By Brittany Misencik | Pensacola news Journal
As lifelong Miltonian Steven Harrill remembers it, summers in his adolescence were spent in the Russell Harber Landing along the Blackwater River.
As a kid, he remembers wading in the water; as a teen, sneaking off into the woods that surrounded it. Now as an adult, he runs a food truck there.
“When I was a kid coming here, it was more of a party spot,” he admitted.
Although the peaceful piece of property used to be a hidden oasis, he is looking to put his childhood hangout on the map alongside wife, Tasha Harrill, by creating the Blackwater Outpost Food Truck Park.
The area currently hosts a slew of pavilions, boat ramps and picnic tables that are packed with families, hammock loungers and kayakers on almost any given weekend or holiday. Steven Harrill will throw a wave out to his friends from behind the steering wheel of his pontoon as he heads to their meeting spot, a sand bar nicknamed “Ski Beach.”
Though they will be making way for a variety of trucks to set up shop on the land, Tasha Harrill said it was important to them to preserve the integrity of the natural space.
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“We started clearing land and we want to open in the spring,” Tasha Harrill said. “We want it to look like you’re sitting on the river, not on a concrete slab.”
She said the project started with purchasing 19 acres of land. They looked out and imagined a place where the next generation of teenagers, like their high school-aged cheerleader daughter, could meet up with their friends, but now under safer conditions than what the place used to have years ago.
Although the property is currently still lined deep with trees, the couple can already visualize the fully developed park: the chords of live bands wafting through the air and the smack of a cornhole bag as it scores on a board.
The two said they feel the park will bring something new and exciting to the area.
“Milton has kind of stood still,” Steven Harrill said. “We like the nostalgia of downtown but want to keep it going.”
His wife added, “We also just wanted to leave something behind for the kids.”
They are still in the midst of obtaining all the necessary permitting, and though the two have plenty of plans, the project also requires a lot of money and they are funding it all themselves. So, they are starting small, and phase one is a food truck bearing the park’s name, Blackwater Outpost.
Introducing phase one
After a hot day out on the water, a ham and cheese sandwich doesn’t sound quite as enticing as a juicy, chargrilled hamburger.
As Tasha Harrill would unpack her sandwich packed deep into a container of ice while boating on the river, she would remember wishing there was something close by to eat instead.
Now, the food truck is committed to catering to the river rats and the beach bums, with the truck parked out on the cul-de-sac for in-person orders, or call-ahead deliveries by golf cart to any of the nearby pavilions along Russell Harber Road.
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The sandwiches are all affectionately named after the local spots. The “Ski Beach” burger is loaded with Colby jack cheese, bacon, river sauce and topped with a hard fried egg.
Other notable bites include the hot and spicy “Sunburnt” burger, topped with a fire buffalo sauce, bacon, Colby jack cheese, jalapenos and ranch, and the “The Pucker Point,” a Swiss cheese and sauerkraut burger topped with pickles and mustard.
The menu also has a variety of wraps, like the “Floating in the BBQ,” a barbecue chicken, bacon, cheese wrap with lettuce and tomato.
Most items on the menu are priced under $10.
The menu was a series of trial and error created by cooking for friends. Most of the tested items made it to the actual menu, but there were a few that the two had to let go of due to how long they took to prepare. Still, some may make a comeback, like the spiralized and fried “tornado potato” or the s’more inspired campfire puffs.
The truck also rotates to various neighborhoods and events in Milton and out into the surrounding communities, where they have already the food has been well-received.
“I didn’t realize how much I would love being on a food truck until I got on one,” Tasha Harrill said. “We had 70 people in an hour and a half last night.”
Even while working in close quarters, her husband said the two work well together and complement one another in their different roles.
“She’s the software, I’m the hardware,” he teased.
Operation food truck
The clean and freshly polished jet black truck that is now branded with the Blackwater Outpost logo is far from the original design that the two started using an MKT-90 field kitchen trailer.
Both with fathers in the Navy, the Harrills were immediately taken by the unit’s history, learning that it was originally used to feed 1,000 troops a day in Afghanistan. It still even has its certification to be picked up by military helicopter.
“Who else has a food truck that can be lifted by helicopter?” Tasha Harrill asked.
Some people will be confused by its rough exterior, while others will take one look at it and know exactly the purpose it served.
“I haven’t seen one of those things since I was in the service,” Steven Harrill said customers will tell them.