This post comes to us from new contributor Alison Chase. She’s been a fat food blogger at thatdessertlife.com for nearly 10 years. She’s also an avid and skilled home cook and baker who lives in Ottawa.
In summer 2013, Ottawa’s long-awaited food truck program finally got off the ground, after years of bureaucratic red tape. About a dozen food trucks and carts launched, mainly scattered throughout the downtown core but also popping up here and there in the west end of the city. They often converge on events and festivals, bringing deliciousness and joy wherever they appear. Sadly, several trucks didn’t make it through their first season, but that’s a common occurrence in the food industry. However, those who remain seem to have found avid and vociferous fan bases. Since my day job puts me smack in the heart of downtown Ottawa, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy lunch from three of these fine purveyors of mobile munchies:
Streat Gourmet’s sky-blue truck is parked every weekday on O’Connor Street just north of Albert. With a revolving menu that changes daily and embraces seasonal produce, SG is the most “restaurant-like” of the trucks I’ve tried, which makes sense given that Ben Baird (the truck’s owner and chef) used to own and run the beloved Urban Pear resto in the Glebe. He sold the bricks and mortar last year to focus on his new truck, with delicious results.
I tried the duck confit grilled cheese, which is apparently SG’s most-requested menu item. I had a choice of macaroni/sausage salad or tangy coleslaw, and went with the latter to add some veggie crunch to the decadent, gooey sandwich. Perfectly crisped on the outside, warm and melting within, this ‘wich bewitched me. Shards of perfectly moist duck leg meat and strands of soft caramelized onion mingled with the just-sharp-enough white cheddar, punctuated with a dried cranberry here and there for sweetness and chew. The slaw was no slouch either, with a spicy bite and sour-sweet vinaigrette enlivening the humble cabbage and carrot shreds.
I got my cheese fix on “grilled cheese Thursday;” where there’s often also a vegetarian option, and on that day it was a brie and peach sandwich. Other themed days include taco Tuesday and burger Friday; an earlier Tuesday visit netted me some killer brisket tacos with sweet potato salad alongside. There’s always a freshly baked sweet treats as well, and they offer locally-brewed Harvey & Vern’s sodas by the bottle (as well as more mainstream options) to quench your thirst.
The traditional Korean dish dolsot bibimbap comes in a very hot stone bowl filled with rice, topped with fresh vegetables, marinated and grilled meat, and a softly fried egg, whose yolk you break and mix in with all the other goodness. The rice gets crispy where it meets the hot bowl – it’s fantastic. However, as street food, bibimbap poses several challenges, not the least of which is how to carry that stone bowl back to your office without incurring third-degree burns. Raon Kitchen’s brilliance lies in its adaptation of this dish for ease of transport. They call it simply “bap” and it begins with perfectly chewy short-grain brown rice, topped with a variety of steamed and raw vegetables, as well as thin strips of omelette (their nod to the traditional fried egg) and either crispy tofu, spicy chicken, marinated grilled beef (always my preference), or spicy pork (new to the menu for this summer).
The kind folks behind the cart will ask if you want kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) on top, and even if you think you don’t like it, you should say yes, because theirs is the only one I’ve ever enjoyed. They make their own (from napa or white cabbage, sometimes even zucchini or radishes!) and it became so wildly popular that they started selling it at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and on their website. This hearty bowl of goodness can be finished with gochujang (Korean hot pepper sauce), sesame oil or seeds, and light soya sauce from the bar on the end of the cart. Some days, they have Korean “iced tea” – a light and spicy infusion of ginger, cinnamon, and honey. Water and San Pellegrino fruit drinks are always available. They also offer a frequent buyer stamp card – buy six bowls and the seventh is free. Once you’ve tried it you’ll be glad for a reason to keep coming back for more.
The first thing you need to know about Ad Mare is that you will wait twice: First to order your food, then to receive it. I will admit that this made me a tiny bit grumpy – until I tasted my food. It was worth every minute I waited (but go early, just to be safe). Ad Mare’s menu is full of fresh fish and seafood items with a few regular items supplemented by daily specials. Fish and chips are always available, as is a seared haddock taco. Other specials include fish burgers, calamari, crab cakes, and “Lobster Day” (Wednesday) featuring a lobster roll, lobster poutine and other delicacies made with fresh live lobsters flown in from the Maritimes.
I visited on a Friday to try out their signature fish taco. Unfortunately, they were out of corn tortillas so I had it in a flour tortilla as a wrap – more of a fish burrito – with sides of homemade veggie chips and coleslaw. The fresh, flaky haddock stayed juicy and flavourful thanks to a kicky spice rub or marinade, and the fixings – crisp shredded lettuce, a smear of guacamole, and a gorgeous salsa featuring tomatoes and sweet local corn – took it from good to awesome. The portion size was generous but not huge, and the chips were crisp and not greasy, with good vegetal flavour (mmm, beet chips). I found the slaw to be a bit heavy on the celery seed for my liking, but the cabbage was fresh and the vinegar dressing nicely balanced between tart and sweet. Ad Mare has the local Harvey & Vern’s sodas as well as canned pop and water. They also have a unique-to-their-truck online ordering system: you can go online until 11:00 for same-day orders and select your menu items from the daily list, choose a pickup time, and simply show up and pay for your order when you get there. Next time (and there will be a next time – I’m coming for you, lobster roll) I’ll skip the lineups and do that myself!Tags: Ad Mare, Ad Mare Seafood, Ben Baird, bibimbap, duck confit grilled cheese, fish tacos, food trucks, ottawa, Ottawa food trucks, Roan Kitchen, Streat Gourmet