Loaded Up and Truckin’ – at Oskar Blues’ REEB Ranch.
Yeah, Man! More food judgin’! Nom nom nom , judge judge judge! I frickin’ love food fest season! I recently received an invite and two judge’s tickets to attend the “Loaded Up and Truckin’ Food Truck Throwdown and Aural Pleasure Festival” on April 16th, out at Oskar Blues Brewing’s “REEB Ranch,” in beautiful Hendersonville, North Carolina, and boy was it fun!
I needed a ride and an eating companion who would enjoy the experience, and perhaps have a motivation beyond simply eating some free grub. I thought of my friend Stephan from Dig Local Asheville, because he’s always got a great attitude, he works for a company that seeks to establish relationships with indie business people (like food truck owners), aaand he likes to eat.
Sure enough, when I texted him,, he said yes, adding, “I’m always down to support the local guys. And I can eat my weight in 4 hours so this oughtta be real fun!”
Every food competition is judged differently. At this one there were 200 Judge’s Tickets sold in advance. Each judge got a spiffy lanyard with the logos of all 19 Competitor’s food trucks printed on it. When Stephan and I showed our lanyards to each food truck, they punched a hole in it, and gave us a sample that was specifically for the 200 judges.
After sampling 19 “bites,” judges voted for their #1 favorite truck by placing a ticket into a can with that truck’s logo on it. Simple as a pimple.
Here’s me and Stephan before and after eating 19 samples, some of which were entire meals in and of themselves.
Being truly committed to our work, Stephan and I packed-away all 19 samples from all 19 food trucks. In truth, I couldn’t make it through every bite of every plate, and had to share some of my samps with food writer, J-Dawg Ammons toward the very end. Stephan on the other hand was a super-trooper, and powered through like a human horde of locusts. To my credit, I did eat a non-mandatory ice cream sandwich from Sunshine Sammies that kind made up for the 1/2 plate of pulled pork and several bites of soft pretzel that I couldn’t squeeze in. Also, I am only about1/2 the size of a normal human being, so give me a break. I did pretty dang good! Stephan and I were definitely among the first to finish this eating marathon, it took us about 3 1/2 hours, then we cast our votes…
So, who won?
Well, the competitors were:
Oskar Blues CHUBwagon
Amazing Pizza Co.
Appalachian Chic Food Truck
Blue Smoke BBQ
Smash Box Mobile Kitchen
Melt Your Heart
The Real Food Truck
Farm To Fender
Root Down food truck
Grateful Roots Food Truck
Doc Brown’s BBQ
Chameleon Catering and Mobile Food Co.
Underground Baking Co.
Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine
Taste & See Food Truck
Of those entrants, the 200 judges chose one winner:
VOTED #1 WINNER! Chicken & waffle bite by Smash Box Mobile Kitchen! Whoop whoop! Congrats to them, it was really fucking good, and they totally deserve the win!
As a judge, and a professional eater, I am totally 100% Okay with those results. Congrats to Smash Box, they totally earned the win, as did Blue Smoke and Root Down.
Before I heard the official results, I posted my own personal TOP FIVE on FaceBook. They were:
#5: Deep fried oyster bite from Root Down food truck (pictured at the top of this post)
#4: Chicken and waffle bite from Smash Box Mobile Kitchen (pictured above)
#3: Deconstructed grilled cheese sandwich from Melt Your Heart (below)
#2: Arepa from Latino Heat (below)
And my number one dish all day: Miniature pork belly taco from Blue Smoke BBQ! (below) The pork belly was cooked perfectly, and the flavors were amazing.
Stephan and I talked about food for the entire 40 minute ride to the festival, and when he said that the best pork belly he’d ever had was from Storm Rhum Bar and Bistro, I asked him, “What made it the best ever?” I know what my own answer to that question would be, and it turns out Stephan’s answer was comprised if the same two words as mine: “It melted.” The best pork belly I’ve ever had was at the now defunct Seven Sows Restaurant in downtown, Asheville. It also melted. Literally. It melted into the grits it was on top of, and then it further melted in my mouth.
Pork belly can be so nasty, like eating a chunk of rubbery gristle attached to a layer of football-skin. Ideally, when one bites into pork belly, one wants to meet very little resistance on the way through, like a shark biting through a baby seal. What? Too graphic? Hey, it’s the belly of a pig. It’s pretty graphic stuff to begin with, but you’re right, the eater kinda doesn’t wanna think about stuff like that, so the less gnawing of flesh and fat we have to do to work our way trough a chunk of pork belly, the better. The piece of pork belly on Blue Smoke’s mini taco was perfect. My teeth went through it like butter, and I didn’t hear one imaginary “oink,” to remind me of what I was eating. The flavor was smoky and porky, without being over the top in either department, and the creamy sauce, crunchy pickled stuff, and fresh greens were perfect!
There were one or two offerings of not-so-great food among the bunch. We got a plastic cup of pasta salad from Grateful Roots that was very mom-packed-my-lunch-today, and The Amazing Pizza Company really has to figure out a better way to compete in these things. It’s not like their pizza is fucking horrible or anything, but c’mon, you ain’t never gonna win a dang competition if you’re just serving a sliver of regular ol’ pizza. Maybe winning doesn’t matter to you, APC and that’s fine, you’re a trooper just for showing up.
In addition to the food trucks, there was a bunch of live music, and camping-out, and stuff that went on all day and night. The headlining band was called Shovels and Rope, but Stephan and I were long gone before they took the stage. Are you kidding, I was home, on my couch, in a state of semi-consciousness by 6pm. It’s a beautiful spot out there, for real, but I’ll leave the camping and live music to people who enjoy that stuff more than me.
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.