Trucklandia Fest 2016: Part 1

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This is a big deal for us here on Cooking with Murloc. It was one year ago at Trucklandia Fest 2015 that I began blogging. Woohoo! One year!

(Of course it was like, March before I started doing this on anything resembling a regular basis, but still – woohoo!)

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A beautiful day for food!

This is gonna be a long post folks, buckle up.

First, some general thoughts about this year’s Trucklandia Fest. This is it’s fourth year, and it’s still evolving. There was a big change this year as it moved from a multi-day event that strung out all over Austin like a scavenger hunt, to a more compact one-day event.

Pros:

  • All the food trucks were in one place. In the past, food trucks that were in out-of-the-way spots or not near others in a food truck *really* got the short end of the stick.
  • I am sure that this was much easier to manage for the coordinators.
  • It was actually feasible to visit all the trucks
  • With a limited number of judging bands available, it was (theoretically) easier for the food trucks to prepare the correct number of samples.

Cons:

  • One of the neat things about previous years was the scavenger hunt aspect of it, taking us to new parts of the city
  • Getting to know where the new food trucks are usually based was much better than having to ask each truck was usually located.
  • Only mobile food trucks were eligible. (Austin has a lot of trucks that largely stay in one location).
  • There were a fair number of non-local food trucks.
  • Overall it felt like it went from an “Austin event” to a “Food Truck event”. I think that this change in mission was deliberate, but it was a big change.
  • There were a lot of out-of-town trucks to fill in the ranks. The food was good, but if it’s based in Little Rock . . . .
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But it’s dog friendly and that’s awesome!

Improvements I would like to see in upcoming years:

  • A more festive atmosphere. To be fair, this is difficult to do in a giant parking lot. Maybe move the band to where you can hear it while you’re in line at the trucks.
  • A larger sense of community. Since this is partly a fundraiser for Keep Austin Fed, I think that this is especially important. One of the neat things about the larger, longer Trucklandia events was the community. You had time to talk to the folks running the trucks about their food and stuff. And when you encountered other Trucklandia attendees with their badges you’d sit and compare notes about what wasn’t to be missed. This time around the people running the trucks didn’t have time to chat. And there really wasn’t much interaction between the groups people came with.
  • Shade. More shade, for the love of Crom. It was like freaking EPCOT in May.

Colin and I didn’t get to all of the trucks, but we certainly hit most of them. So presented in no particular order – here’s our thoughts on the competing trucks (scores are out of a possible 5 points):

Fat Sal’s: 2.5 & 2.5

This was actually a saving throw for Fat Sal’s after the rather disheartening review I gave them previously. Conveniently, they were even giving away samples of the sandwich I had previously ordered.

It was better. Noticeably better. Whether that was due to the presence of one of the owners or the crew of the truck taking slightly more care of their sandwich assembly, I couldn’t say. The sandwich was no longer drowned in too-sweet BBQ sauce, it was just topped with a too-sweet BBQ sauce. (Seriously, you can’t get away with subpar BBQ sauce here. This is Texas.)

I’m also a little salty that they were in the running for the $10,000 prize despite being a fairly established and well-marketed chain (four CA locations, a brick and mortar in Austin, and this truck)based out of Los Angeles.

It was popular with the crowd, but it also led to Colin remarking “I’m not going to take sandwich recommendations from someone wearing a Big Dog t-shirt.” Related, they still apparently make Big Dog t-shirts.

Pop Art: 3.0 & 3.5

Pop Art was having some technical difficulties with their uhm . . . . “truck.” The freezer had broken, rendering the tasty popsicles into something more resembling a sweet, cold soup. But dang, that was some delicious sweet, cold soup. The sample on offer was a peanut butter and grape jelly pop made with freshly ground peanut butter.

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Oh My Kabob: 2 & 2 / 3.5 &4

We had to divide the score for Oh My Kabob on this one. The “Mediterranean nacho” was not great. It was a fried piece of dough that existed to convey sauce in your mouth. But it actually made the whole thing taste worse.

The falafel was really, really amazing though. Very fluffy and full of flavor.

Kava Chameleon: 3.5

Kava kava kava kava kava chameleeeeeeooooooooon.

How do you make kava not taste like dirt? Combine it with some frozen mango daquiri mixer. I enjoyed this enough to purchase a full-sized cup on the way out.

(If you aren’t familiar with kava – it’s a plant found in the Polynesian regions. It’s basically the anti-caffiene, making you feel calmer, less anxious, and relaxed. It also makes your tongue go a bit numb.)

Wholly Cow: 2.5 & 3.0

Despite Colin chirping in my ear like Jiminy Cricket to take pictures of the trucks and food, I somehow completely missed taking a photo of either the Wholly Cow Burgers truck or sandwich offering.

Wholly Cow’s claim to fame is the use of local, grass-fed cows in their burgers. So why they chose to offer a Hawaiian inspired pulled pork sandwich is beyond my ken. It was okay, but not something I would go out of my way to eat.

Art of Tacos: 1.5 & 1.5

“Processed cheese is an insult to al pastor,” Colin said. He has strong opinions about al pastor tacos.

The tacos of Art of Tacos were very pretty to look at with all their colors, but they were not good. Processed cheese has a place in the taco world, but that’s not on a al pastor taco. (Also, cheese on the marinated pork used for al pastor is a gringa taco.)

Texas Chili Queens: 4.5 & 4.5 – Plus LX’s vote for Best Truck

Edie, the eponymous Texas Chili Queen and her chilis were great last year. This year, they were even better. Once again she was offering the chili flight that takes you around the great state of Texas.

I hate lentils guys, but her vegan lentil chili (representing Austin) was absolutely delicious.

Customer service is an important part of branding for food trucks. While slinging good food on to a plate can get you pretty far, being charming with your clientele can really bump you into the next strata. And Edie is nothing if not charming.

Roxy’s Twisted Sandwiches: 4.5 & 4.0

The food was great, but the visit was disappointing. Roxy’s Twisted Sandwiches offered some really fantastic cajun-spiced macaroni and cheese with spicy smoked sausage. Also, they give a portion of their profits to no-kill animal shelters.

But they’re based out of Arkansas. Makes it a little hard to visit again, however crave-able their dish was.

Stay tuned for more awesome trucks (and Colin’s pick for best truck) in part two!

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