Friday, August 9, 2013

The Food Trucks (and Carts) Are Here!!!!!!!! (pt. 1)

Hey kids, I'm back and super-excited about this post!

Ottawa has a poorly earned reputation for being the "town that fun forgot". I happen to know better, mainly because I hang out at the Dominion Tavern, as do some of the city's most creative people. But even though our arts, music and many other communities are small and somewhat overlooked, there is one area in which our town has a pretty strong following and community, and that's our food. Even though we might get overlooked in guides and "top 50 lists", Ottawa has a strong foodie culture (might have something to do with all those public servants and their disposable incomes). But up until recently, one thing had been missing to make Ottawa's food scene really exciting: a decent fleet of street food trucks and carts. 

For decades we were saddled with chip wagons and hot dog carts and almost nothing else (with some exceptions like Stone Soup Foodworks). Maybe this was a concerted effort by city authorities (who may, in fact, be the ones who want to keep the fun out of Ottawa) to prevent the city from developing a street food presence, or maybe the suburban mindset has taken over so deeply that Montana's is somehow considered the apex of good food... who knows? Luckily, city council eventually saw the light and as of May 2013, a whole slew of new and interesting food trucks and carts have come out of the woodwork. I'm doubly excited since one of my professional fantasies is to open my own food truck some day. At least the legal obstacles have shrunk!

I've managed to try out a few of the new spots, but there are many more to peruse. So, in this post, I'll cover the first three with more to come in the coming weeks. So, in order of when I tried them, we have Raon Kitchen, Ottawa Streat Gourmet and Angry Dragonz. Let's get at 'er!

Raon Kitchen

There’s something to be said for doing one thing and doing it really well. This is very much the case with one of the first entities in the great Ottawa Street Food Revival of 2013, Raon Kitchen. This simple little food cart located on Bank Street between Slater and Albert streets (conveniently around the corner from my office) serves the Korean dish Bibimbap, which is essentially a mix of rice, meat and veg. Kari and I got to give it a try on their second day and it was AMAZEBALLS!!! 

So much awesome from such a small contraption

The dish comes with seasoned rice (I think they use rice vinegar in it), mixed veggies, your choice of beef, chicken and tofu, egg and is served with a small container of homemade kimchee. It was a fantastic mix of salty, sour, sweet and spicy. The portion isn’t huge for 7 bucks compared to some of the cheaper, greasier selections available in downtown Ottawa (which is ridiculously packed with lunch places), but I think it’s a quality meal for the price. I was more than satisfied after devouring every last morsel.  

All kinds of goodness going on!

Ottawa Streat Gourmet

I have some aversion to the idea of clever puns in business names, but to each their own! Streat Gourmet (Str"eat", get it?) is a truck focused on fresh, tasty goodness. It's set up on the corner of O'Connor and Queen, so it's fairly busy during the week. On the day I went by (early June), the menu consisted of a Brie in Phyllo Pastry for 10 bucks and a Blackened Trout Sandwich with Slaw and Lemon Mayo for 12 bucks. Both came with a green salad on the side. Not one to resist either fish or blackening, I went with the trout sandwich. 

I dig the homage to Ottawa's old street sign design

My impressions were a bit mixed: In the sandwich's case, the fish was perfectly tender and flavourful (albeit the piece was a bit small), but it wasn't even close to blackened, more like bronzed. It wasn't spicy at all and there was no crust from searing spices onto the meat, which is what blackening is! The bun was fresh and tasty and slightly chewy, which was a bonus. The mayo was very low key and could have used a bit more zing and the slaw wasn't really all that interesting. As for the side salad, the green goddess dressing on it was superb, creamy and garlicky, but it was only greens. A few other veggies would have been nice. 

Mmmmm, trout...

Streat Gourmet is kind of the opposite of Raon Kitchen in that the menu is ever-changing, so I may have to give it another shot soon. 

Angry Dragonz

Angry Dragonz is a truck that, God help me, is about a 5 minute walk from my house. They serve what they call "Asian fusion", I call it damn good! 

That's a spiffy lookin' vehicle!

These cats are ambitious as heck, boasting a menu of over a dozen different items, with more in the works! I've been about five times now (proximity to home is a big incentive) and I'm amazed at how friendly, energetically and efficiently the staff works in such a small space, with three people milling about making egg rolls, tasty skewers, epic rice and noodle dishes, and crispy golden egg batter waffles. 

So many choices! 

So, here's a quick rundown of some of the dishes I've had:

- Egg Rolls: Egg rolls are one of those things that are best when you don't mess with them. After all, why change a classic. With that in mind, the Egg Rolls at Angry Dragonz are classic American-Chinese style done really, really well. I usually get them whenever I'm there. You can get a pair for 3 bucks or add one to your rice or noodle bowl for a buck. 

- Lamb Skewers: I can't rave enough about these. I bought them on my first visit after getting there a bit late and discovering all their rice had sold out. So, I figured I'd try the Lamb Skewers on a lark. Wow. Just wow. These things are meaty perfection. The lamb doesn't taste too "lamby" and it's marinated in a cumin-based marinade, then topped with honey, chili and some kind of saucy deliciousness. It is out of this world. Mind you, that's just my opinion because Kari wasn't as big a fan of the cumin-centric flavour (which is also how they season their beef skewers). They also offer chicken and tofu skewers, all of them being sold at 3 skewers for 5 bucks. 

Lunch victory!

- Chicken Panang: This dish was my first non-epic-win. It was a rice dish topped with, essentially, a Thai style red curry with chicken and coconut milk. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but it was also pretty damn spicy! Like, way more spicy than most red curries, including my own recipe. Maybe I'm a wimp, but the level of heat made it hard to scarf down. 

Yes I'm using a fork, sue me.

So, those are a few of the initial samplings from Angry Dragonz (I've had more since). Of the three trucks/carts mentioned in this post, they're by far my favourite, but that might be based on a geographic bias and variety. 

All in all, so far so good in the genesis of the Ottawa food truck scene, at least from my perspective. I'm looking forward to exploring all of them around the city. Any excuse for a bike ride, right?


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