Food lovers in the Owen Sound area have become enamoured of the only gourmet food truck you'll find in rural Ontario.
Almost 1,300 diehards are liking Grilled In Action on Facebook and Twitter. Dozens line up five days a week in the cold, the rain, the heat or the snow to chow down on such delicacies as smoked pulled pork, shrimp tacos, smoked duck breast tacos, Coney Island hotdogs, beef brisket sandwiches, “proper” French onion soup, and a wild mushroom soup made with seven different kinds of mushrooms.
And the fries? They're not just your everyday frozen fries tossed into the deep fryer. The truffle fries are made with white truffle aioli, fresh Parmesan cheese, bacon and scallions.
“And it all works,” chef and proprietor Patrick Moore says of his truffle fries. “It's rich, it's salty, it's smoky, it's fresh, it's decadent. It's not something you want to eat everyday but it's, I don't know, it's a small indulgence.”
There are other concoctions of French fries worth salivating over. There's one with pulled pork, one with brisket and gravy, mushrooms and shallots, “and that's my Sunday roast beef dinner twist,” says Moore. “We call them meal fries.”
He also describes them as “extreme poutine.”
Moore goes for unique fare that simply tastes good. It's “pure food”, he says, and not full of “factory added garbage.
“Everything just has to be different without being pretentious and arrogant. I still want people to be able to pronounce what it is they're buying and feel comfortable. Maybe it's a combination of flavours they haven't had before, but they don't have to stretch too far to get a dictionary out and start to figure out what these ingredients are.”
A duck taco might seem obscure, Moore says, “and yet I sold 66 of them last week.” They're certainly unlike anything else you can grab to eat and go in this area. They're made of smoked duck breast that's pan seared with cranberry and jalapeno relish, lime crema and papitas (pumpkin seeds).
“The dish has to be balanced,” Moore says. “The sweet, the heat, cold, hot, crunchy, soft, salty, sweet. All of those things play into every dish I put out.”
But you might not want to get too attached to the specific dishes, all of which have unique monikers, like Chili Willi, Boss Hogg, Jurassic Pork Carnita, Guido Supremo and Loaf-a-saurus. Moore likes to keep things rolling by revamping the menu about every three months.
“I don't do what I think is cool or what I think people are going to respond to. I just do what I like, and that's the truth. I only put stuff on my menu that I like to cook, and when it's boring I take it off.”
Grilled in Action hit the streets of Owen Sound in August. It's a 22-foot big brown truck that Moore had custom built for the job near Cornwall. It contains two full sized fridges, a half fridge, a four-burner gas stove and oven, a double sink, a double deep fryer and a 36-inch flat top grill. The appliances are powered by propane, the heat and lights by a generator.
Moore, a trained chef who's lived near Shallow Lake for the past 10 years, came up with the idea in 2011 after seeing a Food Network program on gourmet food trucks, “and I said I'm going to do that. That was it.”
He'd eaten at a couple of gourmet food trucks before – there are more than a dozen in Toronto and they're very popular in Vancouver and in American cities. He admits he was concerned that it wouldn't be well received here.
“Yeah, that was a huge factor, but I always knew it was movable. However, the weather's getting worse and we're getting busier, so I can't figure that out.”
Grilled in Action has become far more popular than Moore ever expected. He says he's shocked by its success.
“It's far exceeded every expectation I've ever had. The response has just blown me away.” In fact, the business has grown about 25% per month, he says.
Other local businesses have been supportive of him parking in their lots, and customers follow him around the city, he says. Every day he posts on Facebook where the truck will be the following day.
“It's the chase. Some people like to Facebook one another, (and say) oh I know where he is. Also there's different access for different people.”
VanDolders near Zehrs is a popular stop for the truck two or three days a week through lunch and sometimes even into dinner. It also rotates around to places like Staples, the court house, Garb and Gear Source for Sports and Fox Harley Davidson. Moore sometimes takes his truck to popular outdoor events as well. Monday for instance, he'll be at the city's family New Year's Eve event from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the new rec centre.
Moore credits some of the success of his truck to the popularity of food programs on television and people's growing curiosity and appreciation of food.
“If I'd put a sign out that said gourmet street food 10 years ago, people wouldn't even stop in. People now are more informed than ever about food, global food, interesting food. Also, people want to eat the best, and certainly things they're not cooking themselves.”
Fans of his food also like that it's fast, he says.
“They can just walk up, grab food and go. And it's not 30 seconds, it's a few minutes, but they like the quickness. Also a lot of people like the food truck trend. They don't like to sit down but they want good food.”
It's gruelling work though. Moore says he puts in about 75 hours a week.
“For every hour I'm on the road, it takes almost two hours of prep to get there.”
But he'll keep doing it, he says, “until I burn out, which I don't know when that will be, but I love it. Passion (for it) gets me out of bed every morning.”