click to enlarge bartlettimage-a_la_cart-0013.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Milk District's À La Cart mobile dining site taps into the essence of the Rose City's food truck parks 

Portlandia

We're a food truck city, there's no denying it, and thanks to outfits like the Daily City Food Truck Bazaar and Tasty Takeover, we're a thriving one at that. But that doesn't mean the scene isn't prone to idling – even diehard truckies will tell you things have been languishing here for a while.

April and Dustin Williams, a couple of Orlandoans who taught high school in Oregon, saw an opportunity, and a need, to continue our city's food truck (r)evolution by introducing the permanent food truck park to Orlando. Yes, Kissimmee's World Food Trucks on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway may have been one of the first in Central Florida, but the parking lot environs aren't exactly a welcoming sight. Same goes for the now shuttered Winter Park Food Truck Stop. And the food truck park at Disney Springs is, well, Disney Dull.

No, Mr. and Mrs. Williams wanted something a little easier on the eyes; an intimate space; a place for folks to linger over first-rate food and first-rate beer; the sort of park they'd visit often in Oregon. Hell, if it's good enough for Portland, they thought, then why not Orlando? And thus À La Cart was born in the Milk District.

It's new, but a timid fledgling it's not. Since opening last month, there's been no shortage of excitable patrons convening on the smallish square patch of faux grass and taking in the surroundings – essentially five comestible conveyances and an "open-air pavilion" offering covered indoor seating and a bar with 15 rotating taps. There's no air conditioning (thus the "open-air" designation, I'm assuming), but I won't depress you with talk of summer heat; rather, I'll raise your hopes with talk of fine fare. Of the five slots, three are permanently occupied by PokeKai, Steak It Easy and Viny & Kory. A fourth slot is split between SwedeDish and Adao Pastel Gourmet; and the fifth features a daily rotating vendor.

If said vendor happens to be the Pass Progressive Cuisine, you'd do well to gorge on a Latin-inspired Spanglish burger ($12) complete with Latin-inspired potato sticks. There's pimiento cheese, grilled onions and a sweet plantain jam in there as well, and some damn fine fries come with it.

Superbly fried crispy "tandoori egg rolls" ($7), however, lacked any tandoori flavor and I seriously doubt a tandoor was used to char the mushrooms or spinach filling. But our fried-food cravings were gratified by Adao's Brazilian-style empanadas – first a pocket filled with chicken and a Brazilian soft cheese called catupiry ($4.30), followed by beef and blue cheese ($3.80) and capped with a sweet dulce de leche with coconut ($3.80). Get three and it'll cost you $10.

More Brazilian eats come in the form of barbecued meats from Steak It Easy, none better than the picanha ($12) – arguably the most Brazilian of cuts – and its wondrous fat cap flavornator. The fries are forgettable, so save $3 and get just the steak. It's a great value.

The antidote to all this heavy fare is PokeKai's cool, bracing bowl of ahi tuna, ginger, onion and masago ($15). It's licked in shoyu and invigorated with chili flakes, sesame and Hawaiian sea salt. And then there's Vinny & Kory's highly Instagrammable bowl of pho topped with a whole lobster ($30). Worth it? Sure. While you're at it, go for the Korean chicken wings ($5) glazed in gochujang, barbecue sauce and honey, then chase it down with a Neon Citra White IPA from M.I.A., or any of the 14 other sudsy offerings that suit your fancy. But do chill and tarry a while in the informal beer garden – the Williamses want you to – and if it all puts you in a Portland state of mind, go ahead and put a bird on it.

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