In the early days of the nation's interstate system, as people set out on long road trips, it became a popular notion that if you wanted to find good food on your journey you need only look for the cafes with the most trucks parked outside. Whether it was true or not, travelers assumed that truckers knew where to find the best food. (In that regard, they were the precursors to present day Yelpers.)
You won't find a lot of trucks parked outside Truck Stop Pop-up Kitchen, maybe one at the most. For one thing, the narrow streets of Thornton Park aren't suited for 18-wheelers. Also, the concept for this new restaurant is that on most evenings the kitchen is taken over by the operators of a local food truck, giving them the opportunity to cook in a kitchen not supported by rubber wheels and to have their food presented by servers to people sitting at actual tables.
The innovative concept is from Greg Peters, who founded the Graffiti Junktion chain. In fact, the first GJ opened in the same spot in December of 2008. The Graffiti Junktion concept of burgers with an attitude caught on, and as other locations opened, the original outgrew the space on Washington Street. So it moved down the block after Wildside BBQ moved out in August of 2016.
Truck Stop describes itself as a permanent pop-up kitchen, which sounds a bit oxymoronic. But I like the idea, and I enjoyed my two visits, one to experience a visiting truck and another to check out the regular kitchen staff. (More on that in a moment.)
On my first visit, the kitchen was taken over by the crew from Cafe Rouge Express, which specializes mainly in British pub food. I had what's listed on the menu as Fresh Grouper Fish and Chips, a pretty good sized fillet in a proper beer batter, deep fried and served atop plump fries. It was accompanied by a small container of tartar sauce, as all fishes and chips should be; malt vinegar was supplied by request. Although the batter disintegrated when forked, the fish itself was good, nice and flaky. I can't imagine how they can offer actual grouper and fries for $10.
My companion had the Traditional British Shepherd's Pie, made, according to the menu, with angus beef, herbs and vegetables in a demiglace sauce. It was topped with mashed potatoes, as all pies shepherd should be, and melted cheddar cheese (not usually seen in British editions). The gravy was well seasoned, and I liked the preponderance of peas in the mix.
During the day, the Truck Stop's resident cooks serve a set menu. (On weekends they call it brunch, but it's essentially the same menu.) From the regular menu I ordered the Avocado Toast with cold smoked salmon; my companion chose the Breakfast Sandwich.
My AT was made with multigrain bread, with a spring mix of greens, some tomatoes, and the thick-sliced salmon on top. The avocado was spread on the toast as if it were butter instead of mashed thickly. But that was the only complaint I had about it.
The Breakfast Sandwich had sausage, bacon and fried egg served on and English muffin, perhaps left over from the British truckers? (No, that's how it's always served.) With a side of red bliss potatoes, it was a delicious breakfast.
Service was good. What the young staff lacked in proper skills they made up for with winning personality. We especially liked the young woman who waited on us when we sat at the bar on our first visit. Although she wasn't our server for brunch, she nevertheless made a point to come by our table and greet us by name.
Longtime residents will remember this space as Thornton Park Cafe and later as La Fontanella da Nino and Midnight Blue (where are you, Jephanie Foster?) before becoming Graffiti Junktion. Somewhere along the way, the open patio was covered with a permanent awning. It allows dining in inclement weather, but I do sometimes miss the open-air dining of the old venues. (There are some al fresco tables in the front of the restaurant.)
Of course, the structure was originally purpose-built as a gas station for the neighborhood. Fitting, then, that it is now a truck stop, even if it's the trucks doing the servicing.
Truck Stop Pop-up Kitchen is at 900 E. Washington St., Orlando. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-286-3900.