Andrew Zimmern says the economic downturn that began in 2007 fueled the boom of food trucks – and their popularity proves they’re here to stay.
Zimmern, who hosted the Trucks on Midtown’s Tracks rally Sunday on the final day of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, went way back as he explained the phenomenon.
“Mobile food has been around since before the time of Christ. And people forget that while it hasn’t been in a 8- or 16- or 4-wheel form, mobile food is and always will be the place that the entrepreneur can get into this business the fastest,” Zimmern told NBC 6 South Florida.
The popularity of food trucks in recent years shows, he said, that “this is not a trend.”
“This is the way people have eaten forever. You have a small mobile restaurant serving three, four items – what could be more perfect?” asked the chef and host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern."
A total of 22 food trucks ringed a huge white tent at the event, offering everything from potato ravioli (Il Fiorentino) to blackened mahi sausage (Pescado Unidos) to cupcakes. Cuban food was the most prevalent cuisine on hand.
Ms. Cheezious was the people's choice for the tastiest truck for the second year running.
Amanda Tait, a teacher from Miami, said the “South in Your Mouth Melt” from that truck was her favorite.
“It was crispy, it was crunchy, and it was savory,” she said.
Zimmern chose the Slow Food Truck – which served a “Beef Shorty Slider” with queso fresco, arugula and crispy shallots – as his winner.
Joe McFarlane, a 30-year-old banker from Boca Raton, said the “Cuba Libre” from Cubancube stood out the most for him. It was a fried Spanish sweet potato, stuffed with rum- and cola-braised ropa vieja, with a piece of sugarcane on top – "like a little croquette," McFarlane said.
“The first impression was the presentation – ‘Oh, this is kind of cool. I can get into it,’” he said.
Zimmern also hosted the 2012 festival's food truck rally, which was held at the beach. Event manager Randy Fisher said it was moved to Midtown this year because organizers decided that it was more of an urban event.
Another change on Sunday was that people held up blue signs to mark the end of each line, helping to prevent intersecting lines. Servers offered wine to those waiting.
"Food trucks are notoriously slow with food service because they're not fast food restaurants," Fisher said. "We want our chefs to take their time, but we don't want our guests to have pain in line."
Though there are plenty of food trucks in South Florida, Zimmern said he doesn’t think there’s a saturation point for them. His own AZ Canteen, which arrived in the region recently, was one of the participants Sunday.
Zimmern noted that every American city has its own lifestyle, so in South Florida the emphasis is on food trucks congregating at meet-ups and rallies – which he called “very, very unique.”
“In Minneapolis, where I live, we don’t have that. No one’s going to rally at all. Everyone is out on the street, two trucks per block in our downtowns,” Zimmern said. “I think in Minneapolis we need more meet-ups and rallies, and I think in South Florida they need to change the local ordinances to allow for trucks to park on the street and be where the people are.”
Zimmern said the most bizarre food he’s had in South Florida is “probably the $7 million steak that I had at Prime 112.”
“This steak was so expensive and so good it got up off of my plate and sh-- gold rainbows. I was stunned,” he said. “I was actually talking about it with somebody – it was worth it. It was a great steak.”
It really cost about $200, Zimmern said.
He then offered another possibility for the weirdest local food.
“At the end of the day the stone crab is like an underwater bug that you rip an arm off of and throw the rest back in. I think to some people that’s fairly surprising, but it’s one of the best foods in the world,” he said. “Weirdness is always in the eye of the beholder when it comes to bizarre foods.”