The mobile kitchen inside Isaac Vigil's trailer was sweltering. He couldn't turn on the fan because he was making fry bread, a staple dish for his Native American food stand. The temperature needed to be consistent in order for the bread to rise correctly.
There was no recipe. Only hand measurements. A little of this, a little of that, yet it had to be just right to get the necessary color and texture, Vigil said. "Native Americans are very particular about their fry bread."
He dipped a fist-sized ball of dough into a container of flour, stretched it into a flat circle and then placed it into a pan on the stovetop, flipping it twice. The bread rose and bubbled, turning from white to a caramel brown.
When it was ready, he removed it from the pan and served it with a drizzle of honey. The resulting confection tasted like a cross between Indian naan bread and funnel cake.
"Fry bread is the star of the show" in Native American cuisine, said Vigil's niece and helper, Valerie Cabanilla Vigil.
Fry bread, tamales, pork chops and homemade pies are all on the menu at Vigil's Food Stand. So are Navajo tacos, Navajo burgers and Navajo hot dogs, which Vigil learned to make while living on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona for six years. Vigil was born and raised in Beaufort, but his wife, Delores, is Navajo.
Now Vigil is back, hoping to win the hearts of local foodies by pleasing their stomachs.
Vigil will share his fare for the first time in South Carolina at the Beaufort Food Truck Festival on June 21. The event is hosted by Artworks and is also a first for Beaufort, said Laura Maxey, managing director of the arts center.
"Food trucks have been a trend for a while in Charleston, and we wanted something like that around here," she said.
Food trucks have become a popular craze all over the country, especially in larger cities where sidewalk servings range from dumplings to donuts to grass-fed beef tongue tacos. In Charleston, the Food Truck Federation is a loose collection of trucks committed to the proliferation of mobile food in the greater Charleston area. Charleston's own Pep Rolls will be on hand at the Beaufort Food Truck Fest to serve up their signature pepperoni rolls. Bluffton's Joe Loves Lobster Rolls and Beaufort's Crave Cupcakes will also be present.
There aren't very many food trucks in Beaufort, Maxey said, "but we have food carts and different food vendors like those you see at the farmers markets." The festival will be a combination of both.
The lack of local food trucks is due to unfavorable regulations on food vending. Beaufort's sidewalk vending ordinance limits vending to "carts without the assistance of a motor," although the provision does not apply to festivals or public events that are approved by City Council or if the truck is parked on commercial property such as a strip mall or discount center.
Hilton Head Island does not have any specific ordinances allowing or disallowing mobile food vendors, said Land Management Ordinance administrator Teri Lewis.
In Bluffton, the town's current code prohibits motorized mobile vendors, but allows non-motorized ones. At a recent Town Council meeting, Mayor Lisa Sulka said the council would likely take action soon to allow ice cream trucks, but more discussion would be needed on allowing food trucks.
Tony Herndon, owner of Joe Loves Lobster Rolls, was the first to have a food cart in Bluffton.
It might be tough for food trucks to be successful in town at this moment in time, Herndon said. "There's not a lot of real space that I can see to have 10, 12 trucks just set up."
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control calls for food trucks to return daily to a designated and permitted base station for servicing. For many operators, this requires them to either rent space in brick-and-mortar restaurants or to buy their own restaurant-quality kitchens to serve as home bases for their mobile businesses.
"Right now, it's really limited to those who already have a restaurant," Herndon said. "I hope we can make it happen like other cities, because it's huge."
As for Vigil, he said he plans to park his trailer at as many festivals as possible this summer, and is looking to potentially partner with a restaurant. For the Beaufort Food Truck Fest, he and his niece, Val, are preparing by sprucing up the trailer with Navajo-designed curtains and aprons, making new menu signs, and pre-kneading plenty of dough for fry bread.
"We don't know how it will do out here, because this is really different food than what people are used to," she said. "Hopefully people will like it."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.