TAMPA - If you drive much in Tampa, there's a pretty good chance you've passed the Smokehouse Grille, a food truck at the busy corner of Florida Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Seminole Heights. If you kept driving you missed a great story and some authentic southern cuisine.
"If you leave here hungry, it's your fault, not mine," says 63-year-old Jerry Cook, showing off his house-made ribs, pulled pork, sausage, collard greens, beans and corn.
But Cook is most proud of his mullet - the fish, not the haircut.
"I'm King of the mullet smokers," crowed Cook. "It's a lost art."
Cook smokes the locally-caught fish for six hours and sells them as fast as he and his niece can wrap them.
"People from up north are curious to what it tastes like. They stop and get some. People in the south eat mullet. It's a southern thing, you know?" said Cook.
Cook's forearm tattoos tell just part of the story of the former prize fighter, trucker, biker, now restaurateur.
Some of the nearly 200,000 miles on this truck were put on getting to disaster scenes to assist FEMA in Texas and New Orleans after Katrina.
"Everything is wiped out -- restaurants, electricity. So I'll take my trucks and feed whoever needs fed."
Until he's needed again, Jerry Cook is trying to feed the locals as best he can. As a businessman, Cook says he complies with health laws and pays for all state and local licenses.
But Jerry, the former fighter, bristles at food truck ordinances that forbid customers to sit and eat and require Jerry to physically move his truck to avoid having to pay for a site plan.
"I'll get in there every day like an idiot and pull it up two feet and back it up two feet. It doesn't make any sense."
But Cook will tough it out. Business has been good enough to pay for a fishing boat for him to catch his own mullet.
However, if FEMA should call, it's wheels up. "I'd pack and go today."
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