By Shawna Wagman
Living in a city with bona fide food truck culture is something we’re all still getting used to. Writing this post, I realized my vocabulary has some catching up to do when it comes to food truck terminology. I had to turn to the twitterverse to find out what it’s called when several food trucks get together and share a parking lot. I felt better that there was no real consensus.
I received the following answers:
- — Food truck round-up
- — Food truck lot
- — Food truck court
- — In Portland they use the term Pod
- — In San Francisco, a travelling food court of food trucks is called “The Grid”
Whatever you call it, Ottawa’s got one. In the parking lot that was once Nick’s Service Centre at 236 Richmond Rd., there are now three food trucks — Pizza e Panini, as well as Relish and Artie’s chips.
Apparently three more trucks will join them soon — as early as June 1 — including Green Papaya, Sadie’s Kitchen (serving crepes and sausages), and another truck dedicated to shawarma. Think of it as an international al fresco food court.
“No one competes,” says Leo Raguseo, the enthusiastic owner of Pizza e Panini who came up with the idea of sharing the expenses and resources among different types of food trucks in one prime location.
You really can’t miss Raguseo’s truck, painted to look as if it’s in flames, as you drive past the LCBO heading into Westboro on Richmond Road. Nor should you. Pull right up — there are parking spots on the lot, as well as picnic tables where you can eat your lunch.
The name Pizza e Panini tells you what’s on the menu. One peek inside and you’ll discover some very special equipment (a circular dough press that ensures uniformly shaped pies as well as an impressive wood-fired oven that reaches 900-1000 degrees). A peek inside the truck also gives you a glimpse of a charming crew that seem genuinely serious about good Italian food.
“I didn’t want to make a product that just fills you up,” says Raguseo, “I want to make something that you wake up in the middle of the night jonesing for.”
The pizzas are indeed crave-worthy; the crust is ultra-thin, served bubbling hot and blistered after spending just 45 seconds to a minute next to the blazing hot fire. I had one topped lightly with tomato sauce, bocconcini, prosciutto, and fresh arugula — forget gloppy pie, this is elegant pizza with fresh, clean flavours and a hint of campfire in the background.
Like the pizzas, the paninis are lovingly assembled to order, using “only the best of everything” — no pepperoni — “we use Parma prosciutto, soppressata, and fresh sausage from Lucianos,” says Raguseo. The fresh ciabatta bun comes from a company called Natural Gourmet that appears to have stepped into Art-Is-In’s shoes when it comes to wholesale breads.
The golden brown herb-flecked flat bun is stuffed with hot peppers, spicy eggplant, fresh tomato, slices of sausage and cheese. The flames on the side of the truck make a lot more sense as you take a bite; the “Salsiccia” sandwich is not for the fait of heart, but boy is it ever tasty. Raguseo says he recently refused a request to put mustard on this panini and the customer actually apologized after taking his first bite — it’s just bursting with flavour and needs no further adornments.
I love the fact that Raguseo, who quit his job with the Painters Union to pursue his dream, installed an Illy espresso machine in the truck after taking it over from the original owner a month ago. “This is the stuff they serve at Bottega,” he says proudly as he sets down a gorgeous shot of dark espresso on my impromptu café table attached to the truck. “When I see people with Starbucks cups, I give them a coffee.”
Cost: Pizza $7.50-$8.50; paninos $7-$8; espresso $2
Pizza e Panini, 236 Richmond Rd, twitter: @whatthetruckott