SANTA MONICA – It’s lunchtime on the street, and the big red food truck is serving a Montreal “delicacy.”
And on the front of the truck, in big letters, you can’t miss this piece of sage advice: GIMME MOE! That, of course, is the truck’s raison d’etre: “Give me more Montreal open-ended egg rolls.”
“Montreal egg rolls are a classic Montreal delicacy that has kind of fallen out of the mainstream,” said Michael Israel, who, with his wife, Emily Israel, and chef, Matthew Haney, operates the food truck in West Los Angeles.
But if Michael Israel had his way, Montreal egg rolls would be back in the mainstream soon.
Israel trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and has been operating the food truck for about a year and a half. Haney is also an institute grad.
“Basically, what makes Montreal egg rolls unique is that it’s an egg roll that has open ends, so there’s filling from end to end,” Israel said. “The ends, as they cook, get really dark and crispy.”
Israel specializes in Montreal egg rolls because he has close family ties to the Canadian city, and though he wasn’t actually born there, the rest of his family was.
“I’m the first American-born in my family,” he said, “Everybody else was born in Montreal. I have a very strong familial connection to Montreal. Most of my family is still there.
“A big part of what defines me as a chef and what formed my viewpoint on food and what I think tastes good . . . is really . . . from classic Montreal cuisine . . . like the egg rolls . . . and Montreal deli.”
Israel said that his “Moe-riginal” is the “best duplicate of what a classic Montreal egg roll is,” containing chicken, cabbage and a spice mix.
From classic egg rolls, Israel moves on to egg rolls with deli offerings such as a Reuben, a smoked turkey, and a Chinese barbecue-style brisket slow-cooked, thin-sliced, and then combined inside the egg roll with mango slaw.
The egg rolls are all fried and rolled to order.
Israel’s menu also includes the “Big Tuna” deli egg roll, a layer of tuna salad plus a layer of what he calls “smashed” potato salad, served with a house-made spicy sauce called moe’racha, a play on sriracha Southeast Asian chili sauce.
As soon as they get into the long line of food trucks parked on the street, Israel, his wife and Haney get busy preparing the day’s menu.
It’s cramped quarters inside, but that’s the norm in the fast lane of Southern California food truck culture, which spans diverse immigrant tastes and food styles.
The trio spends most of the time working on the west side of Los Angeles, but there are periods out of the city, as well as private events and catering.
“Being on wheels gives us the freedom to travel,” Israel said. “So we’ve been as far north as Ventura County, all the way to Palm Springs and down to San Diego. “
Israel and his wife met while they were both working at a restaurant in the SoHo district of New York.
Emily Israel was also studying musical theater at Hunter College at the time, and these days, she said jokingly, the truck has become her “performance venue,” where she enjoys using voice projection to call out the orders.
“I seem to have a natural love of hospitality,” she said, as she placed pickles in plastic bags.
On the day of our visit, my wife and I sampled two, which overflowed with layer upon layer of flavors and textures – and were just plain huge.
One was the veggie egg roll, made with spinach, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and roasted garlic wrapped in an egg roll with horseradish sauce.
Next, we tried a tuna sandwich made with white albacore house-made tuna, red onion, celery, house-made mayonnaise and seasonings layered with “smashed” potato salad, a spicy mustard deli dressing, mixed greens, sliced tomato and pickled red onions.
The bulging sandwich was served on rye bread with house-made Russian dressing and came with a side of classic, Montreal-style coleslaw (green cabbage and shredded carrots) with a garlic-vinaigrette dressing.
George Medovoy publishes an Internet travel magazine, www.PostcardsForYou.com.
Veggie Egg Roll