GHOST OF THE RHINO

Eight years ago, Charlotte County was a food truck desert.

The army of food trucks in Fort Myers and Cape Carol kept swelling in numbers, but the only local trucks were the peripatetic Jimmy’s Tacos, cruising North Port one step ahead of county officials, and the semi-permanent Nando’s Taqueria in Englewood.

Then a big, grey beast of a truck began roaming the streets of Charlotte County, sniffing out friendly hosts.

The Ravenous Rhino broke all sorts of barriers in towns that once stiff-armed food trucks — restricting where they parked and charging prohibitive fees where they did.

Rhino co-owner Lee Caglioti not only became de facto den mother and advisor to other, newbie truckers. She also started a social media alliance all their own and attended town roundtables that established food truck-friendlier rules.

It’s a tribute to her marriage to Brian O’Flaherty that they’re still together after vying for 400 square feet of space in the belly of a Rhino for five years. Caglioti wryly described the reality: “Buy a food truck, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.”

The grey beast gained a gang of loyal followers salivating over food like the signature HogZilla, a half-pound beef burger stuffed with bacon and cheese and topped with even more bacon and cheese, and Dixie Tots, tater tots smothered in cheddar sauce and topped with pulled pork, chopped bacon, barbecue sauce and green onions.

Alongside all that excess, the Rhino’s Granny Smith Apple Slaw seemed like a lo-cal option.

In 2018, the Ravenous Rhino team liquidated both their new Tamiami Trail café and their beloved food truck. But they were not forgotten, nor did they forget.

As Caglioti once said, “Feeding people, body and soul. It’s in the blood, it’s what I’m here to do.”

She recently posted, “If we were lucky enough to cook for you from 2013 to the time we ‘retired’ in 2018, you might remember that October had very special meaning for us. Both of our birthdays along with our wedding anniversary fall in the month of October, so we figured what better time of year to announce that we’re heading back in the kitchen, ready to cook for you again!”

So, the Rhino dished dinners again, at throwback prices, in a trial weekend at their new ghost kitchen in the after-hours Morgan’s Café in Schoolhouse Square.

To quote one ravenous fan, “The last two years were horrible. We need this!

After a breather, to let the team move residences, they hope to return, with menus posted beforehand on Facebook @rav.rhino. Stay tuned. OKTOBERFESTING

Those with German accents (and quite a few others, too) can’t wait to shout, “Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi!” every year about now.

Alas, you’ve already missed out on one full-on, stein-clinking Oktoberfest party, complete with accordion, at Rotonda West’s new Cape Haze Tavern. But its half-timbered walls and pergola bar drip with so much biergarten greenery that it seems like Munich all the time anyway.

The place is co-owned by a Bavarian, Andy Kirchberger, so no surprise that it’s designed for year-round Oktoberfesting.

But there’s also Port Charlotte’s Taste of Europe Bistro, operated next to Kallis German Butcher by Michael and Sandra Luck, from Germany. Their Oktoberfest specials continue from Thursday, Oct. 21, through Saturday, Oct. 23, with live accordion by Clemens from 5 to 8 p.m.

Rainer and Sandra Ruhland’s Sandra’s Restaurant, 111 W. Olympia Avenue, Punta Gorda, is always up for “Noch ein Bier, bitte!” (“Another beer, please!”), in their month-long party held every Oktober.

On Oct. 22 and 23, 29 and 30, you’ll still hear them cheering “Prost!” at Sandra’s, with live music, authentic German food and always one more Bier. Call 941-575-0177 for reservations.

HAUNTED PUNTA GORDA

It was a unique come-on, one that Indeed.com ought to try. The interviews must’ve been priceless.

“Are you scary?” read the want ad. “We want you!”

Sadly, if you’re looking for this kind of work, you’re too late. Smuggler’s Enterprises has already held interviews for professional scarers to staff its 6,000-square-foot Haunted House at the 12th annual Haunting on the Harbor in City Marketplace.

The Haunted House and Halloween Festival run Oct. 22-23 and 29-31 from 5 to 11 p.m. Haunted House alone Oct. 24, 7 to 10 p.m., and Halloween Party and Haunted House, Oct. 31. Live music every night by groups like Maiden Cane, Gas House Gorillas, and Champ Jaxon Band. Haunted House net proceeds benefit Charlotte High School Athletics.

For more information, go to puntagordahaunting.com.

TRUNK-N-TREAT

Then, for even more fun, zombie-walk over to 507 W. Marion Ave. (1st United Methodist Church) on Oct. 31 between 6 and 9 p.m., when Punta Gorda’s all-volunteer Trunk N Treat returns.

Along with 20 decorated cars handing out an estimated 80,000 pieces of candy, there will be food trucks including Red Roc Cravings, Ma Petite Creperie, BOOM BBQ, Ed’s Ice Cream, Mobstah Lobstah, Grace’s Taste of Poland, Firebread Subs, Dave’s Neapolitan Pizzeria, J&K’s Café and It’s a Hot Dog Day. Free popcorn for kids, and free books from Lizzy the Literacy Bus.

Marion Avenue from Harvey to Shreve streets will close to traffic from 5 to 10 p.m. for the event.

HALLOWEEN NOTTE

Billed as “three weekends of fun, fear and entertainment for all ages,” a Halloween Notte (Italian for “night”) fair fills Charlotte County Scare-grounds (2333 El Jobean Road) with daytime kids’ fun and nighttime frights for two remaining weekends: Oct. 22-24 and Oct. 29-31, from 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays and 11 a.m. to midnight on the weekends. Advance tickets at halloweennotte.com.

Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at suewade47@aol.com.

Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage. Outside dining available = O.

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