Worcester, MA: Mobile Munchies Roll into Elm Park

Selena Avalon,19, Dudley, looking a bit like a multi-colored Kona Ice herself, enjoys a cone beside the Kona tropical shaved ice truck at the Food Truck Festival at Elm Park. (T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS)

By Nancy Sheehan | TELEGRAM & GAZETTE 

Selena Avalon,19, Dudley, looking a bit like a multi-colored Kona Ice herself, enjoys a cone beside the Kona tropical shaved ice truck at the Food Truck Festival at Elm Park. (T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS)


The food truck craze finally got cooking in Worcester yesterday with a festival of mobile munchies at Elm Park.

Seventeen food trucks offering a variety gourmet goodies lined up along the Park Avenue side of the park for the first Worcester Food Truck Festival, a tasty gathering which organizers hope will become an annual event.

Park Avenue was closed off between Highland and Elm streets for the festival, which ran from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Trucks that normally ply streets in the Boston area headed west for the event and were greeted by eager tasters who lined up in a steady stream throughout the afternoon.

“We were extremely pleased with the turnout,” said Ann-Marie Aigner, executive producer for Food Truck Festivals of New England. She estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people showed up. “We’re thrilled. The trucks were thrilled. The community really turned out for us.”

One of the biggest draws were the grilled cheese sandwiches, including ones made smokingly different by the addition of ghost chilies, the hottest peppers in the world at the Grilled Cheese Nation truck. Trucks that put a gourmet twist on that comfort-food staple are stalwarts of the food truck trend and the longest lines at the Worcester event were found there. Another offering from that truck was called Blue Man Goo, meltingly made with Great Hill bleu cheese and organic fig spread with aged balsamic on raisin pecan bread.

So far, it seems, the food truck tide has hit everywhere but here, not counting our traditional hot dog and ice cream vendors. “In Boston they’re all over City Hall Plaza,” said Nancy Toohey of Medway, as she waited in a food line as the festival opened today. “It’s a big deal. They make a lot of money. They make good food and you also see them on all the Food Network shows, too. I actually work in Providence and they do it in Providence.”

She said she doesn’t mind standing outside in all kinds of weather just to nab a nosh. “The food truck concept is a completely different way of experiencing food,” she said. “Back in the old days the trucks just came in when you worked at a factory and they were called the ‘yuck trucks’ and that’s not what this is. It’s high quality. It’s different and interesting.”

She came to Worcester to eat at the festival with her daughter, Jenna Toohey, 22, of Westboro. They lined up early at Bon Me, a truck that sells Vietnamese food, including a soba noodle salad with either Chinese barbecue pork, spice rubbed chicken or organic tofu and mushrooms. Nancy Toohey has seen the truck many times outside her office in Boston but has been daunted by long lines. “I’ve always wanted to try it but there’s always a line and I knew I was coming here so I waited,” she said. Her co-workers have given the food rave reviews. “Everyone loves it. Everyone goes whenever it’s out there,” she said.

At Go Fish! summer gazpacho, skillet seared catfish tacos and grilled shrimp burgers were among offerings.

David Stein of Malden, chef and truck owner, said he bought his truck and hit the road about 14 months ago. “I’ve been a chef since the beginning of time but I’m relatively new in the food truck game,” he said.

So why did he go mobile?

“I like the artistic freedom of it,” he said. “I had worked for 10 stifling years in the corporate world and had been downsized when the economy crashed and wanted to do something on my own and I liked the gypsy caravan aspect of the food trucks. The overhead’s lower and there’s lots of creative freedom.”

There also is a lot of creative competition. Stein said he has seen the scene change just in the relatively short time he has been a part of it. “It’s growing hugely,” he said.

And that’s just fine with Lisa Dembek of Baldwinville.

“So far the lines go really fast and the food is really good,” she said. “It’s like what I’ve seen on TV. I’m big on Food Truck Wars so that’s why we wanted to come.”

She had just tried a sandwich from the Bon Me truck: a spiced pork on a hoagie roll with spicy dressing, a pickle, some lettuce and fresh cilantro. She pronounced it “spicy, fresh and delicious.” It was just one stop on an appetite-sating plan of attack that called for working her way down the line of trucks taking a taste from each one.

“We brought Tupperware because we can’t eat it,” she said. “We’re cutting everything in half and bring it home because we want to be able to try everything. That’s the beauty of this.”