31 August 2011

Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest

Few culinary trends have exploded upon the dining scene over the last few years like food trucks. Despite the fact that mobile food vendors have been around for centuries longer than restaurants, only in the last few years has the trend evolved from cheap comfort food meant to nourish the working class to haute cuisine.

Columbus has been part of the food truck movement along with the rest of the country. On Aug. 26, a cadre of carts joined forces in the newly minted Columbus Commons to launch the Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest.

Fans of some of Columbus' more popular mobile vendors found many of their favorites. Mikey's Late Night Slice, Rad Dog, Junior's Tacos, the Cheesy Truck and Mojo Tago were some of the bigger names in Columbus' food cart scene that appeared at the festival.

Many of Columbus' new carts and out-of-town operations also came, introducing some diners to the wide variety of fare that comes from kitchens on wheels.

One of the biggest names from out of town was Cleveland's Hodge Podge, a participant on the second season of the Food Network program The Great Food Truck Race. Hodge Podge proprietor Chris Hodgson's menu is meat-centric. Although there is a kimchi mac and cheese on the normal menu, the Columbus Food Truck and Cart menu lacked options for vegetarians.

I had never seen some of Columbus' new food trucks, and the fest brought them out in spades.

Earth's Crust Pizza/Krazy Monkey Juice Bar, a mainstay of the Global Gallery coffee house in Clintonville, debuted their new food truck. Earth's Crust has operated a cart at festivals around Central Ohio previously, but now they have a converted postal truck adorned with Rastafarian art and graffiti.

The pizza from Earth's Crust is excellent. The crust is prepared with Amish grain that the owner grinds into flour herself. The Dariya vegan cheese melts perfectly. The Spicy Jack pizza was made with pepperjack, roasted hot wax peppers, sweet corn and spicy marinara.

The Pickled Swine is a new Columbus food truck. Although their main dishes were a vegetarian wasteland, the most interesting-looking item on the menu, the gourmet popsicles in flavors like cucumber lime mint, Ohio sweet corn and basil, and black cherry goat cheese were tailor-made for a warm night like the evening of the fest.

The popsicles lacked intensity and sweetness, particularly the sweet corn and basil, which was a borderline savory exercise in confusion. It's a great idea for dessert, and hopefully further experimentation will allow for the flavor to be improved.

Kolache Republic operates at farmers' markets in Clintonville and Canal Winchester. They make kolache, a soft doughy Czech pastry with a variety of fillings. Kolache at Kolache Republic are the size of a doughnut, and come in flavors like sweet cheese (which was delightful) and raspberry.

Overall, the fest was fun. Many of the carts ran out of product, and lines also got long as the night progressed. Despite its shortcomings, the fest illustrated the popularity of mobile food in Columbus in addition to the fun food from kitchens on four wheels.

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