South Hotdog & Sushi, Huntsville’s hottest food truck. By transposing the flash presentation of sushi and the vibrant supporting ingredients to hot dogs, more offering well-executed sushi rolls too, New South does what the best food trucks tend to do: offer punters tasty and interesting food that no one else (or at least no one else in this market) Is.

At local events where they work, New South often orders camper-out-for-Stones-tickets-in-89 length queues. This was the case at the Panoply Festival of the Arts in April. Alas, other work stuff called me. A few weeks later, I finally had the chance to try New South, at a midweek event at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

We eat with our eyes first, especially in the Instagram age. I’d seen pictures of the New South stuff online, and real life didn’t disappoint. Fresh, smart and colorful, all around.

New South Hotdog & Sushi’s Volcano Dog. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

I checked three dogs and a scroll, which sounds like Steven Tyler’s lyrics, but it’s not. New South’s Volcano Dog sauté with avocado, bacon, cheddar, fresh jalapeno, sesame seeds, wasabi mayonnaise and sriracha. Texture for days, flavor the size of a 3D monster movie, finished with negotiable heat. The Mojito Dog with its Cilantro, Lime, Provolone and Avocado is the first hot dog I have ever eaten that could be called “refreshing.” Meanwhile, on Dog Crunch, pork rinds provide the signature adjective, with a supporting cast including eel sauce, spicy mayonnaise, bacon, avocado, and cream cheese.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

New South Hotdog & Sushi’s Mojito Dog. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

Along with the bold fixings, two key things about all New South hot dogs: First, they’re served on a toasted gourmet hoagie bun instead of a standard hot dog bun, so they can physically support the ingredients and not become swampy and crumble, even like leftovers from hours later; and second, Toh only uses Nathan’s quarter-pound hot dogs, resulting in juicy and satisfying meals. Each dog is a meal on itself.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

New South Hotdog & Sushi’s Crunchy Dog. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

The three New South hot dogs I tried were only $ 7 each. All of this adds up to solid value for mobile food, especially for anyone who’s ever shelled out $ 14 for two tacos in a food truck. Other New South hot dogs include a Bama Big Dog with pulled pork, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce ($ 9). A full menu and more information can be found at newsouthhotdogandsushi.com.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

New South Hotdog & Sushi’s Tiger King Roll. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

On the sushi side, I tamed the Tiger King Roll ($ 10), which debuted last spring around the same time as a certain popular streaming series. Thankfully, New South’s Tiger King is a lot more tasteful than the notorious zookeeper portrayed in Netflix’s “Tiger King”. Shrimp tempura, avocado, cream cheese, crab, crunchy onion, spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce. Crunch times crunch. I’d be happy to get a roll that looked and tasted like this at a fancy restaurant, not to mention a 12 by 6 trailer pulled behind a truck.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

South Hotdog & Sushi’s new chef / owner, Albert Toh. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

About 15 years ago, Albert Toh moved to Huntsville from his native Malaysia to attend university. Like many students, he supported himself by working in restaurants. Interested in Asian restaurants, including Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese businesses, Toh says, “I’ve always had a passion for learning sushi.”

Fast forward to just over two years ago. Now working a solid but heartbreaking job at a university with a state pension of 401K and the nine, Toh realized, “I just wasn’t for that kind of lifestyle. I had this idea to do something for myself.

Specifically, he wanted to sell hot dogs because he believed he could get creative with them and also because hot dogs are not raw so more manageable in a mobile context. He didn’t want to make a hot dog cart, due to storage and handling issues. He found a food trailer in Kentucky and spent $ 9,000 there. He would soon learn that the trailer would need significant upgrades, including a ventilation hood, to be street legal.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

New South Hotdog & Sushi’s Albert Toh. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

“Right before I started the truck,” Toh says, “I did a lot of testing. I would throw a tasting party at my house, put crazy ingredients on hot dogs, and invite friends to try them.

When he started New South, he started at a Chevron gas station and was content to sell hot dogs. “Most of my family and friends thought I was crazy,” Toh says. “In Asian culture, the expectation of us is like, you go abroad to study and then be in a highly respected profession. I guess I’m just different. I have always loved food. In person, Toh is really nice and serious.

As a child in Malaysia, his great aunt Cecilia Xia cooked for him almost every day. “She was the one who sparked my love for food,” Toh says. As his family is of Chinese descent, the food he ate in his youth often combined cuisines. “Malaysia is so multicultural,” he says. “We put things together. We never stick to one cuisine, with one set of ingredients. His family resided in Borneo, an island where Toh says “the most famous thing about it is orangutans.”

Toh’s desire to melt the kitchens manifested itself in the New South. His wife Melizza Toh (yes, her first name is constructed with two Z’s), also makes recommendations. It was she who gave him the idea to put pork rinds on a dog. “He’s very creative,” says Melizza. His favorite home dish Albert cooks is Korean BBQ ribs. Albert credits Melizza, who frequently assists on the truck, for being “super supportive” to his pivotal drama career.

After the New South launch in 2019, the truck quickly gained the upper hand after a big event on July 4th at Ditto Landing Marina in South Huntsville. Toh says they sold food that day… twice. New items on the Southern menu take a lot of work from Toh, who prepares each order. For example, sushi-style avocado needs to be sliced ​​to order. It takes a little longer. But the care taken in presentation pays off on many levels, including as self-marketing food, and not just on social media. More immediately, Toh says customers frequently order the truck after witnessing other clients walking around with New South food.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

New South Hotdog & Sushi Food Truck. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

Beyond typical customers, New South has found fans in the Huntsville culinary community. Jeremy Esterly is a co-owner of downtown fusion restaurant Phat Sammy and one of Huntsville’s most talented and creative chefs. “Albert is killing him,” says Esterly. “They’re doing good business and people are embracing it. A few years ago, hot dogs and sushi in a food truck wouldn’t have worked in this city at all. But it’s so good and so well presented. Hopefully more people will follow Albert’s lead and just don’t do the same things that have been proven to work over and over again. We need more variety. “

Toh is grateful for the love New South has received from local food bloggers (RickyHSV) and beyond (BallNine) and says this has been essential to the growth of his business. Maybe it is, but as Melizza points out, with all the time he spends, Albert made his own chance. “He’s still there,” she said. Most weeks, New South makes between eight and 12 appearances, including corporate and neighborhood concerts. A two-hour uptime is actually a six-hour affair, as installation and breakdown each take another two hours.

New South Hotdog & Sushi

New South Hotdog & Sushi Chef / Owner Albert Toh and his wife Melizza Toh with their three children. (Matt Wake/[email protected])

“I have to work there,” says Toh, who credits his grandfather, a photojournalist, for the inspiration for his work ethic. “We kind of take the immigrant approach to tell the truth: if we have too much free time, we are not doing something right.” And since he regularly posts the truck’s schedule early each week on Facebook, it’s easy for people to find him. Employee Matt Sturgis has been with New South for approximately 18 months. “It’s nice to work in a place where everyone loves food,” Sturgis says. “People will travel to eat with us.”

Toh doesn’t have much of an interest in turning New South into a brick and mortar restaurant. “Food trucks are wild game,” he says. “And that’s what I love about it, unpredictable.” But never say never. At 37, Toh believes he has “maybe three more good years to run a food truck because the body toll is ridiculous.” As well as being on your feet all this time, like most indoor dining gigs, there’s also the daily loading and unloading of ingredients, and the transport of equipment, including a large generator.

Besides food, Toh’s passions include fishing and watching mixed martial arts. After a busy shift with New South, her favorite way to unwind is to come home to Melizza and play with their three-year-old son and one-year-old twin daughters. “I’m basically just a simple guy who is currently living an American dream,” he says. “Even if it’s just selling hot dogs.”

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