Rick and Aileen Black opened up The Cookshack in early July and already have regulars. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

There’s a new food truck in town, and it’s mighty delicious. 

Rick and Aileen Black realized one of their dreams when they opened up their new food truck, The Cookshack, just a few weeks ago. 

“We’re really excited,” Aileen said. “This has been five years in the making. We’ve been wanting to do this a long time.”

Rick comes from a Tennessee family who owned barbeque restaurants in the South for 35 years. Their slow-smoked meats have won awards, cook-offs and titles such as “Best of the Best” in the county. 

Talking about his family’s recipes, Rick laughed but refused to share: “I grew up smoking meats. There are things we keep secret.”

Aileen has lived in the Keys since she was 11, loving island favorites like shrimp and fish tacos, mango, cilantro and anything fresh and tropical.

To fulfill Rick’s dream of cooking and sharing his food, the Blacks bought a food truck in November. Because of the pandemic, it’s taken them much longer to launch than they would have liked. That all changed in July when they got their permits to operate, and they had doors open at 7 a.m. the very next day. It’s a purple-and-pink-painted truck inspired by the Islamorada sunset, and it’s serving up some really innovative grub at Isla Marina on Snake Creek in Islamorada.

Bright colors and tropical flavors add a Caribbean twist to the barbeque basics. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

The food is a perfect mix of their backgrounds, with briskets, pulled pork and other smoked barbeque infused with a little South Florida ‒ mango barbeque sauce, tropical avocado ranch and fresh-made red cabbage slaw. 

The menu changes constantly, based on what Rick feels like creating and cooking. The one thing that doesn’t change is that everything is made in-house and fresh.

Aileen said, “My husband is the actual chef. He loves to cook and share his dishes with people to see their reactions. We come up with cool ideas for food, and we can’t wait to share it with others.”

Rick’s smoked meats are the base for the Black’s fusion cuisine. Aileen calls them “so freaking awesome.” TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

Rick describes his signature brisket as “mouth-watering delicious,” and Aileen opted for “so freaking awesome.” The pulled pork is a 20-hour smoked Boston butt topped with homemade slaw on a brioche bun with a tangy homemade barbeque sauce. Equally tantalizing is the blackened mahi sandwich, a Keys favorite, with their own Cookshack-twist: mango barbeque sauce and a tropical avocado ranch. 

The duo plan to start sourcing their fish from local fishermen to help the community they love and to give their customers the very freshest, best fish. Rick is already dreaming up smoked meatloafs and cuban sandwiches with a twist ‒ smoked pork instead of mojo. 

Grateful, Aileen said they already had regulars calling them daily after just one week in business. The Cookshop partners with Isla Marina, on which it sits, and boaters who are coming in to gas up or buy bait can also pick up some fantastic fusion food to take with them. The marina also plans to add a back deck with a table and chairs where you can sit and enjoy your tropical barbeque while looking out on the water.

“It’s been amazing so far,” Aileen said. “We are so grateful. Friends have come out to support us and try our dishes, and then they come back! We’ve been busy, all by word of mouth.”

Thinking back on the permitting challenges during the pandemic, Aileen said that they were actually really glad to be launching right now. 

“People are scared to dine in restaurants and be around people,” she said. “This is the perfect opportunity for people to come get food and not have to stay. It piggybacks off people getting delivery, and gives people options and a safe environment.”

Rick summed it up: “We’re happy to be here and happy to cook. Hope you like it.”

The Cookshack is located at Isla Marina (85920 Overseas Highway, bayside, Islamorada) and is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For the menu and more information, call 305-764-7242.

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