Street food

Call it a truck, a cart or a pod, street food is going mainstream in Edmonton. Though food from a cart is a mainstay of street life around the world, we were slow to make the concept ours. For several years, the only street food you could find in downtown Edmonton was a poutine guy and the occasional Fat Franks hot dog (there’s a guy who has been selling pea meal bacon sandwiches at St. Albert Farmers Market for several years, too).

When Ariel Rosario’s and Raoul Canefranco’s cart called Filistix showed up on Rice Howard Way five years ago, it was revolutionary — and, a bit ahead of its time.

“I had lived in Germany where street food is standard, in the Philippines, everybody eats on the street,” said Ariel. “But it was really hard at first — people would stop, peer in the window, move on. We really didn’t know if we could continue after the first couple of years.

“We were on Rice Howard Way, we were at the City Market on 104 Street and at the Folk Fest, but it was still a tough go.”

Along with the bright green Holy Guacamole boler (round trailer) and Dos Amigos, they were a terrific option at the Saturday City Market. Sadly, these two are gone, perhaps casualties of arriving too early to the street food revolution.

Now, Diana Neubauer’s Fork and Spoon Brigade is a semipermanent fixture at the City Market. Her bright red and stainless truck specializes in hefty, and delicious, stuffed crepes filled with scrambled eggs, Irving’s bacon, tomatoes and lettuce.

Ariel credits the Food Network and shows like Eat St. in helping Edmontonians understand it’s ok to eat from a truck.

Eva Sweet, Bubba’s, Nomad, Drift and several others have all found homes at different farmer’s markets, on street corners or, in the case of Bubba’s, on an empty south-side lot.

Some restaurants are going mobile: Funky Pickle Pizza, the Act (from the Next Act) and the Lingnan are three most likely to be found around town.

Lorne Merrick’s Fat Franks is Edmonton’s original street vendor. Merrick started 17 years ago with one hot dog cart. His company now operates 29 carts in Edmonton, including three permanent locations on Whyte Avenue, in the Central Academic Building on the U of A Campus, the 106 Street building on Macewan campus, and in Fort McMurray. Fat Franks will open their first diner-style restaurant this fall. “We’ll have 32 different items and draft beer,” says Merrick.

He credits Fat Franks success to versatility. “We can go more places than a truck, we have the indoor steamer carts for large conventions, we’ve got it covered. Our season is a bit longer, 7.5 months on average.

“I’m glad to see more choices,”

Merrick says. “The trucks are a great addition — make the streets safer, and more fun.”

Food trucks are cool, and we’re flocking to them. People drive to a food truck, and they make dinner plans for a What the Truck gathering.

Finding the best spot to keep everybody happy, including city crews replacing trees or doing routine street repair, can be an issue. For example, The Act started off at the Boardwalk, then Churchill Square, near the Citadel. They are now at their third location on 107 Street. Why could this be a problem? It’s a question of having to establish a new clientele every time. Lunchtime crowds generally won’t walk eight blocks for a sandwich, and the season is short.

The recent dustup between a food truck parked on a city street and a nearby restaurant illustrates what can happen when someone thinks their fixed location business is being sideswiped by a mobile eatery.

Some municipalities have established distance restrictions. London, Ontario, for example, requires trucks to be over 100 metres from existing establishments. The City of Portland now encourages new carts to organize themselves in pods. Some feel these sort of mini neighbourhoods of food carts have revitalized some otherwise sketchy neighbourhood parks in the process.

Let’s hope the City of Edmonton adopts a similar enlightened attitude and allows food trucks to continue to bring vibrancy, the enticement of wafting aromas and great food we can eat out of hand to our downtown city streets.

One burning question remains: Where’s the pyrohy truck?