Lines formed at take-out windows of almost 40 food trucks that filled a vacant lot in the Channel District for the first Food Truck Wars on Saturday.
Thousands of people came to bite into lobster rolls, jerk chicken sandwiches, gator tacos, chowders, spuds, Thai rolls, Mama Guava cupcakes and seafood delights.
Fish, tacos and steamed dumplings were the first dishes for Bradenton residents Michael Hart and Keyshia Orlena. But a simple grilled cheese sandwich with pork was the early favorite.
"It was an interesting combination; something new and creative," said Hart.
The trucks lined up outside the Grand Central on Kennedy complex from 4 to 10 p.m. A panel of local chefs sampled the best dishes of food truck chefs from around the state to single out winners in a culinary chef off, the largest single food item, awesome dessert, people's choice and top sales.
The event was sponsored in part by the TECO Line Streetcar System which celebrated its 10th anniversary Saturday by offering 10-cent fares all day, including rides to the nearby Channelside station.
The Sunset Optimist Club and Wesley Chapel Optimist Club raised money for their charitable causes, including youth scholarships, by selling beer and wine and holding prize drawings.
Orlando-based Food Truck Crazy staged the event.
Two prior food truck wars drew more than 20,000 and 30,000 people in Altamonte Springs and Oviedo, respectively, said company President Lizz Otts. It isn't hard to understand the popularity, she said.
"Everybody loves food," she said. "This is very similar to a block party."
Trucks for Saturday's "war" came from the Tampa area but also from Miami and Tallahassee.
Lutz resident Donna Floyd of Big Momma Donna's BBQ Sauce was selling her specialty, blueberry barbecue sauce – hot and mild. "We started out with friends liking it," she said. Now she and her husband are regulars at fresh markets at Ybor City, Tampa and Safety Harbor.
Darren and Laura Geraghty left with a bottle. "It's amazing," said Laura Geraghty, who liked the sweetness mixed with a tart barbecue kicker.
Mary Ann Olson, a fan of food trucks, was visiting from Minneapolis. Her son-in-law sells lobster rolls in that city from his Smack Shack food truck. It is a growing trend that is good for the economy, she said.
"It's about time the small independent person doesn't have to pay astronomical prices for square footage of space," Olson said. "They can feel good about working for themselves."