Review:Toronto:Food Trucks:Urban Smoke

Not since the days of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo and  the Mystery Machine have mobile smokehouses been so mainstream.  Case and point, I was at a fundraiser a while back and the line for Urban Smoke was twice that of any other truck that was onsite.  Parked comfortably within the confines of a private parking lot (so as not to add to further Toronto city hall controversies) , the staff were busy dishing out some traditional and not so traditional fare. Ten bucks got you one of four choices so I picked up some lunch for myself and a colleague.

Urban Smoke Menu
Urban Smoke Menu

Must

The ability to get a hearty soup is a rarity in most restaurants let alone a food truck. The split pea soup was reminiscent of something your French-Canadian uncle J.P. may spend hours in the kitchen whipping up in a magical cauldron. It was thick and savory and filled  with chunks of delicious double smoked ham while resisting  the temptation to over-salt, a common transgression of many an eatery.

Perfecting the grilled cheese seems a easy trick but its simplicity is often its quandary. Urban Smoke offered two sandwiches; a standard grilled cheese and one featuring nutella and mascarpone cheese as a dessert. Magic is grilling the bread to golden brown while melting the ample filling, a feat that everyone from top chefs to 15 year old latchkey kids have spent generations trying to perfect.  Urban Smoke comes close. The secret could very well be seasoning the bread with just a small amount of salt on the outside before grilling the abundant contents within. Simple but extremely satisfying.

Pea Soup, Grilled Cheese and Banana Pudding
Spilt Pea and Ham Soup, Grilled Cheese and Banana Pudding
Marscapone and Nutella Grilled Cheese
Mascarpone and Nutella Grilled Cheese

Maybe

The pulled pork was average which is still a compliment considering the number of food trucks, burger joints and smoke houses who lay  their foundation on good pulled pork.  The meat was tender, partnered with piquant seasonings and the bread was soft and proportional to the filling. The “magic fries” provided a poof that could certainly help Penn and Teller make a rabbit appear but maybe not enough to make David Copperfield’s convertible materialize out of the blue.  The slaw added a delicious, tangy crunch.

Pulled Pork with Magic Fries
Pulled Pork with Magic Fries

Mundane

I took a chance and opted to skip the magic fries in favour of the banana pudding (see picture above).   It had a decent flavour but I felt a bit ripped off by the size and the fact it was starting to separate a bit, leaving a bit of an oily pool in the bottom of the glass.  It was about the size of  a jello shooter and in the end about as exciting as the never-ending handkerchief trick.

Part of the appeal of a food truck should be a quick meal to avoid having to sit down, order, eat and wait for the bill. Although almost inevitable, especially during high volume events such as fundraisers and other events,  long waits continue to be an issue with wheel-bearing establishments and Urban Smoke was no exception.

My Take

Urban Smoke is a bit of a traveling roadshow, bringing a kind of magic show to each and every parking lot or street side it inhabits. The  headliners include  a variety of southern BBQ foods including pulled pork and brisket partnered with a few other choices.  As a result, it draws big crowds which means big lines and  big waits.  The staff, however, are quite efficient and personable and maintain a decent flow. If the truck is around (check out torontofoodtrucks.ca for schedules),  I would definitely consider a trip for lunch  if you have the time and desire to break up a hectic day. After all, after a busy adventure unmasking criminals, I’m sure Shag and Scoob would have been happy to fill up on a few grilled cheese  sandwiches following an equally smoky visit to the Mystery Machine.

Mulling Moment- Please Comment!

Urban Smoke Fusion BBQ on Urbanspoon

Review: Toronto: Food Truck: Hogtown Smoke

Reminiscent of Big Foot or Rob Ford jogging, food trucks are a rather elusive sighting in Toronto. Bound by by-laws which do not allow more trucks to attain  permanent residency in the downtown core, they are forced to travel like Nomads making it a bit of a feat to find one that is open on any given day. Check out http://torontofoodtrucks.ca/ for information about food trucks in Toronto.

As I approached the corner of Front and Sherbourne in search of Hogtown Smoke, I caught a whiff of the smoked meat about a block away. I happened to be second in line so I was able to sample some of the brisket right out of the smoker before I even ordered.   Although it took a while to get rolling after a minor gas malfunction (which I appreciated because it allowed me to stare at the small menu like an idiot for 15 minutes without  a clue what I was going to order)., the window opened and I was greeted by the friendly staff members. Specials included a kimchi grilled cheese and side ribs in addition to the traditional pulled pork, poutine, brisket, po’ boy sandwiches and kicked up grilled cheese.  I opted for the ribs, brisket and poutine to get a taste for a bit of everything. The staff  joked with the building crowd,  apologizing for the delays and asking everybody their names.

Must

St. Louis Side Ribs ($10)

New to the truck, I was a little leery since side ribs are not as forgiving as back ribs and are easy to mess up.  They came through by fulfilling  the holy trinity of rib triumph; crunchy bark (although a bit salty), a deep pink smoke ring and fall off the bone tenderness.  They were supposed to be  served with  baked beans and slaw but in the lunacy of opening I did not get the slaw so I can’t comment.  The beans were very saucy, had  great texture and bubbly flavours driven by the unmistakable sassifrassness of root beer. Imagine a baked bean flavoured Jelly Belly jelly bean and you’ve got the taste.

St. Louis Side Ribs with Root Beer Beans

2 lb Pulled Pork Poutine ($10)

This alliterative aliment almost achieves all acclaimed attributes (of a good poutine). Poutine has its own holy trinity characterized by fabulous fries, great gravy and cheese curds.  Hogtown almost reached divinity.  The fries were a good size, taste and texture (which is tough since poutine fries get really mushy, really fast).  The pulled pork got bonus points.  It had a huge, juicy pork flavour and good seasoning. My one criticism was the  final execution because the curds didn’t melt under the gravy. A small thing, but a traditional poutinist may pou-pou it.

2 lb Pulled Pork Poutine

Patron Jalapeno Mango Sauce

Use the Patron Jalapeno Mango sauce in anyway you can.  It’s fantastic and can best be described as Big Mac sauce on steroids. I would go as far as baking up six High Liner fish sticks and bring them in a zip lock bag  just so I could taste this sauce over and over again.

Maybe

Brisket ($10)

The brisket sandwich was sliced thin, piled fairly high and served on a good size swirly rye-type bun.  At the recommendation of the staff,  I topped it with the spicy barbeque sauce and horseradish aioli.  The meat was busting with flavour with minimal grit but it was a bit dry. The sauces helped to moisten it up a bit,  making  it  quite a good  sandwich.

Beef Brisket Sandwich

Mundane

Not much other than the early service disruption and the fact they forget my slaw!

My Take

Hopefully food trucks are here to stay because they provide limitless variety and creative license.  Hogtown smoke didn’t disappoint, offering traditional smoke house flavours with modern twists. The ribs approached divinity. The poutine may have reached sainthood.  Like many trucks, the biggest issue is execution and speed of service.  These are good guys with a good  attitude and a good concept.  I’d endure minor traffic and a small crowd to come back. Hell, I might even start going  to church again.

Hogtown Smoke on Urbanspoon