Warm weather and food trucks bring out crowds for Manayunk StrEAT festival

Hungry customers waited in block-long lines along Manayunk’s Main Street on Saturday afternoon. The queues tangled in front of the 33 food trucks that participated in the neighborhood’s fourth “StrEAT” Food Festival, a kickoff event for Manayunk’s Restaurant Week, which runs through Friday, April 25.

From the moment they opened at 11 a.m. until after the 5 p.m. closing hour, vendors worked without a break, cooking and dividing their specialties into cardboard containers. Popular Mac Mart Cart, a mac ‘n’ cheese operation, reported lines that stretched a block and a half. And customers told the crew behind Smokin’ Tacos, another crowd favorite, that their wait was over an hour.

Still, eaters moved from one line to another, navigating the clogged sidewalks with brisket tacos, pulled pork grilled cheese, ribs, oyster shooters, lobster rolls and strawberry gazpacho. As they waited to move, they turned from side to side to see what passers-by had on their plates. Repeatedly, people asked, “Where did you get that?”

Shannon Geddes of the Manayunk Development Corporation happily talked to people as they waited for their orders in front of The Cow and The Curd.

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Thrilled with the crowds, Geddes said the warm weather helped the event’s draw. “This is one of the first great weekends of spring,” she said.

StrEAT was the first festival for Smokin’ Tacos, operated by cook Steve Way of Montgomery County. Way said he had prepared by asking a couple of friends what to expect but had not anticipated the customer surge that began at the start of the festival.

“It was exhilarating and exhausting,” Way said. His day had started at 3:30 a.m., when he awoke to put salmon in a smoker for one of the truck’s featured items — a smoked salmon taco with strawberry basil salsa (the MDC challenged each vendor to incorporate strawberries into a dish).

By the end of the day, Way had run out of chicken and salmon.

His cart had a line “from the moment we served the first taco,” said Way. “My wife said word must have spread down the street.”

Way, 37, is a former Whole Foods employee and Philadelphia elementary school teacher. After taking a paternity leave, Way started cooking more for his family and friends. He spent one year investigating the food truck scene, license and permit process; Smokin’ Tacos opened its window last October.

Way said the operation offers him a more flexible schedule than working in a restaurant would, but that it comes with unexpected challenges. “When you own a food truck, you are the mechanic, facilities operator, and cook,” he laughed.

His greatest reward comes from watching a customer taste his food. “The best part is when somebody bites in the taco in front of me,” he said, “and the look on his face is ‘Oh, this is so good!'”

After a tough winter that saw profits of only $50 to $100 a day, Way is pleased with business this spring. “I keep going back to the same spots and people are talking,” he said.

Smokin’ Tacos serves the suburbs in Montgomery County early in the week, but on Thursdays and Fridays, customers can find it near Temple University Hospital, stationed on Broad between Westmoreland and Ontario Streets. On Friday and Saturday nights, Smokin’ Tacos feeds Fishtown at the intersection of Frankford and Girard.

In spite of Saturday’s variety of choices and courses, Buffalo natives Nathan Sutorius, 22, and Mary Cossmann, 25, chose a food truck based on one criterion: whichever had the shortest line.

Munching on sandwiches from Prime Stache, the two looked at the scene on Main and said they hadn’t had to wait long for good food.

“We got lucky,” said Cossmann.

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