The Three Best Things I Judged at the Food Truck Championships

Food Truck judging
The deliberation. It was like 12 Angry Men, but there were six of us and with women. And not angry. And stuffed full of food.

by Cole Pepper

This past Saturday, I was pleased to judge the 2nd Annual Jacksonville Food Truck Championships.

Three best things I sampled (and where to get them):

The Crunch Melt with Mac ‘n Cheese and tomato soup (Happy Grilled Cheese)-IMG_0725I believe this is the single best thing I sampled all night. Despite knowing that I should just sample one bit and move on, I ate half a sandwich of this “comfort food in your hand.” Imagine a creamy mac and cheese with a grilled cheese sandwich, throw in some bacon and a tomato bisque. Now combine it. That’s what Happy Grilled Cheese did here. I don’t know exactly how they got the tomato soup to act like a condiment, but it worked. It worked big-time. If anybody asks me what I want to eat on a rainy day with a golf tournament on the television and a cold chocolate milk, this is the answer. And if Happy Grilled Cheese wonders if I’m going to begin stalking them, the answer is yes. In fact, I’ll probably show up for lunch at their truck later this week.

IMG_0724
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar from On the Fly

Chocolate peanut butter pretzel bar (On the Fly) – I’m not a guy with a sweet tooth, I will admit that I have a meat tooth, instead. But the balance of this salty, sweet, creamy, chewy, crunchy delight is just awesome. Some folks like a very sweet desert, but this has amazing balance of all the aforementioned characteristics. This could be sold in a gourmet bakery or as a desert at a progressive restaurant (there are a few in Jacksonville, you know!). One word of caution: this is a substantial bar. This is not one of those “I’ll just get a quick snack” occasions. My recommendation? After a modest lunch, search this out to finish of the meal, then go for a light salad, perhaps with some grilled salmon for dinner. Believe me, it’s worth it. I can also see this going very well with an after dinner drink. A Sauternes may be too much, but maybe a milk stout or a particularly earthy port. Then, just let the food coma commence.

Poke watermelon
This is a perfect summer dish. Cool, refreshing and bursting with flavor.

Poke on watermelon (Unknown…maybe someone can help me out on this). This is the one of the three listed here that didn’t win an award, but that’s only because it was entered in the “Most Innovative” category, which was very competitive. This dish is perfect in the summer. The only suggestion I had for this is to cut the watermelon in half. It’s too much and can overpower the topping. I realize this is a difficult proposition, because it has to be deep enough to hold up the rest of the dish. I’m splitting hairs here. Still, it was one of the three best things I sampled at the contest, two of which came from the overall winner, On the Fly. Keep up the good work, guys!

 

 

For those who missed the results, the winners in each category were:

Best BBQ: Driftwood BBQ (BBQ brisket atop blue cheese mashed potatoes)
Best taco: Monroe’s BBQ on the go (spicy pulled pork with creamy slaw and Sriracha)
Best sandwich: Taste Buds Express (chicken Shawarma flauta)
Most innovative: Happy Grilled Cheese (Crunch Melt with Mac ‘n cheese and tomato soup)
Sweet tooth: On the Fly (chocolate peanut butter pretzel bar)
Best overall: On the Fly
People’s Choice: On the Fly

If you want to try some of these selections, I suggest following @JaxTruckies on twitter to find daily locations for the food trucks.

I came away from the event with three main thoughts. First, I believe that the food truck culture and the cuisine being created by food trucks is a great sign of a progressive food city. As an Avondale resident, I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood that boasts so many great restaurants. I hope that the success of the food trucks can lead to more great restaurants opening in the city.

Second, there is a certain approach to creating the perfect food truck food. At the risk of getting too Anthony Bourdain here, I love to see a dish that is easy to eat standing up and that I would crave after a night of adult beverages.

Finally, I understand how hard it is to create a great dish. It’s even harder to create it in mass quantities. Hats off to all of the food trucks for doing such a great job at the Food Truck Championships. I look forward to tasting the creations next year (and on several occasions in a non-contest setting)!

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