Downtown Huntsville food truck rallies returning, with some new twists

Huntsville’s biggest stage for food trucks is doubling down this year.

Traditionally, development nonprofit Downtown Huntsville Inc. holds their popular food truck rallies the third Friday of the month, May through October.

For 2021, the rallies will take place the first and third Fridays those months, at Big Spring Park, address 200 Church St. Also new for ’21, the rallies will be split into two categories, food trucks and food trailers, with the latter occurring first Fridays and the former on the third Fridays.

“It’s a creative way to give more exposure,” DHI CEO Chad Emerson tells AL.com. Logistics also influenced the change. Food trailers, which involve not only a trailer but also a separate vehicle to tow that trailer, take up more physical space than a true food truck, which is entirely contained in one vehicle.

“Some cities are just excluding trailers from their food truck events,” Emerson says. “That’s not an uncommon trend, just because of space limitations. We don’t want to be excluding people, we want to be including more small business entrepreneurs, and we can do that by separating the trucks and trailers.”

DHI is also tweaking a previous theme they used for their series, Battle of the Food Truck All Stars. This year, utilizing a title that sounds like a reality-TV competition show, it’s “Trucks vs. Trailers.” Emerson says, “Who wins and how you win, we don’t know yet. It’s just going to be some friendly competition – really, it’s tongue in cheek.”

The food trailer kickoff is scheduled for May 7, with food trucks set to roll May 21. All events are 5 – 9 p.m. As always, the DHI food truck rallies are free to attend.

The food trailer lineup includes: 2 Chicks on a Roll, Delicious, Forever Grateful, Grumpy’s, Highway Kabobery, Hippea Camper, Level Up, New South Hot Dog & Sushi, O Taste & See BBQ, Southerland Sno Depot and Triple L BBQ.

Participating food trucks include: Badd Newz BBQ, Beast Mode, Betty Jo’s, Fast Frankies, Fire & Spice, Get Loaded, Golden Years Ice Cream Parlor, Happi Pappi Beignets, Ice Works, Mac & Snacks, Manic, Sno Boss and What’s Popp’N. Some tent vendors, like Nothing Bundt Cakes, Piper & Leaf, Regale Cupcakery and Suzy’s Pops, will also be involved.

Thomas and LeAndra Poux on their Fire & Spice food truck. (Courtesy LMB Photography)

Fire & Spice co-owner LeAndra Poux’s truck specializes in smokehouse-tinged Tex-Mex. She says DHI rallies are a “big, big deal” for these small businesses on wheels. “How many people moved into Huntsville in 2020 and haven’t been able to kind of venture out?” Poux says. “This is a huge opportunity for food trucks to get new customers, and to show that we have fun here in Huntsville when everything isn’t shut down.”

DHI began hosting food-truck events in October 2013, in the nascent days of Huntsville’s food truck scene. After starting around the courthouse square, as the events grew they moved to Church Street in front of Big Spring Park, with the street blocked off.

The events basically became monthly festivals, with live music and other entertainment components added. Because the events are free and not ticketed, DHI never got an exact count of how many people attended each of the rallies at their height, but Emerson feels comfortable saying “several thousands.” Crowds tended to be the biggest during months school was out, as the rallies are family friendly.

In a normal year, DHI holds six full-on food truck rallies. The organization also does some smaller, weekend breakfast/brunch events. Amazingly, amid the pandemic they still managed to hold five rallies in 2020, after the May opener was canceled – even if estimated attendance was about 20 to 50 percent of what it would be during “normal” years.

In 2020, instead of blocking Church Street off, DHI had participating food trucks and trailers line around Big Spring Park, on Williams Avenue and Church Street. The idea was to create COVID-conscious social distance.

“But we also got a lot of feedback that people really liked it,” Emerson says. “They spent more time waiting in line or eating in the park than standing in Church Street. So we said, why don’t we bring that back this year? And really pivot towards an event that encircles the park, without us having to shut down these roads and use barricades and this kind of, for some, disruptive setup.”

A sponsorship from realtor Amanda Howard made it possible for the rallies to again offer live music and onsite games/activities, Emerson says. Such a sponsorship is also why DHI doesn’t need to add a “VIP layer” to keep these kinds of events viable.

During most of 2020 and early 2021, the pandemic caused many local events, food trucks’ lifeblood, to cancel or hold virtual substitutes. But you can’t really eat a burrito off a Facebook livestream. So Huntsville food trucks got creative. They increased corporate lunches and catering. They booked gigs at subdivisions, swimming pools and church functions.

Fast Frankies owner Frank Arnold

Frank Arnold, owner of Huntsville food truck Fast Frankies. (Courtesy Fast Frankies)

This is Fast Frankies owner Frank Arnold’s fourth year of operating his food truck, which focuses on barbecue and specialty hotdogs. Formerly working in construction, Arnold says DHI is a huge asset to the city’s mobile food vendors.

“Even when the times were bad, they was there for us,” Arnold says. “Chad, he’s bent over backwards to make a lot of things happen. Words can’t explain how much appreciation that I could give to them for what they’ve done.” Poux adds, “Without DHI and without Chad, there would be no successful food trucks out there.”

Asked what they enjoy most about Huntsville food truck culture, both Poux and Arnold cite the camaraderie among vendors and electricity of working a big event. “I’m looking forward to getting back to serving everyone. and seeing those customers and groups that always came to the truck,” Arnold says.

Over the past 10 years, food trucks became trendy enough they were frequently depicted in national TV commercials and even a feature film or two. But in real life, there’s a lot of turnover for food trucks. Some of the most popular vendors from DHI rallies past, including I Love Bacon and Rollin’ Lobstah, are no mas. But some, like Fire & Spice, have grown to now also include a brick and mortar restaurant.

Emerson credits food trucks that survived 2020 challenges with “grinding harder than ever,” upping their social media game and having a “willingness to create their own audience.” He finds the food truck concept inherently interesting because those vendors can take their food to the people, whereas restaurants rely on customers coming to them.

“What I’ve learned is that food trucks were not just a stopgap measure until we had more restaurants downtown,” Emerson says, referring to a circa-2013 perception. “Now I look back and that’s completely the wrong way of looking at it. They will hopefully continue to be around as long as we have brick and mortar restaurants, because they bring a whole different approach to food. It really completes the downtown culinary experience.”

Caprese Skewers

Posted by Mario's Five Points on Sunday, November 17, 2019

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Nothing is frozen and everything is cooked fresh in house, from our famous salsa verde to the pico de gallo, to our new Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce, so no freezer needed."","_id":"NLUO3PK6FRDE3KRNQJQCO26YKA","type":"text","content":"Fire & Spice plans to host a competition for artists to develop a mural for the restaurant that highlights the couple's love of the Rocket City and the Lone Star State, where Thomas was working as a restaurant manager before coming to Huntsville.","_id":"FEHVNCS7INAXTNRE2HJ3KAOF2I","type":"text","content":"The contest will be open to all local artists, regardless of age or profession.","_id":"OHS4I3HGFVCG5F5FTFUCMUAIQA","type":"text","content":""The reward is pretty cool," Poux said. "Not only do they get to personally paint their work on our restaurant wall, but they also get free tacos for a year. 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Located on the downtown square, Domaine South discontinued dining room service after a busy Friday dinner shift. Instead of opening Saturday, owner Kristian Denis held an employee meeting. There plans were discussed to reopen March 17 with curbside and delivery food service only “until we get to the other side of this.”","_id":"QY56CCRMZJCQ5LFFTRSUZ774T4","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"A couple of things led to her decision to close Domaine’s cozy, charming dining room. Bigger picture: Denis’ best friend and college roommate works as a nurse in Seattle, a city hit hard by coronavirus. Smaller picture, at Domaine South, Denis says, “We had taken tables out previously to keep everybody further apart and stopped accepting cash earlier in the week. But none of those things was really going to alleviate the fact people were right on top of each other. 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All employees are being cross-trained to do each other’s jobs, somewhat of a rare cross-pollination in the biz. And all employees on a shift will share tips. ","_id":"7KF64OFXZ5HUNPDJRBHIEGJK3A","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Kristine Mears has been a server and bartender at Domaine South since November 2018. Passionate about her service industry career, Mears is excited to learn kitchen skills during this period. "We're a fantastic team," Mears says. "We're honestly a family, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep us going."","_id":"VS7HHP65ZBFZVKLG2LXU6Q75IA","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Like a lot of people working in the service industry during the coronavirus pandemic, Mears' emotions zoom from fear and gratitude. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't somewhat scare me," Mears says, "just because we don't know what the outcome from this will be. 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Some of these range from pizza (including Big Ed’s, Pan e Vino, Earth and Stone) to Mexican (Fire & Spice, Buena Vista, La Esquina Cocina) to sandwiches (Dallas Mill, Happy Tummy) to upscale (1892 East, Cotton Row, Commerce Kitchen) to international (Neon Lilly, Luciano, Ol’ Heidelberg, Beignet Cafe) to barbecue/chicken (ChuckWagon, Beauregard’s) to coffee (Offbeat, Honest Roasters) and beyond (Straight to Ale, Hippea Camper). Development nonprofit Downtown Huntsville Inc. has compiled a running list of downtown restaurants doing so. ","_id":"BKFKOONTNND33LNVRJU3CKRSAE","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Judd Vowell is chief operation officer of Food And Beverage Associates, a restaurant group that manages Mediterranean-tinged Jones Valley restaurant Mezza Luna. Starting March 17, Mezza Luna, home to an airy dining room, bar and patio, will move to curbside service only, taking orders via phone. 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Mezza Luna, Domaine South and other Huntsville restaurants are also adding family style meals to increasingly malleable menus, such as spaghetti or short ribs.","_id":"NBKX5H4UCFGJLETXNKO5BWYBMQ","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Last week, Mezza Luna also intensified their restaurant's cleaning policies, using downtime to deep clean and keep employees on the clock. "We're doing everything we can to keep a steady paycheck coming," Vowell says. As far as libations go, businesses like Old Town Beer Exchange and The Wine Cellar have also started curbside service for packaged sales. For its to-go wine sales, Domaine South is only admitting one customer at a time. ","_id":"VVC76OLZNZENRIGYX3RFQZPRQA","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Local third-party food delivery service GrubSouth has been encouraging customers to opt for a “non-contact” option for orders. No signing required, tips are done in advance and the food’s left at your doorstep. Via Facebook, GrubSouth co-owner Katie Herron says, “We’ve definitely gotten more vendor applications than usual.”","_id":"MLIWAUHLWJC4HAL6EPXR6FOBNU","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Denis and Vowell say their respective restaurants’ wholesale supply chain has remained stable. For now, at least. The coronavirus pandemic’s looking impact on society is too overwhelming to outline in sentence. When it’s all said and done though, Vowell thinks that will include “a deeper appreciation for services we’ve taken for granted for so long.” He adds, “it’s critical for our community to support us as long as they can, utilizing the curbside availability while it lasts.”","_id":"GKZCZGFUANG63KY4JGL2WS645U","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Understandably, Domaine South employee Kristine Mears says worry is soaring among service industry workers. "We live on tips, that's how we survive," Mears says, "and a lot of us are very day-to-day. I'm lucky I don’t have any kids to worry about, but plenty of my service industry friends do."","_id":"XQY5M33X35GA3NJYXCBNMFIBKY","type":"text","additional_properties":"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Domaine owner Kristian Denis restaurant career goes back decades, including an early ’90s stint waiting tables at bygone downtown Huntsville spot Richard’s on the Square. She says even the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina can’t compare to present tense. “In restaurants and bars the margins are really slim,” Denis says, “so they rely on the business they’re doing today to pay their employees tomorrow and to buy their food. We’re lucky to be in a position that we can do this right now. 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Otherwise that might be my utensil of choice for the white lightning nachos at Rhythm on Monroe, the restaurant that opened in 2020 at the Von Braun Center, Huntsville’s flagship entertainment complex.","_id":"PORUAWVT7JCEZL7TUVIZ64667E","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472581,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"The hook for these nachos is they involve Alabama-style white barbecue sauce instead of cheese.","_id":"BR5MDTCX6FEIFDJR6HLXGZ4UN4","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472582,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Alabama white sauce is an alchemic union of vinegar, mayonnaise and other ingredients, and primarily deployed with smoked chicken. Decatur restaurant patriarch “Big” Bob Gibson, a hulking former railway worker, invented the sauce in the 1920s. 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And Rhythm on Monroe’s version is tangy, viscous and subtly peppery. “Big” Bob Gibson would give a thumbs up, head nod or grunt of approval, I think.","_id":"7JU7TAK6X5G2TLYJ37OP533O4I","type":"interstitial_link","additional_properties":"_id":"BUM7M4BFE5CRBPMFGQ7KPXQ7JA","comments":[],"content":"The origins of Alabama-style white barbecue sauce","url":"https://www.al.com/entertainment/2017/10/alabama_white_barbecue_sauce_b.html","_id":"DQU4WK5VURFDFMFNWO63SU7WLQ","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472586,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"On Rhythm’s nachos ($11), the white sauce feels and tastes lighter than melty cheese. It’s also less adhesive. The white sauce doesn’t bind nacho toppings together like cheese sauce does, so after starting as finger food, these nachos pivot into a sexier, lettuce-less taco salad. The kitchen wisely errs away from dousing it all in sauce. 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When the VBC announced Vibbart’s hiring, a press release included her observation “memories are made over food.” Those who dine at Rhythm on Monroe are likely to experience just that.","_id":"C5C4E5N7QFEPBGXRMMKS53ZO4I","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472591,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"I enjoyed my meal on their airy covered patio, that’s roughly (intentionally or not) guitar-headstock shaped, as classic-rock played at folk -music volume on the sound system. With hotel construction across the street in view, it felt a little like watching Huntsville grow before my eyes.","_id":"U6TPHHRRLVDDZCMKBUV4WDZOHQ","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472592,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Inside, the dining room is high-ceiling and sleek with an open-air kitchen. 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Too often just trendy flimflam to give you more bread and less protein, compared to a regularly-sized sandwich. Braised short rib makes this one worthy though. Very tender, homecooked-tasty beef on fresh-tasting toasted buns. The melted smoked gouda spilled over onto the plate, making for some fleeting dipping ecstasy. Pickled red onions added twang. The menu promised microgreens, but they must’ve been working on solo projects.","_id":"73A6VZ4VSZHYRBZPXT5FVTXYJE","type":"interstitial_link","additional_properties":"_id":"7ZLEF33VIRFILOVCCQF7FIUUF4","comments":[],"content":"Panoply 2021: Scaled back festival’s capacity, site size, food vendors","url":"https://www.al.com/life/2021/03/panoply-2021-scaled-back-festivals-capacity-site-size-food-vendors.html","_id":"RA53D6H4IREM7CS2DM6OA4TIRA","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472596,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"The sliders star is actually the side. Namely, the accompany shoestring fries - “Goldfinger” hued and as crushable as McDonald’s near-mythical, beef-fat-era fries. Salty. Crispy. Perfect.","_id":"LSHF23VOH5AXNLR5KACCK2TIAI","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472597,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Other Rhythm food items range from a warm Southern crab dip app ($14) to a pecan encrusted crispy trout entrée ($24). The menu is paired down a bit for the rooftop. And between 4 – 6 p.m. daily, certain items, including my nachos and sliders, are a couple bucks cheaper.","_id":"EGX6MOIMUZFFTPLUAFLXNEG2WU","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1616618472598,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Bev options include craft beer, domestic suds, well drinks, signature cocktails and wine. Rhythm on Monroe is open 4 - 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 - 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sunday. 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And after assembling my bowl’s standard options, she asked if I wanted to finish it half-avocado ($2) or carrot hummus ($1.50), as add-ons. After I inquired about the latter, she let me try a sample using one of those mini-spoon utensils ice-cream parlors deploy.","_id":"TLW72W2VWJEPJEHL4MNB747QRQ","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606474,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"It’s tempting to simply say carrot hummus tastes orange. But it’s also smooth in texture and with a garden-y vibe. I’d do it again.","_id":"6KCACHY2AJECFJPTUTCZM7PEFY","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606475,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Overall, the wake & steak bowl was an invigorating mix of clean, natural flavors composed in a smart way. Filling but not leaden. 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Vintage greens and clean layout. Even the menu, both enlarged mounted on the wall up front and the folded paper you can pick up upon first entering (presumably for when there’s a line), is simple and straightforward. Seating and dining room space is limited – there’s also a table or two out front on the sidewalk under the awning – but as with fast-casual in general there’s a lot of turnover and to-go.","_id":"F7YWMEIXARDGBO3CG3RRLL5P4A","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606477,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"While I was there a steady stream of young professionals and semi-bohemian types filtered through. Other signature bowls involve proteins from herb-citrus roasted chicken to turkey meatballs to baked-marinated tofu.","_id":"F4GSRUFP2ZFOZHEKUAR5ZV7BZQ","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606478,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"There are also build-your-own plate ($10.25) and bowl ($11.75) options. You pick two sides (“cauliflower, dates, pistachio, lemon”; “Israeli couscous, kalamata, pine nuts, feta, pickled red onion”; etc.), one base (brown rice, romaine, baby spinach) and a protein. For the bowl, you also get a sauce choice, including tahini-miso and roasted poblano avocado.","_id":"ODGMEDYIB5CPJCHB6WPOZOOK7I","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606479,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"At Esther’s they also sell prepared foods out of a cooler on the left side as you approach the counter. I spied cinnamon roll ice cream, eggplant parmesan and some curry in there. The have some canned craft-beers, fancy waters, etc. More info at estherseatery.com.","_id":"57E2LJZVPFFD5NJUKWA4H6AC4A","type":"interstitial_link","additional_properties":"_id":"ODCXLPEBVFAQ5KUST2IT2KTX4U","comments":[],"content":"Rock legend Ann Wilson of Heart has been recording in Muscle Shoals","url":"https://www.al.com/life/2021/03/rock-legend-ann-wilson-of-heart-has-been-recording-in-muscle-shoals.html","_id":"NCOEZ2B36JAVZHCHF3TANNEN24","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606480,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Esther’s is located at 1416 Huntsville Road space amid a repurposed row of vintage commercial buildings, also home to another restaurant or two, in what’s called the Sweetwater District. They’re open 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday. A billiards place is nearby, and a package store. Florence is also just a “Free Bird” (studio version) length drive away from other Shoals charms, including FAME Studios, Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Muscle Shoals Sound, etc.","_id":"JNOEG3U36ZEWVE526VZLDOYAM4","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1617123606481,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"If one could purchase stock in a city, I’d invest in Florence. Every time I visit this small north Alabama city, it’s become more endearing and gained a pinch more progressive college-town character. In addition to Odette, downtown is home to a nifty little cache of other restaurants. Fashion designer Billy Reid has a store and studio there too. Small but mighty indie label Single Lock Records also. And if I could purchase stock in a little sis restaurant, I’d invest in Esther’s. 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The Camp cooks their burgers on a big charcoal grill, which brings backyard-cookout smokiness. Beefy/hearty burger, well-executed on a quality bun. The twist, hence the “surf,” is this burger’s topped with crawfish and - in addition to lettuce, pickle, tomato - dressed with tartar sauce.","_id":"2FYDOECBURGY3EEVYC4R3TXVVI","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428083,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Tartar sauce is more burger-friendly that you might anticipate, adding some tangy zip. The burger is definitely the star in this surf/turf show. But the crawfish adds subtle flavor and texture, particularly when these little MFs fall off the burger and into the accompanying fries, making for righteous crawfish/fry forkfuls.","_id":"ROCAM3TPZZHAVE2W6VDTNTHF6A","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428084,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"These culinary collages are courtesy of The Camp’s executive chef, Ruth Mercado. Longtime Huntsville dining enthusiasts should recognize Mercado’s name and fresh ideas from her time at the dearly departed Sandwich Farm and 3 Skillets.","_id":"ZG2PFMR6QBHUNHFJFOO5TXPNXQ","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428085,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Other items on The Camp’s chalkboard food menu this day include a grilled chicken po-boy ($10). The Camp’s food/bar hours are 4 – 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 – 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.","_id":"3ENST454SVB2LP73PN3HRSFKTU","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428086,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Other food/beverage options inside The Camp’s footprint include The Greenroom, a coffee shop with a second-floor patio, and Superhero Chefs, a trailer-housed spinoff from a caped-crusader themed Tuscumbia restaurant of the same name. More info at explorethecamp.com.","_id":"THWNTGPVDFH4ZOMFG7GPV5TIK4","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428087,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"On just a typical warm afternoon or evening, The Camp is a chill and savvy Huntsville hang. Over the last couple years, I’ve seen a few shows here too, as they’ve hosted a well-curated mix of local/regional musicians (Lamont Landers, Quantaphonics) and occasionally regional/touring acts (Taylor Hunnicutt, Dylan LeBlanc). The Camp just announced their March music schedule, with 7 p.m. shows some Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, featuring performances by the likes of bluesy guitarist Eric Rhodes and roots group Cotton and Clover.","_id":"WNLLZPVP6BAJPEEIZ2F365LT5E","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428088,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Steered by Alabama real-estate venture RCP Companies, The Camp’s event programming is some of Huntsville’s most clever. Their Mardi Gras parties have involved legit New Orleans food/bev, and music from NOLA music royalty, Ivan Neville. The Camp’s done drive-in movies and colorful pop-ups too. Their Market at MidCity returns 1 – 5 p.m. March 14, featuring wares from farmers, makers, etc., and runs Sundays through Nov. 14. There’s a full event schedule on The Camp’s Facebook page.","_id":"QDMBVFEXNRAKHDP6FV3SYGG234","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1615323428089,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Twelve months deep into pandemic, with the boredom needle pegged to redrum, Huntsville’s lucky to have better outdoor social options than it used to. And when the weather plays nice, those options don’t get more vibrant than out at The Camp. 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