By Donald Wittkowski
Louise and Bob Schaeffer started their lunch with a roasted chicken pita and two Bud Lights to wash it down with.
Halfway through the chicken pita, they were already thinking of dessert. And maybe a bit more.
“Next, we’ll probably have some waffles. Then we’ll keep looking to see what else is out there,” Louise Schaeffer said as her husband nodded his head in agreement.
The Schaeffers, of Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., took a ride down the Garden State Parkway on Saturday to Sea Isle City for what is billed as one of the top events of its kind in the country.
The Sea Isle Food Truck Festival, a three-day culinary extravaganza that wraps up Sunday, is expected to draw about 10,000 hungry people over the weekend, organizers say.
Denis Brown, who organizes the event with his fiancee Liz Hargett, said the travel website vacationidea.com has ranked Sea Isle in the top 10 for food truck festivals in the entire country.
“Sea Isle’s got the beach. It’s a really cool place for bars and entertainment. And it has the food. You can do a little of everything,” Brown said.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio admitted being a little skeptical a few years ago when Brown and Hargett first approached him with the idea of having food trucks as the centerpiece of a major tourist attraction.
“When Liz and Denis told me that I said, ‘Food trucks?’” Desiderio recalled. “I didn’t know then that by bringing food trucks here it would be a way to draw people.”
Now, Desiderio knows as well as anyone just how big an attraction food trucks can be. The festival is held on the grounds of Kix-McNutley’s, the entertainment and nightclub complex on 63rd Street and Landis Avenue owned by Desiderio.
“Now I’m aware just how many people will come to see the food trucks,” the mayor said.
The festival has expanded into both a summertime and fall event. This is the second year it has been held in June. When it rolls into town again in September, it will be the third year for that month.
After a stormy Friday, Saturday’s sun-splashed weather was, in food terms, the icing on the cake for the festival. Brown estimated that 2,500 people showed up for lunch Saturday. The festival will run from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
In all, a fleet of 15 food trucks made sure everyone was well-fed on Saturday. The festival also featured 16 vendors selling crafts, souvenirs, T-shirts, jewelry and other goods under tents.
Sea Isle is now part of the nation’s food-truck phenomenon, an explosion of mobile restaurants that serve the masses with everything from hotdogs to haute cuisine.
Even the names of some of the trucks in Sea Isle were enough to induce hunger. The Tasty Trolley, Eata Pita, Zinna’s Mobile Bistro, Yum Yum Wagon and Chicken Wings & Things were among those attracting the crowds.
Mike Cappello, manager of The Tasty Trolley, said cheese steaks were a big seller at his truck. He expected to serve about 1,000 customers on Saturday.
“If we get a thousand, that will be our goal,” Cappello said.
The Yum Yum Wagon featured a sandwich that creatively blended an old-fashioned summer staple with a sweet treat – a burger on a glazed doughnut. You could get it loaded up with bacon, onions and cheese for $10.
“It’s different. People come out and are always looking for something different,” Nicole Steelman, co-owner of the Yum Yum Wagon with her husband, Matthew, said of the burger-glazed doughnut concoction.
Nicole Marion, of Elysburg, Pa., saw the burger-glazed doughnut on the menu and thought to herself, “I have to try that.”
“It’s really good,” she said. “It’s sweet and salty.”
Marion, who is staying at the Ocean View campground, discovered the Sea Isle Food Truck Festival during the first day of her weeklong vacation at the shore.
“I think it’s neat,” she said “It’s a nice atmosphere. There’s really good food here. There’s everything you want. It’s the shore, after all.”