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Chip trucks ahoy: Which One?

Our iron-stomached correspondent decides which wagon serves the best hot chips on the cold block.

The strip of Queen Street West adjacent to Nathan Phillips Square appears unwelcoming at first – a dull, grey concrete expanse that lies in the shadows of City Hall to the north and the Sheraton Centre to the south.

Yet, for all the people who find themselves here – politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, not to mention bag-laden shoppers and runny-nosed skaters – there is one humble comfort: three chip trucks, each ready to deep-fry some hand-cut spuds. Trans-fat concerns aside, it fell to me to go undercover and determine which truck serves up the best street frites.

First on the list was the venerable blue truck labelled Mr. Tasty Fries. Before I’d even reached the tiny window of this easternmost contender, I was greeted with a “What can I get you, sir?” from the man overseeing the impressive bank of deep fryers behind him.

The “sir” threw me for a loop, though I’m not sure why; after more than 30 years at this spot, Mr. Tasty Fries has had time to develop a smooth line of patter.

Though this truck, like its two competitors, offers more than french fries, it is a chip truck and chips were what I would sample. I asked for a small fries and a dollop of gravy – I’m not one to pass on free gravy. In return for the steamy and surprisingly generous basket of greasy carbs, I paid a mere $2.50.

The fries, fresh cut every morning, were good. So was the gravy, but not artery-clogging good, I thought.

The tastiest bit? The last few fries swimming in the gooey ooze of gravy overflow. My favourite part of the Mr. Tasty Fries experience, however, was the throwback wooden fork.

My next stop was the westernmost truck, Steve’s Catering, for another small fries and, to my heart’s (dis)content, more free gravy. The basket here was slightly larger and cost less than the first at just $2.

The gravy was good – it is gravy, after all – but no better than Mr. Tasty’s offering. The fries were, however. Crispier and just a little saltier, these were good chips.

It was at this point that I started to sweat; that much deep-fried goodness just wasn’t right, and my body was letting me know it. With one last basket to sample, I had come too far to back out now. I sucked it up and made my way to my final stop, the middle truck, better known as The Original Bavarian Bratwurst Wagon Co.

An order of small chips here was the same price and about the same size as at Steve’s Catering, including the chest-tightening free gravy I had come to expect – and at this point come to dread.

The first thing I noticed when I was handed my order was the considerable size of each fry. Easily the biggest cut, I assumed they would taste the most potatoey, which isn’t necessarily what the famished grease junkie wants from a chip truck. To my surprise, the spud-to-hot oil ratio was beautifully balanced.

And what of the gravy? Simply thicker, richer and just plain tastier than the other two. So, which one?

When it comes to value and taste – arguably the two most important factors – the Bavarian Bratwurst Wagon takes the chip-truck French frying crown.

If you’re a sucker for tiny wooden forks, manners and service, and don’t mind paying a 50¢ premium for them, then to Mr. Tasty Fries you should go.

Steve’s Catering is a solid runner-up in either event, and should be the one you go to if the other two have lineups.

National Post
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Page: TO5
Section: Toronto
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Byline: Philip Alves