TORONTO – The shot-around-the-world but produced-in-Canada show “Eat St.” kicks off its third season Wednesday with some homegrown flavours, including a taste of the delights served from a Jewish deli truck in Toronto.
Host James Cunningham says he’s thrilled the show will for the first time feature mobile eateries in Calgary and his hometown of Toronto, while also returning to Vancouver.
“It’s a joy to kind of finally be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m just down the street from my place here in Toronto, finally, and we have a great, great truck,” says Cunningham, who laments that Canada is still quite behind the U.S. when it comes to accepting truck-based restaurants on its streets.
“It’s starting up in Toronto, for sure, Alberta’s got a fairly infant scene, but I think Vancouver â€” largely because of the weather, and that West Coast mentality â€” they seem to have a pretty good street food presence.”
But it’s mostly bureaucratic red tape that keeps Canadians from fully jumping on the food truck bandwagon, not a lack of appetite for mobile food offerings, he says. He insists Canadians would be eager to join the food truck movement just as enthusiastically as down south â€” if governments would pave the way.
“You go to a street food truck and what you have going on is an experience, it’s not just really about the food, it’s not just the ambience, it’s everything,” he says.
“It’s delicious street food stuff you haven’t seen anywhere else, stuff that you really often times can’t find in a restaurant, like deep fried cupcakes, poutine fusion.”
In the third season’s first episode, Toronto-based Caplansky’s deli serves up its WZE sandwich â€” kosher-style salami, schmaltz-laced chopped liver, red onions and Russian honey mustard on a mini challah bun â€” while a truck out of Austin, Texas showcases its doughnuts, which are injected with jalapeno jelly and topped with cream cheese and Canadian bacon.
Some Canadians are already familiar with the offerings of Toronto’s Smoke’s Poutinerie â€” which now has more than two dozen locations across the country and is eyeing expansion into the U.S. â€” but Cunningham says the show’s American viewers will be agog at the outlet’s creations, featured later in the season.
“When you think of poutine, really, is there (any other) kind of food we can really call our own? The beaver tail? Not really,” he says.
“But poutine is 100 per cent all Canadian, all the time. No one in the world would ever think of combining fries, cheese curds and gravy, and no one does it like we do.”
Smoke’s Poutinerie serves poutine a variety of ways. There’s the old-school recipe, of course, as well as the options of substituting the brown gravy for Italian meat sauce, a spicy curry sauce or peppercorn gravy. There’s also bacon poutine, pulled pork poutine, grilled chicken poutine, nacho-style poutine, Philly steak-style poutine and even a vegetarian option with a special gravy.
Smoke’s founder Ryan Smolkin says Americans are gradually learning about poutine but likely haven’t seen anything like the stuff he puts out.
“They know poutine, definitely, they get the gourmet poutine in L.A., New York and Chicago, it’s on the menus there. But they don’t know the true poutine from Canada, from Quebec, and that’s what it’s about,” he says.
“It’s the curd that comes from the Eastern Townships of Quebec, we ship it in, our gravy comes from Quebec, so it’s all real. The poutine is in the U.S., they know it, they understand it, but that’s the traditional poutine â€” wait till Smoke’s Poutinerie moves down there.”
The poutine chain has also developed breakfast dishes and even a few dessert variations. One had chocolate mint ice cream and hot fudge piled on top of fries and curds â€” but no gravy â€” while another had apple crisp and caramel sauce on top.
Smolkin insists the crazy concoctions were delicious.
Cunningham believes it’s a matter of time before cities like Toronto start to become more welcoming to food trucks, especially if locals really demand them.
“There’s foodies and then there’s street foodies and there’s a whole level of fanaticism when you get a street food blogger or person who’s into a truck.”
The new season of “Eat St.” launches Wednesday on Food Network Canada with two episodes, starting at 10 p.m. ET/PT.