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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On Food Trucks

The concept of restaurants is ever-evolving.  For one, they are no longer confined to brick and mortar establishments. The food truck is not new but their trending popularity certainly is.  Ten years ago, most people would never have imagined the creative gourmet options they would be able to get from a food truck; something I remember, from childhood, presented on beaches and in parking lots serving up hotdogs, hamburgers and fries. To say that food trucks have come a long way would be equally understated as it would be punny.

The scene in Hamilton has grown exponentially over the last few years.  There are now common areas in this city where the food trucks unite and offer a place for people to go to taste all there is to offer.  The camaraderie among these trucks is admirable and I often wish that restaurants could be the same way.  They have certainly added to the progress of food culture in the City.

Graeme Smith, owner of the very popular food truck Gorilla Cheese, says, “I believe that food trucks can take some credit for the recent growth of food culture in the Hamilton. Since we started 3 years ago, Hamilton now has more than a dozen food trucks roaming the city, and a steady influx of new high-quality and independently-owned restaurants popping up all the time. It's contributed to a new-found excitement for food in the city, in which the best establishments will flourish and the not-so-bests are forced to improve their game.”  

In 2012, city council was debating whether or not food trucks could continue to operate as they had been as there weren’t many rules and regulations in place at the time to govern them. When this surfaced, many restaurant owners spoke out vehemently against them. There were also those of us who were happy to support them.  The dividing stance was that one side believed they would steal business away from brick and mortar restaurants without paying their fair share of taxes and expenses; the other side felt that food trucks added to the city and didn’t pose any threat whatsoever.  In the end, Hamilton became one of the first cities in Canada to permit food trucks to operate within reasonable parameters, allowing their owners to make a proper living.

The major issue with these businesses is that we live in Canada.  Personally, I would never get in line at a food truck in the winter as I like to be warm whilst eating.  Comparatively, I feel unbelievably sorry for them in the heat of our summers as they sweat over deep frying food in a metal box with the sun pounding down on it.  So kudos to those ambitious food truck owners who have the passion to fight the elements (including those on city council).

Today, there is incredible variety among the types of food you can acquire from a food truck: vegan food (Karma Charmealeon), authentic southern BBQ (Southern Smoke), high quality coffee (Detour), high-end chef-driven options (El Vagamondo Gastromondo), schnitzels (Dobra Jesti), smoked meats (Caplansky’s), grilled cheese (Gorilla Cheese), and so much more.  When they all gather at locations like the corner of Queen and Main (Savoury Saturdays) or at Longwood and Aberdeen (Food Truck Alley) it is a great opportunity to test out everything there is to offer from these travelling kitchens.

I will leave you with some eating suggestions as two prominent food truck insiders have shared with me their favourite meals from the Hamilton food truck scene:

Dobro Jesti – Za Razor (Pork Schnitzel with and marinara sauce and mozzarella)

Johnny Blonde - Spicy jerk chicken on homemade flatbread w/ apple, cabbage, cucumber and sweet carrot slaw in honey Dijon vinaigrette

Southern Smoke Truck – Smoked Ribs with homemade smoked beans and sassy slaw
Frankie Fettucine – Osso Bucco & Gnocchi poutine

Gorilla Cheese – The French Onion grilled cheese, with caramelized onions, crispy onion bits and gruyere on Cake & Loaf Cheddar/Onion/Beer Bread.

Dirty South-Dirty Southern Love-This is southern fried chicken in Louisiana hot sauce layered between 3 buttermilk waffles, candied bacon, arugula and house made ranch sauce.

Karma ChaMEALeon- Jamaican Jerk Taco, the right amount of heat with no meat. 

Nudulz-2 Alarm Coconut Curry over Orzo, curry is perfectly spicy and the chicken melts in your mouth.

The Salted Pig, the bacon candy is amazing.

 Food Truck Alley