TALLAHASSEE, FL – Though food trucks — mobile restaurants that abide by the same health codes as permanent establishments — are nothing new, over the past dozen or so years their popularity has taken off across the country. Cities like Portland, Austin and even Orlando rally around the miniature kitchens during lunch breaks, community gatherings and festivals.
Along with craft beer and throwback mustaches, food trucks lie at the vanguard of hip culture — and you’ll find all three in Tallahassee at the newly relocated Food Truck Thursday at Lake Ella.
Between the cottages and the water, beneath a high canopy of oaks, pines and magnolias, a cheery mass of patrons lounge on blankets and in folding chairs while listening to live, local music in the early evening. They munch on specialty sandwiches, tacos, pizzas, cupcakes and more. The sense of community is palpable: children dance to folk and bluegrass standards, pets sniff and beg for a bite of their owners’ food and strangers chat with each other while waiting in line at any of the half-dozen food trucks on hand.
“The correlation between food trucks and the community can best be summarized at the weekly Food Truck Thursday event,” said Beverly Rich, vice president of the Tallahassee Food Truck Association (TFTA) and owner of the Valhalla Grill food truck. “(The event) draws hundreds of people, all of whom are there to enjoy dinner, do some shopping and enjoy great, live, local music.”
Valhalla Grill features a Viking motif, with a bearded, helmeted warrior on the side of its cream-colored truck. Rich and her crew serve up menu items such as the Blue Ox Burger delivered on a Kaiser roll and topped with blue cheese and horseradish mayo and the Curried Phoenix, which is marinated chicken wrapped in naan bread and topped with a Thai chili cream sauce.
A few steps in either direction, the culinary vibe differs wildly. Next door at Foodz Traveler, the motto is, “Some of this…some of that.” Owner Jose Ferrer dishes up an eclectic array of sandwiches, including the Memphis Traveler, featuring a tender pork cutlet pounded out wider than your head.
“It doesn’t get any better than (Food Truck Thursday),” Ferrer said. “Everyone is sitting around on blankets eating from their favorite food truck, laughing, drinking their favorite beverage, listening to the band.”
In one of the smaller tucks, MoBi (short for Mobile Bistro), owner Viet Vu hands tacos and sliders, wings and wraps through a sliding glass window. Vu and his brother have created a fusion cuisine from their “vast knowledge of Asian street food,” he said. “We design our menu around whatever inspires us: a craving, a travel show, the market, an event. It helps keep things fun, interesting and challenging.”
Alejandro Scougall, owner of Fired Up Pizza — a food truck with a wood-fire oven — spoke to the difficulty of finding consistent business. “The challenge is finding a place where people will come out and find us,” he said. “As well, the area we work in is smaller than a restaurant, so we’re limited in how much food we can make or prep.”
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