In West Palm Beach, lunch time is the signal for an increasing number of downtown foodies to refresh their browsers.
Otherwise, they might miss the location of the movable feast known as Curbside Gourmet, the city’s first gastromobile, which rolled into town in late February trailing aromas of mojo pork tacos, lemon-tarragon aioli and grass-fed-beef burgers topped with carmelized onions.
In a Facebook revolution aimed squarely at the stomach, this retro-painted Ford step van is what happens when social networking marries crab cake sliders and hand-cut truffle fries.
“It’s all word-of-mouth or Facebook,” said Curbside Gourmet’s chef, Rick Simek, a former movie caterer and Florida Culinary School graduate. “People are Facebooking their friends. That’s our whole advertising. That’s how all the food trucks work.”
Every day after setting up, Simek types his location and daily specials on his Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CurbsideGourmet ) then sends out a Twitter feed.
By 11:30 a.m., curious passersby are lining up with Internet-linked foodies for Simek’s fresh-cooked fare.
Curbside Gourmet chef Rick Simek works inside the 22-foot-long vehicle. In the background is sous-chef Christopher Corso.
On a tourist-brochure-perfect Thursday, SunFest President Michael Weeks was trying a burger and fries while Simek was parked near the Intracoastal, on North Flagler Drive.
“People seek out special, unique food experiences and this is one of them,” said Weeks, between bites.
Four years after Twitter-fueled gourmet food trucks became a food phenomenon in Los Angeles, New York and more recently, Miami, the trend has finally come trucking into West Palm Beach.
“It exploded all at once,” said Simek, of his enthusiastic reception in West Palm Beach. “People are telling us they’ve seen (food trucks) all over the country and were waiting for this to get here.”
Stan Edge has driven down from Jupiter four times in the past two weeks, to work his way through the menu at Simek’s 22-foot, $100,000 rolling kitchen.
“I’m interested in the food truck phenomenon and the quality’s good,” said Edge, an insurance adjuster who reads five food magazines a month. “I try to eat at more obscure places.”
Beau Arnold, a street food fan, is back for the fifth time after spotting the truck on South Dixie Highway last month.
“Everything’s good – the BLTs, the tacos. The idea of eating out of a truck doesn’t scare me at all,” Arnold said.
Heirloom BLT on Sourdough and Mojo Pork Tacos from Curbside Gourmet.
In the truck’s crowded kitchen, Simek and his two employees – Vendredie Riera and Christopher Corso – are two-stepping as they cook each lunch to order, one of the ways in which gastromobiles differ from more traditional street trucks, which parcel out hot dogs or pre-packaged lunches at construction sites.
Gastro trucks are usually run by chefs, who use high-quality, often artisanally produced products, cooked with precise, professional skills. Simek buys locally grown greens, heirloom tomatoes and locally sourced fish yet tries to price most menu items at $5 or $6.
“Everything, even the crabcake sliders, is under $10,” said Simek, who used to own a restaurant in eastern Tennessee and is happy to dodge the headaches that come with brick-and-mortar restaurants. (Late last week, he had a bump in the road because of an equipment malfunction and a management issue, which will keep him off the streets for two weeks.)
Crabcake sliders with lemon tarragon aioli; $4 each or 3 for $10.
Food trucks use a fast food template to sell slow food, without the pricey preciousness that can sometimes accompany locavore food.
“It’s gourmet on a budget,” said Jochen Esser, vice-president of a Boca Raton Internet marketing firm and food truck aficionado. He’s organized a May 11 Food Truck Expo at Boomer’s in Boca Raton that he hopes will attract 20 to 25 trucks from Miami and Fort Lauderdale – and perhaps West Palm Beach’s lone truck.
“You can enjoy very good food at very reasonable prices,” Esser said.
In Miami-Dade County, there are 10 regular food truck meet-ups, with up to 30 trucks converging for the dinner crowd. Some trucks set up covered seating; at others, diners bring their own folding tables and chairs or spread blankets under trees. People play cards, kids run. Truck owners will often chip in to hire a band or DJ.
Until recently, Palm Beach County hasn’t been as receptive.
Last year, a truck called the Rolling Stove tried to make a go of it in Delray Beach and Boca Raton, but “people didn’t get it,” said owner Troy Thomas, who lives in Delray Beach but drives to Miami-Dade County every day.
Often, food trucks run into zoning issues with local governments. Since he’s licensed as a vendor, Simek isn’t allowed in the no-vendor zone in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach because of feared competition with area restaurants. Aside from the public parking spot near Currie Park, Simek has found only one other location, near the abandoned Carefree Theater on South Dixie at Flamingo Drive.
“I’m looking for other spots,” he said. “A big office park would be great.”
Food truck operators from Miami-Dade are circulating a petition to persuade area governments to relax zoning rules for food trucks. (www.ipetitions.com/petition/foodtrucks/ )
West Palm Beach chef Melissa Bryan believes that as a critical mass of food trucks emerges, local ordinances will change. Bryan and her husband, Seth, are renovating a 28-foot passenger van into a mobile kitchen called The Fire Within. They expect to be rolling between West Palm Beach and Miami by October (and are seeking donations at www.foodtruckroadtrip.com )
“I think there’s going to be such a huge influx of people who want this,” said Bryan, who works with her husband at Mija’s Tex Mex on Northlake Boulevard. “Look at the nationwide craze. It’s absolutely unstoppable,” she said.
McCray’s Backyard BBQ: 1521 45th Street (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
WHERE TO FIND THE FOOD TRUCKS
An equipment malfunction and management problems late last week will keep Curbside Gourmet off the road for two weeks, but when it’s back, this is where it will be:
Curbside Gourmet usually parks near the closed Carefree Theater on South Dixie Highway at Flamingo Drive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursday, the truck is usually on North Flagler Drive, just south of Currie Park. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with catering available. For information, go to www.curbsidegourmet.com, or The Curbside Gourmet on Facebook, or The Curbside Gourmet on Twitter. Or call (561) 371-6565 .
Stationary food trucks have long been a cherished part of Palm Beach County’s food scene. Here are a few of the most popular:
McCray’s Backyard BBQ, 1521 45th Street, West Palm Beach, (561) 842-1513 or mccraysbbq.com.
Manero’s Mobile, 600 N. Dixie (at Quadrille), www.maneros.com/maneros-mobile, (772) 220-3011 .
Tom’s Place World Famous Barbecue, Boynton Beach Greenmarket, 400 E. Boynton Beach Blvd., Boynton Beach, www.tomsplaceforribs.com, (561) 843-7487 . Tom’s also has a dine-in restaurant at the same site.
Tacos al Carbon, 4420 Lake Worth Road (corner Military Trail), (561) 432-8474. (no website.)
Taco trucks can be usually be found in the 700 block of Southern (across from the Southdale Publix) and on weekends at the corner of Belvedere Road and Parker Avenue in West Palm Beach.