By Jennifer Sangalang | Florida Today
It’s a two-way street when it comes to food trucks: The people come for the food, and the chefs come for the people.
The food truck fascination, which arrived on the Space Coast in 2012, doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The popular Food Truck Bazaars in Melbourne and Titusville coax customers into waiting five, 10, sometimes 20 minutes for gourmet street food, with activity buzzing on social media during the monthly events.
For the chefs who make the trek from Orlando and beyond to Brevard County, the rewards outweigh the risks.
Take Curbside Chef, for example.
Clarito and Bonnie Macalalad have owned the Orlando-based food truck (@curbsidechef) for a year and a half, and every month, they drive to Melbourne to participate in the Food Truck Bazaar. Occasionally, they roll into town for special events such as February’s Melbourne Music Marathon Weekend.
“In Orlando, the trucks are so congested already,” Macalalad said. “So sometimes, we have to travel far just to bring food to people.”
Macalalad, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, also works for Disney as a cook at the Contemporary Hotel. Curbside’s Asian fusion menu features a chicken adobo Mexican taco and a bird’s nest brioche French toast with bacon jam.
He and his wife rack up the miles, traveling as far as Palm Bay and Vero Beach.
Curbside was one of the first food trucks that started serving at the Food Truck Bazaar in Melbourne. Clarito’s seen attendance grow from a few hundred to almost 1,000 people. “Our first event, we sold out in two hours, and we had another hour. That was an unforgettable night.”
Culture and events blogger Mark Baratelli of Orlando (thedailycity.com) started the Food Truck Bazaar in March 2011. He brought it to Brevard in August 2012 after a request came in from Brevard County Parks and Recreation.
“When it was a one-time event, it was to let people know in a big way that gourmet food trucks existed in Orlando,” he said. “Then I had the idea to take it on the road from town to town. And then I saw a bigger benefit. It was bringing and creating a brand new monthly event that could go on for decades that never was there before.”
His proudest moment was when he realized he had to rent portable restrooms to accommodate for the attendance.
“I’ll never forget it, to see those two Port-o-Potties arrive. I said, ‘I have made it. I am Oprah.’”
His biggest tip for diners? “Bring your own chairs. Please, please, please,” he said. “People stay for a good hour or two just chatting. They’re having such a better time than the ones that don’t bring their chairs.”
For Monika and Bill Tyler of Orlando, their passion for gelato resulted in Sweet City Gelato. In business for two years, running a food truck, they say, is a sweet gig that takes a lot of work.
“My husband does work another job,” Monika said. “He works every single day. I work, too, because I do all the social media.”
A cake decorator by trade, Monika constantly monitors Sweet City’s social networks. With 506 Twitter followers (@sweetcitygelato), 310 Instagram followers and 334 Facebook likes, her engagement has paid off.
“Anybody that has a food truck, they work very, very hard,” she said. “It’s like any other small business. You put your heart and soul into it. As long as you have the passion for it and the love of what you’re doing, what you’re making, it’s pretty cool. And you meet so many nice people.”
Some of Sweet City’s signature desserts include a bananas foster-inspired bread pudding with rum sauce that pairs well with salted caramel gelato, and the Brooklyn special, a chocolate chip cookie and brownie baked together with chocolate ganache in the middle, served warm with gelato. The warm apple crisp, spiced with walnuts, is another must-try.
Sweet City has been part of the Food Truck Bazaar for a year and a half.
“It’s a really good event because there’s a lot of advertising, and there’s a lot of social media, so people get really excited about all the trucks,” Monika said. “We love coming out here toward the beach.”
Robin Lawson knows all about the Food Truck Bazaar. She was a regular patron at the Orlando Food Truck Bazaars when she lived in Apopka last year, and now the Melbourne resident can log at least 10 visits to the monthly event at Wickham Park Pavilion.
“It’s grown,” she said. “The first time, it was only like five or six trucks and used to be over in the other part of Wickham Park.” She credits the visibility of Wickham Road for the surge in attendance.
“I like to see what different trucks are here and the different foods,” Lawson said. Her favorite is Melissa’s Chicken and Waffles, owned by Melissa Cicero of Melbourne (@melissaswaffles). “My daughter usually gets the waffle with Nutella, peanut butter and whipped cream. It’s a sweet one (sans chicken).”
Hanasa Mourad, who splits her time between Melbourne and Fort Lauderdale, had just finished buying groceries with her daughter when she noticed a lot of commotion at Wickham Park Pavilion. When they realized it was the gourmet food truck tailgating scene, they dropped off the groceries and came back.
“It was my first food truck extravaganza that I’ve ever been to. Ever,” Mourad said. “I love the fact that there’s such a grand variety from ethnic food to dessert to coffee.”
She gave the Mount Fuji — a brie, fuji apple and honey sandwich — from the Big Cheese food truck high marks. But that’s not all she had.
“We are going to taste something from every single truck,” she said. “Even if it’s one bite. One, we want to spread the wealth, and two, we want to taste everything.
“You’d think I never ate before in my life because I’m so happy with all this food,” she said.
Despite the feedback, there are some drawbacks to running a food truck.
Chefs have to factor in gas prices as well as food inventory when planning a budget. “If you break down, it’s $600 in tolls,” Clarito said. “The drive is 90 minutes. You have to know your truck and keep it maintained.”
Stephen Patterson, owner of the Heart and Seoul vegan food truck, made his debut Feb. 28 at the Food Truck Bazaar in Melbourne. He made the drive from Gainesville after his mom, Suki Patterson of Melbourne, mentioned the event.
“He just started. Hopefully he’s doing well,” Suki said.
His menu mixes vegan with some Korean accents. One item is a taco with kimchee on it. Another? Gangnam fries with caramelized kimchee, bulgogi and sriracha aioli. “I’m so proud of him,” she added.
Time also plays a factor.
“There are times it gets a little annoying where you’re waiting a long time for your food,” said Joanne Vose of Melbourne, “but it’s almost always been worth it.”
She’ll definitely wait for her favorite — the Big Cheese.
Mourad learned that showing up early won’t help either. “We’re so pathetic,” she said. “We were here at 4:15, thinking we could get in early, but you can’t. You have to wait till 5 o’clock anyways!”
Depending on the food truck, prices range from $3 to $16.
“I think the prices are pretty reasonable,” Vose said. “They’re what you get from most decent restaurants.”
And the social scene is fun. “Bring a friend so you can try more things,” she said.
For some food trucks, it’s a challenge to get people to try diverse cuisine.
“There are a lot of people that might not have had gelato before,” Monika Tyler said. So Sweet City provides free samples.
“In a different town, I have to cater to the different demographics,” Clarito said. “I won’t be able to sell my food, for example, if most people like barbecue. Certain parts of Orlando, in the country part area, I won’t be able to sell adobo because they don’t know what that is.
“The one thing I don’t sell is hamburgers and french fries,
because there’s a Wendy’s down the road,” Clarito said.
When Randall Hubbard of Melbourne attends the Food Truck Bazaar — he’s gone five times — he, like many others, prefers to mix it up.
“I like the wide variety of food,” he said, “so many different cuisines to choose from. Everything’s fresh. Everything I’ve had here tastes wonderful.”
Contact Sangalang at 321-242-3630
What: The Daily City’s Food Truck Bazaar in Brevard
When and where: 5 to 8 p.m. the fourth Mondays of the month at 3550 S. Washington Ave., Titusville, and 5 to 8 p.m. the fourth Fridays of the month at Wickham Park Pavilion, 3865 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne.
In the spring, some Central Florida food trucks like Curbside Chef, Bem Bom and Treehouse Truck will be featured on the Cooking Channel show “Eat St.” Filming took place in Orlando in January. The show, hosted by comedian James Cunningham, airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays. Visit cookingchanneltv.com.