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Getting a bite from the Shark

JONATHAN LEVITT FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEKrista Steinhauer and Adam Bork run the Food Shark truck in the town of Marfa, Texas. JONATHAN LEVITT FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEKrista Steinhauer and Adam Bork run the Food Shark truck in the town of Marfa, Texas. (Jonathan Levitt for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Levitt
Globe Correspondent / May 13, 2009

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MARFA, Texas - At lunchtime the Food Shark rolls into the empty ranch town. It's a 1974 Butter-Krust brand bread truck stripped down to galvanized aluminum. "Food Shark" is hand painted on the side and the eight-track player blares Led Zeppelin. The van stops in a dirt clearing near the railroad tracks that run right through the center of town.

Adam Bork, 38, wearing Buddy Holly glasses and a cowboy hat hops out of the van smiling and cracking jokes. His girlfriend, Krista Steinhauer, 38, pretty and blonde in trucker hat and T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, follows the van in a 1963 Plymouth Belvedere painted matte white with pink racing stripes. Steinhauer climbs into the van and fires up the deep fryer and the grill. Bork opens the side of the truck to reveal a take-out window. All of a sudden the town is not empty. Cars pull up, people walk up, there are children and dogs and the music is loud and the food is cooking and it smells like a bazaar in Morocco.

The Food Shark is open for business.

Marfa is in the wild, haunted, Southwest corner of Texas. Named for a character in a Jules Verne novel, it was first a railroad water stop, and then a ranch town. In the early 1970s, minimalist New York artist Donald Judd moved here and did his best to turn the town into a living modern art installation. Artists have flocked to Marfa ever since, Steinhauer and Bork included. They moved from Austin in 2004 to run the Thunderbird Motel, a hipsterized vintage motor court. Eventually they needed a way to make a living. Two and half years ago they opened the Food Shark.

Steinhauer is a talented, intuitive cook. Bork is a master of punk-rock-meets-country-western-meets-steam-punk atmosphere. Customers are art tourists, ranchers, border patrol, outlaws, and everyone in between.

The food is bright and healthy, sort of Mediterranean (hummus and falafel and lots of feta and olives), sort of west Texan (chili and hot sauce) but also totally weird and original. When you pay and get change, the couple give you $2 bills, 50-cent pieces, and silver dollars.

The specialty of the Shark is the marfalafel, which is fried to order falafel, the best you've ever had. "Most people don't know what falafel is so we tell them that it's like a hush puppy," says Bork. "There's not a whole lot of vegetable eating around here, but fried food is a common language."

Some locals bring their own plates and eat at the Food Shark every day. They sit at giant, blocky, Judd designed, communal tables eating their wraps and salads and drinking Mexican Coke - which is sweetened with cane sugar rather than corn syrup. For dessert there are gooey, rich, bittersweet triple-chocolate espresso cookies.

After a long day, the van and the Belvedere head back to Steinhauer's adobe ranch house on the edge of town. The home kitchen looks like a laboratory - commercial equipment mixed with home equipment, infinite pots and pans, spices and sauces from around the world. Bork lives down the street in a geodesic dome, which he calls the Marfa Dome. It's completely overtaken by Bork's video and art and music projects. He stays up all night. Steinhauer goes to bed early. In the mornings they both prep and cook, and then start up the Shark for the short swim into town.

The Food Shark, parked under the pavilion in the center of Marfa, www.foodsharkmarfa.com.

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