With summer having ended this week (autumnal equinox on Monday), it’s time to reminisce about food experiences during the warmer weather months. This year, despite Jenn and I embarking on another major project, we lined up at a number of Ottawa’s food trucks and carts.
As last year, the regular street food season will culminate in a large food truck and cart rally, organized by Sharif Virani (@thescribblr) of CreativeMornings Ottawa. The second annual Ottawa Food Truck Rally (OFTR) will be held this Saturday (tomorrow!) at Saint Paul University (223 Main Street). For those of you familiar with the neighbourhood, this is the same physical space used by the Main Farmers’ Market. Market vendors, mostly local farm producers, will dismantle their stalls and vacate the premises at 2 pm. Nineteen invited food trucks and carts will then arrive and set up for service by 4 pm.
[Update: participating trucks and carts include Ad Mare Mobile Seafood, Angry Dragonz, Bonita’s Cantina, Dosa Inc., Gonfu bao, Great Canadian Poutinerie, Lunch, Mr. Churritos, Ottawa Streat Gourmet, Ozzy’s Food on Wheels, Routine Poutine, ROYI Street Cart, Streetside Curry, Sula Wok, The Grilled Cheeserie, The Merry Dairy, The Original Souvlaki, Urban Cowboy, and What the Truck.]
Virani hopes for quite the crowd.
Summer Street Food 2014
The event is again sponsored by self-professed “boutique” builders Domicile. Tickets for entry are $10/person. Food will cost $4-ish/tasting sample. All proceeds will go to funding a culinary scholarship at Algonquin College’s school of hospitality and establishing kitchen training for 20 clients of Ottawa Community Housing (OCH).
Last year, the rally was held in Little Italy, at the corner of Norman and Pamela Streets. A majority of the City of Ottawa’s newly launched street food program incumbent trucks and carts participated, with the strange exception of Ben Baird’s Ottawa Streat Gourmet. Baird participated in some of the marketing and his blue trucks was prominently displayed on the website. However, the event, being held entirely on private property, other trucks and carts participated like Marlene Haley’s The Merry Dairy frozen custard truck and Leo Raguseo’s Pizza & Panini (playfully known as “What the Truck”). While these latter trucks have been licensed to serve food, they don’t have permits to operate “on-street.”
Ottawa Food Truck Rally 2013
After a summer that began with a somewhat failed mass launch of the program at City Hall and continued with months of fits and spurts starts, the rally was a resounding success, drawing upwards of two thousand people. For the first several hours, over a thousand people lined up around the block to get in. Strangely, attendees with and without tickets purchased in advance lined up together. Only judges were permitted to “cut the queue.” Eventually, when furor grew on social media and frustrated ticket holders started walking away, two lines were formed.
Until the rally, Ottawa had not seen so many street food options crowded into one location. A decades long moratorium on on-street permits and a very convoluted collection of bylaws largely prevented modern food trucks from coming onto the local scene. Then, it was a tragedy of errors for program incumbents. Despite a regimented selection process and established business plans, parts and equipment were back ordered from overwhelmed manufacturers across Canada. Street food entrepreneurs had difficulty understanding the specifications required for TSSA to safety their trucks and carts. Carts that made it to the street one week were shuttered the next.
Needless to say, lines to the trucks and carts at the inaugural rally ran long. Some vendors took cash. Others took sample tickets. Food ran out. Tempers flared.
Virani promises to address issues this year, but they tend to be par for the course at food festivals be they indoor or outdoor. It’s Privé (formerly Privé Food Thought) holds regular events in the cavernous event space available at the Ottawa Congress Centre. Their upcoming event, the 613 Night Market, charges food vendors $225 and retail vendors 130$ to participate. Access to additional powered outlets costs extra. Privé also charges attendees a nominal entrance fee ($5). It, however, does not ask for a percentage of the event’s take from vendors. The Ottawa Food Truck Rally is similarly organized.
Like the rally, Privé’s events test the patience of attendees (long wait time to enter and long lines inside), so organizer Roy Abourgeili now staggers the tickets into “services.” Instead of risking a 2000 person rush on vendors, a maximum of 1000 people is allowed in the space during each service.
Bottom line, street food is damn tasty and good fun.
If you want to attend the rally, here are suggestions and a reality check:
- The weather is forecast to be sunny and warm (25°C). You will spend a number of hours onsite if you want to try all of the options. 223 Main Street is a parking lot. There is little shade. Bring water and sunscreen because you will be hurrying up to wait.
- For your sanity, attend with a large group of friends. This way, you’ve company in the lines and the group can distribute itself into multiple queues at the same time, so “divide and conquer.” Honestly, it doesn’t really matter how early you arrive. There will be line-ups.
- If (or when) a melee situation occurs (i.e. all trucks and carts get inundated), the staff in the trucks and carts will do their very best to kick food out. Realize that they want to serve you as much as you want to eat.
- The tasting samples served from the trucks and carts may not resemble what they normally serve. Your favourite truck’s menu will be pared down so food can be prepared and served quickly. Do not expect many options from each truck. Do not ask for substitutions.
- Bring change and smaller bills. Food will mostly be purchased with tickets. The fewer times volunteers have to make change, the faster the line at the ticket tent will move.
- The rally is a friendly competition. There will be a group of esteemed judges (including the CEO of Shopify and his wife) who will be cordoned off and who will be ferried food from the trucks and carts. Their vote is no more important than yours. In fact, during the last rally, judges submitted the same ballots attendees were issued.
Last year, trophies were won by Tarek Hassan’s Gongfu Bao for best small plate; Kin Tran and Bonnie Wong’s Angry Dragonz for best large plate; and Layne Belcher’s Urban Cowboy for best food truck or cart design (yes Belcher, Layne is the son of late Val Belcher who launched the Lone Star Texas Grill).
Best Food or Cart Design Winner 2013
Large Plate Winner 2013
I participated as a judge in 2013 and partnered with Chef Jordan Holley of El Camino (380 Elgin Street). We had to enlist help to get samples from all the trucks and carts as we refused to cut queues of increasingly frustrated attendees. Incidentally, judging the event cut into Holley’s prep time for evening service at El Camino. Given the successful taqueria routinely handles upwards of 900 covers on Saturday nights, his kitchen must have worked fetes of heroism worthy of song.
That said, a seasoned chef who remembers when Top Chef Canada Rene Rodriguez’ Navarra on Murray Street was Richard Urquhart’s original Black Cat Cafe (now Black Cat Bistro on Preston Street), Holley was particularly impressed by Pizza & Panini. This is because its rocket hot wood-fired oven is somehow integrated into the trailer.
In comparison, fellow mobile pizzaiolo Mark Snyder of The Flat Bread Pizza Company, who arguably makes a better pie, went a different direction. His operation is essentially a clay-based wood-fired pizza oven on wheels. There is no enclosure.
I was particularly impressed by Hassan whom we at foodiePrints have already profiled. A seasoned line cook, he knew how to knuckle down when he got “in the juice.” His line moved the fastest. His cart was first to run out of food. His dishes were most consistently executed.
Small Plate Winner 2013
To Virani, the trucks and carts, and the new panel of judges, good luck!
To attendees, have fun!
Jenn mentions the Ottawa Food Truck Rally in this week’s segment of Lunch Out Loud Ottawa
Ottawa Food Truck Rally 2014
Where: St. Paul University (223 Main Street)
Date: Saturday, September 27, 2014
Time: 5pm – 8pm
Cost: $10/person entry ($4-ish/tasting sample)
Tags: Ad Mare Seafood, Angry Dragonz, Dosa Inc., featured, Gongfu Bao, LUNCH, Mr. Churritos, rally, Raon Kitchen, Red Roaster, The Merry Dairy, Urban Cowboy Eats