Panama City reopens restaurant in mobile trailer after Hurricane Michael
PANAMA CITY — After Hurricane Michael destroyed Sharp Kitchen on 23rd Street, owner Tracey Sharp Strachan kept rolling — right into Sharp Curbside Bistro.
"Everyone loves a great sandwich," Strachan said. "My restaurant was all about health food, but also I had the Cuban and muffaletta, and they were probably half of my business. I just decided to take these two and do the healthy thing with the grilled chicken."
After rent had gone up on buildings around town, another mobile food veteran convinced her a food trailer was the way to go.
"I got a lot of help from Mike (Lovrekovic) the Prime Rib Guy," said Strachan, who added they went to Mosley High School together. "I found a manufacturer in Georgia."
On April 10, Strachan debuted the 8½-by-16 foot Sharp Curbside Bistro, serving favorite sandwiches and sides from the restaurant she had originally opened in April 2016 — as well as some new specialties. Her 19-year-old second cousin, Elijah Covey, also has been on board to give her a hand.
Since Sharp Curbside Bistro rolled out, Strachan has been doing special events and serving lunches from office parking lots. Her streamlined menu includes hot/pressed sandwiches: grilled chicken breast, muffaletta, Cuban, bbq pork, Killer Grilled Cheese, and Vegetarian Delight, as well as cold chicken salad sandwiches.
On a recent Wednesday, die-hard chicken salad and Cuban fans gathered in front of the food trailer window in the NantHealth parking lot downtown — after tracking Sharp Curbside Bistro down on Facebook.
"We brought our own bread," Amy Ausley said with a laugh, as she held up a loaf of gluten-free bread for her and her daughter, Caitlin McNeilage.
Because it's all about what's in between the bread when it comes to their Cuban sandwiches stuffed with roasted pork, ham, salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and mustard.
"The roasted pork is the key to the Cuban. It roasts for 12 hours at 220-225 degrees. Roast it slow and it falls apart. I roast 50 pounds at a time," Strachan said. "You can get double meat and double cheese for an extra $4, but you may need a nap."
Strachan plans to add gluten-free bread options and tortillas for wraps on the trailer because of demand from customers, including many regulars who frequented Sharp Kitchen for the variety of gluten-free items.
"It was my favorite place before the hurricane," said McNeilage, who was in town from New York City to visit family. "Anytime I'm home, it hasn't worked out. This time, I said 'I have to go; I'm home four days.'"
And she got her wish Aug. 28 — the Cuban sandwich (on her gluten-free bread) with Loaded Potato Salad, while her grandmother, Joan Ausley, ordered the Chicken Salad — McNeilage's second favorite sandwich.
Strachan admits she rotates between eating the Cuban and the Pecan and Cranberry Chicken Salad — her traditional chicken salad mixture of chunky white meat, mayo and celery, plus cranberries and pecans.
"I make 30 pounds of Chicken Pecan and Cranberry and 10 pounds of regular chicken salad every week," Strachan said. "And at the end of the week, I have a pound left of each and bring it home and my husband (Dave) eats it."
She even has a couple of Gulf Coast State College students, who were restaurant regulars, who request a mix-in of Buffalo wing sauce in their chicken salad for a spicy kick.
While I don't usually like anything sweet in my chicken salad, the Pecan and Cranberry is a refreshing exception with a nice crunch from the grated pecans. I'd definitely order this again, especially on a hot day — if I can resist the muffaletta with ham, salami, Provolone and olive salad, a recipe from a former longtime local restaurant owner.
A new favorite — which involved plenty of taste-testing — is the Killer Grilled Cheese with layers of pimento cheese, sharp cheddar and basil pesto.
"The basil pesto just changes the whole concept of pimento," Strachan said. "It's so gooey we can't even cut it; we just leave it solid. And I say to grab extra napkins; it's a messy one."
Sandwiches come with chips and her medium "Crazy" Girl's Night Salsa, which she makes weekly in the commercial kitchen. Sides may be upgraded to cucumber salad, Loaded Potato Salad or Caesar pasta salad.
"I'm trying to do a meatloaf and two sides this winter, and I want to do soups and salads," Strachan said. "I also will bring back the squash casserole and roasted Brussel sprouts."
The squash casserole with feta, light sour cream and butter is a recipe by Strachan's mother, Judy Sharp.
"The meatloaf was my favorite," McNeilage said. "I also like her squash casserole and Brussel sprouts."
With the whole family being fans of Strachan's cooking, and Sharp Kitchen being closed after the hurricane, it was only natural Strachan was asked to cater Thanksgiving in November 2018.
"The food was so good, and it relieved me so much," said Joan Ausley, who usually does the holiday cooking.
Other families had the same idea. Strachan, who was living in a condo at the beach at the time, catered Thanksgiving meals for 300 residents last year.
"We have to serve our community, and the best use for me is to serve food," Strachan said.
McNeilage, a graduate of Mosley and New York University, also was inspired to help the community while she was in her hometown Thanksgiving weekend. She organized a "Broadway is 850 Strong" hurricane benefit concert for January 2018 in New York City.
"We ended up raising over $5,000 and, in March, I took a check to the Bay Education Foundation," McNeilage said.
Strachan, whose family owns Sharp Carpet & Ceramic Tile on State 77, has been a part of the Bay County community for a long time — but now she's also part of the food truck family.
On Tuesday, Sept. 10, Sharp Curbside Bistro will be parked across the street from Naval Support Activity Panama City in the old Burger King parking lot on Thomas Drive with Crepe and Cream.
"We always team up every Tuesday," Strachan said.
And Wednesday, Sept. 11, Sharp Curbside Bistro will be parked at the Panama City Surgery Center on Jenks Avenue.
"Once a month, I'll be at Gulf Coast hospital," she added.
Like and follow "Sharp Curbside Bistro" on Facebook for updates; schedules are updated Sundays.
If you are interested in Strachan catering an event or want to invite Sharp Curbside Bistro to your place of business, call 850-258-3752.