We stopped by the inaugural Food Truck Eats and found a revolution in the making
Saturday marked the inaugural staging of Food Truck Eats, a street food event organized by Suresh Doss, publisher of Spotlight Toronto, which saw four street trucks and 10 vendors gather at the historic Distillery District. Although a conservative turnout of 500 was expected, more than 3,000 showed up for the long-weekend event (which ended up trending on Twitter). Despite the heat and long lineups, the crowd was abuzz—a sure indication of the city’s readiness for more liberal street food rules. We caught up with the various vendors—Cava, Geoff Hopgood, El Gastrónomo Vagabundo and more—to check out their wares and find out what they made of the day’s success. We also spoke to Doss, who gave us the heads-up on the next two events, which will take place at the on Aug. 20 at the Distillery and Oct. 1 at a new location to be announced, and will feature some surprise guests.
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The snaking lineups at 11:50 a.m., less than one hour into the event.
El Gastrónomo Vagabundo
Clockwise from top right: Australian chef Adam Hynam-Smith and his Canadian partner Tamara Jensen (both of Peapod Cuisine and owners of El Gastrónomo Vagabundo, a St. Catharines–based truck) with Melissa Burgess Moser and Robbie Moser. Smith and Jensen were surprised by the two-hour lineup that formed at their takeout window. Making everything to order, the team quickly learned that limiting the number of orders per customer was the best way to get their line moving. “I think today’s event was awesome,” Jensen said. “Everyone was still in good spirits—just hot and hungry.” Besides Korean barbecue chicken wings and gluten-free tacos, the most talked-about dish at this gourmet truck was the Buddha belly, a slice of five-spice pork belly served in fresh steamed buns with chili jam, cucumber and coriander.
Handcrafted pies from Baker Street Bakery.
Bonfire Catering’s newborn truck hit the streets a little over a month ago, serving up made-to-order wood oven–baked pizzas. While the 10-inch pies were sold by the half, owner Yvonne Deveaux noted that one of the lessons she learned from this event was to make larger pizzas to divvy up at the next event. Deveaux also enthused that the event drew increased interest in the mobile truck’s catering services for private functions.
Hamilton’s Natalie Ravoi stocked her new Cupcake Diner truck with a wide variety of cupcakes (from classic vanilla to caramel apple pie) and sold all 1,000 within the first hour and a half. Noting that the event was a great opportunity for people with a common interest in food trucks to gather, Ravoi hoped the day would show city decision makers how interested Torontonians are in food trucks and how much character it gave to gourmet food. Although the Cupcake Diner has only been curbside for five weeks, she told us that a second truck is in the works for Toronto—if the city allows it.
Buster Rhino’s Southern BBQ
Summer is synonymous with barbecue, so weren’t shocked to find that one of the first booths to sell out was Whitby’s Buster Rhino’s Southern BBQ. In less than two hours, hungry attendees gobbled up all 516 pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches. Humbled by the reception, owner Darryl Koster (right; pictured here with Scott MacDonald) dropped the news that their popular southern barbecue will be available in Toronto by the end of the year. Fans who normally drive out to Whitby and might have missed out on the sandwiches at Food Truck Eats should stay tuned for an upcoming location announcement.
The Buster Rhino’s folks put up this sign after they sold out of their wares.
Effervescent chef Rossy Earle of Supicucu was joined by her son at the event. Earle sold beef empanadas, Panamanian tamales with braised and pulled chicken and pork, a fantastic Latin-style chorizo with butter-poached onions and chimichurri on a bun and mini bottles of her salsa del fuego. That last item had many attendees buzzing with delight, prompting us to wonder why we didn’t pick up seconds.
Cava’s Chef Chris McDonald (centre) was joined by Joel Rousell and Alysa King (of Xococava) to serve the hungry crowd Acapulco-style kingfish ceviche and two types of tamales: mushroom with fresh corn and Yucatan-style shrimp in a banana leaf. For sweets, McDonald offered fresh fried star anise–canela churros paired with vanilla frozen yogurt and Ontario strawberry sauce. One lesson McDonald drew from the event: vendors should probably meet up in advance to share menu ideas, allowing for more variety and less overlap.
Long lines were everywhere, but there was particularly lengthy wait at Hamilton’s Gorilla Cheese, where the queue snaked from the vendor’s location by Stone House Walk past the event’s main stage and down Trinity Street. Susan Austin noted that the last orders were sold to folks who had been in line for over two hours. “We were so grateful that they would wait that long. Everybody was so positive and so excited and enjoyed the food….That was what was important for us here. The number one question we got was: are you going to be in Toronto? So it just shows that the city of Toronto is dying to have something like us around.”
Although their food truck wasn’t ready in time for the event, Gorilla Cheese owners Graeme Smith and Scott Austin and their team put together more than 600 grilled cheese sandwiches under a tent, sandwiching thick slices of white or multigrain bread with oozy Jensen’s cheese. The Canadian lumberjack (bacon, apple slices, maple syrup and aged cheddar) was the first to go, followed by vegetarian-friendly Gorilla sarducci (balsamic drizzled tomatoes with basil, onion and mozzarella) and sweet Neapolitan (hazelnut spread, strawberries and marshmallow) on grilled raisin bread.
Marben’s baby-faced executive chef Carl Heinrich and head butcher Ryan Donovan take a quick break with some of the lemonade they sold. On offer that day were 300 of the restaurant’s double-chocolate ice cream sandwiches. The pair got involved with the event because they were good friends with Doss, but also noted that the challenge of making affordable and simple food that can be eaten with your hands is a lot like what they do at the restaurant. “When you’re a cook,” said Donovan, “you want to feed people. You want to meet people and host. So events like this are fantastic because you can get out of your element a little bit—but you might meet a thousand more people.”
Simple Fish and Chips
Although Shawn Hartwell from Stratford’s Simple Fish and Chips brought a thousand portions of his wasabi lobster sliders and Cajun catfish tacos, he sold out around 1:30 p.m. Hartwell tells us that the overwhelming response indicates a demand for this type of creative food. “We wanted to bring a gourmet feeling to the streets, because it’s not about French fries and sausages anymore. I think Suresh [Doss] has done an amazing job. It’s all about letting people know we can do this outside—and in food carts. If this was more accessible for us to do it, I would definitely do a food truck, but right now the bylaws don’t allow us to do it.”
In addition to a refreshing rose-petal rhubarb slushie (doled out by chef Guy Rawlings), chef Geoffrey Hopgood served a playful take on a smoked chicken pot pie, only breaded, deep-fried and bite-sized. The crispy Timbit-sized fritters were topped with a sweet-and-sour gastrique, hot sauce, Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, slivered radishes, green onions and jalapeño. When we asked whether this dish was a preview of things to come, Hopgood’s only answer was a cheeky smile.
Augie’s Gourmet Ice Pops
Recent media darling Augie’s Gourmet Ice Pops offered 10 crowd-pleasing flavours ranging from fresh Ontario strawberries with lemon, basil and balsamic vinegar to mango with vanilla yogurt, coconut milk, lime and coriander. Janet Dimond (pictured here with her husband), owner of the all-natural fruit-based ice pop business, told us her business has taken off exponentially in recent weeks. In fact, she’d like to take it mobile on some level. “It’s easier to transport stuff and be at locations all around town,” she said.
Toronto chef and foodie-about-town Joshna Maharaj, who has recently taken on the task of revitalizing the food at the Scarborough Hospital, joined the chorus of vendors arguing that the huge turnout shows Toronto is ready for street food and food trucks. She also told us that she’s wanted to bring kulfi—a frozen, condensed, milk-based dessert—to the market here. Along with her brother Ajay Maharaj and Melissa Yu, Maharaj served 300 cups of cardamom kulfi with fresh Ontario strawberry compote.
Besides a host of filled bellies, one of the things most attendees took home was the sense of community that was built by all the vendors present. Some of the gestures of good will included El Gastrónomo Vagabundo’s lending some freezer space for Marben’s ice cream sandwiches and a much-needed kitchen knife to Gorilla Cheese.
The response to Food Truck Eats went way beyond the expectations of event organizer Suresh Doss. Next time around, he told us, patrons should expect changes in food truck and vendor layout in order to ensure smoothly flowing lineups. There will be more trucks (including Caplansky’s), which translates to more food—twice and then three times as much for the second and third events, respectively. Doss also promised a few surprises, including guest chefs “you would never expect to come out,” like, for example, “a certain Top Chef Canada contestant in a pimped-out truck” and representatives from city hall (perhaps even Mayor Rob Ford).