The Slow Return of Street Food
Summer trivia: which of the following events this past July was the bigger milestone for the City of Montréal?
a) 100,000 people attending a B-52’s concert
b) A taco truck parked outside a B-52s concert
If you chose the taco truck, you’re likely reading the correct column. Whilst the
B-52’s peaked in 1979, any local foodie knows that a real live taco truck parked in the heart of downtown is a truly momentous occasion for the city.
The pioneering truck is not only being spotted around town, but encircled with lineups—sometimes for as long as 12-hours straight, which is what happened during their momentous B-52’s gig.
The lime-green truck with the smiling taco has actually become somewhat of a legend in a city starved of street food since 1947.
If you get as hungry as me walking past slews of restaurants out of your price range, you may have even remarked upon such an absence yourself.
Montréal’s 64-year-old street-food ban is indeed one of the great ironies of the city’s culinary identity.
After all, we like to brag; we have more restaurants per capita than any other city in Canada. We have Martin Picard, Chuck Hughes, Schwartz. We have a mélange of international restos from Antillean to Venezuelan. We even have Gordon Ramsay on Laurier. But did you ever wonder why we feel the need to keep chattering about these things to New Yorkers, Los Angelos or Torontonians?
If we keep them distracted enough, if we feed them enough bagels, we might just keep them from noticing the dark, depressing yet blatantly obvious blemish on the Montréal foodscape: its utter lack of street food.
But now we have Hilary McGown and Marc Leclerc’s miraculous success of a taco truck, which they call Grumman 78, and the light has been shone on the city’s ban: we’re waking up to what we’ve been missing. It’s happening slowly, one gourmet taco at a time.
A few years ago, the two chefs were on an all-inclusive trip in Cabo San Lucas. They began to tire of resort food, venturing out to the city to taste tacos from a street vendor. It must have tasted good, because a short time later Grumman 78 was born.
Taking inspiration from the San Lucan street-food vendors, McGown and Leclerc teamed up with longtime Au Pied du Cochon manager Gaelle Cerf to offer their own version of the “unpretentious, delicious” handheld delicacy that is the taco, in the words of McGown.
But replicating a traditional Mexican dish was not the endpoint for McGown and Leclerc. The two also sought to bring their own culinary creativity to bear on their dishes, and to challenge the traditional restaurant model this city has grown so accustomed to.
“We could have opened up a regular restaurant,” said McGown. “But we didn’t want to.” Given their collective chops at the city’s finest establishments, one gets the feeling that they might have done so rather effortlessly.
But the lineups, the cult following, is evidence enough that Montrealers were hungry for something besides than another restaurant.
“The truck showed people: ‘look at what you could have that the city won’t let you have,’” said McGown.
In a very short time, they’ve managed to drive circles around Montreal’s dated street-food ban, setting up shop at outdoor festivals (which is legal) and on the grounds of Nouveau Palais.
“Street-food lends itself to connections,” said McGown, citing not only the countless conversations she enjoys with customers (something she missed out on as a restaurant cook), but also those she’s witnessed her customers take part in.
Likewise, a trip to Grumman includes not only taste explorations such as their signature pulled pork taco (a divine dish whose price tag would easily be doubled in a traditional restaurant) but social ones as well. After all, a sidewalk curb is the ultimate communal table: everyone’s welcome, there’s tons of elbow room and no reservations are required.
Catch Grumman 78 at Nouveau Palais every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from midnight to 3:00 a.m., at outdoor festivals and at various markets.