Three men stand in the parking lot of the Adrienne Arsht Center. They are dressed in full mariachi garb, boast walrus-like upper-lip pubes thick enough for the Mega Manly Mustache Club, and are painted, sombrero to toe, in the three colors of the Mexican flag. One is red, the other white, and the third green.
"The strangest thing I've ever eaten was a taco filled with horse meat," says Señor Verde, a tall, thin hombre with two stray dark hairs popping out of his otherwise green 'stache. "And I knew it was horse because I saw the skeleton behind the restaurant."
"I've eaten dog before," says Sr. Rojo, who's shorter and squatter then his cilantro-hued friend.
Fall for the Arts
I give him a blank stare.
"What? He was dead before I ate him."
The maraca-loving road-kill crew is here among a flurry of white tents, funky-sandaled hipsters, and one spooky-looking clown for the first annual Fall for the Arts Festival. A hundred or so other vendors, local culture houses, and sundry do-gooders have gathered to talk art. And thanks to Sef Gonzalez, founder of burgerbeast.com, the gathering also includes a caravan of upscale, downscale, and, um, middle-scale food trucks.
The food on wheels is the real Big Mac of this event. About a dozen are lined up like a heart-attack parade along NE 13th Street as masses of foodies stand in lines to sample eats from places such as Michael's Genuine Food & Drink Cart (a mobile offshoot of the James Beard-winning restaurant), Latin Burger & Taco, and Sakaya Kitchen's Dim Ssäm à Gogo.
The fare is much different from the grub that Jose, a hefty 29-year-old, gobbled up the last time a major hurricane blew through town. "When Wilma hit a few years back, I ended up eating some really weird stuff," he says while waiting for some short-rib sliders from gastroPod's silver bullet of a trailer. "We didn't think the storm was going to hit as hard as it did, so we pretty much ate what we had bought that first night. I remember, during the third day without any electricity, eating Fruit Roll-Ups, raw ramen noodles, and a can of black olives because I got so hungry."
He wipes away some sweat and adds, "American [cheese] singles with Frosted Flakes! That was another meal made out of desperation, but it actually turned out really good. I swear! I still eat it today!"
Nearby is Jefe's Original Fish Taco & Burger, a large orange delivery truck with a bright, cartoonish logo. Waiting at the end of the line, and in good spirits, are Elena and Stephanie. Both are in their mid-20s. They are Latina, have long jet-black hair, and wear spaghetti-strap tank tops and jeans.
"There was this guy in one of my classes in high school who had really bad breath," says Elena, squinting her hazel eyes. "And one day during lunch, I found out why. He ate a whole onion like it was an apple every day for lunch."
Stephanie, the more pear-shaped of the pair, butts in: "The kids and I in my neighborhood would play this really evil game called secret chef. We'd blindfold one kid, and everyone else would make a meal. No matter what it was, that person had to eat it. The people we liked would get things like ice-cream sundaes and ham-and-cheese sandwiches. But for the people we didn't like... I just remember putting sardines on top of dog food and topping it with whipped cream."
"And then we served it to my little sister."
In a nearby tent, the burgermeister himself, Sef Gonzalez, cools his gams in front of a portable fan while followers swap compliments for free burgerbeast.com pins. Among the Sef-lovers is Alan Posner: a boisterous, tan, and bearded insurance salesman with a quick smile. "I was in a sushi restaurant in Boca Raton," he says, "and I said to the waiter: 'Give us some food that Americans won't eat.'"
The server delivered something called a sea squirt. "Apparently, it was some kind of predatory rock-inking animal. It was very, very hard to give way once we bit into it, and when we did, it squirted this briny, disgusting, vile liquid into our mouths, and we were unable to eat it... and apparently, neither can Koreans."
Then Olivia catches my eye. The dark-skinned and sharp-featured 25-year-old is wearing a polka-dotted navy blue sundress and what looks like the fedora version of Blossom's hat. She's standing in line for West Palm Beach's rock 'n' roll-themed truck, the Rolling Stove.
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Just like Jose, she once ate something out of pure starvation. "I was backpacking through Europe and I was leaving Rome to go to Nice, and there was all this confusion about the train. I eventually found out there was a bomb threat, and [the train] was canceled. But it took me almost an entire day of waiting in lines at the station to figure that out, so when I finally found another train, I realized I hadn't eaten all day.
"Then I heard the bell of one of those food cart people. All he had were two types of sandwiches: one that was supposed to be lobster salad, and was fluorescent orange, and a mushroom sandwich. I went for the mushroom. Big mistake. The mushrooms literally tasted like..."
She pauses and looks up at the gray clouds rolling in. "Like Satan had taken a dump in Hell and mushrooms had sprouted from it... and those are what they used to make this sandwich."
Wow. Never thought a horse meat taco could sound more appealing than mushrooms.