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Roll through the food truck scene at The Gathering

Gypsy Queen Café's J.A. Peters, left, hands a Gypsy Crab Cone to Matt Groncki
Gypsy Queen Café's J.A. Peters, left, hands a Gypsy Crab Cone to Matt Groncki - Steve Ruark
It was a dark and stormy February afternoon in Hampden. The smell of french fries and chicken curry filled the air. That’s when I encountered a gypsy queen in a castle full of iced gems at the Baltimore food-truck rally the Gathering.

It was my third visit to The Gathering: Baltimore’s Traveling Festival at the Castle on Keswick and 34th Street. The pop-up food festival began in the summer of 2011 and has continued to become a favorite of foodies living in Baltimore. 

On this particular weekend afternoon, Gypsy Queen, Darua Food Truck, Cruisin Cafe, IcedGemsSultan, GrrChe Gourmet Grilled Cheese, SouperFreak, Kooper's Chowhound Burger Wagon and Busia’s Kitchen were on hand to feed the crowd. They served everything from Brazilian stew feijoada at Darua to Polish dumplings at Busia’s Kitchen.

The number of food trucks varies as does the locale. The next one will be held March 22 in Hampden and at Locust Point’s McHenry Row March 29. Stratford University in Little Italy, Harbor East and Reservoir Hill have also hosted The Gathering. Local bands Greasy Hands, Brooks Long & The Mad Dog No Good and Photo Radio have played live music. 

Mobile canteens are nothing new in American history; their origins date back to the late 17th century with the idea of horse-drawn food wagons. The latest incarnation, the food truck phenomenon, was born during the recession in cities throughout the U.S. as diners looked for cheap eats and entrepreneurial chefs looked for cheaper alternatives to opening a new full-service restaurant. The food truck scene hit a snag a couple of years ago and the trucks were almost forced to leave downtown until the city designated food truck zones.

But it seems the phenomenon is here to stay.

On any given weekday food trucks can be found in dense areas of Baltimore City, including downtown, near Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and other locales. (For a complete list of all the food truck locations in Baltimore, check out Charm City Food Trucks.)

Events like The Gathering help Busia’s Kitchen Owner Pat Dembeck find new fans of her cabbage rolls and pierogies. "It gets you in front of people you ordinarily don't serve during the work week and occasionally gets your truck private bookings."
While chatting with a few people on the patio, the consensus was loud and clear: Gypsy Queen was definitely the truck to visit. Naturally, the line was longest for the food truck declared the best in Charm City by both the Baltimore City Paper and Baltimore magazine last year.
Many people were walking away from the truck with a cone-shaped item wrapped in aluminum foil. Once I finally reached the window I asked for what I’d affectionately named "the cone of unknown." It turned out to be a large waffle cone with old bay fries stuffed to the brim, topped with a crab cake smothered in a sweet and spicy aioli sauce — the famous Crab Cone.

Next, I made my way over to Darua to sample their Brazilian street food. I talked with Marcelo Salles, partner and chef at Darua food truck. 

"Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil," he said. "It’s a slow-cooked black bean stew with five different kinds of pork served with collard greens and rice."

I opted instead for the chicken croquette, which was fried to perfection on the outside, with flavorful, tender meat on the inside.

I walked by the IcedGems cupcake truck and spotted Paul DiMeo from “Extreme Makeover” fame chatting with fans while filming a new TV series titled “Second Act.” Scheduled to air in April on RLTV, “Second Act” is about what people can do once they retire from their day jobs. Hmmm…start a food truck perhaps?
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to taste any of the 15 flavored cupcakes that IcedGems had to offer because the owners sold out of their 1,000-cupcake supply.

I made my final stop at GrrChe for a BCT — bacon, cheddar, and tomato — sandwich and I also sampled the shrimp basket from Cruisin’ Café.

On my way to the drink station I spoke with first-time Gathering attendee Travis Crawford, who raved about the spiked hot chocolate. Would he return?

“Yes, when the weather breaks. Hopefully there will be a wider selection of food trucks." 

Arli Lima is a freelance journalist and food enthusiast. She is a Baltimore resident who combines her love of writing and food on her blog Arli’s Appetite. 

Gypsy Queen photos by STEVE RUARK. The Gathering photo by Arli Lima. Feijoada photo courtesy of Darua Food Truck.

Click photos to read captions.
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