In my neighbourhood, people really look forward to the weekend these days for yet another reason: Grumman ’78 tacos. Indeed, these tacos, which are now famous thanks to a Bastille day visit from Anthony Bourdain (more on this later), mostly exist as transient foodstuffs, sold out of their picaresque truck during most of the city’s major festivals. Otherwise, you gotta be in the right place at the right time…
Recently, I caught up with Grumman mastermind Hilary McGown to find out what the future holds for Montreal’s favourite street food, now that festival season is taking a taco hiatus until Pop Montreal rolls around in September.
In fact, the only fixed address of the Grumman taco is on the weekends at my local diner, the Nouveau Palais Bernard, which is in itself a must-visit spot for visiting food-lovers. For now, let’s just say that the owner/operators have an especially symbiotic relationship with the community- one way that this shows is that they give over the kitchen every weekend after midnight to the folks at Grumman, and a late-night taco washed downwith a vodka soda (NP is fully licensed) and some DJ beats has become a must-stop for any night out in the Mile End these days (note that we’re talking about Montreal weekends here—Wednesday through Saturday).
Lately, when I stop in I’m greeted with vegetarian tacos filled with refried bean tacos with Spanish pimento, fresh salad and pickled onions with julienned radish, coriander and feta, or a chorizo–mash Bolognese base with pork, cumin and coriander topped with optional crab salad, or a burrito filled with beef braised for a loooong time. I’m also addicted to their latest innovation, the corn fritters with pepper jelly and hummus. However, my main question for McGown at this particular juncture, after stopping by several times at NP in the past few weeks, is why I haven’t been seeing my favourite taco, the Banh Mi Taco, on offer lately.
“We ran it for 10 straight days, 12 hours a day during the Jazz Fest, and everyone who worked in the truck wanted to shoot themselves,” says McGown. “But it’s Marc’s favourite, so I’m certain it will be back,”(Marc-André Leclerc, McGown’s partner in truck and in life, is Grumman’s head chef.)
Grumman is just coming off a grueling festival schedule, in which they were parked in the Quartier des Spectacles throughout the whole Jazz Fest and Just for Laughs. Normally, other than the Nouveau Palais, their tacos can only be found in the mobile truck (a schedule is on their website) or by booking their glorious HQ for your event—that’s a beautifully appointed, atmospheric and historic former stable and current taco-production kitchen in Montreal’s storied St-Henri neighbourhood.
The fact that Grumman is currently Montreal’s only mobile food truck speaks to a somewhat embarrassing truth—that due to some way-outdated bylaws, mobile food is illegal—which leaves us trailing way behind other cities in the category of delicious street eats. However, Grumman, which operates only at festivals and at private events, gives us hope that someone is looking at them as a test case.
“The food we serve is fresh, healthy, affordable [$7.50 for 2 tacos], locally-sourced, locally-owned and totally above board. Our truck is spotless and we pay our taxes and everything is on the up-and-up,” says McGown proudly.
Certainly, if they are a [delicious] test case, we can count on Grumman’s putting Montreal on the world street-food map. Recently, when Tony Bourdain showed up for a taco, his crew in tow included local chefs Normand Laprise and Charles-Antoine Crète as well as Martin Picard, who was rolling along until he had to throw in the towel.
“We felt like mini-celebrities,” says McGown. Which is how the Grumman ’78 crew should feel every day, as far as this Montrealer is concerned.