A Montreal delicacy ‘rolls’ along the streets of LA

But if Israel has his way, Montreal egg rolls will be back in the mainstream very soon.

Moe Deli  (photo credit: George Medovoy)
Moe Deli
(photo credit: George Medovoy)
SANTA MONICA, California – It’s lunchtime on the street, and the big red food truck is serving a favorite Montreal “delicacy.” The Hebrew word “hai” (“life)”, displayed on the side of the truck, is Chef Michael Israel’s reminder, as he says, that “Judaism is at the center” of classic Jewish deli cuisine.
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 very 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,” says Israel, who, with his wife Emily and Chef Matthew Haney, operates the food truck in the West Los Angeles area.
But if Israel has his way, Montreal egg rolls will be back in the mainstream very soon.
Israel trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York and has been operating the food truck for about a year and a half. Haney is also a CIA grad.
“Basically, what makes Montreal egg rolls unique,” Israel explains, “is that it’s an egg roll that has open ends, so there’s filling from end to end, and the ends, as they cook, get really dark and crispy.”
Israel specializes in Montreal egg rolls for a good reason: 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 notes. “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.” Of course, anyone familiar with Schwartz’s deli in Montreal understands that the truck’s red-and-white awning is what Israel calls “our tip of the hat to Schwartz’s,”since the truck menu also features a healthy serving of deli.
Israel says 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, like a Reuben, a smoked turkey and a Chinese BBQ-style brisket, which is slowcooked, 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 amusingly terms ‘smashed’ potato salad, served with a house-made spicy sauce called moe’racha, a play on sriracha, a southeast Asian chili sauce.
As soon as they park in the long line of food trucks parked on the street, Israel, Emily and Haney get busy preparing the day’s menu.
It’s cramped quarters inside, of course, 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,” says Israel, “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. At the same time, Emily was also studying musical theater at Hunter College and now, she jokes, the truck has become her performance venue, where she uses voice projection to call out the orders.
“I seem to have a natural love of hospitality,” she says, placing pickles in plastic bags.
In between mixing egg roll ingredients, Israel talks about the “huge influx of young chefs in the country” serving great street food from trucks.
It’s a movement that reflects both the creative spirit and basic economic reality.
“Even the most basic of restaurants is enormously expensive,” Israel says, “so in my opinion, the greatest part of the whole food truck movement is that it gives young chefs the ability to create a menu and create a dining experience unique to their own perspective in a way that’s approachable for many customers.
“It’s not an exclusive environment, and there’s a tremendous amount of freedom to expose yourself to many different markets and communities.”
In the beginning, Israel’s food truck was kosher, but going the kosher route proved too costly. “When we initially hit the road,” he notes, “it was strictly kosher. Really, our mission was to bring new excitement to the kosher dining world.
“(But) after one year of business, we realized that it was critical for our ability to survive financially to no longer use hechshered [kosher certified] meat. The way we approach our menu now is, we call it ‘kosherstyle.’ However, there’s no pork, shell fish or dairy on the truck.”
At the same time, Israel has embraced “more of the deli side of our identity” and created a“delicious list of sandwiches,” like pastrami with lettuce, pickled red onion, tomato and house-made slaw on rye bread.
On the day of our visit, my wife and I sampled two wonderful items, 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. I liked the fact that, while the ends of the egg roll were crispy, the center maintained a softness that was more like a sandwich.
We each ate a half, which was more than enough, considering that the entire egg roll weighed in at almost a pound! 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 with a garlic-vinaigrette dressing. Each of these items was priced at $9.
For information about current locations, visit www.Moeggrolls.com