New restaurant openings might lag as season winds down, but nothing’s slowing the local truckerama. Word of mouth and of Facebook can barely keep up with the supply of new places to eat.
Until some genius develops a Food Truck Finder app, check this column regularly to learn about new entrants like the following. And look for more next week.
Rules of food truck
Once a food professional decides they can no longer work for anybody else and they decide on a truck, their first rule of thumb becomes “Gotta have a gimmick.”
They find unique foods that they love, which other people will also crave — say, exotic pan pizzas like Trippin’ on Pizza’s or the good-for-you purple potatoes and rice of Thee Purple Potato. Then they flaunt them with a flamboyant truck wrap, extra touches like the candies and personalized messages on What The Fork’s biodegradable boxes, even the lanterns that turn Little Havana and JD’s Chuck Wagon into rolling storefronts.
Truckers tend to be outlandishly friendly, probably because they love what they do.
With a food truck, the guy or gal who cooks your food is also the one handing it to you through the service window, thrilled to see your reaction to his or her creations.
• • •
Though Port Charlotte owners Mark Wilson Sr. and Kimberly Grise might wear white lab coats, their clever What The Fork Food Lab isn’t some molecular gastronomy nightmare that leaves customers complaining, “Where the fork’s my food?”
They both ditched corporate jobs — Wilson in restaurants, Grise in laboratory medical coding and billing — to embrace food truck autonomy and have some fun.
Customers, lured in by their brassy “WTF” moniker and “May the Fork Be with You” motto, keep coming back for menu items like Big Bang Sandwiches: the Wolowitz, Sheldon, Leonard, Bernadette, Penny and Raj. (Where the fork is the “Amy,” we wonder?)
There are also sliders, cheesesteaks including the Dr. Chicken Philly, even Marine Lab fried seafood, chicken gizzards and tenders. But perhaps the most addictive thing on the menu is a side: the homemade hash brown casserole: hash browns, cheese, breakfast sausage and onions.
On their eighth day in business, customers were already coming back with seven stamps on their buy-10-get-11th-free loyalty rewards cards.
They can even be counted on to park in the same spot every single day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.—Tom’s Discount Convenience Store, 618 Cooper St., Punta Gorda.
• • •
Unlike WTF’s mad scientists, Jake Murphy of JD’s Chuck Wagon hasn’t quit his day job yet. He’s still a butcher by day, to support that touch-and-go first year as a food truck owner.
After 14 years’ construction work had taken their toll on his body, Murphy went to culinary school to enter the world’s second-toughest career.
“At least you’re not gonna fall off a six-foot ladder, get electrocuted or have somebody drop a brick on your head,” he joked.
His cousin is a Colorado rancher, and he spent his externship at a Utah resort, where he fell even more in love with western ways and roadside taco stands.
Now, he serves up gourmet western-style street food, including tacos with carnitas, pastor, chorizo, chicken and steak. Because he’s French-trained, he keeps himself and patrons interested by putting his own spin on things.
His new mango jalapeño lime-glazed chicken with mango and red pepper salsa starred on a recent Fox 4 Food Truck Friday segment.
“And one night I had a Hispanic fella tell me my pastor tacos were some of the best he’s had.”
From 4 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Apr. 12, he plans to replace his whole menu with a popup for the Fort Myers Millennial Brewing Co. Festival of Grilled Cheese, including French onion grilled cheese with Gruyere, and Piggy Smalls, a four-cheese mac-and-cheese sandwich with pork carnitas.
“I don’t have any illusions of winning,” Murphy said modestly, “but I’ll go down swinging.”
The best way to find JD’s Chuck Wagon is via its Facebook page, but it can often be found at Gettel for lunch or Peace River Beer Company on Tuesday trivia nights in Punta Gorda.
Bean throws bash, goes on run
Has it been a year already?
It’s hard to believe The BEAN on 41 Coffee Shop is celebrating its first anniversary with new owners Tiki Tom Watson and wife Moni Syravong.
Although The BEAN on 41 opened in Towles Plaza shortly before Hurricane Charley in 2004, its original owner, Bob Gilmore, retired last April and turned the keys to the coffee over to Tiki Tom, a local entertainer.
“We’re very excited to inaugurate our first-ever BEAN Birthday BASH to thank our customers,” said Watson. “On Sunday, April 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., we’re going to stage live music in the plaza, along with free samples of our different coffees and espresso blends.”
He also plans T-shirt giveaways, discounted gift certificates, half-price bulk coffee beans (during the party) and a traditional lox-and-bagel brunch.
Watson and Syravong have also announced an outcall coffee service. The service — BEAN on the Run — provides coffee catering for special events, business meetings, caterers’ support and private parties.
The BEAN on 41 ($), 941-769-2398, 2705 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda, is open Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday normally 8 a.m. to noon.
Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage.