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meals on wheels: local food truck scene keeps on rollin'


















It's hard to believe that it has been only three years since the first real food trucks rolled into town. A quick look around the Cleveland landscape reveals a mature food truck scene with countless rigs, events and stops along the way. Here's a heat check of what's hot, fresh and trending.
 
Walnut Wednesday
 
Step into the throng that is Walnut Wednesday and you become an eavesdropper whether you like it or not as lunchtime diners try to make the ultimate decision.
 
"Zydeco's andouille sausage Po' Boy, a Cubano from Jibaro, or a Sexy Mexi from MotorMouth? Hmm… "
 
"That decision's your problem. I'm off to Krav for the Korean BBQ pork and some of those fries with the chipotle mayo. That mayo rocks my face off."
 
"Hey man, are we in the line for Slanegwiches? We better be. I need my fried brussels sprouts. I need my King of Cleveland sammie. And I need it all now!"
 
"You silly meat-eater. I'll take the tofu kimchi from Touch Truck. And if they're sold out, I'll be fightin' the crowd to get one of those Magic Mushroom wraps over at Nosh Box."
 
"All I want is a Buckeye from the Cupcakery. Peanut butter butter cream frosting? That's not one, but TWO butters in one cupcake!"
 
With 33 different trucks that appear on a rotating basis, Walnut Wednesday is ensconced as downtown's premiere food truck event. It takes place every week from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. near the intersection of Walnut Avenue and E. 12th Street. Judging from the unmistakable energy of the crowd, this town is ready to belly up for even more eats in the streets.
 
More Days in the Week
 
While Walnut Wednesday is the highlight of the downtown food truck scene, it is by no means the only game in town. This year, two Cleveland landmark locales hope to get in on the action with their own midday nosh stops.
 
Lunch on the Lake is slated to kick off at North Coast Harbor on June 6. Lisa Krieger, Director of Events for Downtown Cleveland Alliance, reports that all the vendors approved for the Walnut line-up have expressed interest in the Thursday event. "It'll be food trucks, music and a beautiful view of the lake," says Krieger.
 
Midday in MidTown also is getting tastier courtesy of a new food truck round-up that launched earlier this month. "We're calling it 'The Chomp,'" says Diane Dunleavy, director of marketing at MidTown Cleveland. Every Tuesday from now through September, a handful of trucks will line E. 46th Street between Prospect and Euclid.
 
That same locale will host "The Pour," a weekly after-work bash with cocktails, food trucks and the open sky. These breezy weekly meet-ups take place from 4 and 8 p.m. on the last Thursday of the month between May 30 and the end of September. Check MidTown Cleveland's Facebook page for line-ups.
 
Can't wait for the last Thursday of the month? Check out Pop Up Party at the Plaza, another after-work fling featuring food trucks and potent potables that hits the streets third Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. Find them at Perk Plaza on Chester Commons through August.
 
Other downtown street-eats affairs include Food Truck Friday, which returns this year to Willard Park (look for the giant Free Stamp) and runs from June through October. You're also likely to run into a food truck or two at the Downtown Farmers Market, held on Fridays at Public Square starting June 7. "I like farmers markets because you get a lot of different people and it's not as hectic," says Jae Stulock, proprietor of Umami Moto. "We form a relationship with our customers that way." You can often find him there peddling his ever-popular pot stickers, Korean burritos and summery fish tacos.
 
Eats in the streets from West to East
 
Donuts!
 
All the action isn't confined to parts downtown: After all, the best thing about a food truck is that it's mobile. For starters (literally), find the Donut Lab on Saturday mornings at the North Union Farmers Market on Shaker Square. "You can watch them being made -- and what you eat was just frying when you ordered it," says owner Matt West from inside his diminutive rig. "I originally thought it was a kid thing, but it's really for all ages. Everybody smiles." West-siders can share the donut love at the Crocker Park farmers market, at which West makes occasional stops. With donut delights like strawberry shortcake, a maple cream cheese concoction, and a banana-cinnamon whipped cream offering, few can resist the Donut Lab.

Tacos!
 
Fired up Taco hits all parts of town, but you can count on them to serve up their classic empanadas, tacos and nachos each Tuesday at the Lakewood Mini Mart. "It was one of our first stops and we've been there ever since," says chef Brian Finks. "It's one of our favorite spots."
 
Soul Food!
 
Get your fill of smothered pork chops with a side of green beans and rice at Luke Easter Park, where Angie's Soul Café makes occasional pit stops. Feel free to order extra gravy, just don't ask what makes the fried chicken extra soulful. "I can't disclose that information," says the truck's frontman Mr. Byrd. "There are many secrets in cooking."
 
Curry Chips!
 
To snag a bag of the strEat Mobile Bistro's addictive curry-dusted potato chips, check out its website to try and pin it down. Though Izzy Schachner's big rig is a frequent participant of Walnut Wednesday, it makes stops east, west and all over. "We love downtown Cleveland a lot," says the owner. "In the suburbs we've had a lot of fun going to places like Beachwood and different stops around there. We've had a good time in Westlake." Look for Schachner to open a bricks-and-mortar resto strEat Burger later this year in Lakewood.
 
Food You Can Grow

Where food trucks go, other good things often bloom nearby. For instance, you can pick up bouquets of sunflowers, pots of herbs or -- they can't come soon enough -- tomato seedlings at the Community Supported Agriculture stand (supported via Solutions at Work) at Walnut Wednesday. All the plants are grown locally through a county work program for the disabled.

Keepin' it Clean and Safe
 
Another welcome sight are DCA's Safety Ambassadors, who often patrol the food truck scenes on foot and bike. "People love to be outside," says ambassador Juanita Williams, scanning the Walnut Wednesday crowd. "They love the freedom and, of course, they love the food. They're having fun and they're loving Cleveland."


Photos Bob Perkoski
Mr. Byrd Photo Erin O'Brien


Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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