Last week I braved the July sun and checked out the Go Texan food truck competition at the Cowtown Chow Down food truck park (1100 N. Main St.). The event was sponsored by the Texas Department of Agriculture to celebrate “Dine Out Week” in Texas, and each competitor offered dishes featuring ingredients from Texas. After baking on the asphalt during the hottest day so far this summer, I felt more like celebrating heat stroke awareness week.
I was lured by the chance to check out a new food truck park as well as the prospect of free samples from the cook-off contestants. (I’m a sucker for a free sample — just ask the staff at Central Market.) A panel of judges sat munching under a canopy, and I was among the small but enthusiastic crowd watching the goings-on and listening as the chefs explained their dishes. Not only did the judges get a canopy, they got their free samples before the rest of us, as was only right. But I didn’t feel like stewing in the sun waiting for them to finish so we could nosh. Instead, I went and explored the trucks on my own.
My first stop was Wayne’s Flame BBQ truck, which wasn’t actually involved in the competition. Wayne’s is all about low-and-slow, wood-smoked barbecue. On the cashier’s recommendation, I went for the brisket nachos ($5). The shredded brisket itself was superb, boasting a smoky-sweet flavor. My complaints had to do with the nacho part of the equation: The chips were so bland they might have been taken straight from a movie theater concession stand, and the cheese wasn’t real.
Next up was the Chile Pepper Grill, an authentic Mexican-food truck. It had its share of service issues: Several people came back to the window to complain about slow service or that their orders were wrong. I didn’t experience any such issues, and, to be fair, the kitchen was busy cranking out food for the judges while serving the chile-hungry throngs. What CPG lacked in polished service it more than made up for in excellent food. I opted for the huarache ($6), a generously portioned concoction that looked like a cross between a torta and a pizza slice, with barbacoa, refried beans, white cheese, onions, sour cream, and cilantro sitting atop fried corn masa, which was so flaky and delicious it was like eating pastry crust. I ate half and gave the rest to a hungry-looking kid (with his parent’s permission). I had to conserve my strength and stomach capacity.
On to Holy Frijole, which is normally stationed behind The Usual on Magnolia Avenue. Despite not being at all hungry, I gorged on the delicious fried crab cakes ($6.50), served with capers and a black olive remoulade — on an actual china plate, with real flatware. The tasty cakes were a harbinger of the sophistication that followed: the flor de calabaza (zucchini blossom quesadilla), a delicate, buttery ephemeral treat stuffed with queso blanco and served with sour cream and a zesty green salsa.
Nearly dead from heat and bloat, I staggered toward my final stop, the Snowball Corral, where I sampled the light and refreshing Texas strawberry frescanade ($2 for a medium), a gourmet snow cone with real strawberry-infused ice served with a candy straw.
I left before the judges finished eating, so I got neither a vote nor samples of several trucks’ offerings. The Snowball Corral won the competition, followed by the Chile Pepper Grill. The audience favorite was Sassy Hot Dogs, which I’ve reviewed in the past and really enjoyed. My personal favorite was Holy Frijole, though I didn’t get a chance to try Auntie M’s Sweet Stop or the World Tour food truck. Good Karma Kitchen also competed; I’ve reviewed it before and liked it quite a bit.
I regret not staying until the end of the culinary sweat-lodge tour, but I was withering. I’m not sure why the event wasn’t held in the evening or why there was only one misting fan. I’m hoping that everything gets ironed out next year. The park itself has a lot of potential, and I’ll be back … sometime in, say, October, after sunset.
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