Sunday, March 18, 2012

Food Fight

If you live around these parts you'll know three things are steadfast. First, death. We're all gonna die. Second, taxes. Lots of 'em too. We all have to pay. And pay. And….well, you get the idea. Thirdly, Toronto city council will screw up a good thing. As with the other two, ALWAYS. Take Toronto's street food scene. For years it consisted mostly of hot dogs and sausages. While among the best in North America I'm told, people can not live on wieners alone. To consider yourself a "World class city" as TO does, a vibrant food culture is a must. Street food always plays a big part in that. The city, at the behest of the people, starving for healthier and more varied options initiated the "Toronto a la Carte" program. A child could see a la carte as a failure long before it's roll out in 2009. Now city council is doing it's best to screw up the next wave of street foods. Food trucks. The burgeoning truck scene is struggling to find it's legs and is in danger of extinction. Over regulation and taxation has many trucks avoiding the big smoke like kids do cauliflower. This time though, things are different.

When last we saw Spiros Drossos he was on the business end of a pizza peel at Chicago Pizza Kitchen. Gone more than a year now, Spiros closed shop and sought greener pastures within the city limits. To keep busy while he explored lease options he set up a food truck. Food Cabbie is a mobile kitchen in a trailer. Able to travel city wide Spiros settled in a private parking lot just outside the downtown core. But a funny thing happened on the way to the pizza kitchen. Food Cabbie exploded. So popular is Cabbie that daily white board specials (tweeted and posted on facebook) routinely sell out. This is becoming standard operating procedure for the few trucks who choose to operate within the city boundaries. Business is booming. So naturally, Toronto city council has to step in and ruin it.

To say that Spiros is upset is an understatement. He has all the correct paperwork to sell food out
of a mobile kitchen. Was told to be on private property and as such worked out a lease agreement on parking spaces. He was issued a license with the address of the parking lot in which he resides. Now the city wants to give him the boot. Citing an obscure (and seemingly contradictory) law that says you can not operate a food truck in a private (or public) parking lot. They're serious too. Threatening with measures up to and including seizure of his trailer. To add insult to injury, the big blue fry wagon boasts that it's been in the same spot for 30 years. On Queen St. E. Right in front of city hall.

Spiros however is not is disheartened. Buoyed by tweets, facebook messages and the local media he (and his wife Helen) have taken up the fight. Not for himself but for all. He's fighting for Thunderin’ Thelma. His competition and parking lot neighbour. He's fighting for the trucks who opt for Hamilton and other suburbs. He's fighting for those who'd like to sell something other than sausages out of a cart. Most of all, he's fighting for us. He's fighting for our right to choose something other than hot dogs.

Food Cabbie does a limited menu and has, as mentioned above', daily specials. Specialty hamburgers, burritos and even Spiros's famous Chicago beef sandwich have all made the white board. They're posted on facebook every morning and a tweet goes out as well. People start phoning the minute they get to their office to reserve lunch.

As is the norm with places I review, just about everything is made from scratch. Spiros probably works 14 hours a day 5 days a week to give customers simple yet tasty food.
His trailer is decked out in a pseudo NY cab theme and is as clean as an operating room. Due to limited space a limited amount of food is cooked daily which ensures everything is as fresh as it can be.

So let's have a look at some of FC's wares.

If you just can't wait for lunch Spiros offers a breakfast burrito. Home made chorizo mixed with potato, refried beans and egg. Red and green hot sauce are complemented with sour cream (upon
request) as a tribute to Mexico's national colours. Grilled on his flat top the burrito is enough to keep you going well through lunch. I found it very tasty but just slightly potato heavy. I also would like to have seen cheese added. These two points are really just minor details and fine tuning. Much like saying you love someone’s car but would prefer it in blue, not red.

A regular Friday special is the Baja fish tacos. Inspired by the famous Rubio's in San Diego, FC's version are basa done on the flat top (not deep fried). Three to an order loaded onto corn tortillas
and topped with pickled cabbage and "secret sauce." These are a nice light lunch and are surprisingly filling. I heard one person remark that they weren't nearly seasoned enough but I for one enjoyed the simplicity of the taco. Basa is also a "Good alternative" according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In a city that is challenged for Philly cheesesteaks Food Cabbie is a bit of an oasis. Thinly sliced steak is grilled up with onions and green bell peppers. The whole mess is crammed into a hoagie roll and topped with cheddar cheese sauce (not cheese
wiz). It's ooey, gooey and delicious. At least a 4 napkin endeavor. You definitely need to park and eat this bad boy. My general indifference to green bell pepper will have me omit them next time though.

The Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich made from genuine Montreal Smoked Meat is simply amazing. Spiros had an agent smuggle a whole slab from Chenoy’s across provincial boundaries. I went with the classic preparation of meat on caraway seed rye with mustard. The only weak link in this sandwich was the mustard. Not that it was bad, it wasn’t. It’s just that a good pungent, clear your sinuses deli mustard would’ve played against the richness of the meat that much better.

The porchetta is run as a daily special. It’s a fine example of this roast pork sandwich. For those who find Sausage Kings sandwich too herbaceous or moist this is probably the perfect sandwich. The less herbs in the cooking meant for a more clean pork taste and since Spiros tries to keep things a little healthier it’s much less fatty and as such, not as juicy. It’s plenty juicy though. A great sandwich. I ended up picking the bell pepper off but the sport peppers really made the sandwich sing.
The steak on a bun was really nice. Thinly sliced sirloin, flashed on the flat top and served in a nice soft hoagie roll. The tomato and lettuce added some nice texture and flavor. All in all a terrific sandwich.
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Not often you find someone selling hot dogs that didn’t come from a supermarket. But here we have Spiros’ own recipe dog. My benchmark dog is a Nathan’s and these don’t really reach that level. They’re not really supposed to either. Spiros’ healthier version has less fat and salt than Nathan’s. They’re less garlicky as well. All in all though this is a solid dog. It may seem a little lost in that bun but it’s a 1/4lb weiner and is usually topped with chili and cheese or done up Chicago style. I wanted to keep it simple just to get a sense of what the dog tastes like.

So there you have it folks. My first in what I hope will be several more food truck reviews in the city of Toronto.

You can help the cause by signing the petition online. It's a fight well worth taking up.

You can find Food Cabbie (for now) at the south end of the parking lot at Queen St. E. and Mutual.
View Larger Map

Keep up to date with Cabbie on facebook and Twitter.
Food Cabbie Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks, see ya again in the food court.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review. I'd heard about Food Cabbie and the by-law hassles but didn't realize that it was Spiros from Chicago Pizza Kitchen. Definitely a good reason for a trip downtown.