By Geoff Fox | TBO Seen
Richard Rauscher was surrounded by an array of food trucks offering a variety of cuisine Sunday during the “World’s Largest Food Truck Festival” at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
A Tampa resident, Rauscher was hungry, but he had to decide what to eat first.
Did he want lobster rolls, scallops or crab cakes from The Maine Thang?
A Cowabunga burger from Zesty Tsunami?
Gourmet waffles from The Twisted Iron?
Rauscher was conflicted.
Then, his eyes caught the colorful Hott Mess food truck and its de facto spokes model, a busty cartoon woman with pink-and-black hair and fishnet stockings.
“It was very unique,” said Rauscher, who enjoyed a spicy Buffalo-style chicken sandwich from Hott Mess.
His friends, Jim McArdale and wife Kelly Cassell-McArdale of Plant City, laughed as Rauscher admitted his attraction to the Hott Mess cartoon.
The trio were among thousands of people who attended the two-day event that ended Sunday evening.
Besides food, there was live music throughout the weekend, children’s activities such as bounce houses and inflatable slides, and vendors selling garlic graders, discount sunglasses, artwork and mobile devices, among other items and services.
This weekend marked the food truck rally’s third annual event. The Tampa Tribune was among the sponsors.
The McArdales said they had never attended the rally.
“I’m impressed,” Kelly McArdale said. “It’s a good, diverse variety of food.”
Jim McArdale said they were encouraged to attend by friends from Riverview, who were roaming the grounds.
“It’s better than I expected,” said Jim McArdale, adding that he might be developing a hankering for moonshine beef jerky.
Jennifer O’Brien, marketing and communications manager with the Florida State Fair Authority, said last year’s event drew 121 food trucks to set a Guinness World Record, officially establishing the food festival as “The World’s Largest Food Truck Rally Ever.”
“We’ve been building momentum every year,” O’Brien said. “We have vendors here from all over the nation. We’ve got them from Orlando and Jacksonville, as well as some from North Carolina, Georgia and New York. Orlando is a big hub for food vendors.”
She said the festival mostly draws “foodies” from around the Tampa Bay Area. Last year’s event drew about 25,000 people. While it will be a few days before this year’s numbers are available, O’Brien seemed confident that this year’s attendance “may well exceed” last year’s.
This year’s event drew nearly 75 food trucks.
“Food trucks have become a phenomenon,” she said. “We get tourists and people from all over. People love to sample all of the different flavors.”
The fairgrounds began to fill early Sunday afternoon. As people walked dogs on leashes, parents pushed strollers and couples held hands as they absorbed the atmosphere, Tampa classic rock band Radio Crime tore into a raucous live set.
At the Route 66 Kitchen & Dining Car, a Lutz-based enterprise, co-owner Greg Fischer welcomed prospective customers with good-natured enthusiasm. A red trolley with vintage 1950s decor, the food bus offered both take out and sit-down dining.
From the trolley’s kitchen, the sounds of Credence Clearwater Revival mingled with the aroma of sizzling meat. Fischer said the bus specializes in Cubans and Reubens, although “the whole trolley is based on the food of America.”
“Our Cubans are out of this world,” Fischer said. “And you know what? Kids love the bus. We’ve had pretty good crowds out here. It’s been very steady, just a lot of people.”