If you find yourself hungry while wandering down Hospital Row, Marianne’s Snack Shack offers more than the typical beef or chicken in tubular form. It’s a modest operation fuelled by equal parts determination and generosity, and for the time being, the only place in Toronto to get a grab-and-go baked sweet potato.
Since 1993, Marianne Moroney has operated her hot dog stand just outside Mount Sinai Hospital. This past May, she caused a local media buzz when she received special permission to expand her menu to include elk sausages, roast beef sandwiches, and baked sweet potatoes.
In Toronto, street food is basically limited to hot dog stands and chip trucks. According to Marianne, this sad state of affairs comes from a combination of a punitive culture, inconsistent by-laws, and the monopoly on street use from the various business improvement associations.
Oh, and the politics. Marianne has encountered her fair share of uppity folks at City Hall who don’t think street vending is a legitimate form of business. Fortunately, in her other role of Executive Director of the Street Food Vendors Association, she ensures that the voices of her fellow vendors are heard, even if the many forces work against them.
I ask her what it would take for Toronto to have a vibrant street food scene. “It takes a change of heart”, she replies, and plenty of education for both the vendors and policy makers.
As I try to decide what to order, a steady stream of customers comes and goes. Marianne greets many of them by name, and extends the same warm welcome to the first-timers. There’s a bit of chitchat while she prepares their orders, and then she sends them off with a smile.
With September around the corner, Marianne’s stand will be the place to be for the children at the nearby schools. Peace Together Forever is her way of bringing together children and their parents and getting everyone to know each other. On Happy Thursdays, every child can buy a hot dog for $1.50, and get a free piece of candy too.
Now, at this point you’re probably curious about the food. This is the Jerk Chicken Sausage on a whole wheat bun with sautéed onions and other toppings. It was nicely juicy with good amount of kick from the spices, and the whole wheat bun provided a few grams of feel-good fibre while soaking up the extra moisture from the onions.
Remember: if you’re offered sautéed onions, the answer is “Yes, please”, because you’re not going to be finding them anywhere else.
The meat for the sandwiches is supplied by Barberian’s Steakhouse, precooked and vacuum sealed in individual portions for quick reheating at the stand. Apparently the marble rye buns are specially made at Silverstein’s Bakery just a few blocks away.
Something to look forward to for the fall is soup by the cup and jar, which will also be supplied by Barberian’s.
With all the bureaucracy, misinformation, and entrenched resistance at City Hall, it will take years for Toronto’s street food scene to catch up to places such as New York or Portland, but I’d like to think that Marianne has started something special.