For the past five years, Johnny Perez has spent his working hours in some of the most popular restaurants in Fort Wayne.
The South Side High School graduate, who pursued his culinary degree at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, has worked at BakerStreet and managed front of the house at The Hoppy Gnome.
Most recently, he was head chef at Proximo.
But he's leaving brick-and-mortar restaurants for a kitchen on wheels.
Mercadito Taqueria will hit the streets this season, offering flavorful Mexican fare inspired by Los Angeles street food, as well as other globally inspired options.
“(There will be) all things ranging from carne asada fries to our pachola burger, and of course tacos!” Perez says. “Chicano cuisine is a good way to define the style of food that we will serve.”
Among the global options are the Amigo Chino, featuring bulgolgi-style beef, kewpie mayo, scallions and sesame seeds; and the Falafel My Homies, made with a pinto bean falafel, fried garlic tahini, pickled red onions and cilantro.
“I was born in Los Angeles but raised in Fort Wayne,” Perez says. “I grew up in the south side of town and gained an appreciation for the diversity in our city.”
Mercadito means “little market” in Spanish, and a taqueria serves as a gathering place for people of the community to share stories.
The new venture from Perez has already been booked, with Mercadito Taqueria taking over Taco Tuesdays at Three Rivers Distilling Co., as well as serving Cinco de Mayo brunch at the distillery.
It will also be among the local trucks serving visitors at Two EE's Winery for its Mother's Day event, which is 1 to 4 p.m. May 12.
Food truck rallies
While we're on the topic of food trucks, local spots are beginning to schedule regular rallies.
• Teds market will host its first Food Truck Thursday of the season May 9.
Teds will host a variety of trucks each week. Food trucks will begin serving at 5 p.m., and teds will offer a limited menu every Thursday from May to September.
The market at 12628 Coldwater Road has upgraded its outdoor space, but guests can also get beer and wine inside at the beer hall.
The biggest Food Truck Thursday is set to be June 27 when the Hubie Ashcraft Band will perform, and trucks will include Bravas, Affiné, Sol Kitchen and Who Cut The Cheese.
• Lunch on the Square will be 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays from June 6 to Aug. 29 at Freimann Square with live music each week.
• Snider High School will host a rally from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, May 1 through June 12.
Chefs Paul Kahan and Ryan Pfeiffer will take over the kitchen at Sycamore Hills Golf Club on Sept. 24 for the annual Blessings in a Backpack fundraiser.
Kahan has received international acclaim for his multiple James Beard award-winning establishments and popular Chicago restaurant destinations including Blackbird, avec, The Publican, Big Star Wicker Park, Publican Quality Meats, Dove's Luncheonette, Publican Quality Bread, Publican Tavern and Big Star Wrigleyville.
He was awarded “Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation in 2013 and “Best Chef: Great Lakes” in 2004. After opening his flagship restaurant Blackbird in 1997 in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, Food & Wine placed Kahan on their prestigious Best New Chefs list for 1999.
Pfeiffer, executive chef at Blackbird, worked in restaurants in California before joining Blackbird, where he worked his way up to the chef de cuisine position in 2015. After being included in StarChefs 2018 “Rising Star” class and receiving the 2019 Jean Banchet award for “Best Chef-de-Cuisine,” Pfeiffer was promoted to executive chef of Blackbird just this spring to lead the culinary program of the two-decade-old fine-dining mecca.
Blessings in a Backpack helps meet the nutritional needs of children by providing weekend meals during the school year, increasing awareness of child hunger and expanding the program across the United States. All proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit the Fort Wayne chapter of Blessings in a Backpack.
Tickets are $800 a person. Call Mike Gouloff at Elevatus Architecture, 424-9080; Paul O. Sauerteig at Snow & Sauerteig LLP, 423-2353; or Gretchen Gouloff at GKG Designs, 433-3978.
• The Hoppy Gnome, 203 E. Berry St., is getting ready to roll out new offerings for the warmer months. The spring/summer menu, which will debut in early May, will include new entrees such as Thai curry salmon, braised short rib, pork chops and lemongrass meatballs. There will also be a host of vegan/vegetarian options and an assortment of new cocktails perfect for the patio season.
• LongHorn Steakhouse, 5050 Value Drive, is launching a new beverage lineup to complement its steak dishes. The Three Dons Margarita features three pours of premium Don Julio Tequila – anejo, reposado and blanco. The LongPour allows diners to upgrade their margarita to a glass and a half for $2.50 more. LongHorn locations will curate their own selection of draft beers to include more local brews.
• Smokey Bones, 1203 Apple Glen Blvd., has launched three new over-the-top Mega Milkshake creations featuring dessert on top of dessert. The new shakes include Oreo Cookie, a vanilla shake with Oreo cookie pieces, topped with full-size Oreos and Oreo-whipped cream and an Oreo rim. The Chocolate Layer Cake is a vanilla shake in with pieces of chocolate cake, topped with a slice of chocolate cake with dark fudge and sweet chocolate frosting and an M&M rim. The Vanilla Stacked Donut begins with a vanilla shake and is topped with two cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and whipped cream, along with a sprinkle rim. Guests also have the option of adding a shot of vodka, bourbon, rum or Kahlua for a boozy milkshakes.
The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 461-8304 at least two weeks before event or desired publication.