The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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New Food Trucks In Tampa [Ask Me How I’m Doing ... Oki Doki!]
Posted Jul 11, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jul 11, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Last night at a dinner I went to (more about that soon), a friend asked me if food trucks “were over.”
No, I said. I don’t think so. They’re just ... morphing. In Tampa, at least.
On the surface, it would be hard to say that the mobile food movement is on the decline.
On the Fourth of July, 30 trucks assembled at Idlewild Baptist Church for a giant rally. A recent Tarpon Springs rally did extremely well. And Datz in South Tampa has been holding food truck happy hours each week with help from Tasting Tampa, featuring the food of a highlighted truck inside the restaurant.
Which is great.
But I keep getting the question from all sorts of people: Are food trucks done?
To me, that speaks of a little fatigue. People love the idea of food trucks - unique food served by interesting people in unusual settings.
But the problem in a town like Tampa is that after a while, you start to see the same trucks again and again. This isn’t Austin or Portland, where there seems to be a new food truck birthed every time a hipster grows a beard. Tampa and its surrounding cities are spread-out and sprawly, which makes it difficult for one truck or even a handful to make an impact in one place to build up an audience.
The dining public loves variety, up until they find the one place they can’t live without. Then they want that place to never change.
Food trucks have built in that expectation of the unexpected, of change, of evolving on the fly. When they don’t, people get bored and eat elsewhere.
Saying that, I’m happy to report that there are some great new additions to Tampa’s growing lineup of trucks.
Not Your Ordinary Food Truck caught my attention at last month’s Mayor’s Food Truck Fiesta in downtown Tampa for one reason: It’s menu:
You had me at ostrich. And buffalo. And antelope.
I mean, come on.
Plus, they appear to have a strong sense of humor. Love that.
Not many food operations would have the cojones to sell roasted insects at the order counter. Speaks to a certain mentality.
The other thing I dug is that while customers were waiting, they offered to sell a smaller item to snack on:
Quail egg shooters.
That’s right, a raw quail egg with a shot of Sriracha and an undisclosed spice that I suspect was related to the paprika family.
This is the point at which you’re supposed to say, “Jeff, weren’t you fearful about eating uncooked protein in a mobile food setting?”
Why, yes, I was. I tend not to truck with the pointy end of the salmonella spear. But life is full of risks. So I ate it. And it was fun. I didn’t die. Put a check in the win column.
Even better, I dug the buffalo burger they served. Seeing as I was eating on the fourth day they had been in business, I took this as a good sign.
An aside: NYO Food Truck serves this Friday at Cigar City Brewing Company in Tampa and then again at noon Saturday at T-Mobile on Dale Mabry Highway and Fletcher Avenue.
My latest favorite is the Oki Doki truck operated by Renny Braga. Born in Iwakuni, Japan to a Portuguese father and Chinese mother, Renny grew up on the southernmost Japanese island of Okinawa. He now lives in Tampa. Earlier this year, he decided he wanted to serve the food he grew up with on Okinawa.
This would be the aforementioned food.
How smart is this?
Renny follows the main commandments of Food Trucking: Simple ingredients, limited menu, easy to assemble, affordable pricing, freshly made, unique food.
It needs not be any more complicated than that.
I did the Chuka Soba, opting for a couple of shrimp on top. It was fantastic. Seriously. Cold noodles slurped on a hot day? Perfect for 1:30 p.m. on July 11, 2012.
I have to say I’m a big fan of Renny’s, mostly because he has an amazingly positive disposition. And he’s got a great story.
The artwork on his truck? Seems that he went to grade school with kid named Ruben Aquino. Reuben went on to become a top animator with Disney, working on “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King,” “Pocohontas” and “Mulan.” The two remained friends to this day. Reuben did the caricature for the side of the truck, as well as the frolicking cartoon dragons that are on his tip jar
Dig the video from his Kickstarter page, where he was trying to raise $4,500 to finish the decoration of his truck.
He raised $10,232 instead.
You’ll see why here: