Sunday, August 16, 2009

J'n'B's Fish & Chips

Guest Review: Ruth & Ian

Sir George Simpson (governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company) mentions the whitefish of the north shore of Lake Superior in the early 1800s. At Webbwood, on Highway 17, we had 3 pieces of excellent seasoned whitefish and chips for $12.87, along with fresh-tasting coleslaw. Webbwood is on a long stretch of the TransCanada between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, a beautiful but slightly desperate part of the province. Commercial food establishments are few and far between along this road, so you have to pick wisely. Summer options are more plentiful and the local fishing industry makes chip trucks featuring fish options a good bet.

Best feature: Picnic tables for seating covered by a tarp—very welcome during a rainy summer.

Condiments: included seasoned salt.

View: No view of Lake Superior, but the entertainment of three tweens hanging out on a summer day, and a mufferless trail bike on a nearby track.

Nibbler's Chip Truck

Guest Post: Ruth & Ian

Nibblers Chip Truck in Spanish, Ontario, is part way along the north shore of Georgian Bay, on the Trans Canada Highway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie. We stopped there on a rainy summer weekday during a mini road trip from southern Ontario to the Thunder Bay area.

The first good omen was the break in the rain that occurred just as we pulled up. We were also attracted by the petunias surrounding the road sign and the lighthouse rising up out of the chip truck roof. The clincher was the information that fresh pickerel was on the menu (the sign said “walleye”, but that must have been to attract tourists).

The attendant was ready and waiting to serve us; it was only the rain and not Spanish’s resident population or popularity as a tourist stop that had been keeping the crowds away because several other people pulled up as we were munching scrumptious battered and fried strips of pickerel at a picnic table. Among the others were a francophone couple from Quebec (we noted the latter distinction because there was lots evidence of the francophone community in the mid-north of Ontario) and a couple from Tennessee (although he had an appropriate drawl, she had retained an English accent that was surprising, especially when he identified that their relationship and life in the southern USA had lasted 20 years so far with “more to come”, he hoped).

The pickerel was wonderful, light, moist and flaky.

The chips weighed down the cardboard box; they were heavy with oil, hard to separate from one another and attractive for eating only in the interests of this review and because we were hungry.

Two pickerel dinners cost $17.80. As we dumped the chips in the trash can, we felt the fish, the decoration of the truck and surroundings, the company and the break in the rain were well worth the price.

Twilight Taters

Guest Review: Ian & Ruth

The only food to be served between Wawa and Batchewana (aside from what you might cook for yourself at a park campground) is at Twilight Taters at Montreal River Harbour.

It is in a gem of a location, especially if you arrive in the late afternoon on a clear summer day, as we did. But for this blog, you might easily miss it. We learned about it only because of one small highway sign a few kilometers in advance on the TransCanada Highway as the road winds along the shores of Georgian Bay, and then a small sandwich board right on the gravel road that turns off a steep, sharp curve of the highway down to the mouth of the Montreal River and that is the entrance to the chip truck’s home, a cabin/campground called the Twilight Resort.

Just why the river was so named was a question for us (by our map, this particular location on Georgian Bay did not seem plausibly related to a fur trade or other route from the east). It was also a mystery to the operator of the chip truck, despite his seasonal work at the campground for the past 23 years. His graying ponytail and beard, as well as the rock music that was playing on the radio as he fired up the grill for us, seemed to define his generation and interests although we didn’t find the way to ask for more personal details to see if our stereotyping was accurate. We did learn that the chip truck, which he had recently refurbished after moving it from inactivity in Wawa, was a new venture for him and was moderately successful, in part because the young staff of the nearby Lake Superior Provincial Park liked his burgers.

Given the rainy weather this summer, it was probably lucky that the truck was actually a large trailer, so the owner had been able to fit in a bench and table as well as a counter and the cooking area. He fried up a previously frozen burger and hot Italian sausage (their frozen state not begrudged by us considering our interest in staying healthy during travel and the apparent low volume of customers; we had had to find him in the resort office and he opened up the chip truck to cook for us). The chips, although advertised as fresh cut, were also likely frozen; they were inoffensive but not distinguished in any other way.

The cost was very reasonable ($4 for a burger or sausage, $3 for a large fries; $14.75 with pop in total for the two of us), there were a few condiments and there was also a variety of other grill/fast food type items on the menu.

In addition to picnic tables there was a log swinging bench with a view of the standing waves where the fast-moving river met the Bay, the sky/water horizon and rocky islands with wind-sculpted pines. The view was outstanding. And we had caught it with the sun was low in the sky spreading warm yellow/red tones over the panorama. This goes to support the idea that, with chip trucks, as with life, it may be the ambience, not the chip, which is the saving grace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reggie's Hot Grill

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hippy Chippy Fries

"For the environmentally conscious chip truck lover"

When: July 9st, 2009 6:10pm.
Where: Johnstone Park, Peterborough (in the parking lot at the corner of Ashburnham Dr. and Marsdale Dr.) (map)
Exterior: This chip truck is light blue, decorated with colourful paintings of peace signs and flowers. It is located in the parking lot of a large park, so there are lots of grassy areas on which to enjoy your fries, as well as a single picnic table. It's not a far walk from the soccer fields and sandy beach in this park as well, so it would be a nice place to go on a day when you were out with your family. Hippy Chippy also caters to the environmentally and socially conscious crowd; there are signs proclaiming their support for local businesses & farmers and the chip truck itself is partially powered by solar energy. I biked there myself, and while I was there I saw more people pull up in bikes than in cars. There were also both aluminum and paper recycling, so you could recycle all the garbage from your meal.
Menu: Hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, gravy, pop.

Condiments: Ketchup, vinegar, hot sauce, salt, and something called 'hippy smoky salt' (I tried this, and it tasted pretty good, although mostly it just tasted like salt).
The Chips: I got a small fries & a diet Pepsi for the value price of $3.50. The fries were very fresh and had a lovely potato taste. They were a bit greasy, and not that hot when I got them, but I suspect I got the last of a batch they had just made for the people in front of me. I think these fries have a lot of potential, and I may have to go back to see if the next serving I get is hotter!

Overall, this is a beautiful location and is well worth a visit. Peterborough residents are generally quite interested in finding environmentally sustainable options, and all the elements of this chip truck fit with that lifestyle. It's interesting to see a bit of a modern, environmental spin on the classic chip truck.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jim's Gourmet Fries

When: July 1st, 2009 12:31pm.
Is there a better time to visit a chip truck than for lunch on Canada Day? (Plus, it's probably the only thing open!)

Companions: Jill & Damien

Where: Sydenham Foodland parking lot (map)
Exterior: This chip truck is a keystone for me: I have driven past it one to two thousand times in my life as it is between my parent's house and the place where I worked in the summers all through university. It is a permanent trailer sitting in the grocery store parking lot in Sydenham, Ontario. In recent years, they have added a screened-in hut around the ordering window where they keep the condiments. There are three picnic tables with umbrellas where you can sit, but it's also worth noting that it's very close to the lake and also a nice park where you can take your fries. It was predictably packed, as it was lunch time on Canada Day - there were tons of families and people coming from the nearby Sydenham Canada Day celebration. When we went up to order, they had lined up all the containers that were waiting to be filled, and we were number 16 in the line.
So it was a long wait. BUT, while we were waiting, local celebrity Dan Aykroyd pulled up in a fancy car! This was definitely a highlight of the visit - we tried our best not to stare, but how do you not gawk just a little bit when a celebrity arrives at the chip truck you're eating at? (We did draw the line at taking pictures of him) He sadly didn't stay for any fries, which was really his loss, because they were delicious!

Menu: Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, fries, poutine. The poutine comes in two sizes, and the fries come in four sizes (ranging from 'junior' to 'family').

Condiments: Ketchup, 2 kinds of vinegar in spray bottles, salt.
The Chips: We got a junior size fries ($2.25 - great value, as the portion is quite generous) and a small poutine ($4.50). They were both excellent. The fries were crispy, and deliciously fresh tasting. They came with a flat wooden fork which was really handy for both poking big fries and scooping out small fries. I would highly recommend these fries to anyone at anytime (although come before 4pm, because that's when it closes).
The poutine earned rave reviews from our official poutine reviewer, Damien. The cheese curds were tasty and distributed well throughout the dish. The gravy was well-seasoned and thick. Damien pointed out that too much gravy can make poutine too much like soup, but these ones did not suffer from that common problem. Overall, he gave the poutine two thumbs up!
Condiment Distribution: Jill reminded me that the classic way to ensure that you have ketchup for all of your fries is to 'hide' it down the side of the container, i.e. try to squirt it right down to the bottom of the container. We tried this with these fries, and the result was a 'bloodbath'. The last of the fries were swimming in a red pool of ketchup. These fries stood up to the ketchup, because they were so fantastic (see above), but use this technique with care!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

JRS Variety

When: June 26th 6:15pm

Where: Springbrook, on Stirling Marmora Road between Marmora and Belleville (map)
Exterior: This chip truck sits outside a store called JRS Variety. The truck its is a red wagon with a white awning. The sign is small and difficult to see from the road - I almost drove by it! I think the chip truck is owned by the same people who own the store, because as I pulled up the girl in store saw me and hollered for her brother to come out and help me. There's one picnic table in a small area between the no name gas pumps and the store. The whole establishment is in quite a residential area, with private homes in all the adjoining lots. Garbage and recyling are provided on site.
Menu: Hamburgers, fries, poutine, gravy. They don't have drinks, but you can get them inside the store (I got a delicious apple juice!)

Condiments: Ketchup, vinegar, salt, season salt. The condiments were on a VERY high shelf, which was difficult for me to reach (note: I am not tall).
The Chips: I ordered a small fries ($3.00), and they were delicious. The texture was consistent all the way through, with no noticable crispy skin. They had a very nice potatoey taste, which was almost sweet at times. They weren't very salty, but they also weren't greasy. They came hot and maintained their temperature to the last bite. Overall, the fries were excellent, and I would highly recommend this place as a bit of a hidden gem.

This isn't a very major road, so I asked the guy if he had been busy. He said he got a lot of people with camper vans and a lot of people heading up to cottages, although he mentioned that the traffic wasn't too heavy this weekend, with the July 1st holiday falling in the middle of the week.

Husky Gas Station Restaurant

This is not a chip truck. It was Father's Day (June 21), and my parents and I decided to go for a bike ride on Hwy 2 from Kingston heading towards Gananoque. We planned to stop at a chip truck, but biked for 15 miles and were unable to find an open one! We passed two closed ones, which was incredibly surprising - any chip truck worth its salt should be open on a sunny Father's Day Sunday! In desperation, we stopped for lunch at the Husky Gas Station restaurant (map), and got club sandwiches (for the meat eaters), veggie wraps (for the vegetarians) and fries. I won't quote the price because it was extravagant, but I will review the chips, as I think they provide a useful counterpoint to what is great about chip truck fries.
We were pretty hungry from our bike ride, so the chips were definitely all eaten up, but they were not the greatest. The major problem was that they were frozen, not fresh cut. I think all but the shoddiest of chip trucks will serve you fresh cut fries, while all but the finest truck stop will serve you frozen. The difference is huge. These french fries had a thick outer layer that was somewhat crispy, but also tasted slightly stale. The inside was pleasantly soft, but didn't have that distinctive potato flavour that characterizes fresh cut fries. Overall, these fries were good for when you're hungry, but probably not worth a special trip.

There is a spectacularly large Canada flag at this truck stop; you can see it for a long distance on the highway. It's hard to see how big it actually is in a picture.

Monday, June 22, 2009

French Fry Blogs

Although there aren't man sites on the internet which chronicle chip trucks, there are a few devoted to the art of the french fry (e.g. The French Fry Blog or I Heart French Fries!) Great french fries can be made at restaurants other than chip trucks. But for me, the chip truck experience is about more than just the fries. It's about the roadside ambiance, the anticipation as the fresh cut fries cook, the opportunity to spray malt vinegar out of a spray bottle. Maybe it's a bit like being the kind of person who will go to the movie theatre to see anything, just because they enjoy the act of going to the theatre. Although the fries are certainly central, for me, there's more to chip trucks.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Brown Eyed Susan's

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a family with young kids on a long road trip must be in want of a chip truck"

When: June 18th, 5:50pm

Where: Bailieboro, ON off Hwy. 28 between Peterborough & Port Hope (Map)
Exterior: Brown Eyed Susan's is a well-establish venue, with a permanent building and a big awning. There are separate orders to order and pick up your food, and all the staff are wearing 'Brown Eyed Susan's' t-shirts. There are three picnic tables covered in plastic table cloths and garbage and recycling on site. An old stove has been turned into a planter with yellow flowers growing out. The chip truck is located at an Econo gas station (gas price = 99.9cents/litre)

Chicken nuggets, hot dogs, fries, drinks (including 2% and chocolate milk). There's also a kid's menu!

Condiments: Ketchup, 2 kinds of vinegar in spray bottles, salt

The Chips: I ordered a small fries and a diet Coke ($4.00). The fries came in a container inside a paper bag. They were very good: not too crispy, not too salty, medium cut. The inside was soft and tasted almost sweet. They were a perfect temperature when I got them - just on the hot side of warm.

Major Discovery: A major problem at chip trucks is the even distribution of condiments throughout the whole serving. My preferred technique for solving this issue is to make two trips to the condiment stand, but of course this is not always possible, so I am always looking for new techniques. At this stand, I saw a guy shaking salt through the fries on the top and then evenly distributing the salt tapping the sides of the bag. This is a technique I am VERY familiar with for popcorn seasoning at the movies, but I had never thought about it for french fries. This will only work for certain kinds of containers, but it seems like a useful strategy.

Does anyone else have any great techniques for condiment distribution?

Quintessential Chip Truck Moment: While I was there, a family with three kids under the age of 8 pulled up. One kid was crying, one kid was tattling on the crying kid and the third kids was complaining that the tables were dirty. The mother was ordering hot dogs & fries as the father was dealing with the crying. She gave me a look like "what can you do?" As soon as the fries arrived, there was satisfied silence among the children and a look of momentary relaxation on the face of the parents.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fish Clams Fries

When: June 14th, 5:11pm (ADT)

Where: Near Cleveland Beach, Nova Scotia (Map) We saw this chip truck driving to Lunenburg, and almost stopped on the way there, but decided our stomachs were full from Mabel's. We stopped in on the way back from Lunenburg to Halifax.

Companions: Jill & DamienExterior: This is a pretty big operation, which I imagine gets pretty busy during the summer, as it is across the highway from a gorgeous beach. The chip truck itself is a trailer attached to a permanent hut. There are 12+ picnic tables, many shaded by patio umbrellas or even plastic 'garages'. There are kid sized chairs and tables, and the whole area is fenced in. Recycling and garbage are available on site. The view of the ocean is spectacular; buying fries here could just be an excuse to stop and watch the waves.
Menu: Clams, chips, poutine, burgers, fish, onion rings, freezies, seafood platter.
Also for sale: ice, picnic tables, aprons and dog scarves. They were also offering $20 gift certificates.

Condiments: Ketchup, 2 kinds of vinegar in spray bottles, mustard, relish

The Chips:
We ordered a small poutine for $5.00. It came in the same biodegradable container as Mabel's, although the serving size was smaller. The plain french fries were not bad. They were quite crispy and soft on the inside, although they were not very hot and not at all salty. The poutine was....not good. I'll preface these comments by saying that I don't think that poutine is the focus in this area (obviously fish & chips is what they do really well), but it was nevertheless on the menu. The cheese was shredded as opposed to curds and relatively tasteless. The gravy was bland, runny, warm brown water. Overall, Damien (a native of Ottawa and therefore a poutine connoisseur) proclaimed it was "slightly better than he could make at home" and you should "come for the view but leave to get poutine somewhere else."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mabel's Gift & Farm Market Homemade Fish & Chips

When: June 13th, 2:28pm (ADT)

Where: Near Shad Bay, Nova Scotia (Map) We came upon this chip truck driving from Halifax to Lunenburg, near Peggy's Cove.
Companions: Jill & Damien

Exterior: This chip truck is outside a store called Mabel's Gift & Farm Market. A trailer with the menu painted on the side is advertised with a banner-type sign. There is one large picnic table with an umbrella, but you have to be careful getting there, as there's a chasm-like hole between the chip truck and the picnic table.
Menu: Haddock, fries, homemade sausage, onion rings, poutine, pop.

Condiments: Ketchup, regular vinegar in the kind of container that holds maple syrup in fancy hotels, mystery yellow sauce. Although there was a large ketchup container, it was almost empty, and neither Jill nor I were able to get ketchup out without spraying it all over ourselves.
The Chips: We bought a small fries and three drinks for $7.50. The fries were served in a biodegradable paper 'boat' with full plastic forks (although a disapproving look from the owner limited us to 2 forks for our 3-person party). The serving overflowed the container to the point of spillage. The fries were medium-cut and nicely crispy, not too greasy and not too salty. The fries are definitely worth a stop, although overall the truck lost points for the dangerous hole and the messy ketchup situation.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dutch Boy Fries

When: June 6th, 12:30pm

Where: Princess St. Kingston, beside S&R (Map)

Companions: Jane & Taylor

Exterior: Dutch Boy Fries is a yellow-green and orange truck with an awning over the service window. An ad for the company that presumably did the painting helpfully hangs in the front window of the truck (1000 Islands Painting Inc.). There is a (faux?) stained glass window taking up half the service window. The condiments, napkins & forks are located on shelves on the side of the truck. When we arrived there were 10 people in line, including 3 soldiers. There isn't any seating, but there are lots of benches along Princess St., and you're not too far from the waterfront. There also isn't any garbage/recycling close to the chip truck itself.

Menu: Very basic: fries, hot dogs, sausages, poutine, drinks, period.

Condiments: Ketchup, two kinds of vinegar in squeeze bottles, French fry seasoning + hot dog condiments. In a nice touch, we were offered disposable ramekins to hold ketchup with our order.

The Chips: We bought a small fries, a large fries, two hot dogs and three drinks for $15.00. The fries were served in paper bags with cardboard holders inside. The wait in line was fairly long, but once we got up to the window, the service was quick. The fries themselves were fantastic: crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, nicely salted, not too greasy and not too hot. They were medium thick cut and the portions were generous. Both with and without malt vinegar was delicious, and (not to put too fine a point on it), the ketchup containers allowed us to cleanly enjoy ketchup to the end. The hot dogs did not gain such high reviews, as they were boiled and without much flavour, but the fries themselves were definitely top-notch.

The Lyon's Den Spud Hut

When: June 5th, 5:43pm

Where: Just off Hwy 7. at Marmora and Lakes (Map)

Exterior: A permanent trailer with a porch and five picnic tables. The trailer is painted with pictures of food and lions and sports an electric 'open' sign. The porch has three flags (British, American and 'Welcome'). The chip truck itself is located at an Econo gas station (91.9 cents/litre). The gas station parking lot also had a small flea market running, with several tables of knickknacks. When I arrived there was a middle-aged couple eating dinner at one of the picnic tables, and two dads, each picking up food to take to their families. Over the course of my visit, a woman came and ordered milkshakes.

Menu: Fries, poutine, burgers, fish, ice cream, milkshakes and an assortment of teas ('no caffeine free' options according to the sign).

Condiments: Ketchup, salt (coarse and regular), vinegar in spray bottles (malt and regular), pepper (chili and regular).

The Chips: I got a small fries and a Diet Coke ($4.00). It took about 15 minutes for my order, and the fries definitely tasted fresh-cut. They were overflowing from the rectangular cardboard container, and came with a small red plastic fork neatly folded into a napkin. The fries themselves were hot, oily and a bit chewy. They were light brown in colour and medium-sized cut. They weren't very salty, so I added coarse salt on my second trip to the condiment bar. The container was a good shape for storing ketchup down the side so as to enjoy the condiment throughout the full serving of fries. They left my hands greasy desipte the red plastic fork, so I was glad for the napkin!