Food trucks have proven surprisingly controversial 'round these parts in recent years, with a host of battles over how mobile food purveyors are regulated and many a lament about the way local rules have hampered an industry that has already become an established culinary mainstay of dozens of American cities. Why should you care about the fate of mobile food dispensing vehicles? For one answer, go check out A & G Caribbean BBQ.
It's hard to miss—an enormous bright orange trailer plopped down Thursday through Sunday in the western section of the Shell gas station that sits on the northeast corner of University Parkway and Lockwood Ridge. From the back of the trailer, a big black metal box pours smoke out into the atmosphere. It wafts here and there, the woody scent drawing in drivers who didn't know they wanted ribs till that smell hit them.
As the name indicates, the truck offers a mix of classic American barbecue items, as well as island-style meats and sides. A pulled pork sandwich will set you back just $4.99 ($7.99 with two sides), while a Jamaican jerk chicken platter goes for $7.99 and a full slab of ribs for $24.99.
My 4-year-old, Theo, and I have veered out of our way to order lunch today. The only thing I'm not digging about this truck setup: the heat. As we wait for our plates to be prepped, the back of my neck feels like it's being caressed with the business end of a blowtorch. A thin trickle of sweat drips steadily down my spine. Ray Charles and Al Green, blasted at top volume from a speaker at the truck's top corner, soothe my discomfort a bit. As does a flyer for what sounds like both the best and worst concert ever conceived: Sugar Ray, Everclear, Lit and Sponge, yes, all of them, together in Madeira Beach.
There's nowhere to sit here—well, aside from the searing concrete—so Theo and I take our treasures home in a trio of Styrofoam boxes. The pulled pork goes down first. The meat is soft through and through—no bark, no bite at all. But that doesn't mean it's light on flavor. No way. The mass of meat remains outstandingly juicy, soaking the plain bun on which it's served.
There are no condiments, nothing tricky, just a choice of sauces: "house," "spicy," "sweet" or "regular." The house is the color of gold mustard and it's sweet, most reminiscent of honey mustard, while the spicy sauce tastes pretty close to Crystal or any other bottled hot sauce. Both condiments add sharpness and contrast to the pork, even if they're nothing special on their own.
The jerk chicken is similarly straightforward yet impressive. The platter comes with a huge helping of legs and thighs, the exterior charred and deep brown. The smoker has turned the meat's texture leathery and its color a light pink. The campfire flavor is subtle; you don't get much smoke right away, but it creeps up on you as you chomp down again and again. Sides include basics like green beans, rice and potato salad. The collard greens, flecked with onions and nubs of pork, are tender and plainspoken, the red beans and rice sticky and starchy.
Eat at A & G, and you'll understand why people enjoy the thrill of mobile dining. Few brick-and-mortar restaurants in this part of town offer as much flavor for as little dough as this truck. For nearby residents and 9-to-5ers, it's a blessing. For the uninitiated, it's a lesson in why food trucks matter to so many.
A & G Caribbean BBQ sets up in the parking of the Shell station located at 8471 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. Call (941) 879-7144 for more info.