TULSA, OK - The regulars approach the gaping window of the truck-turned-traveling kitchen and order with confidence.
But the curious first-timers linger back a few feet, close enough to read the menu, yet far enough to avoid immediate contact. “I didn’t even know this was here,” they say, while looking at the food truck like it’s an alien space craft.
Yes, food trucks have landed in Tulsa. And there are signs of a growing invasion.
Tulsa’s first food truck festival rolls out in September.
Local restaurant veterans Lola Palazzo and Teri Fermo have joined the food truck phenomenon, dishing out their upscale offerings. Andolini’s Pizzeria will hit the streets with its truck in the fall.
Paella. Gourmet hot dogs. Bahn Mi. Oh, my.
“I think it’s easier to convince people to eat out at food trucks here than it used to be,” said Mitch Neely, owner of the Grub Truck and organizer of the upcoming festival. “My goal is to serve good food to people so it does not really matter if they are eating out of food truck or not.”
A city database shows 86 mobile food preparation trucks in Tulsa, according to Jeffrey Bollinger, licensing and revenue processing manger for the city.
About one-third of the trucks are mobile extensions of restaurants such as Billy Sims BBQ, Brownie’s hamburgers and Subway sandwiches, the database shows. The remainder are the more traditional free-roaming food trucks – a trend that started, in Tulsa, with taco vendors.
The Tulsa Health Department inspects the trucks, and the city licenses them and collects the revenue from the $145 annual fee that’s shared with the county, he said.
A 2011 task force tackled the legislative loose ends, including concerns about trucks that open regularly on private property. Their work resulted in Tulsa’s new food truck law published Nov. 21.
It was Tulsa’s first step toward becoming a food truck-friendly city.
Other cities – like Chicago – continue to try to find a balance with the established brick-and-mortar restaurants. The trucks can operate there, but chefs can’t cook and prepare food onboard.
Meanwhile, food trucks are flourishing in places like Austin, California and the Pacific northwest.
‘A rude awakening’
Country music filled the air around Teri Fermo’s purple custom-painted food truck, Jezebel, when Judy Driesel walked up to order. It was just after noon in downtown Tulsa, and Driesel was craving some of Fermo’s international cuisine with Latin, Asian and French influences.
“Normally I don’t eat at these places,” said Driesel, who works nearby. “But I come here at least once a week. I am excited. I wish she had a permanent place here. Her food is awesome.”
Fermo, owner of Bohemia, Movable Feast Caters, sharpened her chef skills at the Culinary Institute of America. Watching Fermo work with several cooktop burners blazing in Jezebel’s kitchen is like having a seat at the chef’s table in a trendy restaurant – without the seat.
“Every time I put on Motown, people flock,” Fermo said, adding that she also cooks to Latin music and “old-school jazz.”
Find the entire article by NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer at tulsaworld.com <here>