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'Food Truck Wars' rage in downtown Tampa

By Kathy Steele
Published: October 21, 2012 Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:23 PM
JAY CONNER/STAFF
Patrons had plenty to choose from as the first "Food Truck Wars" in Tampa rolled into the Channelside area Saturday. Food ran the gamut from gator tacos to dumplings.

Lines formed at the take-out windows of almost 40 food trucks that filled a vacant lot in the Channel District for the first Food Truck Wars on Saturday.Thousands of people came to bite into lobster rolls, jerk chicken sandwiches, gator tacos, chowders, spuds, Thai rolls, Mama Guava cupcakes and seafood delights.Fish, tacos and steamed dumplings were the first dishes for Bradenton residents Michael Hart and Keyshia Orlena. But a simple grilled cheese sandwich with pork was the early favorite."It was an interesting combination; something new and creative," said Hart.The trucks lined up outside the Grand Central on Kennedy complex from 4 to 10 p.m. A panel of local chefs sampled the best dishes of food truck chefs from around the state to single out winners in a culinary chef-off, the largest single food item, awesome dessert, people's choice and top sales.The event was sponsored in part by the TECO Line Streetcar System, which celebrated its 10th anniversary Saturday by offering 10 cent fares all day, including rides to the nearby Channelside station.The Sunset Optimist and Wesley Chapel Optimist clubs raised money for their charitable causes, including youth scholarships, by selling beer and wine and holding prize drawings.Orlando-based Food Truck Crazy staged the event. Two prior food truck wars drew more than 20,000 and 30,000 people in Altamonte Springs and Oviedo, respectively, said company President Lizz Otts. It isn't hard to understand the popularity, she said."Everybody loves food," she said. "This is very similar to a block party."Trucks for Saturday's "war" came from the Tampa area but also from Miami and Tallahassee.Lutz resident Donna Floyd of Big Momma Donna's BBQ Sauce was selling her specialty, blueberry barbecue sauce — hot and mild."We started out with friends liking it," she said.Now she and her husband are regulars at fresh markets in Ybor City, Tampa and Safety Harbor.Darren and Laura Geraghty left with a bottle. "It's amazing," said Laura Geraghty, who liked the sweetness mixed with a tart barbecue kicker.Mary Ann Olson, a fan of food trucks, was visiting from Minneapolis. Her son-in-law sells lobster rolls there from his Smack Shack food truck. It is a growing trend that is good for the economy, she said."It's about time the small independent person doesn't have to pay astronomical prices for square footage of space," Olson said. "They can feel good about working for themselves."