Palm Beach Zoo's First Food Truck Safari Was a Wild Success

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Pizza and donuts and falafel, oh my! This past Saturday night, Food Truck Connection teamed up with the Palm Beach Zoo for the first Food Truck Safari. The event combined two things we all love: delicious food and cute animals. And while the furry creatures were more of a spectator sport, attendees got to dive headfirst into a variety of food options from some of South Florida's finest mobile offerings.

Smashing food trucks and the zoo together made for an unexpected combination that led to a huge crowd coming out to see what all the fuss was about. We wondered what made the zoo want to dip its toe in the rising food truck waters. Andrea in the marketing department told us:

"We saw that food truck events were popping up all over South Florida, so we decided to mix food lovers with animal lovers," Andrea said, though she explained there was more to it than just a good time. She pointed out that this event aligned with the zoo's bigger message. "We think food trucks have a very good conservation message because most of them use generators and sustainable palm oil. It's not just that we want to bring people in to serve food; there is a big conservation lesson here."

The zoo saw a melting pot of attendees for the event with families and groups of friends that were on the hunt for something different to do on a Saturday night perusing the zoo and the trucks. Because of the added "weirdness," this combination event brought out what can only be described as a massive crowd.

Trucks were scattered throughout the zoo, so attendees got their fill of food and a good look at the Komodo dragon, tigers, monkeys, and more. Plus, the event was such a hit that the long lines meant you definitely wanted something else to do while your friend waited for a gyro platter at the Mediterranean Grill truck.

A good lap around the zoo got your hunger going, which made it hard to wait in the massive Crazydilla line. Crazydilla Food Truck turns classic sandwiches into new-age quesadillas. It's a fantastic concept, with everything from meatball subs to chicken cordon blue being re-created in a cheesy tortilla fashion.

Kelly Shwiner didn't seem to mind the line; her passion for Crazydilla was so noticeable, you'd have thought she worked there. A self proclaimed "food truck-aholic," Shwiner is a big fan because "the food is always well worth the money." She should know, since she goes to at least one food truck event a week. She said this inaugural event of the Food Trucks Safari ranked an eight out of ten easily. Not bad for a first attempt.

Slowly but surely, Crazydilla was running out of food, having to turn over sign after sign on the truck and breaking starving hearts in the process. David, who was in the truck dealing with the hungry mob, told us, "The rain threw us off; we thought it was going to be a horrible day."

Horrible it was not, and the crew was lucky enough to grab a Cubadilla and Reubadilla before their signs were flipped as well. Delicious, cheesy, melty goodness plus excellent homemade dipping sauces made these bad boys well worth the wait.

Next up was Bea's Heavenly Wings, a truck that is new to the scene, frying up the good stuff for just seven months. Owner Troy McCray is following in the footsteps of his cousin Derrick McCray, owner of Palm Beach County's legendary McCray's BarBQ. Troy has never owned a restaurant before.

"I just retired from the Sheriff's Department, and the name Bea's Heavenly Wings is derived from my mother, who passed two years ago." Heavenly is not an understatement, and Troy says his tasty, plump fried wings have "flavor and class." They get an extra boost of both with a variety of sauces including mango Hawaiian, garlic, and teriyaki. "The food truck industry is a wonderful thing. Everyone needs to come out and participate and help make it a big thing."

Throughout the zoo, you could hear not only animal calls but a rumbling of happy patrons spreading the word about the awesome food they had at Hot Wheels Pizza. Terry Keebler and Vinny DeSantis own this Italian food mobile machine that cooks up everything homemade and on-site using Vinny's grandmother's recipes.

Since they went live in January, Keebler has watched the food truck scene grow stronger. When asked if this is the craziest place they have ever served, she was quick to deny. "The weirdest place we ever served was an old-school biker rodeo outside of Tampa in a cow pasture." But that's not to say she didn't have an absolute blast at the Food Truck Safari. "I would come back here in a heartbeat; we loved it here. Everyone was wonderful, the staff was above and beyond, and the patrons were just a blast and they were patient and they were very complementary, and it was just a beautiful, wonderful event."

Also on hand dispensing its finest culinary offerings was Churrasco Grill, and the necessary sweets were provided by DOugh DOugh Donuts and Paradise Shave Ice. The best part of this event was watching how wildly successful it was for every single vendor, and of course the zoo, which opened up its gates and took a chance only to discover a new audience of happy and full patrons.

Worried that you missed out on an outstanding night of food and animal gazing? No need; the Food Truck Safari was so successful, the zoo hopes to make it a monthly event, and there seems to already be one in the works for August.

Every vendor we talked to raved about the event and said they would love to come back, only with more food next time to tame the hungry crowd, and no, we aren't talking about the tigers.

The Palm Beach Zoo is located at 1301 Summit Blvd. in West Palm Beach. Call 561-533-0887, or visit palmbeachzoo.org.

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