After watching from afar for a year or so and wondering whether the trend would catch on here in Fort Wayne, I finally decided food trucks are here to stay and went to investigate.
And, just like when I venture to restaurants, the results varied. Some were great, some were just OK, and some were just not worth the trip. (Here's my photo gallery.)
So here is a look at each of them – where they will be is usually announced through each truck's social media such as Facebook or Twitter – with my rating, based on my usual five-star scale:
Specialty: Farm-to-table, nose-to-tail
Owners: Andrew Smith and Daniel Campbell
The good: The porchetta sandwich was the best main course I had during all my truck visits with its crispy cured and roasted pork, peppery fennel slaw, pesto and garlic aioli on a baguette.
The duck taco was filled with tender fatty duck that had crispy bits here and there and was nicely accented by pickled radishes, Napa slaw, cilantro, hoisin sauce and sambal aioli. It was better than any other taco I tried.
The bad: The Affiné fries, topped with sambal aioli, were a bit limp, and there was not enough of the aioli.
Overall: This food is what food trucks are all about. Smith, who includes Emeril's in New Orleans and Joseph Decuis on his impressive résumé, and Campbell, also a former Decuis employee, use upscale ingredients in familiar formats and aren't afraid to serve something odd, such as the scrapple sandwich made with Gunthorp Farm pork terrine. Served with arugula and a spicy-sweet jalapeno peach and jalapeno jam, the scrapple was funky in a good way.
Smith and Campbell also can churn out simple rustic masterpieces like their burger – a nicely seasoned 1/3 -pound patty with basic garnishes of lettuce, tomato, red onion and cheddar.
Specialty: New Orleans Cajun
Owner: John Maxwell
The good: The white chocolate bread pudding is alone worth the drive to this truck. It was drenched in a buttery spiced rum sauce, and I was served a huge chunk that three people could have easily shared. But two sharing it was better, because I got more of it that way.
The Po Boys – shrimp and catfish – were loaded with the signature ingredients, and both were crisp, delicious and not at all greasy. They were made with a crusty French roll, the shrimp had a half-pound of the little crustaceans, and the catfish had an enormous cornmeal-crusted fillet. Both were garnished with fresh mixed greens, tartar sauce and a lemon wedge.
The bad: The jambalaya was OK but not as good as I expected from Maxwell, a New Orleans transplant.
Overall: Maxwell does his former city proud with big portions that did not disappoint. And the folks working the truck with him were helpful and were quick to make suggestions. They also made sure to tell me how long I might have to wait for my food and didn't stretch the truth when doing so. Maxwell is also offering a style of food a bit scarce in these parts, which makes a stop at Ragin' Cajun a great idea.
Specialty: Gourmet hot dogs
Owner: Bo Gonzalez
The good: The burgers, which Bravas does sporadically, blew away the dogs. Bravas grinds the chuck, sirloin and brisket from Pio Market to make these beauties. They were thick, juicy and perfectly seasoned, and all had great accompaniments. The pickled peaches on the Rumble Burger added just the right sweetness to offset the vinegary pickled jalapenos, and the big crispy homemade potato chips gave it crunch. And if you have never had peanut butter on a cheeseburger, go and get Bravas' PB Burger. The house-made PB melted all over the patty and was delicious.
The signature Brava was the best hot dog with its zesty chili, crispy potato sticks and the spicy Brava sauce (an orange-colored spicy aioli). The Patatas Bravas – triple-fried potato chunks dressed with Bravas Sauce and garlic aioli – were one of the best sides I found.
The bad: The dogs. Bravas does not shortcut toppings but uses cheap, all-beef hot dogs and boils them. They are too salty and mushy.
Overall: I would change the name of this truck to Bravas Burgers and do them all the time. A better dog or option to upgrade to a better dog, especially one with a natural casing, would be great. At the least, the cheap dogs should be grilled to give them some texture and a little charred flavor. The folks at Bravas also may be a bit spoiled by their long run of success because they were not too friendly and rather blunt.
The Getaway Grill
Owner: Jerry Perez
Prices: Too high
The good: The chicken and black bean quesadilla with its refried black beans was great. It was a little hard to negotiate as most of its goodies – queso fresco, sour cream, avocado crema, corn and a spicy red sauce – were on top of the crispy grilled tortilla sandwich. But the flavor was solid, and I wouldn't mind getting messy to have it again.
The bad: The Yucatan shrimp taco was way too sweet with its pineapple, orange bell pepper relish and its strikingly bland Louie sauce. And it was scant on fillings. The Grill was also the slowest at getting the food out by far. On two occasions, I walked away after waiting forever. I was also not even greeted, let alone told they would get to me soon or how long it might take to get waited on, which was poor form.
Overall: The tacos at this food cart – a truck is still in the works and should be rolling soon – had potential but were really hurt by their lack of condiments. There were no fresh limes to squeeze over them – a staple for authentic tacos – and no hot sauce or salsa to add heat, which the very timid tacos needed. The tacos were also not special enough to make a special trip, especially considering most cost upward of $4 apiece.
Owner: Jim Garigen
Prices: Too high
The good: Jumby's veggie wrap was one of the only real healthy options I found, and it was a good one. Wrapped in an orange-colored tortilla, it was packed tightly with hefty amounts of broccoli, cabbage, carrot, dried cranberries and sunflower seeds, and it had just a hint of ranch dressing.
The bad: The bacon-cheddar burger was not what I expected. The bacon and cheese were blended into the patty, so there was no gooey melted cheese or crisp salty bacon on top of the burger. It was all lost inside of the patty and hard to even detect.
Overview: The food I had at Jumby's would be just fine if my neighbor was serving it at a backyard barbecue he invited me to, but it was not good enough to pay his prices for or to travel too far to get. There was nothing proprietary. The burgers and brat burgers are made by Tim Didier Meats, and anyone could buy them and do them on their own grill. Garigen's signature item – the Buffalo, N.Y., staple roast beef on a salt and caraway-seed-dotted weck roll – was made with precooked, well-done, sliced beef that was too dry.
Garigen and his folks did, however, provide the best service; that is, when they were where they said they would be. On at least three occasions, I found that the truck's Twitter feed said it would be somewhere but never showed up.
Specialty: American Street Fare
Owner: Eric Spicer
Prices: Too high
The good: The only thing I liked were the fries, which were topped with a tasty combination of sweet bacon marmalade and a gooey stilton cheese sauce.
The bad: The Spicer Burger was tiny and poorly made. It wasn't seared well and was mushy. It also tasted like a cheap blend of meat, and the gelatinous slime bleeding from its edges gave further credence to my theory. It was the worst thing I had during all of my truck visits.
Overall: The portion sizes really hurt this truck. The breaded and grilled pork tenderloin was bordering on an embarrassment in Indiana where the big fried cuts of pig are basically the state food. A relative newcomer in the truck game, Spicer's needs to improve and find a signature item worth bragging about.