Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chattanooga Food Trucks

The food truck trend has been taking the US by storm coast to coast, first in major West Coast cities like LA and Portland and quickly filling street corners at lunch time and parking across from entertainment venues at night. They've made food not only fast, but mobile, and pair perfectly with social media marketing. It's such a big trend that Smithsonian Magazine covered it in their article "How Did America Become a Food Truck Nation?"
"At a time in America when finances are shaky, yet even modest big-city restaurant spaces involve multimillion-dollar build-outs, when consumers have wearied of giant chains but still demand food that is novel, inexpensive and fast, food trucks are the new incubators of culinary innovation. The food-truck phenomenon exploded in cities across the United States last year thanks largely to the success of Kogi, and before that to the mobile fleet of taqueros spread out across L.A. Who knew that the cult of tacos al pastor would become a nationwide sensation?"

The trend might have started on the west coast, but to Chattanoogans food trucks were already familiar thanks to the Southern tradition of county fairs. As the Times Free Press pointed out, "The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department has been licensing mobile food units for practically as long as fairs have been in the area. The trucks that serve funnel cakes, hamburgers, popcorn and chicken on a stick all must meet the same licensing requirements as trucks like [Famous Nater's] and, for the large part, the same health codes as stationary restaurants." 

A Taco Sherpa feast
Copyright © Catherine Cole
Indeed, it isn't a huge leap to go from the classic gyro and funnel cakes of theme parks and state fairgrounds to serve up Korean tacos and Argentinean papusas. Like the rest of the American food scene in the past decade, menus everywhere from fast food to five star have been changed by consumer's demand for more flavorful, interesting, quality fair. The food truck upgrade from fair food to gourmet sandwiches, and fusion fair is part of the same larger changes that have inspired Taco Bell to offer a new set of menu options that more closely resemble upscale fast food burrito joints like Chipotle, Qdoba, and Moe's.

Chattanoogans have embraced their small-but-growing food truck scene, with set days and locations for when food trucks congregate to serve up lunch in the downtown business district. River City Company's Fresh on Fridays project is a seasonal food truck meeting day when "April – October, hungry downtown workers and visitors have the opportunity to sample culinary delights, fresh produce and more from local vendors on Fridays from 11am until 2pm in Miller Plaza." Another is Food Truck Thursdays at Warehouse Row, which has been a big part of promoting the growing business and revival of the once-struggling upscale shopping center. The Chattanooga Market on Sundays is also a great place to see the food truck scene come together.

For reviews of Chattanooga's many different food trucks, check out Chattavore's great coverage of Fresh on Fridays. Local Milk also has a lot of praise for the Chattanooga food truck scene, writing "Small and locally owned, often sourcing their products from local farms and artisans, they directly contribute to the local economy. A truck can be a way for people that lack the capital to open a full service restaurant to bring their talents and passion for food to the public in a financially viable way. But make no mistake, this isn’t some casual endeavor: these people, often with culinary training, are serious about food. They work hard. Really hard. Cooking food in a truck day after day isn’t easy, but it’s a labor of love. If you don’t believe me, go eat the food."

That is, in fact, the best possible way to get to know Chattanooga's great food trucks. Whether you hunt them down on Twitter or attend one of the events around town where they flock, you must seek out the following great mobile eateries:

Famous Nater's
Pure Soda Works
Monkey Town Donuts

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