Tender loving care

Ottawa Xpress, May 19, 2005

Frank Sheskay’s naughty secret to the sucess of Glen’s Chip Wagon

In 1935, Frank Sheskay’s grandfather had a chip wagon. So did his father, a man Hull inhabitants knew affectionately as “Joe Frite”. Next, Frank and his brother Glen moved into the family business. The siblings have owned several of Ottawa’s most well-known and longest-running chip wagons, including the one that was parked outside the Canadian Tire on Richmond Road in Westboro. It was a fixture there for over 20 years until recent construction in the area forced the truck to relocate a couple of blocks west, right in front of the Loblaws Superstore.

Today, all of Sheskay’s trucks have new owners, but Frank still puts in a couple of back-breaking hours a day behind the fryer. At 6 feet 6 inches, he practically crouches to avoid hitting his head. Nothing, it seems, can stop him from dishing out paper bags of crisp, golden fresh-cut fries and top-notch poutine made according to the techniques passed down from his grandfather.

I confess I’m a bit of a sucker for this kind of story. I love the lore of humble street food, the family traditions that tie generations together. I also like the idea that I can still find an authentic taste of Bytown’s past in the midst of a neighbourhood undergoing rapid gentrification. At a time when the rise of the corporate food industry has meant the demise of so many mom-and-pop shops, there is a certain delicious irony to finding Glen’s Chip Wagon stationed outside the supermarket behemoth.

In the name of all-out nostalgia, I ordered a hotdog (my first non-veggie dog in probably 15 years!) and poutine. My friend ordered the cheeseburger and fries. “Salt and vinegar half way down?” asks Frank. Apparently chip wagon aficionados understand that this technique ensures not just the top layer of fries gets its share of salty-sour condiments. In the language of contemporary cuisine, that’s called “attention to detail.” I call it ingenious.

The cheeseburger was a dead ringer for McDonald’s (in a good way), right down to the processed cheese slice, diced onion, relish and sesame seed bun. The skinny, nondescript hot dog had a mild porky flavour that was surprisingly pleasant with a texture not unlike my beloved veggie dog. The bun was perfectly squishy soft.

But the real star of the show was the poutine. Thickly cut and freshly fried potatoes-crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, yet firm enough to hold their own under the load of gooey cheddar cheese curds and just the right amount of beefy brown gravy.

The Sheskay family secret to great fries? The potatoes are cut fresh every day and stored in ice-cold water. It’s an essential, albeit time-consuming, alternative to the bags of precut potatoes coated in preservatives favoured by many of their competitors. But before I had a chance to feel too virtuous about my lunch down memory lane, Frank revealed one last secret. (Warning: stop reading now if you plan to treat yourself to this tasty Ottawa tradition.)

Sheskay’s timeless taters are fried in Tenderflake. “Lots of trans fats,” says Frank subversively. “That’s what makes ’em so good.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

GLEN’S CHIP WAGON

RICHMOND ROAD AT KIRKWOOD

PRICES: HAMBURGER/HOTDOG $2-$2.75,

FRIES (LARGE) $3.25, POUTINE $4-$5.25, POP $1

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