Year in Review: 2011 was the year street food finally took off in Toronto
After living through decades of delicious but pretty much uniform street meat, followed by a city-backed pilot program that ended up a complete fiasco, Torontonians finally got a glimpse of the street food promised land in 2011, thanks mostly to a clutch of feisty entrepreneurs. A selective and entirely arbitrary roundup of the highs and lows of Toronto ephemeral eating in 2011, after the jump.
Things did not start auspiciously this year. First, we got wind of a new Food Network Canada program called Eat St., which, quite reasonably, decided to skip over Toronto entirely. Then we found out that the Bloor Street Transformation Project, while bringing fancy new granite sidewalks to the Mink Mile, pushed eight hot dog stands to the curb. As a BIA representative put it, “aesthetically we are trying to create a different street.” But then, miraculously, an auspicious wind blew in from the west, with news of two new food trucks getting ready to prowl the streets in Hamilton.
Soon, we started hearing rumblings of things picking up in our own backyard. Francisco Alejandri, once a chef at Scaramouche, Torito and Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, decided to leave the highfalutin’ dining rooms of the city behind and open up shop in at his tiny Agave y Aguacate stall in Kensington Market. And our open-mouthed gawking at the underground markets popping up in San Francisco helped push Hassel Aviles to organize the shockingly successful Toronto Underground Market. Meanwhile, egged on by the food truck culture abroad and in wine country, Suresh Doss launched his smash hit Food Truck Eats events, which brought together existing food trucks and some of the city’s top chefs.
The floodgates were now open. July saw the launch of La Carnita, the city’s first pop-up taco stand, and Thundering Thelma, Zane Caplansky’s bright blue food truck. In the fall, Spiros Drossos started serving enormous breakfast burritos out of his Food Cabbie truck downtown, and four friends opened the Blue Donkey Streatery in Mississauga. Fidel Gastro’s, another roving pop-up restaurant, emerged soon after. Still, not all was well on Toronto’s streets. When Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi dropped by on his cross-country Cowtown promo tour, he made sure to point out the superiority of the trucks that roam his city’s streets. The man knew what he was talking about—after calling around to the various regulatory bodies, we discovered just how constrained Toronto’s trucks were compared to the free-range rigs of Calgary. And so, this year, our Christmas wish: could someone at city hall please take a look at what Calgary’s done?