POSTED ON NOVEMBER 7, 2012:
Food truck frenzy rambles into Blue Dome
A new tradition has emerged for Tulsa concert goers and bar hoppers who crave a tasty treat after an evening of debauchery. Whether the night was a rousing success or epic failure, a fleet of food trucks are standing at the ready with tasty post-party favorites. You can find them all over downtown Tulsa, rockin' the restless ribbon and even a few have found sweet spots on Cherry. These roving culinary troubadours are not the first of their kind -- they just happen to be the first to boldly reshape the notion of where good food can be found in Tulsa.
The food truck revolution has taken the country by storm, transforming fast food fad into big business. It has almost become a hallmark of a thriving metro, such as our closest cousin, Austin, Texas, which is famous for food truck fare. When visiting, any Austinite worth their mettle will know exactly which taco trucks to hit first, but will then blow your mind with crepes, donuts topped with bacon, pizza, gyros -- all served from a truck, cleverly named and professionally run.
In fact, you may find yourself dining al fresco more often than inside a stuffy restaurant. The script has been flipped, with many of these trucks providing creative cuisine without having to worry about creating a fussy ambience. You eat outside, entrée in hand, elbows on the table and no pretense of correct fork usage. Ah, now that is freedom, my friend! The food is allowed to speak for itself, and all of the sudden, you no longer require a hostess to seat you, a cozy booth to sit in and some waitress to mess up your order to have a fulfilling dining experience.
But here in Tulsa there has been some resistance to these so-called "roach coaches." The notion that food served from a mobile kitchen does not have the same quality as a meal served from a brick-and-mortar restaurant is perplexing. Yet many will happily pull up to the "golden arches" and have no qualms about the food quality or kitchen conditions. Fast food joints are blindly accepted as "safe" options, even though the actual owners of said establishments are sometimes far, far away and the ingredients questionable at best. But eat a taco from a kitchen in a local food truck? Oh, no, no -- that's just too risky!
The reality, however, is that the food produced from the food truck is often handled with far more care and consideration than a teeny-bopper slappin' grease burgers into a corporate-designed bag. Food truck proprietors are not just the owners. They create the menu -- usually based on local available ingredients; they prepare the food; they manage employees (or do it themselves with a little help from their friends!); and they are their own marketing teams, money managers and strategists. It is the very spirit of entrepreneurship -- personal artistic creativity filled to the brim with integrity to fine food. People have proudly hopped on the bandwagon to support local and sustainable food sources when cooking at home, but more commonly as they choose locations to dine out. Tulsa's burgeoning community of food truckers are on the same path.
Many national -- even international -- restaurants are seeing the benefits of thinking outside the big box and extending their offerings to a curbside crowd. For example, Taco Bell is doing the first authentic thing ever. They are releasing a fleet of their own taco trucks, to wreak havoc on the digestive systems and gastronomical sensibilities in a whole new way.
Oh, and another poster child for all that is horrible about big-chain food is also getting in the food truck biz. Applebee's. That's right, Applebee's just started their own herd of food trucks to serve up their own brand of bland. So if the big box purveyors of sub-par cuisine see the monetary advantage, then it is an indicator of a trend that is here to stay -- which is, surprisingly, a good thing.
We aren't just talking tacos these days, either. Local chefs have forgone the headaches of overhead by taking their cuisine to the streets. Even local restaurants have realized they can bring the mountain to Mohammad by taking their food to where the people are. One of the first mobile food units to really take this concept to the next level is Josh Lynch, the "dogfather" if you will, with The Dog House.
Lynch was one of the first to travel to the hot spots of downtown with his carts full of piping hot wieners. At long last, Tulsans were able to experience the bliss of eating a delicious hot dog after an evening of boozing!
"I originally was looking into opening a New York City style pizzeria," said Lynch, "so I did a lot of research and even visited New York City. While I was there, of course, I had a few of their legendary dogs."
As fate would have it, his father serendipitously acquired a hot dog cart. The rest is history. Now, Lynch, the owner/"dishwasher" of The Dog House, has ushered in Tulsa's food cart revolution as downtown nightlife has started gaining momentum. Dog House hot dogs give downtown Tulsa big city ambience with an army of carts docked at the hottest spots in town, armed with high-quality hot dogs and an arsenal of toppings.
"As downtown really started to take off, I saw an opportunity," Lynch said. "I wanted to bring that 'big city' feel to our town. At first, people were apprehensive, but those 'in the know' were like 'hey, gimme one of those dirty water dogs!' I knew it wouldn't be long for the rest of Tulsa to catch on to the beauty of street food."
He's been in the biz for more than six years now, has expanded to include four carts, and even has a location in the hallowed BOK Center. He also has a "big rig" that features his signature dogs along with tacos or sliders. You can find one of his carts regularly at Arnie's or Mercury Lounge, but on those special nights his carts are standing at the ready wherever good people need a good wiener.
The Dog House was the spark that has fueled an explosion of food truck choices for Tulsans. Now there are dozens roaming T-Town streets, and some may look familiar. Some of Tulsa's own homegrown favorites have recognized the value in taking their own flavor to the open road. Smoke on the Street is Smoke on Cherry Street's mobile minion that is one of the first brick-and-mortar restaurants to debut their food truck in T-Town. There are many other popular restaurants that have seen the benefits of meals on wheels and are rumored to have trucks getting their final touch-ups before they come to a street corner near you.
The Main Event
As Tulsa enters new fast-food territory, the Eat Street Tulsa Food Truck Festival is the first event to bring more than 15 of the best in the food truck biz to one place for one day. The Eat Street Food Truck Festival, hosted by Arnie's Bar and The Dog House, will roll into the Blue Dome District Saturday, Nov. 10 from 11am to 10pm.
Street food is a mainstay just about everywhere else in the world, and Eat Street Tulsa will mimic a jaunt around the globe, featuring exotic foods with a local spin -- like Vietnamese, Chinese and Mexican -- along with American favorites like barbecue, pizza and hot dogs. And rest assured, there will also be plenty of frothy beverages to wash down all those tasty treats!
If eating too much is your style, then register for Eat Street's hot dog eating contest hosted by The Dog House. Winners will receive prizes and rights to reign supreme as Tulsa's hot dog eating king OR queen. This exhibition of excess will, however, benefit Tulsa's hungry, with funds going to Iron Gate Tulsa. Entry for those willing to conquer mass quantities of wieners is only $30, which includes an Eat Street t-shirt. Interested eaters can register via Facebook at Eat Street Tulsa's fan page or they will be able to register onsite at the ROCK 103.3 tent, who is the event's radio sponsor.
While you're taking a taste vacation, the kiddos can entertain themselves in the kid's area which will have face painting, arts, crafts and other awesome activities. There will also be a farmers' market so you can take something fresh on the road and a line-up of other tasteful artists and vendors that will round out those in attendance.
The Eat Street Food Truck Festival will be an excellent opportunity for Tulsans to behold how far food trucks have come. At times these food trucks can seem elusive as they roam around the metro streets at different times and days. But for one day, the Eat Street event will be a rare opportunity to have all of Tulsa food truckers gathered in one place, like a delicious militia ready to win our hearts and minds one blissful bite at a time.
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