Sloan Column: Sunny skies and good eats by the creek
The day was gorgeous, simply gorgeous – sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70s. The beautiful weather was a most welcome change from the cold and rain that had cast a gloom over the first few weeks of February. Maybe that prognosticating porcupine wannabe from Punxsutawney and his shadow had gotten it all wrong this year. Maybe spring was not six long weeks away. Maybe, just maybe, the glorious weather was here to stay. It seemed like a few hump day hallelujahs were in order.
Figuring out my lunch plans last Wednesday did not take long. Numerous times I had motored down West Palmetto and passed the food trucks parked across from the Sonic Drive-in. Not once had I stopped, but that was about to change. It was the perfect day to check out Eats On The Creek, Florence’s new food truck park.
Despite the restrictions and additional safety precautions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the park opened in mid-December. It’s owned by a couple of young entrepreneurs, Jake and Max Holcombe. Jake, 25, and Max, 22, saw creating the park as a means to put family property to good use and to help the local community during a time when restaurants could offer only limited seating and many people were understandably fearful of large crowds and confined spaces. The park would offer a safe alternative.
Max had gone to school at USC, so he was no doubt familiar with the fleet of food trucks that converged daily on downtown Columbia. Jake had opted for Clemson and the Upstate, so he knew of the public’s growing fascination with food trucks in nearby Greenville. Maybe, the brothers thought, this was something they could bring to Florence.
And so they went to work. In early 2020 they acquired the necessary permits and licenses from the city and readied the land for construction. They added lighting, constructed a small building to house bathroom facilities and a large covered eating area that would accommodate a dozen or so picnic tables. They created eight vendors sites, each with its own electricity hook-up. The finishing touch was a large red and green sign pointing the way to the park, named after nearby Jeffries Creek.
As I arrived it was instantly apparent that many others were like-minded, wanting to soak in a little sunshine on their lunch hour. I counted 75 vehicles as I drove around the crowded parking area, and that doesn’t count the ones parked on the side of the road. The lines leading up the windows of the three food trucks - PiggyBacks BBQ and Catfish, Baby Sue’s Fries and Wings, and Sunshine’s Sweet Creations - were considerable.
After waiting patiently in line for 10 minutes or so, I decided to go with a half-pound BBQ sandwich and fries. I chose to eat by my truck and catch a few rays rather than sitting at a table under the shelter.
The food was great and the weather was nothing short of magnificent. As lunch hours go, this one was stellar.
Florence, in my humble opinion, is lucky to have a food truck park. I’m hoping it will grow and we’ll see more and more food trucks roll into town, and not just for the semi-annual Carolina Food Truck Rodeo at the Florence Center, which happens to be scheduled for May 7-8 this year.
If you’re thinking that food trucks are literally fast food on wheels, you better think again. Yes, you will find your standard fast food fare – burgers and dogs, fries, BBQ sandwiches, and tacos. Yes, you’ve got your carnival offering, like funnel cakes and chocolate covered bananas. Some food truck offerings, however, are quite unique and downright extravagant. Earlier this month the Lobster Dogs food truck parked outside the Straw Hat Distillery. The truck’s menu includes lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls as well as stuffed avocados. Food truck menus can be quite eclectic, not to mention delicious. Anyone who has visited food trucks in larger cities like Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Greenville will tell you the same.
A few years back I visited Portland, Oregon and was amazed by the city’s food truck pod on Adler Street. Each day there are some 60 to 70 trucks with food ranging from Thai to German and Mexican to Italian. I ate lunch from a truck the entire week I was there and returned home with a heavier, but very happy tummy.
The Holcombes were elated to see the big crowd down by the creek on Wednesday. Their park has met with decent success during its first couple of months, but the brothers won’t be able to truly gauge how well it’s received by Florentines until the weather warms up.
If last Wednesday was any indication, the future is looking pretty yummy.