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BILOXI — Food trucks have long been a craze in California. In fact, the first truck began its life in 1974 as an ice cream truck, but owner Raul Martinez decided to sell tacos instead of frozen treats, and the magic door opened to what has become a national culinary craze.
As you might expect L.A. is the food truck capital of the U.S., followed by Austin, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington D.C., and New York City. Just a few years ago, Oxford, Jackson, and Starkville were the incubators for this state’s food truck culture, but now trucks and trailers can be found from Tupelo to Biloxi, with the Gulf Coast being the fastest growing region.
Today everything from fried chicken to boudin balls, jalapeno poppers, tacos, burritos, and New York City style hot dogs can all be found on the streets of the Gulf Coast. But the menus are constantly changing, as innovative chefs try their newest ideas on the lines that always seem to form when a food truck appears on a street corner.
Some trucks and trailers have permanent locations, most attend festivals, but almost all post their daily location on Facebook or other social media. The most active city on the Coast is Ocean Springs, but Biloxi, Pascagoula, Long Beach and Pass Christian all have active trucks and more can be expected.
Food trucks come in all shapes and sizes. An entry level truck starts at about $50,000, some trailers are a bit less, and carts, like the hot dog stands you see on some big city streets, are even more affordable. But the $50,000 truck is just the beginning, and custom-made trucks can cost as much as $200,000. The truck itself isn’t cheap, but when you add in the professional grade fryers, stove tops, and all the bells and whistles of a professional kitchen, and a host of other things cities and health departments demand, you are talking some serious money.
True Wings has been in business a year and has earned a substantial following in Biloxi and Ocean Springs. Owner and chef, True Pasley, had his truck custom made by Russel Concessions in Lucedale. His grandfather had a soul food restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio and a food truck was always a dream for Pasley. He sells fried chicken wings, chicken and waffles and has just started venturing into the taco world with a very popular fried chicken taco. He pairs his chicken with nine sauces, from mild to super-hot, and everywhere he goes he draws a crowd.
Beach Dawgs, most often found at the corner of Highway 90 and Jeff Davis Avenue in Long Beach, sells all beef hot dogs from a New York City style cart. But it is a long way from the old push carts that used to be found in big cities. This one is shiny chrome, with gas burners to keep the water baths hot, water tanks, a bun steamer and it can be pulled behind the family car. The best-selling hot dog, the Onion Lovers, is made with pickled Vidalia onions and chopped sweet onions is well worth a try.
Chef in a Box is based in Pascagoula, not far from Ingalls Shipbuilding. Jennifer Babcock has been a cook all her life and always dreamed of a food truck, a common trait amongst food truck owners. Everything she sells is made fresh and you can expect long lines at lunch time. Her best sellers are the fried shrimp taco, the Juicy B burger, which is loaded with cheese, pulled pork, fried jalapenos, slaw and BBQ sauce, on top of a beef patty. The rest of the menu is tacos, a catfish platter, nachos, and po-boys.
MacDaddy’s Creole Kitchen is a recent arrival from Houston, Texas and is making quite a splash. Brian McDoughle’s custom-outfitted Chevrolet truck is as tricked out as any food truck could be. And the po-boys, catfish platter, boudin balls, and jalapeno poppers he serves have been enthusiastically received. This truck can often be found at the Greenhouse on Porter on weekends.
The Big Pig is a new arrival in Ocean Springs. This award-winning truck sells some of the best BBQ around. The one-acre site, across the street from the Walmart Family Market on Washington Avenue, will soon be the home to several food trucks, music on the weekend and family games.
As popular as the food trucks are becoming, many restaurants, and some cities, are resisting the change. Some claim that food trucks have an advantage over brick and mortar restaurants in avoiding startup costs, but city ordinances do restrict where and when food trucks can park. There is no doubt that the trucks need to be regulated, but few restaurants, if any, have much to fear. Most agree that food trucks are for those on the go. It’s not a sit-down dining experience. The trucks on the Coast offer innovative menus and there is strong competition between the trucks, and their on-the-go market.
Mississippi has one of the most interesting food cultures in the country and has a rich heritage that is built on many cultures and ethnicities. People from around the world have been stirring Mississippi’s cook pots for generations, including Creole, Cajun, African, Native American, Vietnamese and Hispanic cooks, and all have added spices and technique that have contributed immensely to our food culture. The food truck is a new part of that culture and diversity.