click to enlarge bartlettimage-boxi_park-4122.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

A food hub fashioned from shipping containers is Tavistock’s latest culinary foray at Boxi Park 

Contained environment

Shipping containers, those six-sided prisms of weathered corrugated steel, are finding uses beyond industrial consignments, human trafficking and postmodern home construction. They're being used as swimming pools, growhouses, portable loos and, of course, restaurants. The Smoky Park Supper Club in Asheville's River Arts District is a pretty cool-looking restaurant constructed from 19 such cuboids, and the novelty of dining at the country's largest shipping container restaurant doesn't really wear off once seated inside. If anything, the restaurant demonstrates how function and form can appear in balance, even inside a steel box.

Over in the planned community of Taverstockia, er, Lake Nona, sits Boxi Park, Tavistock's take on the shipping container-cum-restaurant trend and one that completely deconstructs the notion. It's a patchwork of counter-service concepts – lobster rolls, fried chicken, burgers, tacos, health food and ice cream – situated in a manner that promotes a free flow of humans from one metal-framed kiosk of commerce to the next, like a mini theme park. There's a live music stage, beach volleyball courts, a playground. There's also booze and beer and plenty of mirth coated in an organic veneer. And if Boxi Park feels a bit contrived, that's because it is: This is no pop-up food bazaar of independent chefs and vendors – it's a private investment firm and culinary conglomerate guising it as such. And in manufactured Lake Nona, it works like a charm. Boxi Park feels like an impromptu happening.

click to enlarge Black vanilla soft serve from Before It Melts - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
  • Black vanilla soft serve from Before It Melts

Down a crunchy soft-shell crab roll ($12) from Claw & Order, wipe the yuzu-wasabi mayo off your chin, then head for a beer brewed by Park Pizza & Brewing Company across the street. You'll hear poppy tunes from the live band as you make your way to one of the tables scattered about the venue. A beach ball might come out of nowhere and bounce off your leg, or you may run into someone you haven't seen in a decade, or you might just head back to Claw & Order for a gratifying lobster roll ($11), or strut over to Fowl Play for a fried chicken "Bollywood Bun" ($7) spiced with a Kashmiri chili-turmeric mayo.

When the rains come, umbrellas shoot out over tables and Boxi Park's workers hand out complimentary ponchos to keep the action going. Others use it as an opportunity to grab a decent burger on a potato roll ($7) from the Grill Next Door, or tacos from Cañonita. We tried a salty carne asada with Cajun spicing, a barbacoa with chicharrones and caramelized pineapple and a fish taco; the tortillas were fashioned from yellow corn and wheat flour, a hybrid we'd never tried before with a taste and texture more like a flour tortilla.

At this point we were ready for some sweets from Naughty & Nice. The "Nice" is a reference to the salads, wheatgrass shots ($2.75) and fresh juices ($5) they sell in addition to doughnuts ($3) supplied by Valkyrie Doughnuts and macarons from Tavistock's Canvas Restaurant a few yards away. They did the trick, but it didn't stop us from also getting some black vanilla soft serve (black = activated charcoal) sauced with a little caramel ($3) from Before It Melts. There's even a handful of flavors, some vegan, from Greenery Creamery on hand. It was nice to see a couple of local outfits represented here, as all the other vendors were spawned from the boardrooms of Tavistock with the idea being to brick-and-mortarize any one (or more) of these concepts should it take off. Yes, Boxi Park is a controlled laboratory, a Tavistock testing ground, an incubator. And it's a pretty good idea. Shipping-container food hubs like Boxi Park in all their metallic, rectangular glory may, in fact, present the shape of things to come.

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