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Tag Archives: food trucks

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 3: Sweet Dreams

Ouch!  This article has been sitting in my “to finish” pile for months, but I’ve finally just gotten around to putting the pictures in – hopefully all of these places are still around!  This last article in the series covers the dessert/sweets places that I visited last September, as well as the restaurants that I remember most fondly.

Petit Abeille Petite Abeille on Urbanspoon – The “little bee” is a nice little shop with a surprisingly big behind, equipped with charming checkered tablecloths and floors and old-world sensibilities. If you want a little taste of Belgium, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – Tin-Tin comics, Belgian waffles, and an extensive Belgian beer menu make it abundantly clear which country inspires this place. Turns out that there are four of them in NYC, though I went to the one close to Union Square for breakfast – the waffles were crisp and delicious (even if the strawberries were a little tart for my taste) and the coffee nice and robust. Recommend!

Quite the charming interiorNothing says Belgium like waffles!

 

Max Brenner Max Brenner on Urbanspoon – For those with a full set of sweet teeth – Chocolate by the Bald Man! It’s a pretty stylish place that’s still reasonably casual, and might be a good date place if it wasn’t chock-full of noisy tourists 😉 This place is surely diabetes in disguise – diabolically delicious! I ordered a frappe, which oddly came with a metal straw – I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing but it seemed to impart a metallic taste to the drink. The frappe was also on the edge of being too sweet, though given that it was the dulce-de-leche flavour that only makes sense.  They offer a number of sickeningly sweet indulgences, including a giant chocolate-filled syringe!

[Ohnoes, no pics!]

ChikaLicious ChikaLicious Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon – My first thought when I heard that this was a place that served a 3-course prix fixe menu for dessert only – too rich for my blood. But in reality, it’s a sweet little place where the diminutive but charmingly stoic owner/chef Chika makes you your dessert as you watch while seated at the bar. It was pretty cool to see the fresh figs get chopped up and the crème brulee torched in front of me. The “sous” chef (or whatever you might call them for a dessert bar) was an intense guy who beat the whipped cream as if it had committed crimes against humanity. The lemongrass panacotta and cantaloupe sorbet were both very nice, though I don’t remember much about the petit-fours that we had at the end.

Chika and her sidekick prepare the desserts while you watchEver seen a creme brulee like this?Why are these called petit-fours when there are only three? ;)

 

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon – One of my friends was adamant that I check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, so luckily we happened to see it parked around Union Square one afternoon (Union Square seems to be a pretty popular hangout for the food trucks).  I was REALLY hoping to get an ice cream cone covered in Trix cereal, but unfortunately they only had flavours like the Salty Pimp (soft serve impregnated with dulce de leche and coated with sea salt and chocolate dipping) and Bea Arthur (crushed wafers and dulce de leche).  I ended up going with a wasabi peas cone, as it sounded pretty interesting, but unfortunately the wasabi peas were tres bland.  Far from fabulous, I’m afraid.  Soft serve is what it is, though, so if you’re looking for your fix of ice cream with a twist it’s worth checking out.

Their flavours are loud and proud

 

Dirt Candy Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon – Kiran had been wanting to try a place that dealt in “molecular gastronomy” so we went to one of the more affordable places that offered something resembling that – a cute-as-buttons vegetarian gig in the lower east side called Dirt Candy. It’s a tiny, tiny, place with 7 tables that seat 20 people max (I think 18 more typically). The menu seemed simple enough, so we ordered one of everything – literally! – to split between the three of us. That worked out to four-and-a-half appies, four mains and four desserts – which turned out to be just about right for three strapping young lads such as ourselves. The appetizers came out super fast, which is always nice. I don’t normally care too much for cornbread-like substances, but the hush puppies that we had were MINDBLOWING – not too dense, nicely crispy and accompanied with a lightly-sweet maple butter that complemented it perfectly. The mushroom “pate” was decent, if a little subtle for my tastes – but the mushroom “calamari” on top of the celery salad that we also got was downright terrific. It still didn’t make me like celery, but the baby celery bits that were spread around the plate made me smile. The deep fried cheese curds on the salad prompted Matt to swear to find a recipe for them. A couple of the appetizers were less impressive – there was a red-pepper soup which seemed rather watery (though I only tried a couple spoonfuls) and a “BBQ pork carrot” bun which confirmed to me that sometimes meat just can’t be replaced with vegetables.

What is dirt candy, exactly? Vegetables, of course!The lighting was VERY red and VERY dark - perfect for mushrooms?NEED MORE MAPLE BUTTER FOR THESE PUPPIES

A lot of the dishes seemed to be designed in a manner where meat/seafood would normally be found, in fact – besides the “pate,” “calamari” and BBQ buns, there was a tofu dish that could easily have been fish instead, and a smoked cauliflower & waffles dish that was a clear homage to chicken & waffles. It takes some real chops to fashion up dishes that contain only vegetables and have them stand up to their meat-bearing counterparts. For the most part, I’d say they succeeded – of the mains, my only disappointment was the gnocchi with chard, garlic granola and fig jam. It smelled like garlic heaven, but unfortunately I didn’t think the taste lived up to the smell – while there were some killer flavour/texture pairings (chard + garlic, granola + jam, garlic + cheese + gnocchi) I didn’t enjoy it so much when mixed all together. Oh well, taste is a subjective thing! Desserts ran the gamut from weird to wonderful – my least favourite being a very clever but unfortunate tasting watermelon-radish sorbet, with my personal favourite being the seriously solid pea and mint “Nanaimo bar” ice cream sandwich. There was also a straightforward but well executed pudding topped with popcorn, as well as a rather interesting beet chocolate cake.

I had to use flash because it was so dark, but this was "calamari" and saladTofu, with copious amounts of shizo and cucumberCorn dish not mentioned in text - grits, deep fried egg

Whew!  Well you can tell based on the space I’ve given this piece relative to the others that I really enjoyed this restaurant!  Another thing that I enjoy immensely is the absolutely hilarious blog that Amanda Cohen, the chef/creator of Dirt Candy, maintains at http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/ (if you ever want to start a restaurant of your own, make sure you are familiar with the oil rig scam!).

Amanda Cohen is from Canada <3, so here's tributeYessir, we finished everything to the last bite!

 

Les Halles Les Halles Downtown on Urbanspoon – This turn-and-burn French restaurant was once run by Anthony Bourdain, so it seemed like a good place to check out as a traveller.  The venue was bustling when we arrived, with wait staff that seemed to be made up of people from every corner of the Earth.  Service was stellar, with a server seemingly ready to swoop in and refold your napkin anytime you stood up from your table (though I’m used to sub-par service in Calgary, so maybe this is just the norm at any restaurant of note in NYC).  Without Kiran there to induce meat-guilt with his vegetarian visage, Matt and I were free to order dishes to satisfy our inner carnivores – starting with country-style pate, and ordering – what else – NY sirloins for mains.  The pate came out immediately and was absolutely delicious – well spiced and well salted – though country-style chunkiness surprised me, as the pates that I have had in the past had all been blended to be mousse-like.  The mustard that came on the side wasn’t even necessary.  The fries that came out with the steaks were some of the best fries that I’ve ever eaten – just the right mix of fat and potato, fresh, and perfectly crispy.  And mayo with the fries?  My arteries screamed no but my tastebuds quickly overruled them.  As for the steak – incredibly smooth, juicy, and flavourful – I couldn’t ask for more in a steak.  The salad was alright, but honestly I couldn’t care less about that given the quality of the rest of the meal.  To finish it off, we ordered a crepe Suzette – because honestly, who doesn’t love flambee’d shit?  It was quite citrusy and left my mouth with a little tingly sensation, but we ordered it mainly for the show anyway.  A fitting last meal for an incredible trip!

Pate tastes better than it looks - way betterFlambee away!Nothing quite satisfies like a great steak

 

A ten day trip, with 21 places to write about – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the smorgasborg that is New York City.  If you’re ever in NYC, hopefully you’ll have the chance to check out these places and enjoy them like I have.  I am sure I will be back again sometime in the future – so if you have any further recommendations on places to check out, be sure to let me know!  If you missed them, you can find part 1 (American food) and part 2 (Asian food) through the links!

These fake postcards are all pictures I took!

Cheers,

-Richard

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Food Truck Weekend Overload (Part 2)!!

Richard and I headed up to Lilac Fest a couple of weekends ago to kick-start the summer festivals circuit. Although I personally find most of these street festivals a bit blasé, they are an awesome opportunity to make lots of food-related discoveries.

After the initial successful pilot, food trucks are now here to stay, with their numbers reportedly rising up to 30 by the end of summer. It seems like food truck frenzy has taken over the city, with a new one popping up every week. Lilac fest had a plethora of food trucks so it was the perfect opportunity to review a few more trucks from the day before

Snoberry: Shaved Ice-Cream

The first one that caught my eye was the latest offering from the folks over at The Noodle Bus, which explains the following photo:

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But no one can beat the one Asian gang sign to rule them all:

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(Kiran’s so jealous of my style Winking smile -Richard)

(I am. Sad smile –Kiran)

But, I digress…

Snoberry serves up shaved ice treats and allows up to two toppings per cup. The toppings range from the classics like blueberries, to the more exotic like “mochi” and “lychee burst”.

What is shaved ice, you ask? The “formal” Wikipedia definition describes it as a “large family” of ice-based dessert made of fine ice shavings or finely crushed ice and sweet condiments or syrups.”

Basically, it’s a fuckin’ snow-cone…aka kala khatta in India or Ais kachang in Southeast Asia

And not a good one at one. The texture of this shaved ice was that of shredded wheat. The texture basically turned me off the dessert completely. Plus, a real shaved-ice treat would actually be dripping with syrup and other condiments (like red beans or peanuts) that you can scoop or suck on. Instead, Snoberry’s version just blurs the line between a frozen yogurt and snow cone, and unfortunately, the end result isn’t very good. (I tried it and was rather ambivalent to it – it’s not really much like a snow cone, as the flavour is imbedded in it rather than in syrup form like the types that Kiran is familiar with. It’s more like those ice crystals that you get on the lid of an ice cream container when you over freeze it – vaguely milky-flavoured, but a relatively dilute taste. Sure it’s a bit overpriced, but the main thing that made it shitty was the horrible combination of flavours that Kiran picked – sorry, peanuts and chocolate don’t go with mango ice and lychee bursts. –Richard).

(It was a fuckin’ delicious combo. –Kiran)

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The Happy Truck

We were looking for a solid meal, and the bright and cheery Happy Truck caught our eyes and stomachs. We were also intrigued by their po’boy offerings with decidedly non-traditional po’ boy ingredients like satay sauce, tempeh, and beef.

I decided to get the temphee (sic) po’boy (that was pretty much my only option) which was a cornucopia of ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily see often but nonetheless excited me somewhat in my loins. The big “mystery” ingredient for me was tempeh (deep fried fermented soybeans) which turns is something that has been consumed in Indonesia for centuries. The tempeh was supplemented with a generous (and I mean fuckin’ generous) load of shredded/marinated cabbage, pineapple chunks (?!?!), carrots, and cucumber, all topped off with satay sauce and dollops of sambal.

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The above ingredients sound delicious on paper, but unfortunately, where the po’boy failed was in delivery and execution. I didn’t know how to eat the fuckin’ thing. The bread was cut through on both sides so there was no way to hold the sandwich without ingredients oozing out and dripping onto your lap. The above would be forgivable if the sandwich was mind-blowing, but it wasn’t, thus exacerbating my dislike for the po’boy.

Richard’s Thoughts

The Happy Truck, eh? The name certainly appealed to me, and the people running it inside seemed happy enough. Ok, worth a try, right? Their off-beat offerings were a strange mix of Asian-inspired flavours (from samosas to Southeast-Asian satay) centered around a “Po’ boy” that was the Southern-States standard in name only. It was more like a Viet/Thai style sub (though the bread was certainly po’boy-like), filled with satay beef, cabbage, seemingly cooked cucumber, pineapple pieces, hoisin sauce, and slathered with a generous helping of peanut-y satay sauce.

DSC00097It was certainly an adventurous combination, but I can’t say that I was a fan of it. The sweetness of the pineapple and hoisin sauce combined with the strong peanut flavour of the satay made it taste like I was eating a PBJ sandwich – that happened to also have beef and cabbage in it Sick smile. Seems like it might appeal to people who like the PBJ hotdog at tubby dog though Winking smile. I also had a spring roll, which was almost like an Asian-style sausage roll – unlike many spring rolls, there was no vermicelli or vegetable fillers – only pure, pot-sticker-style meat. On the plus side, the Happy Truck accepts credit cards, which was rather welcome.

Purple Pastry Chef

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The set of cupcakes that were on display in front of the little van caught my eye as we were walking by, and the cheerful ladies manning the little van seemed pretty down-to-earth, so I figured it would be a good place to grab some dessert. The flavour selection was very unique (cinammon, rosewater, and mojito were among the offerings that day), and each cupcake was exquisitely decorated and packaged in individual windowed boxes. We were informed that everything on the cupcakes was edible (including the well-crafted butterflies that adorned several cupcakes) – except for the straw that adorned the mojito cupcake (which was what I ended up ordering).

The cupcakes were almost too adorable to eat – but eat, we did. Unfortunately, I’d say they made better decorations than desserts – the cake itself was nice, if unremarkable, but the icing was too viscous for my liking (almost like marzipan) and the flavour was mostly one-dimensional – sugary (there were wisps of rum/mojito mix but it was pretty muted). Luckily, it came with a slice of key-lime that I bit into in between bites of cupcake that helped cut the sweetness and added some zing. The sugar mint leaf on top was actually also really good, but it wasn’t really big enough for me to get a piece of it with every bite of the cupcake. They weren’t that cheap either ($3.50 or $3.75, I think?), but I don’t doubt that a lot of care went into each and every cupcake so the price was somewhat understandable. –Richard

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I went with the white chocolate and rose water cupcake, which like Richard’s selection, was absolutely gorgeous to look at. However, like his, mine was also better admired than eaten. The icing was too thick and sweet for my liking and the cake wasn’t really all that special. I attempted to eat the rose petals, but ended up just coughing them out.

It was pretty disappointing to have something that delicious looking turn out to be not that delicious, but such is life. #firstworldproblems. -Kiran

Other Trucks

4th Street was lined all the way with food trucks and amongst the new and interesting ones we saw were:

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Which essentially seems to be Edo Express on wheels:

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Then there are other trucks like The Naaco Truck that weren’t at the Lilac Fest, but which I am SUPER-excited about as white people need to know there’s more to Indian food than butter-chicken (which 95% of India Indians won’t be able to afford anyways):

Summary

Food truck mania is definitely taking over the city. I can’t thank Nenshi’s office enough in pushing this concept through City Hall. Calgary’s a pretty cool place, and although it will take us a while to be as trendy, hip or cool as Montreal, we will get there (in a couple of decades or so!). I personally think Calgary’s main problem is how young of a city it is. A lot of people don’t realize that we have grown to a million in the span of only 60 years, whereas a lot of the major cities around the world have two or three CENTURIES worth of history.

As the food truck scene explodes, there will be an increased scrutiny on the quality and price of the offerings. BUT, ultimately, regardless of the food quality, the concept of street food is only going to help revitalize our City.

Looking forward to what summer brings in our local food scene.

-Kiran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Pastry Chef (Food Truck) on Urbanspoon

Weekend Food Truck OVERLOAD (Part 1)!!

The Lilac Fest weekend was definitely a food truck extravaganza. Summer time is almost here and Calgarians were yearning to get out and get some time in the sun.

The first event one was Calgary’s “newest food festival” Eat Real YYC, which according to Casel Marche, the organizers of the event is:

“…a one-day indoor and outdoor revolutionary feast of community and good eats will feature many Calgary food trucks, restaurant pop-ups, food stations featuring local products and food artisans, and wine tasting.”

I saw a lot of twitter posts tagged with #stickittotheman in association with this event, but to be honest, if you can afford to shop at the grocery store in the building, then you probably are The Man; you are definitely not part of the 99%.

The “real food” festival turned out to be no more than a bunch of food trucks parked on 24th St (at least, by 3pm when we arrived –Richard), which was alright, cause that’s what I was there to check out.

BLAM!WICH ~Heroic Eats

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She is BACK!

After a winter hiatus, Margie and the team over at Blam!wich are back. And they are better than ever.

Pearl’s been retired, but they have replaced her with someone better. With a bigger interior and more room, the Blam!wich truck is better equipped to serve the masses and dish out those awesome blam!wiches.

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Although they were done for the day, Margie was kind enough to make a Speedy Gonzales just for me! Homemade spicy black bean burger, spicy & tangy pico de gallo topped with melted cheddar….you would have to be insane to say no that.

And the bread…oh so good. It sounds stupid to rave about the bread, but I don’t think I have had bread quite like this before. Perfectly toasted for that delicious crunch on the outside, yet soft and moist on the inside. I raved to Margie about this and I was on the money: apparently, she commissioned an 80-year old European baker to custom-bake this sandwich bread for her. You can definitely taste the difference with this bread – it adds a whole another dimension to the overall taste and experience. The Speedy Gonzales is definitely a worth successor to last season’s ratatouille-based vegetarian sandwich. Good job, guys!

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Stay tuned for an update to the original ride-along for another behind-the-scenes look at Blam!wich’s new truck.

Spud Mobeel

Although I was pretty satisfied after that heroic blam!wich, my eyes were immediately drawn to the spiral fries that everyone was trying to stuff their mouths with. 

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Something potato-based is perfect for a food truck as it is quick, simple, and makes the perfect snack. To me, that’s what street food is all about. Spud Mobeel has a long line-up of potato-based offerings – all grown in Alberta -  starting with the respectable French (Freedom?) Fries to the awesome “spiral dog.” I couldn’t get a photo of the spiral dog as it was already sold out, but imagine the spiral potato below, with a hot dog stuck through the inside on the skewer. It’s like one of those ship-in-a-bottle! Brilliant!

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Apparently, the white cheddar topping was the most popular that morning, so that’s what I went with. It turned out to be a good choice. What I didn’t like was the extremely crispy potato spirals. It was like eating chips off a stick, which was with odds at what my mind had visualized: softer, more French Fries like texture. In addition, the spirals weren’t cooked towards the bottom, so it was weird transitioning from the super-crispy to partially uncooked at the bottom.

It wasn’t that the spiral wasn’t good…more like I didn’t like the chips-like hard crunch of the spirals. Maybe this is your thing, and if so, I would encourage you to try it. Next time, I am going to try something else.

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 Wrap-up

With the number of food trucks set to hit 30 by this summer, there is going to be an increased scrutiny on the quality and novelty of the food being sold. Now that everyone and their aunties and uncles are getting into the food truck business, the quality is going to get diluted as folks seek to capitalize on the market. I don’t think more choice is bad – in fact, I think it’s great – but it does also bring out the more mediocre offerings.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the food truck update!

-Kiran

Blam!Wich - Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Mighty Fine Breakfast @MightySkillet

Summary: a solid breakfast that will refuel your soft, puny body after a night of hard partying in your friends’ mom’s basement


Now that we are bonafide ballers after 5 years of working as engineers, we at TSD like to refuel our bodies with a solid brekky after a hard night of partying it up in Richard’s mom’s basement.  This week I felt like checking out @MightySkillet, as it was a gorgeous Sunday morning and they were parked right at Central Memorial Park.

Prepare to have your breakfast cooked by the power of awesome!

I ordered the vegetarian version of their Eggs Benny for $8, whereas Richard and Kent ordered the Corned Beef Kraven and a Fistfulla Benny, respectively. While waiting for our orders, we started shooting the shit with the owners/chefs. Turns out they were line cooks at a bar/restaurant in the neighbourhood. The owner of that restaurant approached them to start a food truck but they didn’t like the deal he offered, so the guys at Mighty Skillet decided to strike out on their own. The rest as they say, is history.

Kiran’s Few Words

The interesting and most obvious thing about Mighty Skillet is the size of their truck. I think this has got to be the tiniest food truck I have seen to date…I guess these guys have nothing to prove. Haha. Jokes aside though, like all other food truck owners, they were amazed at how quickly and easily they were able to receive their permits from the City.

Eggs benny out of a truck? Who'da thunk it'd actually be goodAnother cool about the Skillet is that they make their own hot sauce. Any place that makes their own hot sauce gets instant respect in my eyes. The hot sauce went especially well with the eggs benny and the hollandaise sauce. It was hot but not too spicy and it punched up the flavours quite a bit. The eggs were poached perfectly and quite well. The hollandaise sauce was light and airy, and the fact that it came out of a truck is a testament to these guys’ skills.

The only complaint I have is that the eggs benny came on a “bed” of hash browns, which didn’t look much like hash browns. At first, I was a bit confused about what I was eating since it looked like steak. But turned out it was the hash browns and they were chewy and rubber-y. It was still palatable, but definitely not the hash browns I was hoping for. Elsie Hui posted something similar to that effect on her own blog as well.

Richard’s Ruminations

Baconstrips& Baconstrips& Baconstrips& Baconstrips - $4It was a nice sunny spring morning in Central Memorial park, when all of a sudden – FUCKING THOR’S HAMMER DROPPED FROM THE SKY IN FOOD TRUCK FORM.  If you weren’t ready to rock out to heavy metal and crush 3 lbs of bacon while watching the Avengers, you would be after seeing this truck.  Actually, when we were there, the tunes they were playing were more along the lines of Best Coast and Arcade Fire, but you get the drift.  In any case, it’s a sweet looking truck, and their superhero spatulas and arms-off coveralls help round out their look (the resemblance to Holy Smoke’s uniform is pure coincidence).

These guys apparently just dropped their jobs to start up this food truck – in November.  Gutsy time of year to start up an outdoor food service in Calgary, I’d say – but it seems to have paid off, as their hard work has apparently earned them a coveted spot with two other lucky trucks right in the heart of the stampede grounds during this year’s Stampede – keep an eye out for them!

These dudes are pretty chill - important when you are cramped up in such a tiny interiorI ordered the corned beef and hash browns, which happened to include other niceties like fried eggs and fresh tomatoes.  It was a pretty solid dish – the eggs were really nicely done and the tomatoes were deliciously juicy – but the medium-cut corned beef was just alright.  The hash browns, as Kiran mentioned, were curiously dark and certainly didn’t look much like hash browns, the potato type OR the McDonalds type.  I thought they were quite nicely seasoned, but people who like a potatoey flavour in their potatoes might find them lacking.

Sadly, they didn’t offer coffee when we were there – apparently they used to have their own blend of coffee but apparently the coffee machine drew too much power for their tiny truck to handle.  Hopefully they get that worked out in the future!  In any case, their drinks were surprisingly affordably priced at $1 for a juice – not too common these days!  The meals themselves weren’t super-cheap, but the numbers seemed typical for “food truck pricing.”

Homemade hotsauce, just like my mama used to makeThis here is the hash brown - would you have known without the mouseover text?

Kent’s 2 Cents

You can trade a fistfulla dollars for a fistfulla benny. What’s not to like.

Final Thoughts

In YYC’s burgeoning food truck boom, the Mighty Skillet flexes its mighty skills in breakfast-making to make its mark on the city. 

-Kiran

Mighty Skillet Brunch Truck on Urbanspoon

Changes to the This Sh*t’s Delicious Ranking Methodology

The nice thing about holidays (apart from the sun, sand, and relaxation) is that it gives you time to think about sh*t other than work. This time round, it gave me time to think about our Ranking Methodology. So far, we have been rating restaurants on:

– Ambiance

– Service

– Plating

– Taste

– Originality/Authenticity

– Value

Each category was ranked from 1-6, with 6 being the best in any category. For future reviews, the “Plating” category will no longer be applied and each category will only be rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best. For more details on why I decided to change the methodology, check out the NEW Ranking Methodology page.

The above changes won’t really matter too much but will make it easier on our end when assigning numerical values to each restaurant review. At the end of the day, we are about exploring the food scene in yyc, and more importantly, discovering the hidden gems where the locals dine are.

Stay tuned for more upcoming reviews!

-Kiran

The Blam!wich Ride-Along: Pulled over more people than a police ride-along

There comes a moment in every man’s life where he has to choose between sleeping in or manning up by waking up early to hang out with one of his favourite food trucks in town. A couple of Saturdays ago was that day.

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I showed up bright and early (for a Saturday) at Casel Marche where Blam!wich was going to be parked that day. It was a gorgeous but windy Fall day. Margie (owner) was already out and about getting ready to start off the day by turning on the generator:

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That right away answered one my long-standing mysteries: do they keep the engine running to power the truck? The answer (if you haven’t guessed it by now) is a no. The generator that Margie was working so hard to get started (while I was watching taking photos…haha) keeps the truck powered. It’s the most important piece of equipment out there.

Margie quickly took me inside the truck to introduce me to her line cooks Eleni (blue shirt, background) and Ashley:

The photos don’t do justice capturing how truly tiny the cooking space is inside the truck. At 6’3”, I felt like gojira walking through downtown Tokyo hell-bent on destroying everything. There isn’t really a lot of room to move and one quickly learns how to move in the most economical and efficient manner so you don’t start destroying shit. But back to that in a bit…

Margie, who is originally from Montreal (and has a degree in Art History) is a veteran of the food industry. On one of her trips out to Calgary, she fell in love with the mountains. One thing led to the other and she ended up owning, operating, running restaurants in the mountains for the next 15 years. Eventually, in Margie’s own words, every cook burns out and so did she, which led her to take an 8 year break in Marketing. The food truck pilot is her first venture back into the food industry…and she is going after it in full force!

IMG_0013Eleni, who was the head line cook that day, knows Margie from way back. She’s been in the industry since high school and has been through various roles over the past 11 years – from waitressing to culinary manager – before hooking up with Margie on the Blam!wich adventure.

Last, but not the least in the truck was was Ashley who was helping Eleni to speed up the line and cut down the wait times for sandwiches. Ashley, who’s originally from Manitoba (who’s favourite is the Tree Hugger!) kinda fell into the food industry and has been working in it since she moved to Calgary two years ago. IMG_0037

As mentioned earlier, the truck aka “Pearl” was pretty cramped. Margie and her bf picked it up in Golden from a guy who was looking to get rid of it. The duo drove it all the way to yyc, painted it themselves, got a friend to design the logo, got all the necessary permits, and BLAM!, were on the road selling sandwiches in less than a month…all thanks to the extremely streamlined City of Calgary process to get the food truck pilot going. Good job, CoC!

Challenges

The most fascinating part of the day for me was seeing the trio in action dealing with multiple orders. Prep work such as cutting veggies, cooking the ratatouille, and prepping the jerk sauces is done the night before in an external kitchen. While trucks such as Perogy Boyz and Alley Burger have their restaurants where such prep work can be done, Blam!wich doesn’t have that luxury, and hence, has to rent an external kitchen.

Even then, the cramped working conditions don’t help, especially as most line cooks like Eleni are used to lots of counter space if full size restaurant kitchens.IMG_0018

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With multiple orders coming in at one, it’s pretty important to be on the ball – the ability to multi-task is critical. Someone like Eleni has to constantly calculate in their head which orders can be grouped together so she can efficiently get orders out in that 7 min. window.

Even little things like how the order is written down makes a difference in her efficiency. For instance, depending on who’s taking the orders, the location of the customer’s name changes, costing Eleni that extra second before registering the name and calling it out. It’s a high stakes operation in there.IMG_0078

Of course, once all the prepping and cooking are done, it’s time to clean the truck. All in all, most food truck operators are looking at 12-16 hour days after the prepping and cleaning activities are taken in to account!

I got to hang out with John (aka Margie’s bf) towards the end of my sojourn and we got talking about the cost challenges involved in running a truck. A lot of people (including myself) have complained about how much this supposedly “fast food” costs. At the end of the day, there are a lot of costs that have to be covered by that $8 sandwich: food, labour for three, insurance, rental for a separate kitchen, indoor parking lot during winter so fire suppression system doesn’t freeze up, etc. that all add up and need to be paid for.

I think the main issue is perhaps the perception that food from a truck is supposed to be fast, and more importantly, cheap. While this could be true, it often isn’t, as there is a lack of understanding around what it takes to own and operate a truck: it is essentially a mini-restaurant on wheels.

At the end of the day, if the truck ain’t working, then there’s no revenue coming in. It’s as simple as that.

Positives

IMG_0049The most positive thing about working in a food truck environment for all three seemed to be the chance to meet people from all walks of life. The constantly evolving and dynamic nature of the job seemed to fuel both Margie and Eleni. Both of them seemed to revel in the adrenalin rush of working in a high-stress, multi-tasking environment. Margie especially seemed to thrive on the high of meeting and interacting with multiple people.

What amazed me the most was how elated people looked when they picked up their orders. I don’t know if I look that happy when I pick-up my orders, but it was the most amazing thing to watch from behind the scenes. At the end of the day, that probably in itself keeps the crew going day after day.

IMG_0094Future Plans

Amazingly enough, Blam!wich plans on working through the winter, once again showcasing that the only way to take back winter is to stop bitching and doing something about it. Margie plans to buy a 10’ x 10’ pop-up tent so people can be sheltered from the wind while waiting for their orders. Pretty neat.

Blam!wich is also planning on trialing a RT Twitter ordering system. The whole idea is customers can tweet their orders in prior to getting to the truck. Margie guarantees that the sandwiches will be ready in 7 min. regardless of when you plan on getting there. So, if you pre-order too soon, your sandwich might be sitting for a while…which is not a bad price to pay for not having to stand in –20 deg C weather. Brilliant!

Summary

It was pretty illuminating hanging out behind-the-scenes and getting to know the people who make great things happen. The three ladies formed a pretty tight team – everyone knew exactly what their job was and what they needed to get done – and didn’t waste any energy or energy getting those sandwiches out. It was pretty cool to see Eleni intensely focused, popping out multiple sandwiches like Third World Country families pop out kids!

The trucks will have to step up their game eventually once the novelty wears off. Right now, people are willing to disregard the high costs and/or band reviews for the novelty of trying out truck food. Shows like Eat Street on Food Network (which, interestingly enough, contacted the City to do a piece on yyc food trucks as opposed to the other way round!) have done a great job of introducing North Americans to the concept of food trucks, but like everything, Calgarians will undoubtedly get jaded and will start getting more discerning. It’s going to be very interesting to see how new and old players evolve and adapt to an increasingly demanding audience.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier. This was one thing missing from the Calgary food scene. As someone who grew up in cities with an amazing street food culture, it is very exciting to see Calgary develop it’s own street food scene. Calgarians now have additional options to satisfy their late night hunger pangs after a hard night of partying.

After all, there’s only so many times you can satisfy your soul with pizza-by-the-slice after some heavy drinking.

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