There is a dirt lot on Country Club Road, just north of Speedway, that’s been sitting there unoccupied for way too many years. Recently, a curious figure has appeared on that plot, a black truck with the name Kleezy’s Kitchen emblazed on the side. It's an almost curious mirage when you drive by because it's just sitting there, waiting, exposed.
Pulling into that space, you’ll notice signs that read "Chicken Strips", "Hot Dogs", and "Vegan Options". Compelled, you approach the truck and are immediately greeted by a wide smiling man by the name of Shunniche Williams.
"But call me Shimp," he says.
Looking at the menu boards, you see a variety of eats such as chili cheese dogs, tacos, and (what's this?) seasoned cauliflower nachos. What a fun snack stand. Now, you’re glad you pulled over. Now, it is time to eat. Shunniche "Shimp" Williams hails from Rockford, Illinois, and moved to Tucson in 2006 "chasing a girl." Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
"Man, we broke up like three months after I moved here," said Shimp, with a laugh. "Thing is, I kind of fell in love with Tucson so I stayed anyway."
Shimp remained in Tucson for another two years before moving to Iowa for work. He was also just plain lonely and a bit Midwest homesick. When work dried up, he had two options: go back to Rockford where everybody knows his name or take a big chance and return to Tucson.
He chose wisely.
Once he settled in, Shimp began performing at hip-hop shows around town. One night after a gig at the former Flycatcher on Fourth Avenue, Shimp spotted a hot dog cart set up near O’Malley’s and decided to get himself a brat. He was far from impressed.
"The quality was terrible," said Shimp. "It just kind of made me mad because there was a huge line for this bad food. But then I thought, maybe there is something here."
Shimp decided then and there to operate his own food truck but bring that quality he was looking for and missed. He found a truck on the east side, fixed it up, and dubbed it Kleezy’s Kitchen — named after his close friend that had passed away.
"This is down-home, feel-good food," said Shimp.
That statement is no lie.
Growing up cooking next to his grandmother, who gave Shimp his nickname after Shemp Howard from The Three Stooges, but with a twist, he wanted to bring the comfort food flavors from his Midwest hometown. Having very little experience of the cuisine from Illinois, all I could muster while biting into some of his food was that the Midwest has something going on — everything was fun and delicious.
Yes, Kleezy’s Kitchen serves up some fun food realness.
This is the kind of food the whole family can get behind because the menu is so uncomplicated and filled with near picnic-style tasty tidings. All one can do is do a little dance while you’re chewing away.
The seasoning on his hard-shell tacos is an elevated version of "taco day" at either school or summer camp. That is high praise, by the way. They are filled with fresh pico de gallo, spicy jalapenos, and served next to a bevy of tater tots — a bevy. In fact, most dishes from Kleezy’s come equipped with tater tots. This is a good thing. A very good thing.
"All of my seasonings and sauces are from recipes back home," said Shimp. "Chili dogs are definitely a Midwest thing, but I didn’t want to just serve a chili dog. I had to do it my way. You know, with that quality that I need and everybody loves."
It gets really interesting with the roasted cauliflower nachos that are aptly named Kleezys. Inspired by his current girlfriend who insisted that he had some veggie options, this is a dish that could easily be served in a swank downtown affair as part of their bar menu. Although it wouldn’t be as messy and when you’re eating nachos of this nature, you want the messy. It's that seasoning that gets you with the deftly roasted cauliflower. They're a perfect balance huddled below a blanket of fresh toppings such as that pico, black beans, cheese, and sour cream.
Just omit the dairy and meat and this treat is totally vegan.
Shimp is in the works for a Blenman Elm Dog, an ode to his neighborhood that he plans to introduce by Monday, July 4. For now, it is best advised to not pass this truck up when you’re cruising down Country Club. Stop for a bite or two and shoot the breeze with a guy that is always down to chat.
Kleezy’s Kitchen is just happy food parked on a dusty field, but why this dusty field?
"Oh, I live right down the street," said Shimp. "I’m still fixing the truck up so I don’t want to drive too far, but I like it here. This is my hood and these are my people."
For more information and to keep track of where the truck will be parked, follow Kleezy's Kitchen on Instagram.
Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...