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Behind the scenes with a food truck operator

Forget indoor dining and drive-throughs. There's a food truck movement speeding through the Tampa Bay area. Foodies and casual diners alike are embracing the ideas of gourmet grub served roadside. A sign of the craze: The second Tampa food truck rally is scheduled for Saturday in Seminole Heights, where rumbling stomachs can find several of the mobile restaurants parked together for the day. It comes after thousands munched on lunch at last month's food truck gathering in Hyde Park. Bryan Goodell, 40, owns Wicked 'Wiches, a traveling sandwich stop that puts an eccentric twist on handheld meals. He dished some industry secrets after the always-hungry Times staff writer Stephanie Wang asked him what's cooking behind the scenes of this hot trend in Tampa.

What does the inside of a food truck look like?

It's as if you just took the kitchen out of a restaurant and just put it into a truck. We have a stove, an oven, an upright cooler, a char grill to put steaks on, a griddle for cooking eggs, a fryer for fries. There's a three-compartment sink and a hand sink. It's all just packed into the space, 18 feet long.

Do you ever bump into each other while working inside?

All the time. That's what makes it fun.

When we did the food truck rally a couple of weeks ago, the temperature inside the truck was about 115 degrees. So it's like a Slip 'n Slide in there. You drink a lot of water.

Is it hard to cook food in such a small space?

Wicked 'Wiches has a commissary. It's just easier for us, it lets us be creative. What's really set us apart recently is coming up with crazy cool twists on things that we like to play with in our kitchen before we bring them on the truck. It's air-conditioned, more relaxed, easier. We use our trucks more for our assembly. We do cook our Moroccan and Turducken slider on board.

What are some misconceptions people have about food trucks?

One: "Is this the Taco Bus?" Every time! I don't know what that guy's doing, but he's like the kingpin of food in Tampa right now.

The second would just be that people are not quite sure what to make of it yet. "Roach coach" is the first thing that comes to someone's mind — even though food trucks right now are prestigious restaurants that offer gourmet fare at very affordable prices. It's the idea of the food trucks of our parents that have lingered.

We're actually inspected a lot more frequently than a restaurant. We typically get boarded just about every stop or event that we do. We welcome the health department to come on board, because the more that they do that, the more they instill confidence in people.

Have you tried any cool foods that haven't worked as well as you thought?

We just did one for Eat Street, this Italian cupcake. We took all these meats, and we stuffed them inside our fresh-made dough and let it rise in a jumbo cupcake pan. It's really good, but with a cupcake, you think sweet and delicious. Somehow, with meat and flavors, it just isn't as sexy anymore.

We're still trying to perfect it. We've taken a huge meatball now and placed that in the center of the cupcake and let the bread poof around it. I think it's "cupcake" that throws people.

How do you decide where to park?

We'd love to be able to open up our windows on any given city street, away from brick-and-mortar restaurants. We have our own little niche: Some people have to drive off the property and look for lunch, yet still be back at their desks within 30 minutes. So we like to be where it's not easily accessible for people to get a good lunch at an affordable price.

What is it that makes food from a truck taste so good?

It comes down to one word, and that's the experience. There's something magical about it. When you walk up to these big trucks, and someone looks down at you and says, "What can I serve you hot?" It's literally inches away from you already. It comes on this cool paper tray. And then you just eat it and walk away.

The food tastes better because we work hard to bring food to you. We're not sitting back waiting for you to pull into our parking lot and come in. We have to find you. And if we're not the best at what we're trying to do, people will be turned off by it.

This fad may not be a fad forever, but it will become an integral part of the way we dine. It's going to become this alternative outing that people will do, like bowling night.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

.if you go

Rolling out flavors

The second Tampa food truck rally will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Christ Fellowship of Tampa, 300 E Sligh Ave. For more information, visit tasting

tampa.com.

To find where the Wicked 'Wiches food truck is parked, go to facebook.com/WickedWichesTampa or follow @Wicked_Wiches on Twitter.

Behind the scenes with a food truck operator 10/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 4:11pm]
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