Friday, February 27, 2015

Where We Eat: Give & Grub Food Truck

Everyone knows that the more people that get involved in something, the more likely it is to be ruined. There’s even an ancient proverb that speaks directly to keeping collaborations to a minimum: “too many cooks spoil the broth”. I think it is time to mark that proverb with a big ol’ asterisk, one that is footnoted at the bottom with the words “the exception to this proverb is Tampa’s Give & Grub food truck.

Five Companies, One Goal
A project by Laser Spine Institute, the Give & Grub food truck was created through an integrative  partnership between five different organizations. Each of these organizations brings their own unique expertise to the table. As an extension of a collaboration between Laser Spine Institute and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and through a mutual desire to “stick it to hunger” in the local community, the idea of a “food truck for good” was developed. The purpose behind this food truck would be two-fold. First, for each menu item sold, Laser Spine Institute would donate a meal to a hungry child in the Tampa Bay area. Second, the menu items offered would consist of gourmet, food-truck friendly versions of Tampa Bay Lightning players’ favorite meals. To help out with the food insecurity side of things (food insecurity is when access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money or other resources) Laser Spine Institute reached out to Feeding America Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries. If anyone knows the food insecurity issues in the local area, it’s these two groups. Both agreed to join the fight. The final piece of the puzzle was to find and staff a food truck. This part of the project was taken care of by California based Roaming Hunger. With Laser Spine Institute leading the charge, these five organizations began working together to achieve two things: feed Tampa Bay citizens gourmet food from a food truck and use the profits to fight back against hunger.

How it Works
Give & Grub travels around the greater Tampa area visiting business parks, local events and Thursday and Saturday home Lightning games. Here they offer their seven different menu items for sale. Each item that is sold is tallied and a meal is given to a needy child or family. Don’t live in the area? Unable to get off work to visit the food truck during the lunch run? Lightning games end too late for you? No problem. Give & Grub has made it easy for you to participate via the internet. Just use the hashtag #GiveandGrub on your social media posts and a meal will also be donated to children and families in need. The food is donated through weekly backpack drop offs at targeted elementary schools in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Through their partnership with Laser Spine Institute, Feeding America Tampa Bay sources these backpacks with food and every child in the school receives one to take home (the schools range in size from about 250 to 450 kids). Each of those backpacks includes five meals for the weekend. Once a month Give & Grub has a huge “blowout” at a local boys and girls club. This involves filling the food truck with a Lightning player (or the street team if a player is not available), kid friendly food and more backpacks. The kids then get to experience what it is like to go up and order from the truck, take home a backpack and possibly meet a Lightning player. Laser Spine Institute works with Metropolitan Ministries to make all the kid-friendly food that is served during these monthly “blowouts”. To date, Give & Grub has given back 25,000 meals. Their goal for the year is 150,000. Currently they are on pace to reach it.

The Food
So what about the food that Give & Grub sells from the truck? As I mentioned before, the truck offers seven items. One of their most popular items is the Chicken Parmkos (honoring Steven Stamkos). It consists of Chicken Parmesan on homemade bread that is baked fresh in a commercial kitchen the day the truck goes out. The sandwich is served alongside housemade potato chips. Fun fact: Give & Grub also makes their own pickles. My sister-inlaw opted for the Parmkos. It was a huge sandwich that she couldn’t finish in one sitting. She was a fan. Another popular item is the Hedman Steak Tacos (named after Victor Hedman). I’m not sure if Hedman is into tofu or not but Give & Grub offers a tofu version for the vegetarians. The tacos are served with marinated tofu, roasted corn, Pico de Gallo and Tijuana rice. They are then topped with spicy chipotle ranch and served alongside a container of black beans and fried plantains. The tofu on these tacos is hands down some of the best I’ve had in Tampa. Sate Asian Grill and Taco Bus are the only places comparable in the tofu department. Whatever that tofu was marinated in gave it a nice flavor that lingered long after each bite. Also standing out were the peppers that were layered across the bottom of the tortilla. They too had a very distinctive flavor. The tortillas themselves? Fabulous. Each taco comes double wrapped in flour tortillas. These tortillas serve as a safety blanket, protecting the tacos from extreme conditions. I took a set of tacos to go and the tortillas were still crispy the next day. Most tortillas can’t stand up to the Branson family fridge and they go soggy with fright. Give & Grub’s just laughed at the weather whole time.

                The Hedman Steak Tofu Tacos

The surprise of the day belongs to the other vegetarian friendly item on the menu, the Bishop Bowl. I say this because I did not expect to be a fan of it. The bowl is named after goalie Ben Bishop. It is piled high with blackened tofu (or shrimp), wasabi caramel, mango, plantains and cilantro rice. The dish nicely melds together Cajun cooking, Japanese spices and South American fruit. The bowl is huge. It probably weighs more than a quarter of what Bishop weighs. Both J-Fur and I were really impressed with the bowl. Again, the tofu and peppers were top notch. But they were only part of the fun. The sweet of the mango and plantain and the slight spiciness of the wasabi caramel helped finish off a dish that pleases all the parts of your palette. Z-Bot was also a huge fan of this dish.

                          The Bishop Bowl

Give & Grub’s food proves that having too many cooks doesn’t necessarily have to spoil the broth. Sometimes, if the wrists flick just right, all those hands can actually create an amazing product. But what truly sets the truck apart is that all the profits from their amazing product go to help better the Tampa community.

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My visit to Give& Grub netted me a lot of food. It took all I had to finish it in one sitting. After the last bite I immediately felt like *thumbs quickly through CD collection, ah, here it is* I was in Fat
Heaven. That’s why they are the perfect match for a Give & Grub visit. That and they pay homage to Roaming Hunger’s locale. Check out the band’s “LA Girl” from their self-titled EP.