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Edmonton street life
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Good Eats on the Mean Streets
How do you know its summer in Edmonton? Easy, there are mobile eateries in almost every street around downtown. There are many different types of mobile eateries. From the small and very portable ‘Fat Frank’ trailer(s) to the big green ‘Drift mobile eatery’ track parked somewhere around Jasper Avenue and 107 Street.
Mobile eateries – Popular Drift Truck
Truck food, street food, meals on wheels… call it what you want, mobile cuisine has hit Edmonton in a big way. Yes, it’s a fine dining mobile food truck and yes it is expensive and you get very little for what you pay for in terms of portion size. But who knows maybe everything is organic and that really jacks things up.
In the past year, mobile eateries like Drift have become an increasingly common sight on Edmonton streets. Movable kitchens serving food from all corners of the world are attracting droves. True, food trucks and carts have always served up fries and hot dogs, but the new generation of mobile restaurants is taking street eats to the next level.
The appeal to customers is the novelty of the experience, affordable prices and, in most cases, food quality that rivals that of conventional restaurants. For budding restaurateurs, there’s no need for deep pockets to get started. It’s an appealing concept with the potential to reinvent fast, casual dining – and even bring some much-needed vitality to Edmonton’s downtown core.
Drift truck was parked last summer on corner of 107 St & Jasper Avenue
Browsing the web, I discovered several web sites which describe these mobile eateries. Keep on reading:
Drift truck – brings gourmet food to the streets of Edmonton
Source: techLife Magazine, of the NAIT
There are few notable places to eat lunch on 107 Street north and south of Jasper Avenue. Forget your lunch at home and your options are donairs, pub grub or fast food. It’s a surprising situation: the surrounding office towers are staffed by thousands, trainloads of commuters spill out of nearby Corona LRT Station and the area’s population of condo dwellers is steadily growing.
Nevin and Kara Fenske, owners of Drift food truck
Yet few restaurateurs seem willing to chance this pocket of downtown Edmonton. Nevin Fenske (Cook ’05), in contrast, sees opportunity. A year ago he brought a bit of excitement to 108 Street with his Drift food truck, specializing in gourmet sandwiches. Painted teal green, the converted courier truck adds welcome color to the strip’s concrete and glass façades.
The best thing to happen to Jasper Ave since Corso 32 opened. Seriously. The pork belly sandwich is insanely addicting, as is the back bacon and brie sandwich. The meats are local, the produce is local, and so are the buns. I am humbled and deeply impressed by Kara and Nevin’s (owners) creativity and their dedication to proving that street food can be the best food out there. Their desserts vary, but last time included a chocolate chili cookie. It was subtle with a wee bit of bite and reminded me of Mexican hot chocolate. I highly recommend ordering the fizzy chilled coffee drink that comes in a small glass bottle. The icing on the cake? Their menus are on the backs of vintage postcards. Drift on over.
The one piece of pork I ate had the perfect fat/grill/tenderness ratio whereas the other one was just a bigger slice that was dry (which is another word for healthy? The greens, or 3 leaves, that were put on the pork shouldn’t be called a side of greens but rather a generous garnish of vegetables…
Often there are people lining up for lunch meal at Drift truck
The Austrian dumplings were neat to have. Never ate anything like that before. Helps to keep you full, because two slices of pork just isn’t enough. But for $9 in this day and age and for its novelty, I think it’s a decent treat once in a while.
The iced tea with molasses was brown and murky and definite requires an acquired taste… it felt like drinking beer or coffee for the first time… Googled up its nutrient content and I was surprised at how good molasses is for you instead of sugar.
Give these guys a shot. Things run out quickly on a good day during lunch hour. So go early!
Four days a week, office workers, diehard foodies and curious passersby queue up at his window for lunch. They pore over old postcards doubling as menus and ponder their options. Craving Asian fusion? Go with the pork belly crowned with pickled daikon, cilantro and creamy chili mayo. For something less adventurous, try the back bacon with brie and roasted apples.
Preparing one of Drift’s unique menu items: duck confit sandwich
Back when they were first considering the restaurant business, Fenske and his wife, Kara, started crunching the numbers and found they couldn’t ignore the facts.
A mobile restaurant has lower overhead and fewer staff, which means greater profit margins than a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
“A couple years down the road, you can already start seeing that money come back after paying off things,” says Fenske, who earned his culinary stripes in the kitchens of Koutouki Taverna, Normands, Glenora Bistro and the shuttered Skinny Legs and Cowgirls.
Even the licensing process is relatively simple and affordable in Edmonton. To operate a food truck here requires a street vending permit, a traveling or temporary food sales licence and a monthly parking permit from the city. The vendor also has to pass an Alberta Health Services inspection. Fenske has dreamed of opening a restaurant since culinary school. It nearly happened two years ago, when he and Kara went through the laborious process of opening an eatery downtown.
But when the deal to secure space fell through, they investigated other options, which included a tour of Portland, Oregon’s “food pods” – lots transformed into outdoor food courts. Impressed with the innovative food, the vibe and the mass acceptance, Fenske needed no further convincing.
Mobile eatery – Drift truck
By summer 2011, Drift was operating four days a week on 108 Street and once a week at Churchill Square. He’s not the only one. From his downtown office, Jim Taylor can look across 102 Street at lunch time to see the lineup at Nomad, another popular food truck.
There aren’t many places nearby where you can buy smoked tomato chowder with grilled cheese croutons and pork cheek bacon for under $10.
“I don’t think the average Edmontonian has any idea of the quality that’s being served from these food trucks,” says the executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “It’s not just about convenience food.”
Last September, a downtown park and street played host to What the Truck, a food festival solely for food trucks. Several hundred people packed the usually empty space to sample food from 10 vendors. From a revitalization perspective, Taylor is hopeful for more of these kinds of events.
“Vibrant downtowns have interesting street-level activities that draw people out, instead of sitting in an office at noon,” says Taylor. More food trucks might help.
And more might be en route. While Chris Delaney (Culinary Arts ’94) waits for construction to finish on his Big City Sandwich food truck, he’s honing his skills at another culinary phenomenon in Edmonton, the pop-up restaurant, where a visiting chef temporarily takes over an establishment’s kitchen. If all goes well, Big City Sandwich will be parked weekdays in high-traffic locations around the city and surrounding area by mid-summer.
“You can’t ignore the profitability and versatility of food trucks,” says Delaney, who eventually hopes to pack in his day job selling industrial supplies.
“If a location doesn’t work out, so what? I’m not stuck like a bricks-and-mortar restaurant would be. I can move.”
Visit Drift truck web site here.
Source: Food network
In the next parking spot, weighing in at a respectable 2,000 lbs is Molly’s Eats. Now, Molly is a little more understated in her choice of truck colors, but we all know a girl can never go wrong with basic black. There is, however, nothing understated about the food. This is international street food with a whole lot of shazam!
The “Molly” in Molly’s Eats is owner Susan Chin’s mom. Molly was a cook at the Ramada Inn in Edmonton for 30 years. Thirty years. The woman deserves an award…or at the very least, her name on a hot new food truck.
There was more to choose from than I anticipated, and with my bag of goods from Drift next door, I had to make a wise selection.
Thankfully, Molly’s Eats offers a taster’s dream in the form of sliders. Three for $10, a steal of a deal. The three sliders that day were the Lomito Pork, The Texas Brisket and Bacon, and the Carolina BBQ pulled pork. Meat City. Awesome.
Now, I don’t know what’s going on with these new young, whippersnappers who are starting up food ventures in Edmonton, but I tell ya, they sure do know what they’re doing. Home-made food, fresh ingredients, attention to flavour detail…2011 could go down as the “Summer of Food Love” in Edmonton’s history books.
The one sandwich from Molly’s Eats that I’d go back for was definitely that Texas-style barbecued brisket. It had just the right amount of heat to make you stand up and take notice, but still let the rest of the ingredients shine. It was sweet, spicy, crunchy and juicy. The pork sandwiches had their own merits for sure. Susan tells me the Lomito sandwich to Chileans is what hot dogs are to New Yorkers: iconic street food. I can believe it…there was a lot going on in that sandwich, and the Carolina-style barbecue had just the right vinegary kick in it to make me wonder if Susan has a real Carolinian hidden in that truck with her. But that brisket is where it’s at folks. Hands down.
Who knew food served out of a truck could be so good! To find out where the Drift Food Truck and Molly’s Eats are going to be, follow them on Twitter.
Nomad Truck – mobile diner
Source: Only here for the food
I had the delightful opportunity a few weeks back to experience the culinary craze that is the world of Food Trucks, most specifically…..NOMAD (a finer mobile diner)
While visiting the Southwest Edmonton Farmer’s Market, I was taken away by the sights and smells rolling on out of, and engulfing my senses from a big black beauty of a mobile eatery.
Nomad Truck – another mobile diner
On the menu Mike, the man behind the culinary wheel of this mobile treasure truck was serving up a Hand Carved Bacon and Aged Cheddar sandwich….. topped with fresh greens and a lemon vinaigrette. The hand carved bacon was the real kicker, with a light maple glaze, it was the completion of this “sandwich” I stood back as far as I could, without seeming to eager to receive his offerings, when the sandwich was passed to me, I took more than a moment to enjoy this work of art before me. For me this sandwich had it all, it was a bacon lover’s dream, really. It was well paired with the right amount of sweet from the maple, to the tangy of the lemon vinaigrette; every bite offered a nice harmonious unification of flavors. I had to snap a pic as it was the only way at the time I figured I could remember such a street treat…. And with each bite it only offered sadness as I knew it meant soon would follow the last bite. I look at the pic and my mouth waters… With top quality ingredients, a fresh and unique approach Mike, is whipping up some fine food on the mean streets of Edmonton.
There are others… like Little Village truck
Edmonton may favor chain restaurants – Earls and Boston Pizza opened their first restaurants here – but it’s fairly receptive to food trucks, compared to other Canadian cities.
While Calgary has also been supportive (launching a pilot program late last summer), Toronto has so many restrictions on motorized trucks (it is illegal to park near a restaurant, place of worship or on downtown’s busiest streets), vendors are lobbying to cut the red tape.
Montreal hasn’t allowed mobile eateries since the 1960s, when the mayor outlawed them.
However, as places like Portland have shown, by removing the barriers that hinder potential restaurateurs, cities create environments that nurture the next generation of talented young chefs. And, for their efforts, cities can see their drabber streets revitalized and, thanks to lunchtime lineups, repopulated.
That’s one of the things that keep Fenske going. Running a food truck isn’t easy. Drift is parked street-side for about four hours, but he and Kara work much longer days. At 8 a.m., when Drift’s midday customers are heading into work, they’re at the bakery buying bread. After lunch, they drive back to their commissary kitchen/HQ/garage to finish the remaining half of the 16-hour work day.
A typical workday for Kara and Nevin Fenske is about 12 hours.
“A good day is 12 hours. A typical day is prep, more prep, serve and then more prep,” says Fenske. There is always meat to be braised, stock to be made and an endless amount of produce to be chopped. On Saturdays, if he’s not slinging sandwiches at a local festival, he’s at farmers markets sourcing meat and produce from local suppliers.
Fenske doesn’t really mind the long days, but during the winter break he took time to think about what he can do differently this year. For starters, he intends to streamline the production process to shave hours off the long work days.
“In our first year in business, we were learning from trial and error. We’ve got some ideas now,” he says. He’s considering replacing a few regular sandwiches with daily specials – without drastically altering what has turned out to be a concept Edmontonians have eagerly embraced. “We’re not changing the quality of our sandwiches and ingredients. That’s what keeps people coming back for more.”
The Scent of summer: Fat Franks
Source: Only here for the food
Ubiquitous in the warm months on street corners all over Edmonton’s downtown core, Fat Franks is a bonafide Edmonton establishment. In addition to 8 trailers stationed at Canadian Tire stores, 11 outdoor stands covering territory from High Street to the Law Courts, a Whyte Avenue location open 9 months of the year, there are two year-round operations: one at the River Cree Casino and another in Commerce Place.
Fat Franks on 108 Street
I didn’t know about the Commerce Place location until recently, when a piece in Avenue Magazine caught my attention in December. It turns out it opened in October 2006, and has been satisfying customers ever since.
Some hot dog trivia (from a board at the back of Fat Franks):
• “Hot Dogs” were first introduced in 1904 at the St. Louis World Fair. The name “Hot Dog” comes from the early NY City vendors who used to yell out “They’re hot, get ‘em while they’re red hot”
• Mustard is the most common condiment used on hot dogs
• Fat Franks has served over 1 million hot dogs since 1995. That’s 3 million feet if put in a straight line; 134, 000 Kilos of meat, 113,000 kilos of bread & 32, 500 kilos of mustard!
Walking into the food court this afternoon, I almost missed Fat Franks – they really should have flashier signage, or at the very least, use all of the banner room provided above their space.
Fat Franks simple menu
I took some time to peruse their menu. All of their hot dogs are made with 80% beef and 20% chicken (and no by-products). I had the choice between a Junior Dog ($2.60) to an Avenue Dog ($4.85) with bacon and cheese. I went somewhere in between with my order of a Jumbo Dog ($3.60). A variety of smokies were also on the menu, including honey ham, jalapeno & cheddar, and Italian, all priced under $5. Sides of fries were also available ($2-3), though after seeing their morning offer of a breakfast sandwich with grilled egg, bacon or sausage links and cheese, I almost wished it was still early.
The friendly attendant had my hot dog ready in seconds. I’m not too keen on toppings (I think it takes away from a really juicy hot dog), so with a little drizzle of ketchup, I was done. Before I left, I made sure to get a “Customer Appreciation Card” stamped – buy 10, get 1 free. I’m not sure I’ll be back often enough to warrant carrying a card in my wallet, but I should have asked whether or not it was valid at the various outdoor locations as well.
I sat down at one of the tables next to the window and inhaled the fragrant scent of a grilled hot dog – it is a smell that easily transports me to campfires and backyard barbeques. Between the toasted, crispy bun, the slightly charred dog, and the sweet tang from the ketchup, I was thoroughly satisfied.
While I’d probably have to have two dogs to make it a proper meal, one indoors was enough. Next time – I’m hitting up the carts.
Fat Frank Jumbo Dog
You know summer is finally here when the Fat Franks hot dog carts start to appear on the street and the vendor is wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
These people make THE best hot dogs in the city. You can’t go wrong when ordering from Fat Franks, whether you like honey ham smokies, jalepeno and cheddar smokies, bratwursts, or any of the other choices. They even have veggie dogs for those on a meatless diet.
While I do change it up every once in a while, my regular order is a jumbo dog on a lightly grilled whole wheat bun, topped with lots of ketchup, a tiny bit of yellow mustard, lots of their fantastic relish, and a scattering of fresh onion. I love that each stand usually comes with a selection of every condiment under the sun – from Asian hot sauce to dijon mustard, and sauerkraut to hot peppers.
What do you like on your hot dogs?
Visit Fat Franks web site here.
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