OTTAWA — For a finger-licking example of how Ottawa’s food scene is changing, look no farther than the corner of Carling Avenue and Merivale Road.
The spot where the Lucky Key restaurant sat for 54 years has been paved and, in the parking lot, they’ve put up … well, nothing. But they’ve pulled in a smoking (literally) 28-foot-long shiny blue trailer emblazoned with the logo “Trailer Pork Boys.”
Since July 16 the Trailer Pork Boys have been dishing out all things smoked and made from pork, including ribs, Cuban sandwiches, pork poutine, schnitzel and, their specialty, succulent pulled-pork sandwiches. The sandwiches are $7 each, $11 if they’re in a combo with fries, coleslaw and a drink. The rib combo costs $13.
“The response has been amazing,” says Robert Fata, one of the owners. “We’ve sold out three nights by 6 p.m. and we sold out at lunch last Friday. People are hearing about us through social media and coming from all across town.”
This new eatery is a trailer, not a truck, but it’s perhaps the most telling example of how the food-truck craze is infiltrating Ottawa, albeit by the back door.
The “boys” have got around regulations that restrict new food trucks on city streets by parking on private property: one of the three owners owns the parking lot and the adjacent Best Western Macies Hotel.
“I just came back from Vancouver and the street-food scene there is amazing,” says Gerry Macies, the fourth generation of his family to operate a business on that corner. “In Portland, Oregon, they have 440 food trucks and Portland is half the size of Ottawa.”
Macies and his friend Fata, who owns Caffé Mio nearby on Wellington Street West, say there’s no question the trend is coming to town.
“We’re behind the West, but 100-per-cent it will get bigger in Ottawa,” says Fata. “But they’re going to be gourmet food trucks; they’re not going to be chip trucks.”
The City of Ottawa hasn’t issued any new street vendor permits for 16 years, but a pilot project is planned for 2013 that could see as many as a dozen new food trucks taking to the streets.
Macies and Fata, and their third partner, Adam Fata, who is Robert’s nephew, don’t fit the usual mould for food-truck entrepreneurs. While most eateries-on-wheels are rolled out because an eager young chef can’t afford to buy a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, and while many restaurant owners oppose the existence of food trucks, in this case two of the owners already owned restaurants. They decided to start a food truck because, well, it’s more fun.
“There are the same stresses as running a restaurant, but it’s far more fun,” says Robert Fata. “You’re a lot closer to the customer.”
Macies adds that “it’s neat seeing the customer come by the truck after they’ve finished eating and giving Adam and (chef) Peter (Simpson) the thumbs up.”
In fact Adam, who is just 23 but who has worked in family restaurants for more than decade, says his experience as a restaurant server gives their eatery a bit of polish you might not expect when dining at picnic tables in a parking lot.
“I check with customers once they’ve started eating to make sure they’re happy with their meal. I don’t think you’d have that experience at most chip trucks.
“I’ve never worked anywhere where I’ve had this much positive feedback. I’ve had customers who have been down south and they say they’ve never had pulled pork that’s this good. It’s fun.”
While the trailer just popped up, the recipes have been years in the making.
Gerry Macies has a passion for pulled pork and all kinds of southern barbecue. After visiting his sister in Raleigh, North Carolina, he went on a full pork-out tour, visiting half a dozen barbecue specialty spots in Texas and North Carolina. And he has been smoking everything from salmon and oysters to cheese and chicken in the smoker he bought for his home four years ago.
When he delivered a pulled pork sandwich to his friend Fata, who was busy cooking Italian fare at Caffé Mio, he made him a believer.
“I think we have the best pulled pork in the city,” says Fata. “I’ve got the restaurant experience, but it was Gerry who did all the recipe development for Trailer Pork Boys.”
Macies, who even did a stint in the kitchen at Caffé Mio on his nights off just to get his hands in the food business, says “food is my passion.”
“I’ve always had an appreciation for food, from my grandmother and my aunt and my mother, who always cooked everything from scratch.”
Over the last six months, once he knew the food trailer would become a reality, he and his wife perfected their recipes for coleslaw, barbecue sauce and their trademark rub.
“We kept tweaking the recipes until we said ‘yes, this is it.’ ”
Making the pulled pork is a 10-hour process, with a new batch made every day, explains chef Peter Simpson. First the fresh pork shoulder is rubbed with Macies’s special mixture (see recipe below) and smoked for six hours. Next, it’s braised in the oven in its juices for another four to five hours before it is pulled, their secret barbecue sauce is added and it’s put on fresh-baked buns with a topping of coleslaw (recipe also on page below).
Macies weighed the pros and cons of western Carolina pulled pork versus eastern before settling on western, which is sweeter, while the eastern style has a sauce that’s vinegar- or mustard-based.
“They’re both good and they both have their followers.”
Fata and Macies say that while pork will always be their main product, they’ve already got exciting ideas for variations.
“I had this amazing Hawaiian-style pork and I’d like to do a porchetta sandwich with salsa verde,” says Fata. “There’s a lot of stuff we can do later, even running as a special for a couple of days.”
Fata says he can see franchising the Trailer Pork Boys business down the road.
“I think the hardest thing would be to get good locations. We’ve got such a great location here with thousands of cars passing by every day.”
Food trucks and southern-style pulled pork may be the trends of the day, but Macies says in some ways, their business on that corner has continuity with one of Ottawa’s landmarks from the past.
“I think it’s kind of fitting that pork is the main ingredient, given that the Lucky Key was here for 54 years and pork is such a big part of Chinese cooking.”
Trailer Park Boys’ Rub
Peter Simpson, the chef inside the trailer, says while you can cut down the quantities in this recipe, it keeps well in a sealed container and is good on so many things it’s worth making a big batch. “You can use it all kinds of meats, chicken or fish. It would be great on grilled catfish, which would be great in tacos. We even have it in a shaker so people can put it on their fries.”
Makes about 14 cups (3.5 L)
■ 6 cups (1.5 L) brown sugar
■ 3 cups (750 mL) paprika
■ 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) chili powder
■ 1 cup (250 mL) ground cumin
■ 1 cup (250 mL) seasoned salt
■ ½ cup (125 mL) black pepper
■ ½ cup (125 mL) garlic powder
■ ½ cup (125 mL) onion salt
■ ¼ cup (50 mL) cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients and store in a sealed container. Coat meat, chicken or fish with rub before smoking or grilling.
Trailer Pork Boys’ Coleslaw
Makes about 7 cups (a little less than 2 L)
■ 5 cups (1.25 L) shredded green cabbage
■ 1 cup (250 mL) shredded red cabbage
■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) thinly sliced onion
■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) shredded carrot
■ 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
For the dressing:
■ 1 cup (250 mL) mayonnaise
■ 3 tablespoons (50 mL) vinegar
■ 3 tablespoons (50 mL) sugar
■ 1 teaspoon (5 mL) celery seed
■ 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Worcestershire sauce
■ Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix all dressing ingredients and add to shredded vegetables, tossing to coat.