Dinner or a snack is likely rolling up to a location near you as the mobile-food vendors phenomenon keeps on trucking across the country.
Food trucks and mobile kitchens are not new, but with the Food Network's the "Great Food Truck Race" and the Cooking Channel's "Eat Street," suddenly the chuck wagon has traded its dusty demeanor for a hipster happening.
Here in Central Florida, our modern food trucks can trace their roots to construction-site mobile canteens, chow wagons following agricultural harvests and cattle drives, independent barbecue trailers and ethnic-food vendors.
In 2009, Central Florida's diversity was reflected in the assortment of food vendors offering authentic South and Central American fare along South Orange Blossom Trail.
This year, the stage was set for a culinary convergence as gourmet and restaurant trucks came into their own with eclectic menus, eye-catching trucks and savvy sales techniques.
Mark Baratelli, creator and producer of Orlando Food Truck Bazaar and Thedailycity.com, has been a key player in organizing food truck pods, rallies and bazaars.
"These events emphasize community," he says. "The circle of vendors becomes a front porch of sorts for neighbors and friends to meet. Walk through any of these events and you find participants plopped down in folding chairs to relax and children laughing and playing nearby. What a great use of city parks and land that might otherwise not be used on that day."
The best way to keep up with food trucks is to follow their Facebook pages and Twitter, says Joey Conicella, co-owner of the Yum Yum Cupcake Truck. "Schedules are constantly influx. These aren't fixed locations like restaurants."
National Restaurant Association research shows that in just one year, the number of consumers who say they would be likely to visit a food truck has increased significantly.
And the vendors run the gamut from trend-riding entrepreneurs to established caterers and restaurateurs.
"Food trucks present opportunities for restaurants to expand their operations and presence," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the association's Research and Knowledge Group. "Mobile food service can be a good way to extend an existing restaurant brand beyond the four walls of the establishment."
One of the newest trucks is Alex Flores' Twisted Cuban. A graduate of Johnson and Wales University in North Miami, Flores offers a menu ranging from the traditional (Cuban sandwiches, fritas and flan) to his own twist on classics such as arroz con pollo.
"The truck has given me a new way to bring the Cuban food experience to customers," says Flores, who also operates the Half Full Coffee House, a café in DeLand. "My goal is to make believers out of skeptics who think Cuban food is only about black beans and rice."
Flores has joined a convoy more than 50 Central Florida food trucks. Today, we're offering a sampling of these creative meals on wheels. Most can be followed via social media but others are catch as catch can.
Allan's Jerk Shack: Authentic Jamaican food; Friday nights at the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Orlando; 407-668-9225 and Facebook
Arepas El Cacao: Menu star is the namesake arepa popular in Colombia, Venezuela and other Spanish-speaking countries; 5545 International Drive, Orlando; 321-202-4983; Facebook and @Arepaselcacao on Twitter
The Batter Bowl: Dessert on wheels and catering; 407-601-4248; thebatterbowltruck.com, Facebook and @batterbowltruck on Twitter
BigBrunos Bites: Hot dogs, including bacon-wrapped hot dogs, vegan brats, cheese steaks are standards but you may find scotch eggs, banh mi, duck fat fries and fried Oreos; Facebook
Big Wheel Provisions: Chef Tony Adams celebrates local, organic food in a big way; Facebook, bigwheeltruckmenu.com and @bigwheeltruck on Twitter
Rolling feasts: A guide to Orlando food trucks
Food trucks show no signs of slowing down
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