Category Archives: Winnipeg Street Eats

Rollin’ downtown for lunch with On a Roll Sandwich Truck.

With the Winnipeg summer heat soon drawing to a close and the inevitable onset of fall close at hand I set out to redouble my efforts and visit as many of the new food trucks that now dot the Winnipeg lunchtime streets.  Yesterday found me in familiar territory on Broadway Avenue where the majority of lunchtime food trucks are known to set up shop.

On a Roll Sandwich Truck

On a Roll Sandwich Truck

As it turned out my choice was an easy one, turning off Main Street the first truck that met my eye was a new to me, the On a Roll Sandwich Truck.  Painted an eye-catching bright green announcing “Bringing the flavours of the world to the streets of Winnipeg” was an offer I simply could not refuse.

Menu Board

Menu Board

The menu pasted to the side of the truck spoke of simple family favorites from around the world delivering on the promises of their motto.  Shrimp Po’ Boys representing the Louisiana coast of the United States, Jerked Chicken Sandwich giving a taste of Jamaican spicy influences.  For a more savory note a patron could try the ever popular, if confusing Chicken and Waffles.  Even vegetarians are welcomed with a falafel patty Banh-Mi sandwich representing the best of French and Vietnamese influences.

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The Red Ember: Hot Hot Hot!

There are always a few things that I look for in a new eating experience, location, menu choices, the price of the items on the menu all rank high on how I form a first impression. But few things wow me like a serious line of hungry patrons waiting for service. The fact that people are cued up on a busy downtown street spending their lunch hour waiting in line screams eat here!

The Big Red Truck, AKA The Red Ember.

The Big Red Truck, AKA The Red Ember.

Well folks The Red Ember pizza truck at the far end of Broadway Ave down by the legislature on Kennedy was packing in the masses for lunchtime on Thursday for sure. It’s hard to miss this transformer like mash-up of a bright fire engine red and big rig styled wood fired pizza joint on wheels. Many of the apartments in the tenements on Broadway no doubt are smaller than this monstrosity and I can pretty much guarantee that the food coming out of those kitchens can’t hold a candle to the applause worthy pies coming out of The Red Ember’s wood fired pizza oven. Yep, a wood fired oven on a truck in Winnipeg, grab your skates and sticks, Hell has officially frozen over folks!

Eat Real, Eat Local

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Broadway Bound: The food truck wave finally hits Winnipeg in a big way.

The food truck/cart industry has always been a staple on the Winnipeg summer landscape. From the chip stands of the early 1930’s right up to modern smokie hotdog carts that dot the Winnipeg summer landscape like dandelions on a prairie field. So why all of the interest in what could be called nouveau gourmand food movement of bringing typically high end restaurant fare and serving it curbside out of a mobile trailer?

Hot Dog Cart

Hot Dog carts dot the Winnipeg Landscape

Personally I think it’s about the whole democratization of food, the idea proposed by so many of the crop of new talented cooks and chefs in typically high-end, high pressure jobs. Patrons are starting to suffer from white table-cloth fatigue, the idea of getting dressed up and paying high-end prices for everything but the food is wearing thin. Just think about it, if you go to say 529 Wellington and order a meal you’re not only paying for the food you’re paying for the cost of maintaining the building, the staff, the food supply chain and on and on. Winnipeggers are a fiercely cheap and efficient lot, we brag about how little we paid for something rather than how expensive something is. It only seems to reason that eventually it would filter down to our food choices.

Now I am not saying that Winnipeg invented the high-end food truck, that phenomenon has gone on for years in other enlightened cities having only recently caught on in a big way here due to City Hall’s reluctance to let the inevitable happen.

On any given weekday lunchtime during Winnipeg’s all too brief spring and summer one can wander downtown to Broadway Avenue, the heart of Winnipeg’s open air food scene.  As the office towers break for lunch thousands of hungry men and women emerge ready to see the delights awaiting them where grilled smokies and hamburgers once dominated the dining scene.

One sunny spring day I took an hour out of my day and investigated the food truck landscape of East Broadway; here is what I found.

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Modern Taco Company: A Truly Mexican Taco finally hits Winnipeg.

Ever since I was a child growing up on the shores of Rainy Lake in Ontario I have been obsessed with food.  Actually that is not precisely correct, it is more to the point to say that I’ve been obsessed with the idea of food.  That is to say how it should taste, what it should look like, the textures and aromas have always captivated me.

As my mother can attest, when ever her back was turned for a few seconds in the kitchen I would be in there grabbing seasonings to add freshness or heat to her spaghetti sauce.  Chopping onions for her stew, a handful of herbs here or a pinch of salt and pepper there.  It drove her batty.

Growing up in small town Northern Ontario in the 1970’s I was never exposed to grand ideas in food. Meat and potatoes, fresh walleye pike straight from the lake, freshly shot deer and moose hanging to age in the cold fall air from the rafters in the garage were the beginnings of my food existence.  Yet somehow I knew that good authentic food didn’t come from a can or a box.  Good food should be fresh, alive, vibrant.

Modern Taco Company

Modern Taco Company

Looking for adventure on a cold rainy spring weekend in Winnipeg can often be a chore.  More than likely my mind will turn to food for escape and what better way to escape the damp chilly streets than taking a trip for a few hours to the streets of Mexico.  The Modern Taco Company at the southern end of the St. James bridge, 612 B Academy Road to be precise offers a surprising choice of authentic Mexican inspired taco truck offerings at a very reasonable price.

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Happy 145th Birthday Canada: a photoblog from the Forks Market

In case any of you were wondering how I was spending my incredibly gorgeous long weekend, wonder no longer.  Today Dar and I decided to take a short hop down to the Forks Market and take in a few of the festivities marking the 145th birthday of Canada.  Locally known as Canada Day, it’s a great excuse to have a bbq or crack a couple of cold ones and enjoy the 30 degree heat.

You’ll hardly ever hear a Winnipeger complain about the heat though, after a good solid 6 months of darkness and winter cold it takes a good few weeks of 30 Celsius weather to thaw out our Canadian bones and get us primed for summer.

As you would expect on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon, the Forks Market was packed, the food vendors were out in full force and the beverages were indeed flowing.

Esplanade Louis Riel

The Esplanade Louis Riel (Louis Riel Bridge) is one of the newer architectural centerpieces of Downtown/St Boniface area.  It’s dramatic cable stay pedestrian bridge complete with restaurant and spire draw many tourist and photographers alike to the core of the city.

Located at the East end of Esplanade Louis Riel, La Crêperie Du Pont is a great choice for a deliciously thin crepe for breakfast or a pick me up snack.

Esplanade Louis Riel from St Boniface.

Enjoying a lovely crêpe for breakfast.

City skyline and Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

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For fabulously fresh fish n’ chips find Fergies at The Forks.

As you all know I love food, street food, fine food, pick up a fork and stab me food.  So it should be no surprise that I love good fish.  Growing up literally a 5 minute bike ride from Rainy Lake in North Western Ontario I could hold a fishing rod before I learned to tie my own shoes.

Mom and Dad both loved to fish so I grew up with an appreciation for the different flavours that came out of the lake.  It was a funny little rule that my father had when he took the family out for dinner.  We could eat anything on the menu besides freshwater fish.  He reasoned that we had access to a well stocked freezer full of the best fish in the world so why should he have to pay for it when eating out.

Fergies Fish n' Chips at The Forks Market

Having said that I no longer live 5 minutes from Rainy Lake so what’s a poor boy to do when he’s got a hankering for fish.  Well I head down to Fergies Fish n’ Chips at The Forks Market.  The current incarnation of seafood market and fish and chips stand has been open since 2004 and boasts having access to the over five million visitors The Forks Market attracts each year.

Although Manitoba is hardly next to any major seaport we are however a première shipping hub supplying North America with everything from fresh flowers and yes you guessed it fresh fish.  One thing Fergies prides itself on is the freshness and quality of its ingredients.  From the locally grown fresh cut Russet Burbank potato to the “caught yesterday” selection of Cod, Halibut and Lake Manitoba Walleye (Pickerel).

When eating fish freshness is king, and Fergies delivers that in classic style. Each piece is coated in a beer batter moments before it hits the hot oil, protecting the delicate filet and effectively poaching it to give a crispy delicious exterior and a moist flaky interior to the fish.

Simple and delicious fish and chips served in paper

The chips are treated with equal care, freshly cut and blanched in hot oil before being quickly dunked again for a properly cooked fry.  Crispy and hot on the outside and tender on the inside.

Put the two together and an English favourite hits Winnipeg.  A dash of salt and a splash or two of malt vinegar is all you need to complete this after pub classic.

So when you get a craving for an inexpensive but delicious fish treat you know where to go, Fergies Fish n’ Chips at The Forks Market.

Fergie's Fish 'n Chips on Urbanspoon

Taco, Taco, Taco: El Torrito comida de la calle

As many of you already know I am a big fan of pointing my jeep in a random direction and exploring the street food options in my home city of Winnipeg.   This long weekend the direction was simple to choose, I headed downtown to the afternoon site of the El Torrito taco truck.

The Winnipeg street food scene has long been dominated by scores of smokie carts and burger trucks that have a strangle hold on the Canadian street food market.  But just last month I began hearing rumblings of something exciting and new, at first I thought people were talking about a trip down to Mexico or chatting about a Food Network program they had seen on taco vendors.  But they insisted there was indeed a taco truck in Winnipeg, and they even had a following on Twitter.

Intrigued to the point of obsession I made it my mission to find this elusive taco truck and taste its bill of fare.  Indeed El Torrito (@ElTorrito1) does have a large following on Twitter and a write-up in the local pages of Metro.

El Torrito comida de la calle

When I came upon the truck at its downtown lunchtime location, I could smell and hear the difference from across Portage Avenue.  The aromas of savoury meats being grilled and the pumping music from a boom box had a small crowd wondering what this apparition was, unaccustomed to having a Mexican option the crowd watched as I bravely strode up to the front window.

Immediately a friendly face appeared from inside and offered me the daily El Grandé  special.  Three tacos (beef or chicken) and an authentic chorizo dog with chips and drink for $10.  How could I say no to that?

As I ordered the cook and co-owner Ian Bowman smiled at my enthusiasm and shouted over the music how hot I wanted my tacos.  I replied “hot, but don’t make my face melt off.”  He laughed and said with a sly grin, “but I like to make faces melt!”

Simple and authentic taco goodness

The tacos themselves are based on traditional Mexican street food, if you’re looking for hard-shelled tacos covered in cheese and cliché then you’ve come to the wrong truck my friend.  Simple is the name of the game here, and fresh is how they taste.  Hot grilled meat, some salsa verdé, tomato and a hit of cilantro wrapped up in a warm tortilla is what you get.  A lime on the side and some chili sauce for heat makes for simple street taco perfection.

The chorizo dog was also very good, a mild pork sausage also served with salsa verdé, onions and tomato was a welcome break from the smokie sausages that Winnipeggers are accustomed to.

Overall my first impressions of El Torrito were good although the tacos seem a bit small and not overly laden with meat, by local standards they are still a bargain at 3 for 5 dollars.  The condiments are fresh and the service is enthusiastic, more than once I saw the cook poking his head out to see if I was enjoying my lunch.

So if you’re in need of a change look the taco truck up on twitter (@ElTorrito1) and head down for a bit of spice this summer.