By Jim Myers | The Tennessean
More than two dozen of Nashville’s best food trucks will roll up and roll out their finest fare this weekend for the fourth annual Street Food Awards.
Hosted by the Nashville Food Truck Association, which boasts more than 50 members, the event is a celebration of the incredible variety of offerings being delivered by these mobile food warriors.
“You would have a hard time convincing me that the food renaissance in Nashville did not start with food trucks,” says B.J. Lofback, who owns Riffs Fine Street Food and is largely considered to be the founder of the association. “Nashville was perfectly ready for it.”
It seems that food trucks are here to stay, which isn’t a given in some communities where protective restaurateurs work hard to block their access to parking spaces though codes maneuvering.
“It kind of started going that way in 2011,” Lofback says. “There was a concerted effort by brick-and-mortar restaurants and high- powered lawyers who were not thrilled by what we were doing. They tried to get the Traffic and Parking Commission to look at this harshly.”
Lofback credits Mayor Karl Dean for seeing the value of growing the street food scene in the city.
Today, the trucks go well beyond the standard pizza-burger-hot dog triad of stand with food in your hand fare. Grilled cheese has been vaulted to cult status, while crepes, tacos and Thai food compete with ice cream, pies and Korean barbecue.
Crystal De Luna-Bogan, who started the Grilled Cheeserie with her husband in 2010, fell in love with the concept in Los Angeles, where taco trucks and hybrid Asian tacos were a big part of the street scene. She opened in East Nashville the day after Thanksgiving 2010 and was amazed by the response. It turned out that awesome grilled cheese sandwiches were the perfect antidote to tryptophan comas from the day before.
The Grilled Cheeserie’s owners sold the original taco truck that they paid cash for, and it now operates two trucks in the area.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” De Luna-Bogan says. “There was a lot of initial disrespect by the restaurant community. We are no less than anyone else, and we had so many other challenges that restaurants never face.”
The number of trucks in town has grown twelve-fold from those first early days, and two dozen of the best are showing up for the awards competition.
“It’s an addictive thing to lean my head out that window and hand someone some food,” Lofback says. And ultimately, that connection, that relationship between the cook and consumer, is what continues to make those wheels go round.