Jun 01, 2016
The proliferation of food trucks in Lexington and Louisville proves we love restaurant-quality grub brought where there’s no food at all. This isn’t a local phenomenon, of course. According to an NCR Corp. study, U.S. food trucks rang up an estimated $650 million in sales in 2014—a number predicted to swell to $2.7 billion in 2019.
Accomplished cooks and restaurant chefs are running these operations and serving an astonishing variety of cutting-edge chow that’s priced affordably and prepared fresh. Bluegrass folks are treated to trucks serving sushi, lobster rolls, barbecue, gyros, spicy fried chicken, premium ice cream, breakfast burritos and infinitely more.
Max Balliet, owner of the Holy Molé Taco Truck in Louisville, credits some of the food truck craze to popular culture.
“People want to be part of a food trend, especially when they see it on a national level,” Balliet says. But mostly they like it because “it takes the kitchen where there’s not a kitchen and takes food where it wasn’t before.”
Such as street corners, parking lots, festivals, college and office campuses—wherever such vendors can find hungry customers. And as the number of food trucks has grown—Louisville and Lexington each have at least 30 each—the more those vendors are gathering at single locations and providing a rolling food court.
502 Café is one of a handful of food vendors serving at Louisville’s Flea Off Market, a monthly open-air bizarre near the city’s NuLu neighborhood. Its barbecue truck also served alongside several others at the city’s Louder than Life heavy metal music festival in 2015.
“We had a 60-deep line for 10 hours straight,” says veteran restaurant chef and co-owner Chris Williams, who loves meeting customers. “They get to talk to the owner and get to know the guy who has true passion for the food.”
Louisville Dessert Truck owner Leah Stewart says that interaction allows fans to provide feedback on new items she sells. Unlike a restaurant, “where they ask if you liked your meal and you just smile and say it was fine, when they like it, they’ll rave. But if they don’t, you’ll get some constructive feedback.”
David Carroll, owner of Red State Barbecue truck in Lexington, says truck customers get one-off items that aren’t provided in his brick-and-mortar store in Georgetown.
“The truck lets us indulge our creative side,” he says. “We do things like our brisket melt, our take on a patty melt, and our brisket Philly, which we could not do in the store because of the volume of other items.”
Stewart admits that the lone challenge for food truck fans is locating their favorites on any given day. While many trucks park on streets at regular locations and times, others leave the streets to serve at private functions.
“My advice for finding trucks is to follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and use their websites,” Stewart says. Louisville’s Food Truck Association group page lists members, but not daily locations. “There are at least three Monday-through-Friday locations in the city: 5th and Market streets, the Humana Waterside building, around back, and near the (University of Louisville) medical center campus downtown along Preston St.,” she says.
Carroll says Food Truck Fridays in Lexington are great times to find a corral of several brands. Food Truck Friday lunches are held at the 5/3 Pavilion at Cheapside St.; dinners at the former Lexington Herald-Leader building at Main and Midland streets.
“Other than that, I’d check the Distillery District (on Manchester Rd.) and the breweries,” Carroll says. “There’s always a truck at a brewery.”
For a list of Lexington food trucks, click here.
For lists of Louisville food trucks, click here and here.
Stephen Coomes, 2016