Standing their ground: Food trucks on private lots compete with city-sanctioned rivals
While street gourmands continue waiting for most of the city’s new licensed food trucks and carts, trucks and trailers on private property are rushing in to satisfy a hungry city.
The private way was paved last summer when Trailer Pork Boys pulled into the parking lot at Macies Hotel at Carling and Merivale to serve saucy pulled pork. The University of Ottawa also became home to some of the city’s tastiest trucks, such as Relish the Flavour and the Flatbread Pizza Company. And carts at area farmers’ markets feed the appetite for street food with creative offerings such as roast potatoes topped with fresh strawberries and feta from the Hot Potato Company or crepes stuffed with bacon jam and scrambled eggs from the new Crepe Joy.
In the last few months, however, there’s been profusion of new trucks and trailers popping up in parking lots, often driven by creative cooks who missed out on a city spot, but now say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’ve been open for a month, while most of those people who got city spots are still struggling to get going,” says Cole Homewood, co-owner of Bonita’s Cantina, which is in the parking lot at the City Centre complex. (So far, only about a third of the new trucks and carts approved for city streets have rolled out.)
Entrepreneurs on private property have been creative: Leo Raguseo started a whole food truck lot in Westboro when he rented space for his Pizza e Panini trailer, while Donna Kyd actually bought land for her Bite This trailer “so I can never get kicked out again.”
Here’s a taste of these and some of the best of the rest.
On the menu: Noodle bowls and wrap-style sandwiches and salads with ethnic twists, everything from the “Marrakesh Express” to the “Bandito Burrito.” But also burgers, fries and delicious, old-fashioned butter tarts.
Where to find it: Corner of Richmond Road and Clifton, in Westboro across from Loblaws.
When: Mondays and Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
Who’s driving the truck: Donna Kyd not only owns the trailer, she and her husband own the whole corner lot. “We bought it just so we could have a location that nobody could kick me off,” says Kyd, who rented the building to a landscaping business.
Probably no one knows the trials of serving food on Ottawa’s streets quite as intimately as Kyd. In 1986, when she was attending at Carleton University “and should have been studying for my finals,” Kyd started doodling with the idea of selling barbecued burgers on the street. She soon found that she wouldn’t be allowed to actually cook food on a street cart, but could warm sausages and hotdogs on a grill. Her one cart grew to five and she became famous for the sautéed onions and peppers she sold to top her sausages on buns.
“But those were the days when there were no designated spots and I sometimes found myself up and selling coffee and muffins at 6 a.m. just to keep my spot.”
In the early ‘90s, the city changed the regulations, designating spots for carts and trucks and putting a moratorium on new licenses.
“That was the end of my desire to grow the business,” says Kyd, who also had her first son at about that time. After 18 years at Bank and Fourth, she took her last cart home.
She was still passionate about food — starting a chocolate business, then running cooking classes for Loblaws. “But it wasn’t my own thing and I wasn’t close enough to the food,” she says. At the same time, her loyal former customers from the Glebe kept asking her when she was coming back.
Finally she invested $50,000 on a custom-made food trailer, got licensed and hired staff, but on the morning she was to open on a private lot on Bank Street, the landlord suddenly told her she wasn’t welcome.
“It was the worst thing in my life,” she says. “We were beaten. We parked the trailer on our front lawn.”
She and her husband — who works in commercial real estate — combed the city for another location before they found a gravel lot on Scott Street at the corner of McCrae. She opened her trailer in the summer of 2010.
“We were paying $1,000 a month in rent, and the first day we sold $60 worth of food. It was brutal. I couldn’t get my sales to balance what I was paying in rent.”
But, over the last three years, Kyd has witnessed first-hand a revolution in street-food sensibility.
“The first year was rough. The second year was OK. But by the time we were opening last spring, on our first day, people were banging on the shutters.”
In November, Kyd moved her truck to her own land, a few blocks away and on busy Richmond Road. She kept serving until Dec. 21, then opened again at the end of March.
“What’s great is that the whole food-truck scene has started,” says Kyd. “Suddenly now everyone is talking about street food and they know it’s not just chip trucks. Who knew that it was going to take off like this?”
Why a menu she describes as “eclectic with an ethnic influence?” “I taste something and I like it, so I build on that,” says Kyd.
Why still burgers, fries and poutine? “When we were on Scott Street, we’d get these truckers and they’d say, ‘Give me a poutine.’ We buckled. We did poutine. But I really liked those guys. They work hard and they’re friendly. So now we cater to both crowds.”
Must try: The Curry It Up (Kyd’s delicious version of butter chicken, served with mango chutney and caramelized onions on naan) or the Thai One On (pad Thai with peanuts and coriander on top.)
How much: From $1 for the “diet fries” (a serving of about 10 french fries) to $8 for some of the noodle bowls.
Pizza e Panini
(aka: What the Truck)
On the menu: Single-serving pizzas and panini sandwiches
Where to find it: 236 Richmond Rd. (in the lot of the former Nick’s Service Centre, just west of the Westboro LCBO)
When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
Who’s driving the truck: Leo Raguseo is the man inside the truck, and also behind the whole food-truck lot. The former recruiter for a painters’ union says he had his eye on the Pizza e Panini truck for years, when it was parked just off Preston Street in between appearing at festivals.
“I hounded and hounded John Frigo, who used to own it. His food was awesome. I wanted to buy his truck. Then all of sudden I hear that the truck is for sale. In a matter of two weeks my whole life changed.”
Raguseo, who bought the truck in April, had missed the window to apply for a spot on a city street. So he tried to find a private lot he could rent. He lined up two, which both fell through, before he rolled his truck onto the lot in Westboro on May 3. First, he rented just the asphalt. Then he also rented the building. Then he started inviting others to join him.
“I wanted to have seven or eight trucks, all offering something different, but I was told the most I could have is five. Still the response has been so awesome, I want to expand the concept and have more food truck lots, one in the west, one in the east and one in the south end of town.”
Why pizzas and paninis? With a wood-burning oven that gets up to 1,200 F (650 C — Raguseo calls it “the gates of hell” and at its highest heat it can cook a pizza in under a minute) and a dough press that turns out thin crusts in seconds, they’re what the truck was built to create. All Raguseo added was an Illy espresso machine from La Bottega.
Asked how he knows how to cook these things so perfectly, Raguseo shrugs.
“I’m a 300-pound Italian man. We don’t mess around.”
Must try: It might be a tie between Raguseo’s wife’s creation, the pizza topped with prosciutto, bocconcini and fresh arugula, or the spicy one, with hot peppers, hot soppressata and pickled eggplant. All the pizzas have delicious, charred, crispy thin crusts. The paninis are made with fresh ciabatta buns and are filled to dripping with sausage, Parma prosciutto and soppressata salami from Luciano Foods on Preston Street.
How much: From $2 for an Illy espresso to $8.50 for the prosciutto, vegetarian or spicy pizzas.
On the menu: Mexican fare, from salads with an avocado or margarita vinaigrette and five types of tacos, to chili, burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas and entire dinners for two or four. The menu includes several vegetarian options — from veggie tacos to veggie chili. Gluten-free options are also available, as are Mexican sodas and hand-squeezed lemonade. They also offer containers of fresh guacamole, pico de gallo and burrito sauces for sale to take home.
Where to find it: In the northeast corner of the parking lot in front of the City Centre building, at Albert Street and City Centre Avenue (home of Art-Is-In Bakery.)
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
Who’s driving the truck: No one, actually, it’s a trailer. But inside, seven days a week, you’ll find Ryan Zurkowsky, 27, and Cole Homewood, 38. The pair had worked at Big Daddy’s Crab Shack, but for years had tossed around the idea of getting their own food truck.
“By the time Big Daddy’s closed in April, we were already working on it,” says Zurkowsky, who had worked as a chef and then general manager of the restaurant. The pair had missed the deadline to apply for city-sanctioned spot on a downtown street, but they lucked out in finding a fully-equipped, safety-certified food truck that was ready to roll. They opened May 5.
“The response has been even better than we hoped,” says Homewood. “We’ve already got repeat customers and one person said ‘I’ve tried everything on the menu.’ ” Families like the picnic tables and plastic chairs set up on a shaded grassy area beside the truck and one group even brought a portable patio set and dishes to have a parking lot al fresco dinner.
Why Mexican? Homewood worked at Mexicali Rosa’s on Richmond Road from 1994 to 2008. “I worked my way up from dishwasher to running the place. At one point I even lived upstairs. When you serve something for 13 years, you know what people want.” Homewood said many of the items on Bonita’s Cantina’s menu are similar to ones that he served at Mexicali Rosa’s “but we put our own twist on things.”
Why “Bonita’s Cantina?” “My wife’s name is Bonnie,” says Homewood. “We’ve been joking about opening Bonita’s Cantina for about 10 years.”
Must try: The fish taco is a delicious favourite. Tender pieces of haddock are pan-fried, then served in a just-fried taco shell with Bonita’s trademark avocado dressing, pico de gallo (see recipe page below), lettuce, cheese and fresh cilantro.
How much: From $4 for one taco to $40 for the dinner for four, which includes four grande dishes or eight tacos, two large side dishes (rice, beans or salad), and large bag of corn tortilla chips with pico de gallo. (You can pay by credit and debit at Bonita’s.)
Deal: During June, you get a free fresh-squeezed lemonade if you order a grande main course.
Contacts: bonitascantina.com; @BonitasCantina
On the menu: Soups and sandwiches are the specialties, but the menu also includes salads, desserts, cookies and even homemade preserves and litre-sized cartons of soup you can take home. The sandwich and soup menu changes every two weeks, but the desserts and soups change daily (even hourly when they run out.) Don’t have time to make your lunch? They offer boxed lunches ready to go and even a children’s menu. Everything is homemade.
Where to find it: In Stittsville, at 1195 Carp Rd., beside the Oil Changers and just south of Hazeldean.
When: Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Who’s driving the truck: Craig Beaudry and Monique Haugen, both 30, are graduates of Algonquin College’s culinary program and worked for four years as chef and sous chef at Westboro’s Village Café.
“Eventually you get tired of doing it for someone else,” says Beaudry.
They bought a food trailer last fall, which made them ineligible for one of the spots on city streets since those vendors must be mobile, rolling in each morning and leaving at night. Instead, they found a lot in Stittsville where the owner was open to having a food trailer (in fact, the trailer that’s now the Trailer Pork Boys was once at that spot, under a different name.)
They opened April 9.
“We had thought maybe 100 customers a day would be a good goal,” says Haugen. They’ve been swamped ever since with 150 to 200 customers a day, many of them young Stittsville moms who sit with their children at the brightly coloured patio sets (though as word of the quality of the cuisine spreads, people are coming from Ottawa.) The hundreds of jars of preserves and their signature barbecue sauce that they made in advance sold out in the first month.
“It doesn’t even matter if it’s cold and rainy,” says Beaudry. “Then people come for the soup.”
Why soup and sandwiches? “We knew that we wanted to do something different and something we knew we could be creative with,” says Haugen. “We both really like comfort food.”
Must try: Haugen and Beaudry are unanimous that the grilled chicken sandwich with strawberry-black-pepper-balsamic compote, caramelized onions, brie, spring greens and roasted garlic mayo is “by far people’s favourite.” But if the cauliflower-roasted-garlic-and-thyme soup with truffle oil or the chocolate peanut butter crème brûlée are on the menu, they should not be missed.
How much: From $1 for apple slices with honey (on the kids’ menu) to $9.50 for a litre of soup to take home, with fresh bread and butter. A small bowl of soup is $3.50; the most expensive sandwich (such as the grilled chicken special sandwich) is $7.95. Credit and debit are accepted.
Contacts: wichescauldron.ca or @Wiches_cauldron
On the menu: Authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas made in a handmade wood-fired oven. Toppings change daily, but might include a meat lover’s, with pepperoni, Italian sausage and pancetta, or a prosciutto cotto, with Italian ham, artichokes and sweet peppers. A vegetarian option is always included, as is a basic pizza that will appeal to children.
Where to find it: It’s most often catering at private events, but a couple of days each week you can find it on Manotick’s Main Street, near Bridge Street.
When: Usually between 9:30 a.m. and about 3 p.m., on a week day: check Twitter in the morning to find out if it will be there. You won’t miss it if you drive by the bright red trailer that carries the massive igloo-shaped oven, paved with broken pieces of shiny black tile.
Who’s driving the truck: Joe Crupi had had a landscape construction business for 16 years when he had an epiphany.
“I was in a backyard early last spring, measuring up a patio, and I remember just stopping, looking up, and saying ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I was creeping in on the big 4-0, we had four kids, and I wanted more time with them, and to do something that I loved.”
He and his wife Anna were born and raised in Ottawa (they met in Grade 7 at Frank Ryan school), but both came from Italian families. They learned from their relatives in Italy how to build a wood-fired pizza oven by hand, and how to make authentic Neapolitan pizzas. It took Joe nine days to build the oven and four days to tile the 2,800-pound behemoth, which is permanently mounted in a former landscaping trailer.
It took them some time to adapt the dough recipe, which uses the authentic 00 flour from Italy, to the Ottawa climate, but by May of last year, they were cooking up authentic Neapolitan pizzas in 90 seconds flat.
“Basically I save you the trip to Naples,” says Joe.
Why wood-fired pizzas? “Being Italian, I have a passion for wood-fired pizza,” says Joe. But the deciding factor might have been a family trip to Saratoga Springs, New York, where they came across a lot with about three dozen food trucks. “The one with the wood-fired pizzas had the longest lineup,” says Joe.
Why “All’Antica?” “It means the antique way,” says Anna, who makes the Italian sausage and the San Marzano tomato sauce by hand, using old family recipes.
Must try: “The margherita is the classic,” says Anna. “We make it with the 00 flour, homemade San Marzano tomato sauce, fiori de latte mozzarella and fresh basil, from our garden in summer. And then we add a secret twist.”
How much: From $8 to $10 for a personal-size 10-inch pizza (the Margherita is $9.)
Contacts: pizzaallantica.ca, 613-843-1130, @pizzaallantica
On the menu: Sweet and savoury crepes. Sweet ones include one filled with nutella and topped with fresh fruit and another with maple and butter; savoury ones include cheddar-and-chive, brie-pear-and-walnut and ham-and-cheese.
Where to find it: In the food truck lot with Pizza e Panini, at 236 Richmond Rd.
When: Tuesday through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., weather permitting.
Who’s driving the truck: Michel Desjardins, a 24-year-old working on his Master’s in Earth Sciences at Carleton University, says it’s his summer project. He works in the tiny purple trailer on weekends and evenings (he has hired others to help him and to work other times) and does research during the weekdays.
“I don’t plan on sleeping much this summer,” he says.
He has a food background: he studied for a year in Algonquin College’s culinary program and worked for nine years as a cook at summer camps and at catering events.
He found the trailer on Kijiji. “It used to be painted yellow, red and black and it was up in Pembroke, selling bratwurst,” says Desjardins. “Basically it just needed a good cleaning and paint job.”
Why “Sadie’s Kitchen?” “That was the name of my dog,” says Desjardins. “She was just a puppy when she ran out in traffic and was killed.”
Why crepes? “Basically crepes are just a good delivery system,” says Desjardins. “You can change the fillings when you get bored. The space is so small, but this way we can change the menu pretty easily.”
At first, Desjardins had planned to serve waffles as well as crepes, but when he opened during Westfest, he was immediately swamped with orders.
“I don’t think I stopped making crepes for one minute between noon and 3:30 on the Saturday. We quickly realized that we had to streamline — we couldn’t do both.”
Must try: “My personal favourite is the ham and cheese,” says Desjardins. “The ham is from Seed to Sausage and the cheese is from Balderson. I think, where we are, people are interested in local and they want to know where their food comes from. I know it’s important to me. But the cinnamon-and-sugar crepe, with lemon juice, has also been super popular. It’s the cheapest, but it’s also the one where we have the most people saying, ‘Wow.’ It’s just such a classic combination of flavours.”
How much: From $5 for the cinnamon-and-sugar crepe to $7.25 for the one filled with ham and cheese.
Contacts: On Facebook: sadieskitchenottawa. Twitter: @sadiescrepes
Bonita’s Cantina’s Pico de Gallo
“Pico de gallo” is Spanish for “rooster’s beak.” They make this fresh salsa every morning in the trailer and go through about six to eight litres a day.
Makes: about 4 cups (1 L)
4 fresh tomatoes, diced fine
Half a Spanish onion, diced fine
1/4 cup (50 mL or one four-ounce/113 g can) diced mild green chilies
2 tbsp (25 mL) cilantro, chopped fine
1½ tbsp (22 mL) minced garlic
Juice of 2 limes
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Gently stir all ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Adjust lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Wiches Cauldron’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Crème Brûlée
Makes: 8 servings
4 cups (1 L) 35-per-cent cream (whipping cream)
½ cup (125 mL) semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup (125 mL) peanut butter
1 king-sized package Reese’s peanut butter cups (4 peanut butter cups total)
10 egg yolks
1/3 cup (75 mL) sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
Sugar for brûlée topping and fresh berries for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
2. Heat cream in a medium-sized sauce pan on medium heat until cream starts to bubble on the outer edge of the pan. Do not bring to a boil. Turn heat to low.
2. Stir in the chocolate chips, peanut butter and Reese cups. Continue to stir until the chocolate and peanut butter are melted and you have a smooth liquid.
3. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together just until combined. Slowly pour hot cream mixture into egg mixture while whisking. Whisk only until combined. Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium sized bowl, and stir in vanilla.
4. Ladle mixture into eight 6-ounce (¾ cup/175 mL) ramekins. Place ramekins in a large casserole dish.
5. Meanwhile, boil 6 cups (1.5 L) water in a saucepan. Pour boiling water into casserole dish, beside ramekins, to fill to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place casserole with water and ramekins in oven and cook for 30 minutes or until set. Cool in refrigerator for 3 hours.
6. When ready to brûlée, cover top of the brûlées with sugar and torch until sugar is caramel coloured. Serve with fresh berries.