Saturday's sold-out street-food party drew a crowd of thousands, providing more evidence of the scene's emergence into the mainstream.
Good things come to those who wait. For some at the sold-out Street Food Block Party on Saturday, that meant dealing with long lines. For others it meant waiting for Toronto’s street-food culture to be freed from bureaucratic red tape.
The Block Party, a co-production of the Toronto Underground Market and Food Truck Eats, brought in 20 food stalls, 11 trucks, and 16 wineries to feed 3,000 people at the Evergreen Brick Works. Some of the vendors opted to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with things like margarita donuts (from Dough by Rachel), Hawaiian tacos (from Big E’s Hawaiian Grinds), and a wonderfully refreshing Mexican chopped salad (from Paese), an Italian restaurant). But also, let it be known that there were tacos. Lots and lots and lots of tacos.
Sean Amog, along with many others, waited in line for more than an hour to grab squid tacos at La Carnita, arguably the biggest hit of the night. His cousins were in other lines and they kept in touch by texting updates. Amog said it was worth the time and money to come out and try all the vendors, hour-long lines and all.
But the longest lines weren’t always for the best foods. While La Carnita’s taco is definitely Torontoist-approved, Paese’s mozzarella and pepperoni balls took about two minutes to buy and one minute to eat, and were very satisfying. Spearhead, a Toronto brewery that packs pineapple into each pint, also lacked a queue but served up an amazing drink.
A lot of the vendors were simply pop-ups—small, intermittent operations that can only be found at events like the Street Food Block Party. Big E, of Big E’s Hawaiian Grinds, described himself as a “9-to-5-er. Craig Ovenstone, owner of a pizza truck called Bestia, has a day job at Il Fornello. He said he runs his pop-up business as a labour of love, and that he normally breaks even.
Ovenstone also said that becoming a restaurant on wheels is a really, really confusing process. He bought a truck in an effort to “bring pizza to the masses” and quickly discovered that the City’s rules are sometimes confusing and restrictive, and sometimes non-existent, which can be equally unhelpful. “They’ll make the rules after I’m done,” he said.
Suresh Doss is the guy who in large part is behind the emerging street-food scene. His idea is to divide Toronto into zones, allot a certain number of vendors to each one, and allow them to operate out of trucks, or even converted shipping containers.
Achieving that will require political buy-in from people like Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), who arrived while the event was in full swing. He appeared excited to see how lively it was. A member motion by Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto-Centre Rosedale) that would start the City on the path to developing a more permissive street-food policy is set to go before city council this week.
“The City is not up to par with what’s going on and it’s playing catch-up,” Colle explained. “This is supposed to be a pro-business administration, supporting the little guy.”
Despite the coverage of food trucks in the news, most people seemed to be unaware of the ongoing food-truck wars at City Hall. Those in attendance at the event, however, think this new culinary spirit has a lot of potential across the city.
Lindsay Kneteman said she was there to find the items that aren’t available in her neck of Roncesvalles, as her partner dove into some tasty Indonesian street meat. A friend strolled over and snapped a few photos of the food. Over by the stage, people rocked out to the bands that were playing all night.
It was a feast for the eyes to see so much buzz around rising food stars. And depending on how things go at council, we might soon be seeing a lot more.